Monday, April 27, 2009

Avoiding the Wrath of the Zombie Chicken

This blog recently received one of the most originally named blog awards I've seen floating around on the Internet - The Zombie Chicken Award. Thanks Thea and Ana! If you haven't by now, check out their blog, The Book Smugglers - it's one of my favorites!

Here is what it means to be a recipient of the coveted Zombie Chicken:
The blogger who receives this award believes in the Tao of the zombie chicken - excellence, grace and persistence in all situations, even in the midst of a zombie apocalypse. These amazing bloggers regularly produce content so remarkable that their readers would brave a raving pack of zombie chickens just to be able to read their inspiring words. As a recipient of this world-renowned award, you now have the task of passing it on to at least 5 other worthy bloggers. Do not risk the wrath of the zombie chickens by choosing unwisely or not choosing at all…
Well, I wouldn't want the zombie chickens to come after me and peck my brains out. In no particular order (oh fine, alphabetical because I'm anal like that), my nominees are:
Those choices should keep me safe from the wrath of the flock of zombie chickens for a while...

Sunday, April 26, 2009

2009 Nebula Award Winners Announced

Science Fiction Awards Watch has listed the winners of the Nebula Award, who were announced at an awards ceremony last night. The winners are as follows:


  • Powers - Ursula K. Le Guin (Harcourt, Sep07)


  • “The Spacetime Pool” - Catherine Asaro (Analog, Mar08)


  • “Pride and Prometheus” - John Kessel (F&SF, Jan08)

Short Story

  • “Trophy Wives” - Nina Kiriki Hoffman (Fellowship Fantastic, ed. Greenberg and Hughes, Daw Jan08)


  • WALL-E” Screenplay by Andrew Stanton, Jim Reardon, Original story by Andrew Stanton, Pete Docter (Walt Disney June 2008)

Andre Norton Award

  • Flora’s Dare: How a Girl of Spirit Gambles All to Expand Her Vocabulary, Confront a Bouncing Boy Terror, and Try to Save Califa from a Shaky Doom (Despite Being Confined to Her Room) - Ysabeau S. Wilce (Harcourt, Sep08)

Congratulations to the winners! I was especially glad to see Catherine Asaro on the list and I found this excellent interview with her on the Nebula Awards website.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Review of Wicked Lovely

Wicked Lovely is a YA urban fantasy debut novel by Melissa Marr, who is now a New York Times bestselling author. Currently, Marr has two other books that take place in this world, Ink Exchange and Fragile Eternity. Fragile Eternity, the direct sequel to Wicked Lovely, was just released on April 21.

Most humans do not realize faeries exist and spend time in the mortal realm, but seventeen-year-old Aislinn has always been able to see faeries just like her mother and grandmother. Aislinn's grandmother has taught her that she must never reveal that she can see the faeries by staring at them, talking to them, or attracting their attention in any way. However, Aislinn cannot help it when she captures the eye of Keenan, the Summer King, who has spent centuries searching for the Summer Queen and thinks Aislinn just might be the one to fill this role.

Only by finding the Summer Queen can the rule of Keenan's mother, the frosty Winter Queen, end. Every time Keenan selects a girl as a prospective queen, she is forced to make a choice - either become part of a harem of his "Summer Girls" or take the test to determine if she is indeed his Summer Queen. If the girl does not pass the test, she is forced to bear the chill of the Winter Queen until another girl comes along and fails the test - and she must tell the new girl not to trust Keenan even though this girl's failure could be her salvation.

As Aislinn is pursued by Keenan, it threatens her budding relationship with her old friend Seth, who has been in love with her for a long time. Will she succumb to the charms of the Summer King and leave Seth behind?

Once in a while one of those books comes along that on the surface really sounds like something you would like, but for some reason (or several reasons) it just doesn't work for you. Maybe it's just not what you're in the mood for or maybe it just doesn't click with your personal taste. Wicked Lovely was one of those books for me. At first, I thought maybe it was just because it was written for younger readers but I've read plenty of books intended for young adults or even younger audiences that I've enjoyed - the works of Robin McKinley, Diana Wynne Jones's Dogsbody and Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book all come to mind. I suppose it just wasn't my type of book.

After hearing so many good things about this book, I sought it out at my local Borders and read the two page prologue. The description of a girl failing the test for Summer Queen very much intrigued me and I wanted to know more about Keenan, his quest to find the Summer Queen, and why he was so desperately trying to find her (the dazzling cover may have had some influence as well). It sounded disturbing, but the rest of the book never lived up to that expectation for me. I did find it creepy that Keenan was going around spying on girls and convincing them to love him (especially when at least some of them were only teenagers) and that some of those girls ended up as part of his harem, but it never really seemed all that dark to me. Perhaps that was at least partially because I never cared at all about any of the characters other than Donia at times so nothing that happened ever impacted me on an emotional level.

