Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Leaning Pile of Books

Eek, it's been a whole week and the last one of these was the last post I wrote. I was hoping to get at least one of those reviews written in the last week but hopefully I'll get one written up before this weekend is over instead (most likely The Book of Jhereg, although I also need to write reviews of Twilight of Avalon and The Illustrated Guide to Mythical Creatures). Meanwhile, I've been reading the massive omnibus Miles Errant by Lois McMaster Bujold to give myself time to get caught up on all these reviews. I've finished both the novella and Brothers in Arms and am now reading Mirror Dance, which has potential to be my favorite book in the Miles Vorkosigan series so far.

This week I got a few new books I've been looking forward to for a while. I am really hoping to read at least some of these in February; hopefully I will have more time to read then.

Bone Crossed by Patricia Briggs

Earlier last year I devoured the first three books in the Mercy Thompson series but held off on the fourth book until it came to paperback (since my books would be mismatched - yes, I am anal). When I got a Borders gift card for Christmas, I knew I would have to save it for when Bone Crossed came to paperback, which was just a couple of days ago. (I'm now saving the rest for if I get addicted to the Kate Daniels series.) Waiting was so hard, though, that I'm not sure if I'll be able to wait for paperback when the next book comes out in a couple of months.

The Spirit Lens by Carol Berg

Carol Berg's Rai-kirah series is one of my favorites of all time so I was very excited to hear about her her first book in the Collegia Magica series, The Spirit Lens. It came out the beginning of January but I ended up waiting for it for a while since I preordered it along with another book by a favorite author that was coming out at the end of this month...

Dragon Keeper by Robin Hobb

Robin Hobb's Farseer/Liveship Traders/Tawny Main trilogies are among my favorites and my very favorite of the three is Liveship Traders. So I was very excited about this book, the first in the Rain Wilds Chronicles duology. It has been out in the UK for a little while, but it only became available in the US this week so there would not be a long wait for the second part, Dragon Haven (May 2010).

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Leaning Pile of Books

I thought I was going to have a week without one of these posts but then yesterday I found one ARC in my mailbox.

Feed by Mira Grant

This is the first book in the Newsflesh series (also known to me as the "RSS Zombie" book, as my husband started calling it). According to Orbit's website, it will be released in May, but I noticed Amazon says it will be available on April 27. In spite of the fact that I normally avoid zombie books like - well, kind of like I would the actual zombie apocalypse - I am considering reading this one. For one thing, Mira Grant is another name for Seanan McGuire and I did really enjoy her novel Rosemary and Rue. Secondly, I read the first paragraph and am actually rather curious about it now.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


I don't often make link posts, but there were a couple of links I saw this week that I wanted to mention so here they are.

First off, some very sad news. Kage Baker, author of The Company series, is very ill and would love to hear from her fans (email and snail mail addresses are provided for anyone who would like to send her a message of support).

Thanks to Adventures in Reading, I found this interview with Steven Brust. Since I'm currently working on a review of Brust's The Book of Jhereg, I figured I'd include it.

That reminded me of an interesting article (also on and posted by Jo Walton like the interview) that I read the other day and had meant to link to - SF Reading Protocols.

There is going to be a Book Blogger Convention in New York City on March 28, 2010. It's the Friday right after Book Expo America, which takes place during the same week. Both sound like a lot of fun.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Review of The Snow Queen

The Snow Queen by Joan D. Vinge won the Hugo Award in 1981 and was also nominated for a Nebula Award. This science fiction novel was followed by a novella, World's End, which is the story of what happened to BZ Gundhalinu after the first novel ended. The Summer Queen is the direct sequel to The Snow Queen and was nominated for a Hugo Award in 1992. The most recent novel set in this universe, Tangled Up In Blue, is a stand-alone about BZ Gundhalinu that takes place during the earlier part of The Snow Queen. Unfortunately, The Snow Queen and World's End are both out of print now.

