Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Review of Blood Bound

Blood Bound is the second book in the popular Mercedes Thompson urban fantasy series by New York Times bestselling author Patricia Briggs. Currently, there are four books in this series and one book in the Alpha and Omega series set in the same world with the second novel forthcoming this summer. The first book in the Mercedes Thompson series is Moon Called and the third and fourth are Iron Kissed and Bone Crossed (which was just released in hardcover last month). When completed, the series will contain at least seven books.

Mercy owes the vampire Stefan a favor - a fact of which he reminds her at 3 am one morning when she had been sound asleep. Although she does not understand why he wants her to be a witness when he visits another vampire, Mercy agrees to go with him since a promise is a promise. After changing into a coyote, Mercy accompanies Stefan as his "intimidating pet" and immediately smells trouble when they reach their destination. She cannot do anything but watch in horror (although she does try) as the other vampire immobilizes Stefan, one of the more powerful vampires himself, and murders a woman before their eyes.

Once she returns home, Mercy discovers that Stefan does not remember events the same way she does and recalls killing the woman himself. He suspected this vampire tampered with a friend's memory and wanted to bring someone with some immunity to a vampire's magic with him in hopes of clearing his friend's name. As Stefan suspected, this is no ordinary vampire but also a sorcerer - and he must be stopped before more innocents are harmed.

While Moon Called introduced the werewolf community, Blood Bound focuses on the vampires of the Tri-City area, although the werewolves still play a large role. I've never been a huge fan of vampires and still think I would not enjoy a book featuring vampires as the main character(s). In spite of that, I did really like Stefan, which may partially be because it is so easy to forget he is supposed to be a vampire (at least until he needs a place to spend the day and Mercy can't sleep knowing there's a dead man in her closet). Most of the vampires in this series are evil and not to be trusted, but Stefan seems to genuinely care about his friends, although he is clearly not a saint, either. He's also very quirky; for instance, Stefan drives a van painted to look like the Mystery Machine from Scooby Doo, which is a very amusing mental image.

From chapter one, I felt Blood Bound was an improvement over the first book in this series. Moon Called felt like the first book in a series since there was a great deal of exposition and setting up who everyone was and how they related to each other. That's not to say that this novel did not contain quite a few explanations that Mercy explained in the first book, but there was less of it and Mercy had a more easygoing and humorous voice in this book that I just loved. All it took was the opening paragraphs to hook me:
Like most people who own their own businesses, I work long hours that start early in the morning. So when someone calls me in the middle of the night, they'd better be dying.
"Hello, Mercy," said Stefan's amiable voice in my ear. "I wonder if you could do me a favor."

Stefan had done his dying a long time ago, so I saw no reason to be nice. "I answered the phone at " - I peered blearily at the red numbers on my bedside clock - "three o'clock in the morning."

Okay, that's not exactly what I said. I may have added a few of those words a mechanic picks up to use at recalcitrant bolts and alternators that land on their toes.

"I suppose you could go for a second favor," I continued, " but I'd prefer you hang up and call me back at a more civilized hour."
This might make her sound nastier than she is, but I don't think I'd be too happy if my phone rang at 3:00 AM and someone wanted me to do them a favor when I had to be to work in the morning, either. In the end, Mercy did as he asked because she owed him and he's a friend of hers and was glad she did it since having a reliable witness might help them dispose of a great evil. Whenever she gets into trouble, it seems to be when she's aiding someone else. Mercy is loyal and courageous and will take risks to help her friends but she's also not stupid - if someone else is better suited to getting the job done, she'll stand back and let them.

As with the first book, do not judge this book by its cover, which is the absolute worst one in the series. After reading the first three books, I really just cannot picture Mercy running around with her shirt hanging open like that without a good reason. And, well, I just can't think of a good reason to be outside facing danger with a wrench in one hand and one's bra hanging out. Mercy is a practical woman and not the type of person to run around half naked throwing herself at men (or potential villains) at all. Do not be mislead by the picture of the female falling out of her top, there is no sex in this book (although there is sexual tension as the Mercy-Adam-Samuel love triangle continues).

Blood Bound is an entertaining, quick read with a great female protagonist. I'd say I'm looking forward to the next book but I've already read it.


Read Chapter One

Monday, March 30, 2009

Blue Diablo Giveaway on April 2

On Thursday April 2, Ann Aguirre will be guest posting here to give away one copy of her new urban fantasy novel, Blue Diablo. Blue Diablo is the first book in the Corine Solomon series and will be in stores on April 7. If you'd like a chance to win a copy, be sure to stop by on April 2!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Review of Hope's Folly

Hope's Folly by Linnea Sinclair is the third science fiction romance novel set in the Dock 5/Gabriel's Ghost Universe. The first two books, Gabriel's Ghost and Shades of Dark, are closely connected and focus on the adventures of former Fleet Captain Chaz Bergren and Gabriel Sullivan. Hope's Folly takes place after the first two novels and does refer to previous events but it only mentions Chaz and Sullivan. The stars of this story are Philip Guthrie, Chaz's ex-husband who appeared in both previous books, and Rya Bennton. This could work as a stand alone book, particularly since references to previous events are explained, but I highly recommend reading the first two books first, beginning with Gabriel's Ghost. Familiarity with events in the first two books and Philip's character thus far is best, and personally, I much prefer the darkness and complexity of the first two books to this lighter novel.

Although he was a respected admiral in the Fleet, forty-five year old Philip Guthrie is now a rebel hunted by the Empire due to his opposition to their dastardly deeds. He's still recovering from an injury, but there is no rest for the weary when you're the target of the head of an evil intergalactic empire. So Philip gathers a crew that is not technically large enough to run the only ship he can afford, the archaic Hope's Folly. Although the ship is not in the best shape, Philip soon wonders if difficulty with getting it functioning could be caused by a traitor in their midst.