The characters did not have much depth - most of them had one or two personality traits and other than that seemed fairly interchangeable. The two main human characters, Seth and Aislinn, seemed far too perfect. Seth used to sleep with every girl he could find but now he's devoted to Aislinn and has eyes only for her. There's no conflict there - he just seems to exist to dote on her and please her, which makes him very dull to read about. Aislinn is beautiful, smart, and has a special ability that sets her apart from others. She is pursued by Seth, who is of course gorgeous, and Keenan, who is also gorgeous in an other-worldly way. There are a couple of instances where I found myself cheering her on for her strength and feistiness, but for the most part, she seemed very bland.

The fae tended to be more interesting but not enough to make up for the rest of the lackluster cast. Keenan's actions were motivated by his desire to do what was best for his people by overthrowing his wicked mother, which actually made him seem a little too good and human for a corrupt fae to me. (I love to read about the more amoral fae that seem truly inhuman, such as those in Elizabeth Bear's Promethean Age series.) The only character I ever felt sympathy for was the current Winter Girl, Donia, who truly loved the Summer King but now held herself apart from him after being hurt by his pursuit of many other girls throughout the years. The Summer Queen was a disappointing and unconvincing villain - she was very evil for evil's sake and she never scared me. In fact, she often seemed rather silly and over-the-top.

One quibble I had with this book was that I found it difficult to suspend my disbelief over the matter of Aislinn hiding her ability to see faeries for all those years. The very first chapter shows Aislinn hanging out in a pool hall having fun until the fae come in. She gets this look on her face that the humans around her recognize as meaning she's going to leave. They don't know why she looks that way, but they've seen it often enough to know what it means. Yet the faeries don't get suspicious when she suddenly loses concentration on the game she's playing, consciously does not look in their direction, and leaves every time they show up? I suppose they're used to remaining unseen and maybe they are too busy reveling to notice this pattern.

The first 80 pages or so were very difficult for me to get through, but it was a short book so I persevered. It did get better after that, but it still never connected with me personally so I mostly read it so I could cross it off the to-read list and move on to something else. I do seem to be in the minority for not loving this book so be sure to check out some of the other reviews below.

Wicked Lovely had a couple of good moments, but mostly it did not jive with my personal taste. I will not be reading the rest of the series.


Other Reviews:

Friday, April 24, 2009

Condensed Reviews: Parable of the Sower and The Two Georges

For over a year now I've managed to review every single speculative fiction book I've read. I was hoping to continue this trend but have been behind ever since the holiday season. Then I was close to getting caught up last month before I got sick for a couple of weeks. I've finally given up hope on getting all those reviews in so I'm going to compromise by writing condensed, more casual (but hopefully still somewhat informative) reviews of the two books from last month that I still haven't discussed here.

The first of these is last month's Blogger Book Club selection, Parable of the Sower. Unfortunately, the week of the Book Club occurred on the first of the two weeks I was sick, so I didn't write it while it was going on. The second book is one that John wanted me to read, an alternative history called The Two Georges.

Parable of the Sower

Parable of the Sower is a near-future dystopian novel by well-known science fiction writer Octavia Butler. It has one sequel Parable of the Talents but no cliff-hanger ending.

The future Butler describes is very grim. Resources are scarce, including water. Teenager Lauren lives in a gated community that she rarely leaves since most people would just as soon rob and kill you as look at you. Although many choose to believe they are safe within their walls, Lauren believes it is inevitable that one day the gates will be forced down and those who survive will be forced to leave.

Parable of the Sower is a slower paced book that touches on issues of social inequality and human nature. The entire story is told through Lauren's journal, which is a pleasure to read. I very much liked Lauren, a young woman who embodies the word survivor. Instead of refusing to live in ignorance about the state of society, she attempts to educate others and keeps a survival kit for the day she is forced out of her safety net. Although she struggles with her hyperempathy syndrome that causes her physical pain when she injures another, she learns to defend herself and is willing to take any measure necessary to keep herself alive in this dreary world. She's also very reflective and develops her own religious worldview in which God is not the god of her Baptist minister father but is change - a very realistic view for a girl who can only have hope if the world she knows does not remain stagnant. Throughout her journal, Lauren develops her religion, called Earthseed, and decides their destiny is to take root among the stars.

At times it was a little slow, but overall, I enjoyed Parable of the Sower very much for its thoughtfulness and strong main character.


The Two Georges

The Two Georges by Harry Turtledove and Richard Dreyfuss explores a world in which the United States never gained its independence from England and the numerous groups dedicated to freedom from Great Britain are unpatriotic and treasonous. This is not the only difference between reality and the projected reality - it also exists in a steampunk setting complete with airships. The main story is the mystery of a stolen national symbol, a painting called The Two Georges that depicts the unity of George Washington and King George.