The story of The Snow Queen is loosely based on Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale sharing the same title. The planet Tiamat is divided into two peoples, the Winters and the Summers. For about 150 years, the Stargate to other worlds remains open and during this time Tiamat is ruled by a Winter Queen. Once the gate closes and the foreigners leave, the Winter Queen is removed in favor of a Summer Queen. The Winters enjoy the technological benefits of the offworlders who visit during their time in power, but the Summers are a more spiritual people who do not share the Winters' interest in technology and are considered to be a rather primitive people by the Winters.

The reign of the Winter Queen, Arienrhod, is drawing to an end after 150 years during which she has been kept young by the "water of life." Reluctant to lose her important position, Arienrhod secretly had several clones created and raised as Summers in the hopes that one will survive and succeed her as queen. Only one of these doubles grows up to be a possibility for Arienrhod's successor, Moon Dawntreader Summer.

Moon and her cousin Sparks grew up together - and grew to love each other. Ever since they were young, Moon and Sparks have dreamed of becoming sybils, whom the Summers respect for their ability to enter into a trance and answer questions posed to them truly. While Moon passes the test, Sparks does not which causes a rift between them, particularly as it is known that to love a sybil is death. Sparks leaves for the Winter town of Carbuncle where Arienrhod rules, and once the queen hears that her clone's cousin is there, she uses him to draw Moon near. Yet her plan goes awry and Moon ends up leaving the world behind - and leaving both Arienrhod and Sparks to turn to each other while mourning her loss. However, Moon learns some important truths offworld and feels it is her destiny to return to Tiamat.

The Snow Queen was not only my favorite book read in 2009 but is now one of my absolute favorite books I have ever read. It was a little slow at times, especially toward the beginning, but the way it all came together later made me feel even the slower parts added a lot. The world of Tiamat and the characters were both fascinating, and some of the scenes toward the end were so bittersweet and haunting that they will be sticking with me for a long time to come.

This is a difficult book for me to talk about without spoilers since the second half is where it began taking off and tying everything together so nicely. There's not anything I can think of that I didn't like about it since even the parts that seemed to drag a little when I first read them seemed important to me later - I don't think it would have been the same without them. I loved the writing, the characters, the story, the romance and the social structure of the planet Tiamat.

If there was one flaw I saw, it may be that Moon seemed too perfect - everyone seemed to love her, she showed kindness to those she had every reason to hate, she was beautiful, she never stopped caring for Sparks even when he could be a bit of a jerk, she fulfilled her lifelong dream of becoming a sybil and she attained special knowledge. None of this mattered to me, though, and I even thought it worked with her character when it came to seeing how she was so similar yet so different from Arienrhod. They both had some shared traits but Moon was so innocent while the older queen was manipulative. It made me wonder if young Arienrhod was more like Moon and what that means for Moon's future.

Other than Moon, there were other characters who had their time in the limelight and I enjoyed reading about every single one of them. At first, I found myself wanting to just read about Moon or Arienrhod and wondered why there was time spent with some of the other characters, but by the end I found I couldn't imagine the book without each and every one of them as all of their stories affected me.

Tiamat itself was such a wonderful place to visit and was very well-developed without being full of dull descriptions. I really enjoyed reading about the divide between the Summers and Winters, the sybils and how they were viewed by the two different peoples and the discovery of what sybils were as well as the revelation about the source of the water of life.

The Snow Queen is a wonderful science fiction book with a well-realized setting and culture, great characters I came to really sympathize with, lovely writing and some memorable scenes. It's one of those rare books that I just love and wouldn't change in the least. I'm very much looking forward to reading The Summer Queen and more by Joan D. Vinge.

My Rating: 10/10

Where I got my reading copy: My husband gave me a signed copy for Christmas.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Leaning Pile of Books

This was a pretty good week for books. Also, I'm almost to the point where I can start reviewing books read in 2010, which makes me happy since that means I'm closer to caught up with reviews than I have been since before the holidays. Right now I have one review about halfway written that I am hoping to put up tomorrow and after that there are only two more to go (with another book almost finished, but three is not too far behind, especially with more recently read books).