In addition these problems, Philip has another concern - his new security guard Rya Bennton, the daughter of a good friend who recently died in one of Philip's missions. Rya, who is sixteen years younger than he, has had a crush on Philip since she first met him at 10 years old. At the time, Philip thought her an annoying little brat but now he's seeing her in a new - and very attractive - light. After his relationship with Chaz deteriorated, Philip believes he's not fit for a relationship, especially with a woman young enough to be his niece. Rya adores Philip but believes he could never care for a woman who needs to lose about 30 pounds.

Hope's Folly is much lighter than its two predecessors, which is not necessarily a bad thing, especially after just how dark the last book was. My personal preference is to read about complex characters and relationships, sinister events, mystical powers, and hard choices, though, and for that reason I much prefer the first two books. Chaz and Sully are more interesting to me than Rya and Philip, although I do love Philip. I liked him in Shades of Dark, but I was a little worried he wouldn't be able to carry a whole book for me since he's much more stable and normal than Sully. My concerns were unfounded, though, and I enjoyed reading the sections of the book told from his perspective more than Rya's. Rya was likable but also very impetuous and I found it harder to relate to her tendency to rush into danger without thinking than Chaz's tendency to analyze a situation first, although I definitely think it is great that Sinclair does not just write the same characters over and over again.

After Philip and Rya, my favorite character was Captain Folly, whom the ship was named for. When the little girl Hope died, she left behind her pet cat Folly and the ship was only available at a good price if he continued to live on it. Folly ended up being important to the story and I have a real soft spot for cats.

Like the first two books, this novel contains a great balance between romance and adventure. It is a love story (and a predictable one at that), but there is still plenty of action and intrigue. Rya and Philip both love their weapons and neither lacks courage so they manage to get into plenty of treacherous situations. If one is getting tired of reading about characters and relationships, it won't be long before the pace picks up again.

One complaint I did have was how Rya always thought of Philip as her "Always Forever Dream Hero." The first time I gagged a little but by the hundredth time this was mentioned, I wanted to puke. (I did have one other BIG complaint. However, to avoid spoilers, I will not discuss it here.)

Hope's Folly is a fun romantic space opera with a little bit of everything - mystery, adventure, and some likable characters. It is very different from the first two installments in this series, but it is worth reading if you have read Gabriel's Ghost and Shades of Dark.


Read an excerpt

Other Reviews:
The Book Smugglers
Lurv a la Mode

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Review of A Shadow in Summer

Daniel Abraham's debut novel, A Shadow in Summer, is the first book in The Long Price Quartet. The next two books, A Betrayal in Winter and An Autumn War, have been released and the final book The Price of Spring will be out in July 2009. Even though he is a relatively new novelist, Abraham has written a lot of short fiction and been involved in several writing projects, such as the new Wild Cards books (his sections in Inside Straight are the reason I picked up this novel) and Hunter's Run, co-written with George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois.

The Khaiem train young men who prove to be powerful yet compassionate to become poets - not those who write verse but those who magically bind an idea in a physical form known as an andat. The city of Saraykeht has an andat that gives it enormous economic advantage. Seedless, also known as Sterile and Removing-The-Part-That-Continues, is primarily used for removing seeds from cotton effortlessly, so they do not have to be combed out manually in a time-consuming process. Since Seedless has been bound to serve against his will, he perceives himself as a slave and schemes to become free of his master, Heshai-kvo.

A Shadow in Summer is a political and character heavy fantasy containing a unique world and magic. There is not focus on sword-fighting, battles and action but more plotting and relationship and character building. Instead of the common medieval European setting, the culture is influenced by Asia with much tea-drinking and formalities. When characters are interacting, they tend to take on poses conveying their emotions and thoughts, such as poses indicating delight, acceptance, or an apology.

My favorite aspect of this novel was the andats, the ideas that poets created and bound into a form. The only andat we are introduced to in this book is Seedless, who is the most fascinating character in the entire story. Seedless is largely amoral and will do almost anything to attain his freedom, yet he seems to truly care about what happens to Heshai-kvo's student, the well-meaning Maati. His main goal seems to be to make his master miserable, and the two have a turbulent relationship.

With the exception of Seedless, the characters were missing that special something that made me really care. They were well-developed with distinct personalities and goals and I enjoyed reading about them, but I never really felt that they came alive. One of the most interesting character moments to me was in the very beginning in the prologue, but the rest of the book did not live up to that promise. Liat, the shallow young woman who was part of a love triangle with two young men, annoyed me - she didn't seem particularly bright and the way she treated Itani really made me dislike her. She hated the fact that he was a common laborer and always tried to get him to aspire to more. This was partially because she realized he was very intelligent but it often seemed as though she were looking down on him. Fortunately, the other main female character was much better. Amat, an older woman, was a merchant's adviser who became caught up in Seedless's scheme when he recruited her boss. She stumbled upon the plot, tried to destroy it, and eventually lost her place in society, yet managed to make herself a new place and come out stronger for it in the end. Both Itani and Maati were likable in spite of their mutual fascination with Liat.

Even though this is the first book in a series, it is a complete novel with a clear conclusion and no cliffhanger ending.

A Shadow in Summer is a solid debut and I enjoyed it for its uncommon setting and magic. However, it did not engage me enough to make me want to run out and get the sequel, although I will most likely read it at some point.