The first 100 pages were fairly interesting, the next 300 pages gave me a hard time, and the last 200 pages were much easier to read again. I ended up taking a break once or twice during that 300-page middle section because it was just so bloated. There was a lot of traveling and a lot of eating. Seriously, the author described almost every single meal the main characters ate during that section - where they were eating, what they were eating and drinking, whether or not what they were eating was good, and on a couple of occasions, whether or not anyone was offended by what someone else ordered because it was disrespectual to his/her ethnic group. One page I read had them eating at the top of the page and then eating again at the bottom of the page. Needless to say, I often ended up very hungry while reading this novel.

John told me that this book was very wordy and he had to skim a lot of the details to enjoy it. Unfortunately, I'm not very good at skimming and read every word because I'm afraid I'll miss something important amidst all the descriptions of breakfast.

The characters were somewhat standard - the detective, his sidekick, and a token spunky woman who insisted on investigating the matter after being told not to. You know the type - the type who causes trouble with her recklessness and disobedience to orders. However, she was not an unintelligent ditz and did actually end up having quite a few valuable insights that earned her respect. Of course, the lead character fell in love with her. Shocking turn of events, I know.

The Two Georges could have been about half as long and the characters were rather generic, but I did enjoy the crime in the beginning, the resolution, and the setting.


[Editor John's Note: Yeah, I liked this book quite a bit, but it was after I had read a lot of Turtledove and developed a resistance to his wandering around in detail. I still maintain that it's an enjoyable read if you allow yourself to skim over some parts and read for concept rather than specific detail...I certainly wouldn't have wanted to finish the book if I had read every word of it. All of his work is like that, I think...but I also think that about Tolkien, so, what do I know.]

[Kristen's Note: Odd, I never had that problem with either Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit - never had any desire at all to skim it. Maybe I was more patient in my younger years.]

Next will be a return to regular review format with the last book I have up for review, Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr. My plan is to work on that tomorrow because I am sure it will not be long before I finish The Last Hawk by Catherine Asaro because I am absolutely loving it.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Best Women Writers in Science Fiction and Fantasy

The latest Mind Meld over at SF Signal asks the question: Who are the best female writers in science fiction and/or fantasy? Head on over to read what several authors, publishers, and bloggers (including myself) had to say on the subject.

Who are your favorite female authors who write science fiction and/or fantasy? There are so many I enjoy and so many yet to discover...

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Review of Corambis

Corambis is the fourth and final book in Sarah Monette's character-driven fantasy series, The Doctrine of Labyrinth. The first three books are Melusine, The Virtu, and The Mirador, respectively, and should definitely be read in that order. This is one of my favorite series of all time so Corambis was the 2009 release I was most looking forward to. While I enjoyed Corambis very much and thought it a satisfying end to the series, it did not linger with me after I finished reading it to the same extent as the first three books. The quality of writing and characterization were still excellent, so I think this one just didn't have as many elements that appeal to me personally as the rest of the series.

For this particular novel, I have decided to skip a plot summary because I cannot think of a way of writing even a short one with any substance that does not give away too much. This is a book largely about one character's internal journey and not a whole lot happens in the part of the novel that I consider early enough not to be part of spoiler territory. Also, some of what does happen is not anything I would want to know before reading this book. This is the fourth book in a series so I imagine most people who would be reading this one have read enough to know what the story is about and whether or not they would like to read this one anyway.

Like The Mirador before it, Corambis is told from the viewpoint of both Felix and Mildmay plus one new perspective, belonging to a warrior involved in a rebellion by the name of Kay. Unlike the character Mehitabel, who narrated part of The Mirador, Kay is a completely new character who is never introduced in the series until his narration begins on page one of Corambis. Although I understand the inclusion of some new perspectives, I still found myself impatient to read about Mildmay and Felix since they have the strongest voices and I became very attached to both of them in the first two books. However, I did find Kay to be a lot more interesting than Mehitabel, particularly since he did seem more important.

Unfortunately for those who despise Felix, this is his story. Of course, he is the central character to the series, but The Mirador did have more scenes about Mildmay and he was the one to undergo some major development in that novel. However, Felix does grow a lot as a person in Corambis. He still has his issues and past torments and he's still no angel but he's not a stagnant character either. Personally, Mildmay is my favorite but I still love Felix, too, and was disappointed that his sections in the previous book were overwhelmed by more space dedicated to Mehitabel and Mildmay (mostly Mehitabel). Felix gets plenty of time in this book but this time Mildmay's narratives are few and far between. Part of the reason this installment was not as compelling to me as the others was the lack of Mildmay. Felix is much more serious in his thoughts, and Mildmay's straightforward way of telling it like it is is very refreshing and adds some humor. Plus Mildmay's personality is so similar to mine that I have more empathy for him than any other character in fiction and could very much relate to him. Since he was not present as much, I did not have those moments where I could have sworn Mildmay was just like I would have been were I an assassin/kept thief growing up in the streets of Melusine.