Now on to books received this week.

The Summer Queen by Joan D. Vinge

My very favorite book read last year ended up being the last book I read in 2009, The Snow Queen, so of course I had to order the sequel soon after reading it. I read part of the first chapter and cannot wait to read it although I have told myself I cannot until I have reviewed The Snow Queen (which I'm working on a review of now). This is one I will definitely need to read sometime in the near future even if it is so massive it will probably take me forever to do so.

Salt of the Air by Vera Nazarian

Since I ordered The Summer Queen, I got another book so I could get free shipping. Normally I don't buy short story collections, but I do have a soft spot for fairy tales and couldn't resist when I saw this had some, including a retelling of my favorite "Beauty and the Beast." Also, I really like Vera Nazarian's writing style. Plus it includes "Lore of Rainbow," which is set in the same world as Lords of Rainbow, the novel I read by this author (and loved).

Warriors edited by George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois

This was another unexpected ARC, and one I was very excited to receive - I'll definitely be reading this anthology. It includes a new Dunk and Egg story set in the same world as George R. R. Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" plus stories by many other authors such as Robin Hobb, Peter S. Beagle, Naomi Novik, Diana Gabaldon, David Weber, Carrie Vaughn, Tad Williams and Robert Silverberg. It will be released on March 16.

Sea Dragon Heir by Storm Constantine

This is the first book in "The Chronicles of Magravandias" trilogy. A couple of weeks ago I mentioned that a friend and I made a deal to read each other's three favorite books from last year in 2010. She sent me the ones I didn't already have and this was one of them. It was her very favorite from last year (well, actually I think the third book in this series was but that's not really a good starting point) so I'm supposed to read it sometime by the end of February. Even though I loved Constantine's Wraeththu books and really liked her short story collection The Oracle Lips, I must admit I'm actually a bit nervous about reading this one. I've heard it is one of her weaker books and the reviews for it are very mixed.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Review of Busted Flush

Busted Flush is the second book in a new Wild Cards trilogy edited by George R.R. Martin, following Inside Straight (review). Suicide Kings, the third book in this set and the twentieth Wild Cards book, was released in hardcover last month. Even though I haven't read any of the books other than this one and its predecessor, I found Inside Straight a decent starting point (I think it did help that I knew the general premise of the universe; otherwise I may have been confused). It felt like the beginning of a series, although with both that book and this one I did get the impression that there were some characters and events referenced that were from earlier books. Since Inside Straight introduces all the characters and their current situation, I would definitely recommend reading that one before Busted Flush.

The Wild Cards books are set in a different version of our world in which an alien virus killed most people, disfigured others and gave a small percentage superpowers. They are mosaic novels written by several different authors. Busted Flush was written by Melinda M. Snodgrass, Caroline Spector, Carrie Vaughn, Walton Simons, Ian Tregillis, Kevin Andrew Murphy, Victor Milan, Stephen Leigh, and John Jos. Miller.

Busted Flush picks up after the first season of American Hero and the formation of the Committee, largely made up of contestants from the reality television show. The Committee was created so those with power could use their abilities to make a difference, and they are called to aid with three occurrences throughout the world - a hurricane in New Orleans, rumors of genocide in Africa and an oil shortage caused by Prince Siraj in the Middle East. Meanwhile, many of them must contend with their own personal problems and some dissension among the ranks due to the work of a double agent.

This review has been a bit tough for me to do, mostly just because I had the hardest time writing a plot description. Since there were so many different characters and storylines, I found it really hard to write a spoiler-free synopsis, especially since the main plot didn't really take off for a little bit (which isn't to say the first part was dull because it was not). The plot description still doesn't really say as much as I want it to, but considering I've been working on this review off and on for over a month and a half, I guess it will have to do.