Thursday, March 19, 2009

2009 Hugo Nominees

The Hugo nominations are in! How exciting! The full list of nominees was originally found at AnticipationSF. Some of these are available as free downloads so you may want to head over and check that out.

Special thanks to A Dribble of Ink for the heads up since that's where I first saw this list.

Best Novel
  • Anathem by Neal Stephenson (Morrow; Atlantic UK)
  • The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (HarperCollins; Bloomsbury)
  • Little Brother by Cory Doctorow (Tor)
  • Saturn’s Children by Charles Stross (Ace; Orbit)
  • Zoe’s Tale by John Scalzi (Tor)

Best Novella
  • “The Erdmann Nexus” by Nancy Kress (Asimov’s Oct/Nov 2008)
  • “The Political Prisoner” by Charles Coleman Finlay (F&SF Aug 2008)
  • “The Tear” by Ian McDonald (Galactic Empires)
  • “True Names” by Benjamin Rosenbaum & Cory Doctorow (Fast Forward 2)
  • “Truth” by Robert Reed (Asimov’s Oct/Nov 2008)

Best Novelette
  • “Alastair Baffle’s Emporium of Wonders” by Mike Resnick (Asimov’s Jan 2008)
  • “The Gambler” by Paolo Bacigalupi (Fast Forward 2)
  • “Pride and Prometheus” by John Kessel (F&SF Jan 2008)
  • “The Ray-Gun: A Love Story” by James Alan Gardner (Asimov’s Feb 2008) — Read Online
  • “Shoggoths in Bloom” by Elizabeth Bear (Asimov’s Mar 2008) — Read Online

Best Short Story
  • “26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss” by Kij Johnson (Asimov’s Jul 2008)
  • “Article of Faith” by Mike Resnick (Baen’s Universe Oct 2008)
  • “Evil Robot Monkey” by Mary Robinette Kowal (The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction, Volume Two)
  • “Exhalation” by Ted Chiang (Eclipse Two)
  • “From Babel’s Fall’n Glory We Fled” by Michael Swanwick (Asimov’s Feb 2008)

Best Related Book
  • Rhetorics of Fantasy by Farah Mendlesohn (Wesleyan University Press)
  • Spectrum 15: The Best in Contemporary Fantastic Art by Cathy & Arnie Fenner, eds. (Underwood Books)
  • The Vorkosigan Companion: The Universe of Lois McMaster Bujold by Lillian Stewart Carl & John Helfers, eds. (Baen)
  • What It Is We Do When We Read Science Fiction by Paul Kincaid (Beccon Publications)
  • Your Hate Mail Will be Graded: A Decade of Whatever, 1998-2008 by John Scalzi (Subterranean Press)

Best Graphic Story
  • The Dresden Files: Welcome to the Jungle Written by Jim Butcher, art by Ardian Syaf (Del Rey/Dabel Brothers Publishing)
  • Girl Genius, Volume 8: Agatha Heterodyne and the Chapel of Bones Written by Kaja & Phil Foglio, art by Phil Foglio, colors by Cheyenne Wright (Airship Entertainment)
  • Fables: War and Pieces Written by Bill Willingham, pencilled by Mark Buckingham, art by Steve Leialoha and Andrew Pepoy, color by Lee Loughridge, letters by Todd Klein (DC/Vertigo Comics)
  • Schlock Mercenary: The Body Politic Story and art by Howard Tayler (The Tayler Corporation)
  • Serenity: Better Days Written by Joss Whedon & Brett Matthews, art by Will Conrad, color by Michelle Madsen, cover by Jo Chen (Dark Horse Comics)
  • Y: The Last Man, Volume 10: Whys and Wherefores Written/created by Brian K. Vaughan, pencilled/created by Pia Guerra, inked by Jose Marzan, Jr. (DC/Vertigo Comics)

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form
  • The Dark Knight Christopher Nolan & David S. Goyer, story; Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan, screenplay; based on characters created by Bob Kane; Christopher Nolan, director (Warner Brothers)
  • Hellboy II: The Golden Army Guillermo del Toro & Mike Mignola, story; Guillermo del Toro, screenplay; based on the comic by Mike Mignola; Guillermo del Toro, director (Dark Horse, Universal)
  • Iron Man Mark Fergus & Hawk Ostby and Art Marcum & Matt Holloway, screenplay; based on characters created by Stan Lee & Don Heck & Larry Lieber & Jack Kirby; Jon Favreau, director (Paramount, Marvel Studios)
  • METAtropolis by John Scalzi, ed. Written by: Elizabeth Bear, Jay Lake, Tobias Buckell and Karl Schroeder (Audible Inc)
  • WALL-E Andrew Stanton & Pete Docter, story; Andrew Stanton & Jim Reardon, screenplay; Andrew Stanton, director (Pixar/Walt Disney)

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form
  • “The Constant” (Lost) Carlton Cuse & Damon Lindelof, writers; Jack Bender, director (Bad Robot, ABC studios)
  • Doctor Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog Joss Whedon, & Zack Whedon, & Jed Whedon & Maurissa Tancharoen , writers; Joss Whedon, director (Mutant Enemy)
  • “Revelations” (Battlestar Galactica) Bradley Thompson & David Weddle, writers; Michael Rymer, director (NBC Universal)
  • “Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead” (Doctor Who) Steven Moffat, writer; Euros Lyn, director (BBC Wales)
  • “Turn Left” (Doctor Who) Russell T. Davies, writer; Graeme Harper, director (BBC Wales)

Best Editor, Short Form
  • Ellen Datlow
  • Stanley Schmidt
  • Jonathan Strahan
  • Gordon Van Gelder
  • Sheila Williams