Overall, Corambis was not as dark as the other novels in the series (and I'm sure you all know by now that I have a masochistic streak when it comes to my reading - the darker, the better). There were definitely still parts that qualified as plenty dark, but it seemed to have less of that tone overall.

Other than Felix and Mildmay, none of the characters from Melusine were in this book. I was not particularly attached to any of the minor characters, but I did miss the petty wizards of the Mirador and the city itself. Corambis was an interesting setting, but it didn't have the same flair as Melusine for me. It was a more stifling atmosphere.

In spite of the fact that I didn't have the urge to devote a shrine to this book, I still loved reading about Mildmay and Felix and the way they contrast each other. Felix is so educated and book smart but completely lacking in common sense. Mildmay lacks formal education and constantly annoys Felix with his bad grammar but tends to make all the intelligent observations and connections. His comments and way of thinking about the world around him often made me stop and snicker. As always, Monette excelled at writing the perspectives of both characters and making me care about them.

Although my thoughts didn't return to it as often as I expected after reading the last sentence, Corambis was well worth reading for more on Felix and Mildmay, two of my favorite characters ever created. It still makes me sad to think this is the last new novel I'll read about them.


Other reviews of Corambis:
Other reviews of books in The Doctrine of Labyrinth series:

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Sarah Monette Q&A on Her Blog

So I finished Corambis last night (or rather, in the wee hours of the morning since it was technically sometime after 4 AM) and finally headed over to check out the Q&A Sarah Monette has running on her blog. I'd been waiting to finish the book first in case there were spoilers, but it seems I did not need to worry since she hid any question containing anything that could be considered a spoiler, even if it was a minor event or something that happened on page 2. Of course, it's more fun to be able to read all the questions and answers without fear of spoiling the story, but if you're curious about it don't avoid it entirely for fear of spoilers. (Questions pertaining to The Mirador are also hidden unless you decide to click the link and read it.)

Not all the questions pertain to The Doctrine of Labyrinth series although the vast majority of them do. I found it very interesting and am amazed by the amount of thought and detail Monette put into this series. It's very unfortunate that her writing contract was not picked up again since she is a very talented author.

Question for anyone familiar with the Cat series by Joan Vinge: Does each book in the series work as a stand alone? Quite a while ago, John picked up Dreamfall at a bargain book sale but that is the only one we have and happens to be the last book in the trilogy. After learning that the main character from that series was part of the inspiration for Mildmay, I really want to read it, though.

Another question (for anyone who has read The Bone Key): How is it? This is now the only book I have not read by Monette, including A Companion to Wolves which she cowrote with Elizabeth Bear, and I'm a little hesitant to pick it up since I'm not a huge fan of short stories. But it's by Sarah Monette and it does sound rather intriguing so I'm torn but leaning toward "It's by Sarah Monette, just read it already!"

Sometime over the next week or so, I'll be working on a review of Corambis. For now, I still need to think about it some more because, honestly, I didn't LOVE it the same way I did the first three books and I can't figure out why. It was still good; I just didn't have the same emotional connection with it as I did the other books in the series. The quality of writing and characterization is still very high so I'm not completely sure why other than that it must be an issue with my personal taste. Maybe it's just because it wasn't as dark (which isn't to say it was not at all dark but it didn't seem as dark as the other books in the series). I'll have to think about that one a little more...

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Review of Feast of Souls

Feast of Souls is the first book in the Magister trilogy, the latest series by C.S. Friedman, perhaps best known for her Coldfire trilogy. The second book, Wings of Wrath, was just released in hardcover in February. It has yet to be announced when the final book Legacy of Kings will be available. After reading C.S. Friedman's debut novel, the space opera In Conquest Born, I knew I had to read more of her work and after all I had heard about this one, it sounded right up my alley. Feast of Souls is a dark epic fantasy containing a wide cast of characters and many elements that are somewhat familiar to readers of the genre, yet they are well executed and the nature of magic in the world is interesting enough to keep it from feeling stale.

In Feast of Souls, magic requires great sacrifice, for those who practice it can only do so at the cost of shortening their own life. Small spells may only shave a few seconds or minutes from their time remaining but larger ones could remove a few years from the caster's total lifespan. The prologue introduces us to Imnea, a witch in her mid-thirties who feels about eighty years old due to the amount of magic she has used. Although she has retired from spellcasting to preserve what little time she has left, the people she helped throughout the years despise her for her selfishness in refusing to give up the last little bit of life she has left to help them. When a woman comes to Imnea requesting she save her child from a plague, Imnea resists at first but ends up giving up her life to help the boy. Meanwhile, his young sister Kamala watches and determines to become the first female magister rather than die from using her ability.