This book was more about the characters than Inside Straight, which I rather liked, particularly since the main character whose story was intertwined throughout the rest in this one was very interesting to read about. Melinda Snodgrass wrote the story of Noel, a hermaphrodite who could teleport. (His mother chose to raise him as a boy so Noel is referred to as a male.) During the day, Noel could turn into a man who supposedly worked for Prince Siraj and by night he could turn into Lilith, a woman who supposedly worked for the Committee. Noel's true loyalty is to the Silver Helix, though. His life is pretty complicated, as he also is a magician and a son dealing with his father's impending death from an illness. In Inside Straight, I didn't feel like I got a good idea of who Noel really was, but this book made him my very favorite character in the series so far and the sections about him were the ones I most looked forward to. He was complex and his character's development throughout this book was very well done. By the end, he had definitely changed from the person he was at the very beginning.

Although Noel was my favorite, there were others I enjoyed reading about as well. I love Ana and Kate and the close friendship they developed in the first book and Michelle with her compassion. Two of the new characters, a woman named Niobe and a ten-year-old boy named Drake, were also enjoyable to read about. Niobe's ability was both a blessing and a curse to her, and Drake's was powerful but more of a curse than anything.

The other highlight is the superpowers, especially those which require some sort of sacrifice from the person with the ability. One woman, a healer, had to undergo some horrific circumstances in order to actually exercise her power. I don't want to give away the specifics, but it's a definitely a lot more extreme than feeling tired after healing someone else. Michelle, a former supermodel, has to allow herself to carry a massive amount of weight in order to use her superpower. Some of the powers are straightforward, such as Ana's ability to manipulate earth, but the most interesting ones are the ones that have some sort of check in place to keep them from being too powerful or require some sort of choice by the person with the power.

Like most books of this nature, there were some stories I enjoyed less than others. There were some slow parts and some characters I don't find as compelling as many of the others, such as Drummer Boy. Like its predecessor, I felt this book wasn't as good toward the end as the rest of it was, although overall I thought this one was just slightly better mainly due to Noel.

Busted Flush is another fun addition to the Wild Cards series with some very intriguing characters, situations and superpowers. I am looking forward to finding out how the series ends, although I will be waiting for the paperback edition to do so.

My Rating: 7.5/10

Where I got my reading copy: I received a review copy from the publisher.

Reviews of related books:

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Things Learned from Trivial Pursuit

This past weekend my husband and I were looking for multiplayer Xbox and downloaded Trivial Pursuit. One of the questions prompted us to find this rather hilarious old video of Leonard Nimoy singing "Ballad of Bilbo Baggins" on Youtube. Sadly, I had this song in my head all yesterday afternoon (it was particularly tragic since the only part I remembered was "Biiiiiiilbo" and it kept repeating over and over and over again).

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Leaning Pile of Books

This is a day late since I was out for a while yesterday and never ended up on the computer for very long. Last week I received two surprise review copies.

Beneath the Skin by Adrian Phoenix

The third book in The Maker's Song about vampire rock star Dante Baptiste came out at the end of December. Since there are two other books in the series that I don't have, I most likely will not be reading it. I did read a review of the first two books over at The Book Smugglers recently, and these don't really sound enough like my type of books for me to track down the previous novels.
Master of None by Sonya Bateman

This novel actually doesn't have a cover on Amazon yet although there is one on Sonya Bateman's website. It's also an urban fantasy about an unlucky thief and a djinn. The release date is March 30th and it is the start of a new series. Since it doesn't require I track down more books to read and it sounds as though it may be humorous, I might give this one a try.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Review of Ascendant Sun

Ascendant Sun is the fifth novel published in Catherine Asaro's Saga of the Skolian Empire series. Currently, there are thirteen novels total in this science fiction series and chronologically Ascendant Sun comes after five other novels in the saga (it is not really sixth chronologically since there are three other novels following different characters set around the same time as this one). I would not recommend beginning with this book which is a direct sequel to The Last Hawk, the first book about the character Kelric. Although I think The Last Hawk is a decent starting point for the series, I do think it is a good idea to read Primary Inversion and The Radiant Seas (in that order) before reading Ascendant Sun or you will miss a lot of what is going on due to Kelric's rather limited perspective.