Best Editor, Long Form
  • Lou Anders
  • Ginjer Buchanan
  • David G. Hartwell
  • Beth Meacham
  • Patrick Nielsen Hayden

Best Professional Artist
  • Daniel Dos Santos
  • Bob Eggleton
  • Donato Giancola
  • John Picacio
  • Shaun Tan

Best Semiprozine
  • Clarkesworld Magazine edited by Neil Clarke, Nick Mamatas & Sean Wallace
  • Interzone edited by Andy Cox
  • Locus edited by Charles N. Brown, Kirsten Gong-Wong, & Liza Groen Trombi
  • The New York Review of Science Fiction edited by Kathryn Cramer, Kris Dikeman, David G. Hartwell, & Kevin J. Maroney
  • Weird Tales edited by Ann VanderMeer & Stephen H. Segal

Best Fanzine

  • Argentus edited by Steven H Silver
  • Banana Wings edited by Claire Brialey and Mark Plummer
  • Challenger edited by Guy H. Lillian III
  • The Drink Tank edited by Chris Garcia
  • Electric Velocipede edited by John Klima
  • File 770 edited by Mike Glyer

Best Fan Writer
  • Chris Garcia
  • John Hertz
  • Dave Langford
  • Cheryl Morgan
  • Steven H Silver

Best Fan Artist
  • Alan F. Beck
  • Brad W. Foster
  • Sue Mason
  • Taral Wayne
  • Frank Wu

The John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer
  • Aliette de Bodard
  • David Anthony Durham
  • Felix Gilman
  • Tony Pi
  • Gord Sellar

Congratulations to all the nominees! I am especially thrilled to see that one of my favorite books from last year, The Graveyard Book, made the final cut. It's fantastic to see Elizabeth Bear (twice even!) and Nancy Kress recognized for their great work as well.

2009 Book List

This is really just for my own benefit since I want to keep a list of books read in 2009 (I'm obsessive that way). I'll update this as I read more.

Last updated: May 17
  1. Ethan of Athos by Lois McMaster Bujold (space opera)
  2. Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey (fantasy)
  3. Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke (science fiction)
  4. Inside Straight edited by George R. R. Martin (science fiction)
  5. The Charmed Sphere by Catherine Asaro (fantasy)
  6. Dead Witch Walking by Kim Harrison (urban fantasy)
  7. Watchmen by Alan Moore (graphic novel - science fiction)
  8. A Shadow in Summer by Daniel Abraham (fantasy)
  9. Moon Called by Patricia Briggs (urban fantasy)
  10. Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler (dystopian science fiction)
  11. Hope’s Folly by Linnea Sinclair* (science fiction romance)
  12. Blood Bound by Patricia Briggs (urban fantasy)
  13. Iron Kissed by Patricia Briggs (urban fantasy)
  14. The Oracle Lips by Storm Constantine (SF & F short stories)
  15. The Two Georges by Harry Turtledove and Richard Dreyfuss (alternative history)
  16. Blue Diablo by Ann Aguirre* (urban fantasy)
  17. Feast of Souls by C.S. Friedman (dark fantasy)
  18. Corambis by Sarah Monette* (dark fantasy)
  19. Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr (YA, urban fantasy)
  20. The Last Hawk by Catherine Asaro (romantic science fiction)
  21. Starfinder by John Marco* (YA fantasy)
  22. Kings and Assassins by Lane Robins* (dark fantasy)
  23. Sins & Shadows by Lyn Benedict (urban fantasy)
  24. Dreamdark: Blackbringer by Laini Taylor (YA fantasy)
  25. Santa Olivia by Jacqueline Carey* (urban fantasy)
  26. The Mote in God's Eye by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle (science fiction)
  27. The Silver Metal Lover by Tanith Lee (science fiction)
  28. Last Argument of Kings by Joe Abercrombie (epic fantasy)
  29. Cry Wolf by Patricia Briggs (urban fantasy)
  30. Archangel by Sharon Shinn (fantasy)
  31. The Orphan's Tales: In the Night Garden by Catherynne Valente (fantasy)
  32. Best Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie* (fantasy)
  33. Dreamdark: Silksinger by Laini Taylor* (fantasy)
  34. Rosemary and Rue by Seanan McGuire* (urban fantasy)
  35. The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker by Leanna Renee Hieber*(romantic historical fantasy)
Books by authors I hadn't read before: 15
* designates 2009 releases

So far, so good. I haven't read a single book I didn't enjoy and I can't say the same for around this time last year.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


Well, I was starting to get caught up on reviews... Then I got sick the beginning of last week and haven't really felt up to concentrating well enough to write a coherent book review (although I got lots of reading done last weekend). So I'm not sure when I'll get the rest of those reviews written, but I'm hoping I'll feel up to writing one or two this coming weekend. Sadly, this means I missed the Blogger Book Club last week, but I did read the book beforehand and will write about it sometime after I'm feeling better.

Here are the books that will be reviewed once I've recovered:
  • A Shadow in Summer by Daniel Abraham
  • Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler (This is the Blogger Book Club book I missed last week.)
  • Hope's Folly by Linnea Sinclair (I still much preferred the darker Gabriel's Ghost and Shades of Dark but I also enjoyed this one far more than An Accidental Goddess.)
  • Blood Bound by Patricia Briggs (Liked this one even better than the first book and absolutely love Mercy as a character. I'm definitely getting the next book soon and maybe some other books by Patricia Briggs. Any suggestions other than this series and the Alpha and Omega one?)
Now I am reading an alternative history mystery, The Two Georges by Harry Turtledove and Richard Dreyfuss. I haven't picked up The Oracle Lips in a while but want to read some more stories from it soon (it's too dense for me right now - been trying to read light, easy to read books for the time being).