The magisters are a small group of men who can wield magic to their heart's content without dying. Many of them have survived for centuries despite rather liberal use of their power. Their secret of longevity is only known to themselves and no woman has ever been able to accept the consequences of becoming a magister, for the cost of magic is still life itself and magisters simply use another person to fuel their spells. When the Prince Andovan is diagnosed with the Wasting disease associated with those who are bound to a magister, their ugly secret is threatened - a truth that must remain hidden from the general public so the vulnerabilities of the magisters is not exposed.

This book was a little difficult to get into toward the beginning, as it switched back and forth between characters and introduced the main players and their motivations. However, once the story got going, it was difficult to put down and I ended up staying up late one night to finish it because I just had to know how it ended as soon as possible. The story is far from finished, though, with many questions left unanswered in the first installment of this trilogy.

Overall, there were many plot elements and character descriptions that seemed like very typical fantasy tropes. An old, nearly forgotten threat to the world returns true to the prophecy that what had happened before would happen again. Most people regarded this danger as an old myth but a few chosen to defend remember it. There is a mad king (both crazy-mad and temperamental-mad) who is led astray by a corrupt adviser. A mysterious wizard seems to know more about events than he is willing to share. These are still handled well, but there are two main parts that make a Feast of Souls stand out from the typical fantasy novel: the examination of power via effects of wielding magic and Kamala.

C.S. Friedman's portrayal of power is harsh. It's fleeting for those who are not cold enough to use the energy of other people. The only way to remain strong is to be a survivor, to be willing to look out for yourself first and remain alive no matter what the consequences - even if it means that somewhere an innocent person dies to keep you hale. Although the means of becoming a magister is horrible, they do some good. Power is not always exercised for selfish reasons - one may use the life force of a single person to save several people.

Most of the characters did not seem particularly well developed or out of the ordinary to me in this largely plot-driven novel - the one big exception to this was Kamala. From early on, the one character whose story always hooked me and kept me reading was Kamala's. The powerful scene in the prologue showed a defining moment in shaping her life and from then on I was very intrigued by the young woman who had the strength and determination to pursue a path knowing that all others of her gender had not been able to follow it. She has not had a happy life (her mother was poor and sold Kamala to men as a prostitute at a young age) but has come out more resilient instead of weakened. Kamala is not a "good" character but she is not come across as an "evil" person, either. It is perfectly reasonable that she would be hardened, but she is not completely heartless.

Feast of Souls is the beginning of what promises to be an entertaining dark fantasy series. Although it has some obvious characteristics of the genre, there are enough elements done well that it's well worth the read and I'm looking forward to the next book (although I will be waiting for it to come to paperback).


Read the prologue (scroll down)

Other Reviews:

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Review of Iron Kissed

Iron Kissed is the third 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 about the shape-shifting mechanic 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, the second is Blood Bound, and the fourth is Bone Crossed (which was recently released in hardcover). When completed, the series will contain at least seven books.

In the previous book, Mercy racked up yet another favor when her fae friend Zee lent her some useful items for vanquishing some nasty vampires. While she is at movie night with the werewolf Warren and his boyfriend, Zee calls and requests she repay him immediately. Several fae have been murdered in their homes on the fae reservation and Zee hopes that Mercy can use her coyote senses to pick up a scent common to all the crime scenes. She does indeed manage to find one smell present at each house, which leads to the imprisonment of Zee when he goes to confront the suspect just in time to find his fresh corpse.

Mercy decides to help Zee as much as she can, even if it means angering some of the other fae who would rather she mind her own business. Meanwhile, it has become apparent that Mercy needs to choose between Samuel and Adam as the tension escalates between the two very dominant werewolves. It's a decision she's not sure that she can make - not only does she care for both but she can't imagine losing the friendship of either one.

Each book in this series I read is better than its predecessor. Of course, I may be a bit partial to this one because this time the main mystery involves the fae, which fascinate me far more than werewolves or vampires. Ever since I was about 6 years old, I've loved the more disturbing fairy tales by Hans Christian Anderson and The Brothers Grimm, so they have always held a special place in my heart. The fae of Mercy's world are of the devious variety - the type you cannot turn your back on for a moment and under no circumstances does one want to owe them. In addition to their dark natures, I also really love the mythology surrounding them and the wide variety of fae races.

Putting aside my bias toward the subject of the mythos of the dark fae, the writing in this book is an improvement over the earlier ones. It is very impressive that Briggs can pack so much into such a short novel. She maintains great balance between action/plot and character/relationship development. Dull moments are non-existent and this was another page-turner that I could hardly put down. Now that there are a few books, the info dumps are becoming less frequent and jarring, although they are still present. It did feel a bit formulaic in the beginning since the mystery plotline was introduced basically the same as the last book - Mercy was asked to return a favor she owed someone who somehow helped her save the day in the last book.