Please note that Ascendant Sun begins soon after The Last Hawk ends, which means there will be spoilers for the previous book in the plot description. If you do not want to know what happened, skip down to the horizontal line, which marks the end of the plot description.

After spending eighteen years on the planet Coba, Kelric returns to the Skolian Empire only to find it greatly changed. The Skolian web has collapsed, Aristos are openly walking around, his parents are being held in protective custody, and many of his family members are now dead including his brother Kurj and two of his Imperial heirs. Kelric realizes he is now the only surviving Imperial heir but decides it is best not to reveal he is in fact alive due to the current political situation. Yet Kelric himself is dying and needs money and better medical facilities than are available nearby in order to be healed.

After receiving some care at a clinic Kelric is at least well enough to manage for a little while, although he will still die if not treated. He finds a job to earn some money and is later approached by a man who can pay him a great deal of money. However, this high-paying job requires that he travel to a place he'd really rather avoid - Eubian space. In spite of the risk of capture, Kelric accepts since he realizes he just might have a chance to do some good for Skolia.

So far I have read four of the books in this series in addition to this one - Primary Inversion, The Radiant Seas, Skyfall and The Last Hawk. Ascendant Sun is easily my least favorite book in the Saga of the Skolian Empire so far. All the other books were absorbing and difficult to put down, but I actually found this one difficult to get into and outright boring in a lot of places. There were certainly some great parts, but a lot of times I found myself reading this one just to get to the end instead of because I was enjoying it.

One of the reasons Ascendant Sun was disappointing was the incredible amount of infodump. The first couple of chapters covered the events in The Radiant Seas and there was also a lot of explanation about the empire in general and what occurred in The Last Hawk. It was probably intended to be accessible to readers even without being familiar with the other books in the series, but personally I don't think this book works well on its own at all anyway. The main moments I found satisfying were ones that I would not have cared about were I unfamiliar with some of the other characters and what had happened in Primary Inversion and The Radiant Seas. It was emotionally satisfying to read certain scenes because I had been following the plight of these characters.

All the explanations certainly slowed the book down, but that aside, it also just seemed a lot slower paced and less interesting than the other books although I'm not entirely sure what it is about it that kept me from being interested in what was happening at times. At first, I thought it was because it was mainly about Kelric and didn't carry on the main story, but I quickly realized that couldn't be the case. My favorite of the books, The Last Hawk, was all about Kelric and had far less to do with the other books in the series I've read so far on its own (although I suspect it will be important to the overall story arc just because of how it affected Kelric). Perhaps it is because for a while it seemed to be following a similar pattern as The Last Hawk but was missing the compelling setting and secondary characters (although there was one new character that I liked).

In spite of its failure to completely capture me to the same extent as the other books, it was not all bad. Kelric is still a character I enjoy reading about with his intelligence and introspective nature. There were a couple of interesting revelations from Kelric's time spent among the Eubians, and I do enjoy how Asaro manages to make a people with the need to torture others sympathetic and human - not good by any means, but many of them don't seem completely bad either. Two parts near the end also had me so excited I could have jumped up and down (if I had no dignity, that is) - not because they were surprising but just because it was so fulfilling to see them finally happen.

Although it is not the strongest book in the series, Ascendant Sun is not a waste of time for fans of the series who have read at least The Last Hawk, Primary Inversion and The Radiant Seas. There is a lot of explanation and slow parts to get through, but there are also some occurrences that are very rewarding to read about.

My Rating: 6/10

Where I got my reading copy: I bought it.