On the Failure of Focus Groups

Please. This isn't even worth mocking.

That is all.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Blue Diablo Virtual Tour and Blowout

One of my most anticipated new releases of 2009 is the first book in Ann Aguirre's new Corine Solomon series, Blue Diablo. To celebrate its April 7 release, Ann Aguirre will be doing a virtual blog tour, which I'm very happy to say includes a guest post here on April 2 to give away a copy of the book to one lucky winner.

Also, don't miss the Blue Diablo Blowout run by the author herself - the grand prize is a $100 Barnes and Noble gift certificate, first runner up gets a $50 Amazon gift card, second runner up gets a $25 Lush gift card, and the third runner up gets a signed copy of Blue Diablo! If you're talented enough to make a book trailer, you could win a $250 Visa gift card.

Want to know more about this new urban fantasy from the author of Grimspace (review) and Wanderlust (review)? Below is the official blurb, and you can also read an excerpt.

Right now, I’m a redhead. I’ve been blonde and brunette as the situation requires, though an unscheduled color change usually means relocating in the middle of the night. So far, I’m doing well here. Nobody knows what I’m running from. And I’d like to keep it that way…

Eighteen months ago, Corine Solomon crossed the border to Mexico City, fleeing her past, her lover, and her “gift”. Corine, a handler, can touch something and know its history—and sometimes, its future. Using her ability, she can find the missing—and that’s why people never stop trying to find her. People like her ex, Chance…

Chance, whose uncanny luck has led him to her doorstep, needs her help. Someone dear to them both has gone missing in Laredo, Texas, and the only hope of finding her is through Corine’s gift. But their search may prove dangerous as the trail leads them into a strange dark world of demons and sorcerers, ghosts and witchcraft, zombies—and black magic…

There will be several opportunities to win a copy during the blog tour. The schedule is as follows:

Guest blog & ARC giveaway at Novel Thoughts — February 25
Guest blog & ARC giveaway at Romance Bookwyrm
— March 4
Guest blog & ARC giveaway at The Book Smugglers — March 11
Guest blog at Jennifer’s Random Musings — March 25
Guest blog at Magical Musings — March 26
Guest blog at SciFi Chick — March 27
Guest blog at Angieville — March 30
Interview at Lurve a la Mode — March 31
Guest blog at Babbling about Books — April 1
Guest blog at Fantasy Cafe — April 2
Guest blog at Stacy’s Place on Earth — April 3
Interview at Confessions of a Romance Addict — April 6
Guest blog at The Book Smugglers — April 7
Guest blog at Writer Unboxed — April 7
Interview at Cynthia Eden’s blog — April 8
Guest blog at The Thrillionth Page — April 9
Guest blog at Reading Adventures — April 10
Guest blog at Urban Fantasy Land — April 13
Guest blog at The Book Binge — April 14
Guest blog at Ramblings on Romance — April 15
Guest blog at Fantasy Debut — April 16
Guest blog at The Discriminating Fangirl — April 17
Guest blog at Cubie’s Confections — April 20

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Guest Review of Ender in Exile

Though I am usually a rational sort of person (in a fluffy, out of touch with reality sort of way) I am also sometimes a bit of a sucker. One of the ways I'm sometimes a sucker is my habit of being loyal to authors and stories that have been good to me in the past even when they don't necessarily deserve it any more. Thus I have a shelf full of post-1990 Robert Asprin, and thus I read something like Ender in Exile. Orson Scott Card is responsible for both my favorite standalone book (The Abyss) and two of the best sci-fi novels of the last quarter-century (Ender's Game and Speaker for the Dead). More recently though, he is also responsible for the later, weaker books in the Alvin Maker series and the almost unreadable Shadow Puppets. Ender in Exile falls somewhere in between, good enough to read even if you are not the pathological completist that I am but not so great that the Ender universe would suffer if it were skipped.

Ender in Exile is a midquel that takes place between chapters 14 and 15 of the original Ender's Game. Having played his game to its conclusion, Ender Wiggin now finds that he must deal with the consequences of his actions--both intentional and otherwise. The political and military powers that no longer need him view him only as a potential threat and rival, so Ender accepts a position as governor of an exocolony where time and distance will insulate him from Earth, and vice versa. Despite using the governorship as an excuse to leave the system Ender's true interest is in trying to understand the Formicans, the race he previously called the Buggers and has spent his entire life being trained to fight.

But Ender's drive to succeed means that even a job taken as an excuse has to be done right. So instead of taking the easy path and allowing the incompetent Admiral commanding his colony ship to usurp his role as governor, Ender engages in a different sort of war to protect his position and the colonists under his care. In doing so he meets the Toscanos, a pair of colonists fleeing their lives on Earth who are determined to insert themselves into the political process on Ender's new home. But even if Ender can navigate all of the problems of being a stellar governor, they are still only distractions from his larger goal of getting through the aftermath of his war with the Formicans.

If that plot summary seems a bit confused, it is with good reason: Ender in Exile is a book that seems very confused about itself. The first half of the novel is the story of Ender's trip on the colony ship and his fight with Admiral Morgan for control of the new colony. The next third is about Ender's life on the colony, and a final segment briefly and off-handedly describes one of the most significant events in Ender's multiple millennium-long personal narrative. If this seems somewhat unbalanced, that's only because it is.