Mercy remains the same character I came to love in the first two books. Even if she does have shape-shifting ability, she is very realistic and human. She tends to be practical and down-to-earth, but she's not perfect and does have difficulty with keeping her mouth shut at times. Loyalty and friendship are important to her, and part of her difficulty with choosing between Samuel and Adam is the thought of hurting one of them. Yet she is also a very independent woman and will not let either of them walk all over her - if she feels one of them is being too possessive or trying to provoke the other, she makes a point of backing off. This isn't to say she never gives in to her feelings toward one of them, but when she does, it's generally not for long before her better judgment kicks in. Both of these men are dominant, overbearing werewolf control freaks, though, so it will be interesting to see if she can continue to deal with them without completely compromising her free spirit.

The love triangle is a refreshing departure from the norm - it is not particularly angsty and Mercy never takes of advantage of it. She is not flirty and she doesn't gloat about being so popular with the men (even if it is a little uncanny how many of them are attracted to a woman who is described as being not particularly pretty). As with everything else, she has a pragmatic attitude toward it. When she does think about Samuel or Adam, she does not let her heart overrule her head but really thinks about who is right for her and how he would affect her life. Also, the conundrum of who Mercy ends up with is resolved in this novel - and without a lot of drama, in a way that really works and makes sense.

This novel does contain a scene toward the end that is more disturbing than the other two books in the series so far. Since it would be a spoiler to say what it is, it's a little tough to warn those who may find it difficult to read about it. Despite the severe circumstances, it was executed without being overly graphic. In fact, there was so little detail that I wasn't exactly sure what had happened at first and had to reread the scene.

Iron Kissed is another strong (but somewhat darker) installment in the Mercy Thompson series involving supernatural races, an entertaining mystery plot, and an endearing lead character. This is the most fun new series I have discovered so far this year and I'll definitely be picking up more books by Patricia Briggs, both in this series and some of her older ones.


Read Chapter One

Friday, April 10, 2009

Review of The Oracle Lips

Short stories have never been a favorite of mine. I much prefer to read novels since they allow more time to get to know the characters and become immersed in the story. However, Storm Constantine is a favorite of mine and has been ever since I read her Wraeththu novels, which are my favorite books along with Sarah Monette's The Doctrine of Labyrinth series. So I eagerly dug into my copy of The Oracle Lips, a numbered (and signed!) collection of short fiction by Storm Constantine. Although I still prefer the Wraeththu novels, many of these dark stories also appealed to me. Constantine has an incredible way with words and I love the way she tended to end stories on a haunting, ambiguous note.

The Oracle Lips is a very lovely book with a forward by Michael Moorcock and a blurb on each work by the author. It contains twenty-three fantasy and science fiction short stories and one poem. Several stories are related to the worlds in Constantine's novels, including one set in the Wraeththu universe and three about the Grigori.

As with all collections, the tales vary in quality. The earliest work, "Curse of the Snake" is very dense with too much background information and not enough interesting events for a story of its length. Throughout the book, the writing tends toward density and lush, atmospheric descriptions, but with this particular story it was too much and it lost me. As much as I love Constantine's gorgeous writing style, I preferred the stories that had a better balance of description and dialogue.

My favorite of the bunch is "Sweet Bruising Skin," a dark version of the fairy tale "The Princess and the Pea." Constantine always felt that a girl with skin that bruised that easily was rather creepy and wrote a disturbing tale of a prince who would not settle for less than the perfect woman. His mother asks her sorcerer for a princess who will attract him and soon thereafter a mysterious young lady shows up one day claiming to be royalty. When the validity of her statement is questioned, the prince's mother declares the the highborn have particularly sensitive skin and if the woman awakens bruised after sleeping on a stack of mattresses with a single pea underneath, she is indeed a princess. The stranger is so black and blue in the morning that she appears badly beaten. As time passes, the prince's mother begins to realize there is something very sinister about the young woman and determines to discover what her sorcerer is hiding. The tone was at times light with the mother's pompous narrative as she relates the story to another and at times it was very unsettling.

There is a great deal of diversity throughout this collection ranging from the everyday world and contemporary fantasy to mythical fantasy settings to Egypt and archeology to distant planets and aliens to computers and cyberpunk. Common themes include identity, self discovery, gender, and obsession (both romantic and religious) and are handled very well throughout. Constantine does an excellent job of showing infatuation taken too far. I particularly enjoyed how events played out in "Angel of the Hate Wind" when a man wanted a woman so much that he summoned an angel and asked for the her love. Although his wish is granted, the end is extraordinarily tragic.

Constantine has some great opening lines that set up the story and hook you at the same time. The following are some of the first sentences that I found particularly compelling:
We were sitting on the edge of Celestial Alley just watching the night go by, when the girl out of time walked past, looking for a moment to keep. ("The Time She Became")

Sheila met the woman she should have been in the ladies wash-room at Euston station. ("The Oracle Lips")

Donna can feel computers dreaming; they reach out and touch her mind, or so she says. ("Immaculate")

You can waste a lot of time being in love with people. ("Fire Born")
The stories are imaginative, fantastic, and beautifully written, yet they cannot compare to the excellence of the Wraeththu novels even though they share similar themes. This is largely be due to my preference for character driven stories since short stories do not allow for a truly in-depth study of the people within. While Wraeththu shares the same lyrical prose style, it has much more emotion since there is time to get to know the characters, who are each very unique individuals with well-drawn, real personalities.

The Oracle Lips is an eclectic compilation of dense but mostly well-written speculative fiction stories that tend to set a dark, haunting mood. It is a great collector's edition for fans of Storm Constantine, but I'd suggest first time readers begin with the first Wraeththu book, The Enchantments of Flesh and Spirit.


Monday, April 6, 2009

Win Seven Books from Angry Robot

Angry Robot, the upcoming SF/F/WTF?! imprint from Harper Collins, is running a contest in which the winner will receive their first seven books. All you have to do is come up with an award-winning name for the angry robot:

To enter the contest, go to the Name that Droid page. And if you saw it on this site and happen to win, I could win some sort of mysterious and awesome prize too.

Personally, I'm curious about exactly what ticked the robot off... Any ideas?

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Review of Blue Diablo

Blue Diablo is the first novel in the Corine Solomon urban fantasy series by Ann Aguirre (it is due to be released on April 7). According to Aguirre's website, the next two books will be called Hell Fire and Shady Lady and will be released in April 2010 and April 2011, respectively. I have read Aguirre's first two novels in the Jax science fiction series and found both to be very entertaining, fast-paced stories that kept me on the edge of my seat from start to finish - so I knew I had to read Blue Diablo when I first heard about it. Although I still slightly prefer the Jax books, this was a new story that contained many of the elements I enjoyed about the other series and I'll still be picking up any novel Aguirre writes as soon as I can get a hold of it.

For the last eighteen months, Corine Solomon has managed to leave her old life behind and is happy living a quiet life running a pawn shop in Mexico. She still fears someone from her past will some day find her - a fear that comes true when the main reason she left, her ex-boyfriend Chance, shows up at her store. Corine has no intention of having anything to do with Chance again, even though she still has feelings for him, until she learns the news that someone very important to both of them mysteriously disappeared. Since Corine is a handler, someone who can touch an item and discern its history, she has helped find missing persons in the past and may be the only chance they have of locating this missing person.

In spite of her concern about the situation, Corine is still hesitant to join forces with Chance once again. The two of them used to work together to solve cases, and Corine left after she almost died because Chance insisted they could handle a particularly dangerous opponent. Because of this, Corine came to the conclusion that Chance only cared about her for the income from her ability and took off in the middle of the night without even saying goodbye. But Chance is no ordinary man himself with his talent of luck and offers to use his extraordinary skill to get her the revenge she has always wanted in return for her aid.

Blue Diablo is a short, absorbing book that kept me turning the pages. Although it is urban fantasy with a mystery and romance, it did not contain the typical paranormal creatures, such as vampires, werewolves, and fae. The fantasy elements were black magic, sorcerers and witches, ghosts, and people with abilities.

This book is very similar in style to the novels in the Jax series. The story is told from the first person point of view of the heroine, who has a humorous tone to her narrative. The chapters end on a cliffhanger or with a phrase that doesn't explain exactly what happened so you want to start the next chapter right away. There is not a large amount of backstory or setup before it starts getting interesting and draws you in. Immediately, we know that Corine has a dark past that she is trying to stay away from, and only 4 pages in, Chance shows up and turns her life upside down. There is no time wasted in getting to the heart of what the story is about - solving the mystery and Corine's struggles with her past, her ability, and the man she cares for but feels she can't be with.

Also like the Jax books, the characters are broken people who have had hard lives and any power they have comes with a price. During her childhood, Corine gained psychometry as a gift from her mother, who passed it on to her when their house was deliberately burned down. Every single time Corine uses her ability, her hands literally burn and she remembers her mother's death and the guilt of obeying her mother's wish that Corine get out of there as fast as possible, even if it means leaving her behind. Likewise, Chance has good luck, which sounds like it really can't go wrong. Who wouldn't like their life to be full of occurrences such as randomly running into people who owe them tons of money when they could really use the cash? However, he also attracts chaos and although he's fortunate enough to escape the consequences, the people he cares about who are with him do not - and he can do nothing about it since it's something that happens to him naturally and he can't just stop being lucky.

This novel did have more focus on romantic relationships than the Jax books. Chance wants to get Corine back, but she doesn't feel that getting back together with him would be very smart. Meanwhile, she's getting to know a hunky empath who can teach her about being gifted, but she's not sure if he is truly attracted to her or only thinks he is since he can feel her attraction to him. I did enjoy the romance, but at times, I found it rather wearisome when Corine would go on and on about how hot one of the guys looked.

The main mystery plot is wrapped up by the end of the book, although there is certainly plenty of room for sequels. I did think the ending was a bit rushed and anti-climactic since it was resolved in one short chapter.

Blue Diablo is another exciting page turner from Ann Aguirre. The conclusion was a bit weak and there was sometimes a bit too much focus on descriptions of physical attraction for my personal taste, but I still had so much fun reading it that I can hardly wait for the next one.


Read the first chapter

Friday, April 3, 2009

Blue Diablo Winner

Sorry I didn't get to post this earlier but I've been at work all day and just got back not that long ago. Ann announced the winner this morning in the giveaway post comments, but just in case no one saw it there, the winner is:


Congratulations! Send your mailing info to aztleclady1 at gmail dot com in order to receive your copy of Blue Diablo. Happy reading!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Guest Post by Ann Aguirre and Blue Diablo Giveaway!

As my birthday present to myself I snagged a post by a guest author for today, and she's one of my favorite new authors! The Fantasy Cafe is happy to welcome Ann Aguirre, author of the immensely entertaining space operas Grimspace and Wanderlust and the forthcoming urban fantasy novel Blue Diablo (release date April 7). Below Ann talks about her experiences with reading fantasy and offers the chance for one of you to win a copy of Blue Diablo!

My Life-long love

I love fantasy. I always have.

My first memory of reading a fantasy novel: I was eight years old, and someone was in the hospital. I suspect it was one of my grandparents, but I cannot be sure because I had a copy of The Hobbit in my hands. I’d checked it out at the library and I was lost in that book. I know I sat in that hard vinyl chair in the waiting room for hours, but I don’t remember any of that day. I remember only the book I was reading at the time.

Once I discovered Tolkien’s other works, I devoured those quickly. And then I realized he was the founding father of a whole, magical realm of fiction. Each week, I went to the mall and browsed my Waldenbooks for likely candidates. I discovered Terry Brooks and Piers Anthony, almost straightaway.

This is what I spent my allowance on as a kid. After I got my first job, I put part of the money in my gas tank; the rest I spent on books. In college, I was much the same, but there were certain authors I would buy instead of food. Sharon Shinn was one of them.

So clearly I can remember how I felt when I discovered her books for the first time. I was in a dungeon of a shop in Muncie, Indiana. I didn’t really want to be there because, frankly, they sold gaming stuff: Dungeons and Dragons, sourcebooks, dice, graph paper, and pewter miniatures. I wanted to be in a proper bookstore because I had a little money to spend. (My part-time job as a pharmacy tech paid all of $4 an hour.) But I had gamer friends (and I played too, but my great love has always been books), so I was hanging around the store, waiting for them. As I wandered, I eventually came upon a wire book rack. It mostly had TSR novels (Drizzt, Forgotten Realms, Dragonlance) and maybe a few White Wolf stories. I was spinning it listlessly when this fey cover art caught my eye.

Hm, what’s this? I asked myself, plucking the book from the rack. The Shapechanger’s Wife. I read the back and it sounded wonderful, so I bought it at once. While they finished shopping, I hugged the paper bag to my chest and couldn’t wait to get home to start reading. In short, I devoured that one in a few hours and then from that point on, I would buy whatever she released, even if I had to dine on ramen… or nothing at all. The coolest thing about Sharon Shinn is that so many years later, I’ve had the pleasure of her reading my book for a blurb—and then I met her last summer. After that, I cried tears of pure joy over a dream come true. It’s so wonderful when your idols turn out to be even more amazing than you dreamed.

What authors do you love like that? A random commenter will win a copy of Blue Diablo.

Giveaway Rules
1) The winner will be selected within 24 hours.
2) The winner will be contacted via email by azteclady, therefore a valid email address must be provided for the comment to be entered in the giveaway (this can be through your own blog or website).

Thank you Ann! For the record, after reading this I almost bought Archangel by Sharon Shinn, but unfortunately my local Borders was out. That won't stop me for long, though...

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Read the First Chapter of Naamah's Kiss and Santa Olivia

This year, Jacqueline Carey has two new novels coming out and the first chapter of each is on her website. Santa Olivia, a novel about superheroes and the werewolf myth, will be available on May 29. Naamah's Kiss, the first book in a new trilogy set in the same world as Kushiel's Legacy, will be released on June 24.