Reviews of related books (in chronological order):

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Ratings System

This is a post I've been meaning to write for a while since I know everyone has a different view of what constitutes a specific number for a rating. Some people may consider a 6 good while others may consider it bad or mediocre. I did write a post like this a long time ago, but considering my husband may have very well been the only person who read this blog at the time, it's time for a new one. Also, I think I've been able to figure out which one means what to me better than back then. I think I will start linking to this post in each review in case anyone is wondering the basic idea behind the number given to a book.

To Rate or Not to Rate

One of the reasons I've put off writing this for so long is that in spite of the fact that I do use them, I think the contents of the review itself are far more useful and important than the rating. After all, tastes differ - I'm not (too) delusional and realize I'm not the sole authority on what makes a good book. Just because I liked or disliked a book does not mean you will have the same experience with it I did. So it's more important to read the specifics of the review and see if it sounds appealing to you or not.

There have been many posts on various blogs about why or why not to rate and a lot of people believe they are useless. Honestly, I can't say I disagree with any of the points that are brought up against using a numeric ratings system. They do vary because sometimes I am torn between whether or not to rate based on actual writing skill or how much I personally liked the book, and sometimes after some time passes, I may decide a book should have been one point lower or higher than what I gave it depending on how much it did or did not stick with me (which is one of the reasons I do the end of the year favorites list). Sometimes I do worry that some people put more emphasis on them than the review, and then I obsess over the number too much when it's not the most important component of the review.

In general, I now try to rate mostly based on what I thought of it just so people with similar taste can get a better overview of just how much I liked it (when this blog was in its early stages, I couldn't make up my mind so I did not always do it that way). I know that there are some reviewers whose taste is similar enough to mine that if I see they gave a book a rating of 9 or higher, I snap that book up and don't tend to be disappointed.

There have been a couple of times I've considered getting rid of ratings, but I've always decided to keep them for three reasons:

1) It's fun even if I do get neurotic about what to rate a book sometimes. I like seeing a general measurement of how much someone did or did not like a book when I visit other blogs.
2) I think it is helpful in cases of extreme ratings. For instance, if a book is rated 9 or 10 I really loved it no matter what quibbles I pointed out (and I do try to point out areas that others may have issues with even if I personally was not all that annoyed by them so sometimes I'm afraid of making it sound like I enjoyed a book far less than I did). That may not be useful to some people, but to others who tend to enjoy the books I really love, seeing a very high number may be.
3) If you do happen to find them useful, ratings are there. If not, you can always ignore them.

So that is my (rather long-winded) view on ratings. Essentially, I think they are subject to slight changes over time and not nearly as important as the written part of the review, but they may be helpful to some people if they are extreme enough.

Decoding the Numeric Ratings

Here is the basic logic behind what the numbers I give a book mean.

10 - This is without a doubt one of my very favorite books I have ever read. (I believe I have only given out two 10s - one to The Enchantments of Flesh and Spirit by Storm Constantine and The Virtu by Sarah Monette.)

9 - Loved it.

8 - Great.

7 - Good. I consider 7 to be the average good book. It's one that I liked well enough to want to read more in the series/by the author but I'm not head-over-heels in love with it.

6 - Somewhat good. It had some good points but on its own it didn't make me want to read more in the series/by the author (which doesn't mean I won't, particularly if it is by an author who has written other books I've enjoyed - just the individual book didn't quite meet "average good" for me).

5 - It's ok. Can't say I liked it but can't say I actively disliked it either. (Since I tend to be able to see the good and bad points to most things, I give this one a lot more than a rating meaning I outright didn't like it.)

4. Slightly disliked it.

3. Didn't like it.

2. Hated it.

1. Despised it with every fiber of my being. (This is the only rating I have never given out.)

If I'm torn between two ratings, I rate it somewhere in the middle; i.e., 7.5 means pretty good, somewhere between good and great. Basically, if it's at least a 7, I thought it was worth spending time and money on.