So, what is so important that it forces Card to deal with a critical topic in roughly fifty pages? The story of the Toscanos, a caricature of a mother and daughter who are into social climbing and internecine feuding. They almost feel like they were included as comic relief from Ender's interminable brooding and introspection, but they never reach the point of actually being entertaining. Instead the pair just comes off as a convenient plot device that allows Ender to explore his feelings of guilt and anger about being used in Ender's Game. Even worse, they are also exploited as a convenient device for Card to hammer on his favorite topic, the importance of the parent-child relationship. Though, based on how often Card's characters tell us how important it is to have as many kids as possible, presumably bad parent-child relationships fall into the "we'll make it up in volume" category.

Ender in Exile also continues Card's repudiation of the original Ender's Game that he started with the Shadow series. In Ender's Shadow Card goes out of his way to make sure that his original premise--a special individual can be a great person, while children have all the potential of adults and should be given the same respect--is subverted by the idea that the really important child was not normal in any sense of the term and was only capable due to genetic engineering. Exile continues this pattern by letting us in on the secret that the other exceptional Wiggin children, Peter and Valentine, were only great because they were being subtly manipulated by their parents. Even Ender himself is infantilized to a degree that seems incompatible with his character in Ender's Game, Speaker for the Dead, or Xenocide. Card seems to be trying to add depth to the children, now teens, but instead only ends up damaging the work he created more than twenty years ago.

Despite all of these flaws, Exile is still a good book. Card retains his ability as a storyteller, and his voice kept me wanting to read on a page-by-page level even when the larger story seemed to wander--or, occasionally, was completely rudderless. Relationships have always been Card's strong point, and the interaction between characters remains a reason to read. The only exception to this is when he tries to force his everybody-have-kids message into the picture, at which point things begin to get stilted. But I have come to accept this as part of the price of reading a Card story, much like reading Spider Robinson means accepting his evangelism of hippie culture. The story would usually be better off without it, but it is more rewarding to work around the problem than to get hung up on it.

Ender in Exile is not a strong addition to the Ender universe, but it does fill in some gaps in the timeline and Card's ability to weave an engrossing tale makes it a rewarding, if occasionally annoying, read. 6.5/10

Monday, March 9, 2009

"Your Blog is Fabulous!"

Wow, I feel special! Fantasy Cafe was nominated for the "Your Blog is Fabulous!" Award by both Tia from Fantasy Debut and John from Grasping for the Wind (who both run fabulous blogs themselves that everyone should visit regularly if they do not already) . Thanks so much, you two!

Now I am supposed to list five things I am obsessed with and cannot live without.

1. My fiance
2. Reading (I'm sure you're all shocked by this turn of events)
3. Amazon.com
4. Flavored lattes
5. Analyzing everything

My five nominees are:

Adventures in Reading
Fantasy Book News and Reviews
Next Read
Racy Romance Reviews
The Wertzone

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Review of Moon Called

Moon Called is the first book in the popular Mercedes Thompson urban fantasy series by New York Times bestselling author Patricia Briggs. This book is followed by Blood Bound, Iron Kissed, and Bone Crossed (which was just released in hardcover last month). When completed, the series will contain at least seven books. Briggs is also writing the Alpha and Omega series set in the same world.

Mechanic Mercedes (Mercy) Thompson is a walker, meaning she can shapeshift into a coyote. This ability was inherited from her Native American father, who died before Mercy was born. Unsure of how to deal with a baby that turns into a coyote pup, Mercy's mother had a werewolf pack take her in and raise her. Unlike the werewolves, vampires, and various fae that surround her, Mercy is the only one of her kind she knows about. Although walkers have an enhanced sense of smell and can move quickly when in coyote form, they lack the strength and pack mentality of the werewolf.

One day when Mercy is working on a car at her shop, a teenage werewolf comes to her seeking employment. Mercy hires Mac against her better judgment and quickly discovers her instincts were correct when he is attacked by a couple of other werewolves. After Mercy kills one of these wolves, she realizes she is in over her head and calls her neighbor Adam, alpha of the area's werewolf pack. Mac reveals to Mercy and Mac that he had been used in experiments for a drug created specifically for subduing werewolves, and Adam takes Mac under his protection. Shortly thereafter, Adam's home is attacked, leaving both him and his teenage daughter in danger. Mercy does her best to help them, putting her right in the middle of a mystery and leading to the necessity of confronting the past she left behind years ago.

This is only the second book I have read of the werewolf/vampire/fae variety that is in vogue at the moment. Although the cover frightened me, I was easily hooked once I started reading and even bought the next one when I was around the halfway point. I actually bought it at the bookstore instead of ordering it in spite of the fact that it had an even more embarrassingly degrading cover that made me feel like the clerk at Borders was probably laughing at me. (The first one is pretty bad, but the second one has Mercy's bra hanging out and makes her look like a complete harlot, which she is not unless she undergoes some sort of drastic personality transplant in the next few books.)

The world was modern day but populated by various paranormal races, unknown to most humans. I very much enjoyed the development of the werewolves and pack politics, although most of this was conveyed as info dumps through Mercy's thoughts as the narrator, which seemed rather clumsy since one would not expect someone who knows these facts so well to be explaining them to herself so often. At times, there does seem to be a lot of exposition but it does aid with understanding what is happening.

The various supernatural races are potentially dangerous instead of seeming like humans with unusual abilities. When Mercy visits the vampires, it is done hesitantly and with much trepidation. Even the werewolves, who often seem like nice guys, can be fearful to those they care about under the right circumstances. They're not evil, but they do have that animal part of them.

I loved reading about Mercy as a character. She is strong and independent but without being mouthy or overly sarcastic. Instead of rushing into perilous situations, she analyzes the situation first and stays out of the way if she realizes she can't do anything to help. This does not mean she never takes risks, but when she does they tend to be for the sake of helping those she cares about and it never seems like she is being reckless. Mercy is not all powerful and she knows it. Her viewpoint is fun to read (when its not bogged down with fae trivia) and there are some great little details about her, such as the logic that leads her to carry around a lamb necklace instead of a cross.

There is a love triangle with Mercy, her neighbor, and her old flame, but it is not excessive (and there is no sex in spite of what the covers may lead one to believe). I thought Briggs struck just the right balance of having a little bit of romantic tension without overdoing it and making me wish she would get on with the rest of the story. Mercy is very practical and real - of course she has feelings but she does not brood over the men in her life and they are not all she thinks about. She's practical, straightforward and doesn't play games, and I liked that about her. There are some werewolf dominance/possession issues she deals with since they have long lives and have become used to a patriarchal society after centuries, but she tends to think they need to learn some enlightenment about a woman's place in society.

Other than some violent and dark occurrences, this novel is a very clean book. In addition to not containing sex, swearing is minimal and normally only alluded to instead of specified. Even when spelled out, the only swear I remember being specifically used is "damn." Mercy attends church and is somewhat religious, although she is not a complete prude (she'll undress in front of men when she needs to change to a coyote without a second thought).

Moon Called is a highly entertaining, quick read with lots of adventure and mystery, a hint of romance, and a great female lead. I'm now hooked and will also have to look into some of Patricia Briggs's older novels.


Read Chapter One

Other Reviews:

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Review of Watchmen

Watchmen is a graphic novel written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Dave Gibbons. It won a Hugo Award and is heralded as one of Time Magazine's 100 best novels of any medium. Like Neil Gaiman's Sandman series (the only other graphic novels I have read other than a little bit of manga), Watchmen proved to me that graphic novels can be as literary and brilliant with as complex a plot and characterization as any novel - and even more so than many. It's very impressive that a story containing so few words can contain so much detail and depth. Watchmen contains a mystery, character study, social commentary, and a love story, while challenging the traditional superhero comic archetypes.

The story takes place in an alternative mid-1980s in which costumed vigilantes formed the Crimebusters group and fought crime until this was outlawed by the Keene Act in 1977. Now most of the few former heroes who remain have retired from the business of saving the world, other than a couple who work for the government and Rorschach, who has a strong belief in his idea of justice and refuses to give up. The costumed heroes are ordinary people who have no superpowers with the exception of Dr. Manhattan, who gained godlike powers through an accident at the nuclear research laboratory he worked at. The U.S. government uses him to their advantage to keep Soviet Russia under control.

The novel throws readers right into the story with the investigation of the murder of one of the vigilantes, Edward Blake--also known as The Comedian. Once the detectives leave the scene of the crime, Rorschach does some poking around of his own and then proceeds to warn the other former Crimebusters that he believes any one of them could be next. Known for his general craziness and paranoia, the other vigilantes dismiss Rorschach's warnings until one of them is attacked.

Watchmen is broken up into 12 chapters with each separated by an essay, novel excerpt, or newspaper clipping providing some further insight. The first chapter introduces the various characters as Rorschach visits them to inform them of the death of The Comedian. From there, the story moves forward but is interspersed with many flashbacks about the history of the various characters that fleshes out each of them with very vivid personalities.
  • Rorschach has a fanatical belief in right and wrong and perceives the world around him as very black and white. He'll take any measures to make sure his concept of justice is carried out, regardless of means. Excerpts from his journal tells a lot about his worldview and how he thinks.
  • Dr. Manhattan is no longer fully human and is becoming more and more detached from humanity. What would you expect of a glowing blue guy who can manipulate matter and has no concept of linear time?
  • Nite Owl is a middle aged, overall quiet well-mannered nice guy who took over after the first Nite Owl retired. Although he's retired, he has a room for all his dusty gadgets and airship. Although he's the most clearly "good" of all the characters, he was still well done.
  • Silk Spectre II resents being pressured into becoming a hero by her mother, the first Silk Spectre, and being kept around by the military for the sole purpose of keeping Dr. Manhattan happy. (She is the one I felt had the least depth of all the characters even though she is present a lot and seems important, since she seems to exist mainly for interactions with the other characters. For instance, she often serves as a plot device to cause Dr. Manhattan to act. Much of the time she seems very angry and whiny, which is to be expected from someone harboring as much resentment as she does, but it does get annoying at times. However, I did enjoy her scenes with her mother and Nite Owl.)
  • Ozymandias is a well-known, wealthy businessman and the world's most intelligent man. His personal hero is Alexander the Great.
  • The Comedian was obnoxious, arrogant, and ill-mannered, and even attempted raping the first Silk Spectre. Yet Rorschach muses that he's the only one who really seems to get the joke that is life.
What I loved about the characters is that each had a clear motivation for their actions and never seemed out of character. Not only were we told that Ozymandias was intelligent but we were shown he was. Even the darker characters were not completely evil and showed glimmers of goodness and humanity.

Watchmen asks a lot of questions, some serious and some somewhat humorous. The most famous of course is "Who watches the watchmen?" but it also dwells on what type of person would decide to don a costume to fight crime and the impracticality of capes. Instead of the "heroes" being merely good people who want justice in the world, they tend to be mentally imbalanced or egotistical and flamboyant personalities. Are these really the types of people who should have power and be held up on a pedestal? Do the fair and right causes they take on justify the rough means they sometimes take to get there? Is enough good done by them to balance out the bad aspects of these flawed crimefighters?

Since the background of the characters and the important aspects of the story are slowly revealed, Watchmen makes more sense once you get to the end. For most of the novel, I enjoyed it but also found myself wondering what the big deal was. Once I got to the end, everything fit together beautifully and it's one of those rare books that grew on me more and more after I was finished with it. Normally, the memory of a book fades over time and if I tend to feel differently about it later, I like it less than I did initially. This is one I could reread and probably come away with a lot more than the first reading.