So that's my view on ratings and why I use them even though I completely understand where the people who are dead set against using them are coming from. Hope that is helpful to at least some people!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Vote for Your Favorite Review Site

And, no, it doesn't have to be this one. ;) Once again, the Preditors and Editors Readers' Poll for best review site is open. It will be until January 14.

I was really surprised to see several of my favorites missing from the list and I wish I could add them all. It seems like a lot of the ones that were on there last year are missing, at least so far. Maybe I just caught it late last year after just about everyone had already voted.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Leaning Pile of Books

I hope everyone is having a happy 2010 so far! Now that the holidays are over, I'm starting to get back into writing reviews (four left at the moment). Of course, as of tomorrow, my vacation is also over, but I suppose that means I'll be going through fewer books than I have been over the last week.

This week I'll be going back to the old format since I have a much more manageable number of books for the week - one.

Of Darkness, Light, and Fire by Tanya Huff

This is an omnibus containing two unrelated books, Gate of Darkness, Circle of Light and The Fire's Stone. The first one is urban fantasy and the second is traditional fantasy. I received this as a gift from a friend. We made a deal this year in which we each picked three of our favorite books from 2009 and the other person has to read those three books in 2010 (the first favorite one has to be read by the end of February). One of her three picks for me was The Fire's Stone so I'll be reading that one sometime in 2010 (along with Duma Key, which will be my first Stephen King book, and one other book that I'll talk about when I get it - that's the one I need to read by the end of next month). I'm looking forward to reading both of these books since I've been wanting to read something by Tanya Huff (shame on me, I have another omnibus containing two science fiction books by her I haven't read yet).

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Review of Graceling

The YA fantasy Graceling is Kristin Cashore's debut novel. Her second novel Fire, a loosely connected prequel set 35 years prior to Graceling, came out last year. Cashore does recommend reading Graceling first to avoid spoiling part of it, and even though I read these two books in reverse order, I can understand why since it would have taken me a lot longer to guess what was coming if I had not read Fire first. Currently, Cashore is working on a sequel to Graceling called Bitterblue, which takes place about six years after the end of it.

Sixteen-year-old Katsa's two different colored eyes mark her as one of the Graced, people with a specific super-human ability. Some people may be Graced with storytelling, mind reading, or dancing, but each person's ability is at least somewhat unique. When Katsa was eight years old, she hit a man who seemed a little too interested in her - with enough strength to kill him. Ever since then, her uncle the king has found his Graced killer useful for keeping his subjects in line and calls on her to threaten those who aren't behaving as he'd like.

Katsa hates her uncle and the jobs he makes her do, and she formed the Council in order to do some good. Together she and her friends in the Council set out to rescue an old man, the father of the Lienid king, who has been kidnapped by one of the other kings for an unknown reason. While there, she meets a Graced fighter but lets him live in spite of her better judgment. Soon the two become friends and work on discovering the motives behind the disappearance of the old Lienid.

After reading Fire and loving it enough to include it in my favorite books read in 2009, I of course had to read Graceling. I was a little worried I'd end up disappointed with it, mainly because I had heard Fire was an improvement over the first book. Fire is in my opinion the stronger of the two books - it's more polished and better paced, plus I loved Fire more than Katsa as a protagonist. Yet Graceling was still very good with several of the elements that made me enjoy Fire so much - it was very readable and hard to put down once it got going, it had a great female lead with some complex problems, it contained some other wonderful characters, and it was not a perfectly happy story where everything works out 100% perfectly for everyone.

It's probably no surprise that the highlight of this book for me was the characters. Katsa is very hot-tempered and often angry, particularly since she despises her role as her uncle's torturer but feels like she has no choice but to obey the king. It is fun to see her grow throughout this novel, and the people in her life who help her along the way are such endearing characters - her cousin Raffin and Po. There is a bit of a love story and I think Cashore writes romances very well. Katsa is not a brooding, angsty woman who thinks of nothing but getting married and having children (quite the opposite since she is quite vocal about her desire to do neither). Falling in love is not in her plans, but it happens in spite of herself and even when it does it never makes her lose sight of her goals.