One of my favorite aspects of the novel was the end. I do not want to give too much away but the ending was perfect and the revelation of the villain and his speech was such a great moment and a great twist on the stereotypical bad guy.

Watchmen is dark, cynical and amazing with excellent characters, a riveting plot, and some thoughtful themes. It's a novel for the reread pile.


Suvudu Free Book Library

The Suvudu Free Book Library has the first book in 5 different series available for download. They have some books that sound pretty good available too:
  • Blood Engines by T.A. Pratt
  • His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik
  • Settling Accounts: Return Engagements by Harry Turtledove
  • Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson (really want to read this)
  • Assassin's Apprentice by Robin Hobb (the first book in one of my favorite series)

Thursday, March 5, 2009

If I Were a Vigilante...

To find out how I (and several other bloggers) would serve justice, head on over to the Watchmen Weekend Celebration at The Book Smugglers.

(Speaking of which, I cannot wait for the movie. I loved the graphic novel and will be reviewing it in the next 2 or 3 days.)

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Review of The Charmed Sphere

The Charmed Sphere
by Catherine Asaro
384pp (Trade Paperback)
My Rating: 7/10
Amazon Rating: 3.5/5
LibraryThing Rating: 3.35/5
Goodreads Rating: 3.61/5

The Charmed Sphere is written by Catherine Asaro, who is best known for her Skolian Saga series of space opera. This is the first book in the Misted Cliffs series, currently comprised of five romantic fantasy novels and the story "Moonglow" from the Charmed Destinies collection. I have enjoyed the three Skolian novels I have read, and I found The Charmed Sphere entertaining, although a lot simpler and lighter than Asaro's science fiction.

When Chime hears that the king is coming to her town, she does not run outside to watch the procession by the street but instead climbs a tree where she can watch discreetly - or so she thinks. The Mage Mistress Della No-Cozen senses Chime's presence and shape mage abilities when she rides by despite the young woman's efforts to hide. Later Della visits Chime, who is the strongest mage of her generation and whom she has discovered at a time when they are difficult to find. Although Chime is reluctant to leave her home, Della persuades her to marry the king's heir so she can one day become queen, who leads as a strong shape mage and helps protect the country against its neighboring enemy. Neither Chime nor her groom-to-be are happy with the idea of marrying a stranger until they actually meet and discover they are very attracted to one another.

Chime begins learning about spellcasting from Della No-Cozen but has difficulty memorizing and recalling the information she is taught. Soon she is joined by a second apprentice, Iris, who also has potential to be a strong mage. While Iris has a much easier time with explaining how magic works, she has far more trouble than Chime with actually managing to cast a spell and is thought to be weaker than her predecessor. However, once Iris overcomes her obstacles and uses her power, it is apparent that she is the stronger of the two and would be better suited to be queen - and Chime is reduced to second best.

The Charmed Sphere is a fluffy, easy to read story that had me turning the pages. One problem I did have at the beginning of the story was that the names were cheesy and reeked of trying too hard to sound like fantasy names - Varqelle the Cowled, Anvil the Forged, Chime Headwind. When the king's heir was introduced at the beginning of chapter two as "Muller Startower Heptacorn Dawnfield," I nearly put the book down and started something else. (Fortunately, he is just referred to as "Muller" after that.)

This novel was fairly traditional fantasy - mages, royalty, warriors, and a "good" side and a "bad" side complete with a villain who needed to be foiled. I did appreciate that there was an actual magic system, although it was relayed through the often-used method of an instructor explaining to a student. Spellcasting was done by focusing on a shape with more powerful mages able to use more complex shapes. Mage ability was based on the colors of the rainbow with stronger magic users able to use more colors. For example, Chime and Della were both green mages, meaning they could do red, orange, yellow, and green spells. Blue mages like Iris could use all the colors a green mage could plus blue. Each color was associated with a type of magic, such as blue for healing and green for empathy. Mages tended to be best at spells involving the highest level color they could do, making Chime best at feeling and soothing emotions.

It was Chime and Muller who carried the story for me. Chime began as a very powerful woman who was going to become the most important woman in the country, only to have all that turned upside down. She had the potential to be amazing yet had struggles with learning instead of picking up everything easily. In fact, many considered her to be stupid since she did have trouble with memorization. Muller was also flawed with unusual power that no one believed he had and that he found difficult to control. Together, Chime and Muller were very entertaining - Chime is stubborn and immovable and Muller was terribly vain and obsessed with his appearance before Chime shook things up for him. To listen to them, you would think they hated each other but they very obviously do not.

This was a fun book to read but I did feel it was not a particularly well-written one. As I mentioned earlier, the names were rather distracting and we were also told several times that "Muller brooded," which I found annoying in a show-don't-tell sort of way. In spite of Della's status as king's advisor and an expert in magic, she did seem somewhat uninformed about some aspects of the subject's history that it seemed like she should have known. She told Chime that some types of magic were only rumors and myths yet later it turned out someone she would have known had those abilities. Mages were scarce at this point in time, but it did seem like an awful lot of people with strange twists to their powers that had not been seen before in recent history kept popping up. Perhaps this is explained in later books, but it seemed odd to me that so many of the main characters had unusual mage powers that the "experts" had not seen nor heard of before.

The Charmed Sphere did not strike me as a technically good book but it was absorbing enough to keep me wanting to know what happened next, particularly since I did care about what happened to Chime. I'll be reading the next book, although it is not one I must rush out and buy immediately.