The way the story unfolded was also very well done. Part of it I knew about due to reading Fire first, but I really enjoyed the extra complexity that was revealed about the Graces. Katsa and Po's Graces were not as straightforward or simple as initially portrayed and learning more about them and what it meant for both characters was enjoyable, if somewhat too convenient at times.

Graceling is another lovely book by Kristin Cashore with a strong, complex female lead. Between this novel and Fire, it's guaranteed I will pick up anything written by this talented new author.


Where I got my reading copy: I bought it.

Other Reviews:
Review(s) of related books:

Friday, January 1, 2010

Review of The Better Part of Darkness

The Better Part of Darkness
by Kelly Gay
416pp (Paperback)
My Rating: 5/10
Amazon Rating: 4.5/5
LibraryThing Rating: 4.3/5
Goodreads Rating: 4.46/5

The Better Part of Darkness is a debut novel written by Kelly Gay. The sequel to this urban fantasy, The Darkest Edge of Dawn, is supposed to be released in August 2010.

Charlie Madigan works for Atlanta's Integration Task Force, which monitors immigrants whether they are from this dimension or one of the two other dimensions discovered thirteen years before. Together with her partner Hank, a siren from one of these other dimensions, she is called in to investigate a student found unconscious on the bathroom floor at a local school. It turns out that Charlie knows the girl rather well - Amanda has been a baby-sitter and a sort of big sister to her twelve-year-old daughter Emma. Further examination reveals that Amanda is a victim of ash, a dangerous drug suspected to be from another world about which very little is currently known. Charlie determines to discover the truth about ash; meanwhile, she must also contend with the foggy memories of her recent resurrection from the dead and the strange occurrences that have been happening to her ever since.

After seeing rave reviews about The Better Part of Darkness and reading the first few pages, I was really looking forward to reading this book and moved it way up my to-read pile. It seemed fast-paced and easy to get into, and as far as I'm concerned, an urban fantasy without vampires is always a plus. The alternate world with beings from other dimensions instead of the usual paranormal suspects sounded intriguing. At first, I did enjoy this book, but toward the end I found I was bored with it and only reading it to finish it and move on to the next book. It's been hard for me to figure out why because there is nothing that stands out to me as irritating or bad about this novel. I simply lost interest before it was over. At first I thought maybe it was because one of the first urban fantasy series I started with was Mercy Thompson and I love Mercy as a character so much that everything else falls short. Even so, I still really enjoyed several books in the genre I read after that and didn't think were quite as good, though - Blue Diablo by Ann Aguirre and Rosemary and Rue by Seanan McGuire, for instance.

Largely, it may have been because it just seemed to lack character depth. Charlie may appear slightly different since in spite of being the typical smart-mouthed cop urban fantasy heroine with some vulnerability, she is also a divorced single mother raising a preteen daughter. Overall, she just didn't feel unique to me, and all the other characters felt like they had a couple of interesting surface characteristics or quirks but no real personality that made them just come alive to me. Even though the villian did have motives for what he did, he felt very cookie-cutter evil to me and I tend to like characters who have some redeeming qualities instead of just seeming dastardly all the time. There was one character who had some definite potential, but he did not show up nearly often enough to make up for the rest.

The plot was fast-moving and it did have some high points, such as learning about what really happened with Charlie's death and what kinds of consequences her resurrection had. Yet it still was not compelling enough to really make me want to read more.

The Better Part of Darkness had some interesting ideas for a different take on an urban fantasy world, but the characters failed to capture me. Quite frankly, I was tired of the book by the end and ready to just be done with it and move on to a new book. It wasn't a bad book but it also wasn't one that made me eager to read the next one in the series. However, I do seem to be in the minority since most people loved this one, so if it sounds at all interesting, perhaps it would be a good idea to read some of the other reviews linked to.


Where I got my reading copy: It was sent to me by the publisher.

Read Chapter One

Other Reviews: