Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Review of Magic Bleeds

Magic Bleeds is the newest installment in the Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews, a married couple who write together. It is the fourth book following Magic Bites, Magic Burns and Magic Strikes, which are best read in that order. There is also a related novella with a different main protagonist, Magic Mourns, in the anthology Must Love Hellhounds.

Note: There will be spoilers for the first three books in this series in this review - really big ones such as how Magic Strikes ends. This applies to the entire review, not just the plot description.

Although it is the end of Kate's shift working for the Order of the Knights of Merciful Aid, she is called to look into an emergency situation when a fight breaks out at a bar. The Steel Horse is not just any bar since it exists on the border between the Pack of shapeshifters and the People, part of a company/research facility of necromancers. It's one of the few places where the two gather and behave in a civil manner, and neither one is given to drinking much in order to stay in control - the Pack over their beast nature and the People over the vampires that will rip all in sight to shreds if they're not being careful. Due to the presence of these two dangerous factions, Kate has to wonder at the type of person who would dare attack someone there:
Who the hell would attack the Steel Horse anyway? What was the thinking behind that? "Here is a bar full of psychotic killers who grow giant claws and people who pilot the undead for a living. I think I'll go wreck the place." [pp. 10]
However, it's her job and she is enticed with promises of cookies so she heads over to check it out.

What she finds there is even worse than Kate had anticipated - the dead body of a man is pinned to a pole by a crowbar. Further examination reveals the corpse is infested with a living, intelligent disease that must be contained quickly. Once Biohazard takes care of the potential plague and clears Kate as being uninfected, she does some questioning but the main clue is that a man in a cloak was the instigator. Thus begins the case of the "Steel Mary," which Kate throws herself into as she tries to forget about Curran, who recently stood her up.

Each book in this series has been better than the last, and Magic Strikes was so excellent that it was going to be difficult just to match it. Magic Bleeds did take longer than the third book in the series to really hook me, but once it got going it had everything I loved about the previous installment - great character interactions, lots of action, humorous dialogue and occurrences, a strong mythological basis outside of the ordinary, so many memorable moments and lots of references to The Princess Bride (and other literature but mainly The Princess Bride). It was one of those books that had me rereading parts I just read before moving on, and I didn't want it to be over. At times heart-wrenching, at times heartwarming, it was very emotionally gripping.

When I say it took me longer to get absorbed in this one, it was probably largely due to impatience because it was immediately interesting. It's just that so much happened at the end of Magic Strikes and I really wanted to see how all that played out. Plus I found it a little disconcerting that so little seemed to have changed after all that had happened at the end of that novel. Kate destroyed Roland's sword in front of an arena full of people, including Roland's own personal warlord who has to know exactly what that means, and she's just continuing on with her life working for the Order as if nothing happened? She hasn't had to go into hiding or been hunted down? This didn't make a lot of sense to me at first, but this concern was addressed and it seemed perfectly logical later.

Not much may have seemed different toward the beginning, but there were a lot of big changes by the end. It was not at all predictable and a lot of events were ones I did not see coming at all - and so many of them were so very satisfying to read about. It felt like the overall story arc was concluded, but it also had little mysteries that leave one wondering what will happen in the next book. I particularly love how slowly information about Roland has been revealed with little bits and pieces that leave one theorizing about just who he is (I have my suspicions, especially after reading the story of the first vampire).

Although I would never say it crossed the line from urban fantasy into paranormal romance, this is more relationship-oriented than the other books in the series since Kate and Curran face their own relationship. When reading this one, it really struck me just how perfect Kate and Curran could be together - they are both so stubborn and set in their ways. If one of them is going to be with someone else, that someone had better be just as hardheaded. Curran needs to let go of his protectiveness and belief that it's his way or no way, and Kate needs to do the same to a certain extent. They clash so much because of their personalities, but neither one could be with anyone less aggressive without walking all over that person. If they care enough to compromise, both of them would probably be better off because of it.

As with the previous installment, there was some info dumping. There seems to actually be more of this as the series continues, probably because a lot of this is to explain events that happened in the earlier books. Even so, the overall quality has been increasing not decreasing so I'm not going to complain too much about the more frequent stops to fill in readers unfamiliar with previous installments.

Magic Bleeds is another strong addition to the series that manages to uphold the same high standard set by Magic Strikes. Each book delves a little further into Kate's past as it comes to affect her present. This one discloses even more than the last, but it also manages to remain delightfully suspenseful by not giving too much away. Ilona Andrews continues to excel at balancing character and plot with a good dose of humor while slowly unraveling and advancing the storyline.

My Rating: 9/10

Where I got my reading copy: I bought it after refusing to begin another book on the bus ride home from Book Expo America - because no other book would do after finishing Magic Strikes.

Read the Beginning

Reviews of other books in this series:
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Saturday, June 26, 2010

Laini Taylor Book News

Earlier this week Laini Taylor announced that her book tentatively titled Daughter of Smoke and Bone was picked up by Little Brown Books for Young Readers. Its release date is fall 2011. In the post on her blog, she discusses some of how this new book came to be and mentions that the next Dreamdark book will not be coming out anytime soon although she will finish them someday.

This is very exciting news (the new book, not the lack of Dreamdark books which made me sad). I've read both Dreamdark books as well as Lips Touch: Three Times and think Laini Taylor has a lot of talent. Each of her books is better than the last and she has both a wonderful imagination and beautiful prose style. I'll definitely be keeping an eye out for anything she writes.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Review of Magic Strikes

Magic Strikes is the third book in the Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews, the pseudonym for a husband and wife who write novels together. Currently, there are four books out of a contracted seven available. The books in this urban fantasy series are in order as follows: Magic Bites, Magic Burns, Magic Strikes and Magic Bleeds. There is also a novella that takes place between the third and fourth books called Magic Mourns in the collection Must Love Hellhounds about Kate's friend Andrea.

Note: Since this is the third book in a series, there will be spoilers for the previous books.

Magic Strikes picks up about two months after the end of the second book. During these two months, there has been no magic until a couple of days ago. Then the magic came back in full swing, leaving Kate with no time to sleep as she and the rest of the Order of the Knights of Merciful Aid are dealing with an influx of supernatural creatures such as tatzelwyrms and two-headed serpents. After rescuing an old lady/harpy from a telephone pole, Kate cannot wait to go home and finally get to eat and rest. Unfortunately for Kate, as soon as she begins dreaming of her last slice of pie, she's called to go check on a situation involving a dead shapeshifter from the Pack. Although she dutifully arrives on the scene, she is told by Jim, the head of Pack security as well as her old mercenary partner, that it is Pack business and they do not want her help with the matter.

Soon after she gets a chance to go home and eat dinner, Kate discovers Jim is not her only friend from the Pack acting strangely - Saiman calls her to let her know he caught Derek trying to steal his tickets to the Midnight Games, illegal arena-style fights. He is willing to release Derek to Kate and ignore the whole incident but only on the condition that she accompany him to the Midnight Games. Kate agrees, and Derek requests that she give a letter to a woman at the games after securing her promise that she will not read the note. Against her better judgment, Kate keeps her word, but after her one visit to the games she learns some of the Pack members are involved in a huge mess.

The first book in this series was decent and the next one was even better, but Magic Strikes made me a Kate Daniels addict. Each of these books builds on the last and this one was riveting from start to finish. It's a relatively short book but it manages to fit a lot in while maintaining a great balance between plot/action and character development/interaction.

This is a wonderful addition to the series because it is just so satisfying. At this point, Kate has become a sympathetic, fleshed out character - those glimpses of the fear hiding behind her smart comments in the first book have become more frequent and the more that is revealed about her past, the easier she is to understand. With each book, Kate seems to open up to the people around her more and let them in. This is reflected in her voice as she also seems to be letting down her guard somewhat regarding what information she discloses to readers through her narrative. With each novel, more of her history is told and this book explains some parts that really made one curious, including the mystery surrounding Kate's blood. Yet it also opens up more questions to theorize about instead of wrapping everything up.

In spite of her increasing ability to become close to others, Kate doesn't completely let go when it seems practical to do so which makes her growth seem more realistic. Although she has a best friend in Andrea now and seems very close to Julie and Derek, she is still very conflicted when it comes to Curran - and with good reason. Although she is attracted to him, she doesn't want to become just another woman Curran becomes bored with. There are more scenes with Curran in this book than the previous two and their banter and Kate's reactions to him are quite hilarious. Even with the increased focus on their relationship, they were spread out very well throughout the rest of the story so it never felt like too much emphasis was placed on it. All the characters who appear are wonderful to read about and the parts with Saiman and Kate are nearly as good as the parts with Curran (and we do learn more about Saiman in this book). There are some good moments with Andrea as well, especially one particular important one toward the end that says a lot about Kate's growth since we first met her.

With the storyline dealing with the Midnight Games, there were even more fights than usual in this novel. Often I find reading about battles bores me, but every single one had me on the edge of my seat. Reading them through Kate's eyes shades it with her humor, and there's so much tension when she's personally involved. Previous installments have shown that not everything always turns out rosy for all involved at the end, and although she is powerful, Kate is also written the way a powerful heroine should be - she is not invincible. There is still a sense of danger because she's not the only one in the universe who has power, and she does get seriously injured quite often. She's still young and inexperienced in some ways and has had to work for a lot of her skill, particularly with her sword.

Like the previous installment, this one has a plot involving mythology. It's a type of world myth that isn't explored as often as many, and the author seems to be trying to avoid the pitfall of overusing too much of the familiar. I had to laugh when Dali mentioned Jupiter to Jim during an explanation of the mythology:
"The Roman god?" Jim frowned.

"No, the planet. Honestly, Jim the world doesn't revolve around the Greco-Roman pantheon." [pp. 186]
My one complaint would be that there are some infodumps, especially toward the beginning. However, between reading them from Kate's perspective and the strength of the rest of the book, it wasn't that bothersome.

Magic Strikes started out strong, remained engaging through the middle and had a fantastic conclusion that showed a lot about Kate and how far she's come since the first book. Plot and characterization are well-balanced throughout and nearly every single scene is memorable and entertaining.

My Rating: 9/10

Where I got my reading copy: I bought it.

Read Chapter One

Reviews of other books in this series:
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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Review of Poison Study

Poison Study is the first book in the Study trilogy by Maria V. Snyder and is followed by Magic Study and Fire Study, respectively. The first two books in this series have been released both as fantasy and young adult titles.

When Yelena is escorted from prison by a couple of guards, she knows she is most likely about to be executed for murdering General Brazell's son. The law is very strict that anyone who takes a life during peacetime will be hanged under any circumstances, including an unfortunate accident or killing in self-defense. After spending nearly a year imprisoned, Yelena has been expecting this moment.

Instead, Yelena learns that the same strict law that enforces the death penalty so harshly has one exception: once the position of food taster for the Commander is vacant, it is offered to the next prisoner facing execution. Fortunately for Yelena, this is the case and she is given the choice of dying immediately or delaying her death while working in a profession likely to cause it. Once she is assured this is not a cruel joke by Valek, the chief of security, Yelena jumps on the chance even though she wonders what makes them so sure a convicted felon will not escape at the first opportunity.

As soon as she accepts, Valek gets drinks for both of them to toast Yelena. Once Yelena has drunk from her cup, he teaches her to identify a poison called Butterfly's Dust by showing her the difference between his drink and hers. If Yelena wants to avoid a slow and painful death, she must take the antidote every day, making leaving the premises futile - but as she endures close calls with General Brazell's men and suspects a possible conspiracy, poison may be the least of her concerns.

Poison Study was engrossing from the beginning and remained fast-paced throughout with plenty of cliff-hanger chapter endings, although the early parts of the novel were stronger than the end. There was some info-dumping about how the world worked yet it was kept in short blocks and interspersed with so much suspense about what would happen next that it was barely noticeable. It was a fairly succinct novel that kept moving, but there was attention to detail without getting bogged down by too much information. In particular, the parts concerning Yelena's lessons in food tasting methods made it seem well thought out since they included ways to make it difficult for potential poisoners to figure out how to trick the taster.

The strength of this novel was that it was an exciting read. The characters did not have a lot of depth, including the main protagonist. The main villain did seem too evil and some other characters seemed too dedicated to goodness. The commander himself was the most fascinating and I would have liked to have read more about him. He overthrew the king and created his own society with very black and white rules - everyone must wear a uniform showing their rank, everyone who kills someone must die no matter what the reason, and the practice of any magic is forbidden. Yet there is a sense that this new order even with its weaknesses is preferable to the old. The more that is discovered about the commander, the more he shines as the most intriguing single character in the novel.

Even though the main protagonist and first person narrator of the story is immediately revealed to have killed a man, Yelena is a perfectly likable character. She makes no excuses for her actions, but there is a flashback on the very first page that gives the impression that she is not a bad person and that there is much more to this story than she is telling anyone, including us as readers. Also, even though she is not executed, she's not in the clear, either - if she is poisoned, her death will most likely be far more agonizing than her hanging would have been. As the novel progresses, we learn more about her past and her motivations and my main complaint with Yelena comes to the forefront. Although Yelena is amiable, she does seem to have the flaw of being far too perfect - she's intelligent and a fast learner when it comes to both attaining knowledge and fighting. (There's much more but to avoid spoilers I'm not going to list the rest of what I scribbled down in my outline notes.) This didn't bother me greatly since the novel was a lot of fun to read and she did have a lot of personal struggles, but it was a little irritating that she seemed to be able to do pretty much anything.

Poison Study is an engaging read with a different perspective as seen through the eyes of a food taster for an important official. It makes one want to keep reading until the end, but it does suffer from some flat characterization and the main character's tendency toward mastering any and every challenge put before her. However, this wasn't a huge deal as it was a very enjoyable, well-paced book anyway.

My Rating: 7.5/10

Where I got my reading copy: It was a Christmas gift from books on my wish list.

Read Chapter One

Other Reviews:

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Leaning Pile of Books

Yesterday I finished a draft of a review of Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder, so hopefully I will get that up soon. Currently, I am working on a review of Magic Strikes by Ilona Andrews, one of my favorite books read this year so far. I started reading Naamah's Kiss by Jacqueline Carey since it is a very long book and I figured that I'd be caught up on reviews by the time I finished it without any problem. However, I'm already halfway through it and still have 3 reviews left to write. It's a lot less dense than Kushiel's Dart was, making it a faster read than I'd anticipated. Plus it is just plain wonderful and I love it. This is shaping up to be a year filled with lots of great books!

This week I got 2 books, one review copy and one bought because I cannot resist those 40% off Borders coupons. Also, I realized I forgot to mention my first e-book purchase from a few weeks ago so I'll include that in this week's list.

Cold Magic by Kate Elliott

The first book in The Spiritwalker trilogy will be released on September 9, 2010. I've been wanting to read something by Kate Elliott for a while and this book in particular looks very good so I'm excited about it. It's supposed to be steampunk and Kate Elliott says on her website that she refers to it as her "Afro-Celtic post-Roman icepunk Regency fantasy with Bonus! airship, Phoenician spies, and the intelligent descendants of troodons." I'm definitely planning on reading it sometime closer to its release date.

From one of the genre's finest writers comes a bold new epic fantasy in which science and magic are locked in a deadly struggle.

It is the dawn of a new age... The Industrial Revolution has begun, factories are springing up across the country, and new technologies are transforming in the cities. But the old ways do not die easy.

Cat and Bee are part of this revolution. Young women at college, learning of the science that will shape their future and ignorant of the magics that rule their families. But all of that will change when the Cold Mages come for Cat. New dangers lurk around every corner and hidden threats menace her every move. If blood can't be trusted, who can you trust?

On the Edge by Ilona Andrews

Reading the Kate Daniels series has made me an Ilona Andrews fan so it was easy for me to decide what book to get when I got a 40% off Borders coupon this week. This is the first book in the Edge series and I figured I should read it so I can read the second book, Bayou Moon, when it comes out in September. I've heard that unlike the Kate Daniels books this one is closer to paranormal romance than urban fantasy so I'm not entirely convinced I'll like it as much as those books, but it does sound interesting. And did I mention it's Ilona Andrews?

The Broken is a place where people shop at Wal-Mart and magic is nothing more than a fairy tale.

The Weird is a realm where blueblood aristocrats rule and the strength of your magic can change your destiny.

Rose Drayton lives on the Edge, the place between both worlds. A perilous existence indeed, made even more so by a flood of magic-hungry creatures bent on absolute destruction.

Warchild by Karin Lowachee

This book was actually purchased toward the end of May, but I completely forgot to include it since it was my first time buying a digital book instead of a paper one. I'm not convinced e-books are for me since I've found that when I read excerpts I tend to skim and don't enjoy it as much, but maybe that's partially because I've only read portions of a book on the iPad instead of settling in to read a whole book. This is a book I've wanted to read for a while, but it is difficult to find and it's around $20 for the mass market paperback on Amazon so buying the digital version was significantly cheaper. Plus I read the sample on iBooks and thought it seemed very absorbing so I figured it would be a decent book to start with for my first e-book reading experience. Now to forge a big enough hole in the paper book pile to start it...

The merchant ship Mukudori encompasses the whole of eight-year-old Jos's world, until a notorious pirate destroys the ship, slaughters the adults, and enslaves the children. Thus begins a desperate odyssey of terror and escape that takes Jos beyond known space to the homeworld of the strits, Earth's alien enemies. To survive, the boy must become a living weapon and a master spy. But no training will protect Jos in a war where every hope might be a deadly lie, and every friendship might hide a lethal betrayal. And all the while he will face the most grueling trial of his life - becoming his own man.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Review of Servant of a Dark God

Servant of a Dark God
by John Brown
448pp (Hardcover)
My Rating: 6.5/10
Amazon Rating: 4/5
LibraryThing Rating: 3.17/5
Goodreads Rating: 3.57/5

Servant of a Dark God is the beginning of an epic fantasy trilogy by John Brown. The second book in the Dark Gods series, Curse of a Dark God, will be released in January 2011. Dark God's Glory, the final novel, will be available in 2012.

Talen has a big problem - he can't find his work pants, the only pair of pants he owns other than one pair of good trousers. Knowing no one would want his grungy old work clothes other than a mischievous brother and sister, he hides an item belonging to each of his siblings. When River discovers her honey is missing and Ke cannot find his bowstrings, Talen confronts them about his disappearing clothing only to be chased out of the house and into a tree where they are found by his father. His father believes River and Ke when they insist they had nothing to do with Talen's half-dressed state, accuses Talen of negligence and sends him to town with his good clothing to buy some hens.

As Talen nears the town, he worries when he sees no children playing or villagers working in the fields. He hurries to the gates, eager to be let in if there is some sort of looming disaster. Instead he is denied entry, accused of spying and beaten until the bailiff shows up demanding to know what is going on. There are two Sleth, feared soul-eaters with unnatural powers, on the loose and a bounty for killing them. These hunted children are Koramites, Talen's people who are already despised by the Mokaddians who consider themselves better, and the Mokaddians are suspicious of any of these people now. Talen is sent to tell his father to gather the people in his area and search for the Sleth, but when Talen delivers his message his father seems less concerned about the soul-eater threat than the terrified Talen, insisting Talen needs to be more worried about being mistaken for Sleth by an enthusiastic hunter.

Although Talen obsesses over capturing the Sleth before they find him, there is an even greater danger - a creature that is stalking the land at the behest of an ancient evil.

Servant of a Dark God started out rather slowly for me, but by the time it ended I was enjoying it. It probably took about 150 (out of 448) pages for me to really start to want to know what happened next in the book and I never really grew attached to any of the main point of view characters, although there was one who was at least interesting to read about. There were three characters who carried the majority of the third person perspectives - Talen, a teenage boy; Sugar, a teenage girl; and Hunger, a creature under the control of the primary villain. Early in the story, Talen got on my nerves as he was stubborn, quick to judge, and thought too much of his intelligence:
Talen, of course, inherited all the wit in the family, but nobody seemed to value that. He was never referred to as "the bright one" or "that great blaze of brains." Instead, he got names like Twig and Hogan's Runt. [pp. 15]
Is this over-inflated view of oneself perfectly believable for a teenage boy? Yes. Does it make him likable, especially as he seems to be the most ignorant person in the book? Not really, but at least he does undergo development throughout the course of the novel as he learns more about himself and his heritage and he ends up much less irritating later.

Despite the cringe-worthy name, Sugar was more engaging as a character as she had empathy and was more understanding about other people's behavior even when they were not nice to her. Yet even though I far preferred her to Talen, she never really completely clicked for me as a character, either. Hunger was easily the most intriguing, but then I always appreciate getting the point of view of the "evil" side. However, Hunger wasn't really evil; he was created by a being who used him for her evil deeds but he was more of a puppet, and as the story progressed, he also changed.

Once it picked up, the actual plot and fantasy storyline were far better than the characters, although I did tend to prefer the secondary characters to the main ones. I'd rather not give too much away, but I did really like the unveiling of the various secrets. The social structure and view of magic seemed to illustrate oppression through hoarding knowledge and there was the question of how much should one sacrifice for the greater good. After reading this book, I completely understood why David Farland, the author of the Runelords series, was so excited about it as I saw many similarities to his series (in themes explored, not in actual story, world-building or characters).

Although this is the start to a trilogy, the main storyline in this book did have a satisfying conclusion. It left room for more story, but it also could have ended right where it did and wouldn't have made me feel like there needed to be more.

One minor complaint I had that is that there were a lot of typos, far many more than in the typical book I read. This is no way affects my rating or opinion of the book, but there were enough misspellings and use of the wrong word that it did bother me. The version I read was not an ARC but the final hardcover edition (I don't mention these things if it is not the actual book since I understand it has not been completed yet but just wanted to clarify).

Servant of a Dark God took a while to pull me in and never made me fully care about the cast of characters, but the actual plot and fantasy setting did hold my interest once the story got going. Since it is a debut novel that had some potential, I would probably read the next book (although I would definitely wait for the paperback were I to purchase it).

My Rating: 6.5/10

Where I got my reading copy: A publicist had a copy sent to me.

Read Chapter One

Other Reviews:

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Read for Free: Vera Nazarian and Brandon Sanderson

Vera Nazarian's novel Dreams of the Compass Rose is available in several different formats as a free download for 90 days. (Note: I tried this link earlier and it did work but there seems to be an issue with it at the moment. Hopefully it will clear up soon - there just may be too many people trying to download it at the moment.) I haven't read this one, but I did really enjoy Lords of Rainbow by Vera Nazarian and the description sounds rather intriguing:

In the vein of The One Thousand and One Nights, Tanith Lee's Flat Earth, and Catherynne M. Valente's The Orphan's Tales...

The Compass Rose universe—an ancient milieu where places have no names, cities spring forth like bouquets in the desert, gods and dreams walk the scorching sands in the South, ice floats like mirror shards upon the Northern sea, islands that do not exist are found in the East, death chases a thief on the rooftops of a Western city, immortal love spans time, and directions are intertwined into one road we all travel....

You come to this place when you wonder, and sometimes, only when you dream.

The prelude, prologue and first three chapters of The Way of Kings, the first book in Brandon Sanderson's new series The Stormlight Archive, is available on Tor.com. It is required that you register and log in to read it, but registration is free. The Way of Kings will be released in hardcover on August 31.

Widely acclaimed for his work completing Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time saga, Brandon Sanderson now begins a grand cycle of his own, one every bit as ambitious and immersive.

Roshar is a world of stone and storms. Uncanny tempests of incredible power sweep across the rocky terrain so frequently that they have shaped ecology and civilization alike. Animals hide in shells, trees pull in branches, and grass retracts into the soilless ground. Cities are built only where the topography offers shelter.

It has been centuries since the fall of the ten consecrated orders known as the Knights Radiant, but their Shardblades and Shardplate remain: mystical swords and suits of armor that transform ordinary men into near-invincible warriors. Men trade kingdoms for Shardblades. Wars were fought for them, and won by them.

One such war rages on a ruined landscape called the Shattered Plains. There, Kaladin, who traded his medical apprenticeship for a spear to protect his little brother, has been reduced to slavery. In a war that makes no sense, where ten armies fight separately against a single foe, he struggles to save his men and to fathom the leaders who consider them expendable.

Brightlord Dalinar Kholin commands one of those other armies. Like his brother, the late king, he is fascinated by an ancient text called The Way of Kings. Troubled by over-powering visions of ancient times and the Knights Radiant, he has begun to doubt his own sanity.

Across the ocean, an untried young woman named Shallan seeks to train under an eminent scholar and notorious heretic, Dalinar’s niece, Jasnah. Though she genuinely loves learning, Shallan’s motives are less than pure. As she plans a daring theft, her research for Jasnah hints at secrets of the Knights Radiant and the true cause of the war.

The result of over ten years of planning, writing, and world-building, The Way of Kings is but the opening movement of the Stormlight Archive, a bold masterpiece in the making.

Speak again the ancient oaths,

Life before death.
Strength before weakness.
Journey before Destination.

and return to men the Shards they once bore.

The Knights Radiant must stand again.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Review of Magic Burns

Magic Burns is the second book in the Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews, who is actually a married couple instead of one writer. The books in this urban fantasy series are in order as follows: Magic Bites, Magic Burns, Magic Strikes and Magic Bleeds, which was just released at the end of May (fortunately, because this series is very addictive around the time Magic Strikes begins). There is also a related novella about Kate's friend Andrea in the Must Love Hellhounds anthology called Magic Mourns, which takes place between the third and fourth books.

Note: The plot description may not make a whole lot of sense if you haven't read the first book and are unfamiliar with some of the different organizations.

It's actually somewhat of a relief when Kate is awakened by her phone at 2:00 AM: it's Jim asking her to team up on a mercenary job and she could use the money. The two then proceed to hunt down a psycho intent on setting as much of the city on fire as possible. Although it's preferable to capture the culprit alive, he ends up dead but not because of Kate or Jim - a crossbow bolt came out of nowhere and killed the pyromaniac as soon as they caught up with him. The marksman is gone, and Jim is summoned to deal with Pack business, leaving Kate to deal with getting the dead body back on her own.

Later Kate is visited by Derek, her werewolf friend from the Pack, enlisting her aid in finding the very same man with the crossbow who disappeared. After Jim left, he was shot by the same type of bolt and several of the Pack's maps were stolen by the shooter, who then vanished into thin air. As part of the Order, Kate has contacts the Pack doesn't and they'd prefer if it wasn't known that they were searching for their missing property. Kate's search leads her to a teenage girl whose mother disappeared with her coven of witches... making Kate wonder just what kind of forces they awakened during a time when magic power is at its strongest.

Although I liked the first book once the first half was over and it got to the better-paced second half, Magic Burns is a definite improvement. It grabbed my attention much earlier and the plot is more solid than in the first book, which had a lot of wandering around trying to solve a mystery involving the death of Kate's guardian. There were a lot of scenes that felt like they were solely serving as an introduction to the various characters in the first book, and even though this novel introduced more new characters, their appearances flowed with the rest of the story much better instead of feeling somewhat stilted. This book's mystery also unfolded more naturally instead of seeming like Kate was just going to one place then another place trying to gather information.

After reading the first book and becoming acquainted with the world, it is also much less confusing. The series is set in the year 2040 in an alternate earth with magic and mythology come to life (this particular book weaves a lot of Celtic myth into the story). Magic and technology alternate in waves - warding spells fail once the magic ebbs and technological devices no longer work when the magic waves hit. Magic Burns also explains more about when and why this happened, and it deals with one of the magic flares that occur every seven years (resulting in much stronger than usual magic). It's a very interesting idea for a universe and makes for enjoyable reading, although I still can't quite wrap my mind around why an influx of magic would cause guns to cease to work. Perhaps I'm just thinking about it too much since it is after all magic, but why would the mechanics of a gun cease to work but not a crossbow? Why would a sword or crossbow no longer be counted as technology just because they're not more advanced weaponry? Don't they follow the same basic laws of physics? Since this does mean the setting is so innovative and fun to read about, I try not to let myself get too hung up on the details or wonder just what I'm missing about how this works, though.

Although there are some similarities to other urban fantasy books, this conflict between magic and technology and the way the supernatural is handled sets it apart. There are vampires but they are not sparkly or handsome. They're beasts that will just kill everything if their minds are not controlled by a necromancer. Werewolves exist as well, but there are also many other types of shapeshifters that comprise the pack such as jaguars, minxes, rats, bears, and hyenas. Learning more about the People (the cult/research facility that has a lot of vampires) and the Pack is another bonus to reading this novel.

The characterization is also much better than in the previous book and Kate herself is much more likable, which is good since she is the first person narrator of the story. She can still have a smart mouth, but I rather like that she's also very blunt and straightforward unless she has a good reason not to be. Also, she also seems to be letting go a little more and letting readers in on more of her thoughts than in the previous book. As more of Kate's secrets are slowly revealed, it really gives a sense of why she acts like such a tough girl sometimes and really works with her character. In addition, there are a couple of new relationships that make her seem much more soft-hearted. Early in the story, Kate takes responsibility for the teenage girl Julie but she's more than a duty to Kate as she comes to really care for the child and is very protective of her. Another aspect that makes Kate seem to have more sympathetic is the start of her relationship with Andrea, a knight of the Order.

In addition to Kate, there are many other intriguing characters and she has some memorable conversations so many of them - of course, the aforementioned Julie and Andrea as well as some familiar faces from the first book, mainly Curran and Saiman. Curran and Kate still get on each other's nerves but there's potential for romance, and Saiman goes a bit nutty with the magic flare approaching, which made me even more curious about his magical abilities. All the other shapeshifters have human and animal forms, but Saiman can morph himself into any human form he'd like. The appearance of Derek, the teenage werewolf from the first book, was also quite welcome. There is not a single character I did not enjoy reading about - even Ghastek, one of the necromancers who Kate is not all that fond of.

The plot did seem to move a little too swiftly at times and crammed in a lot for a short book and sometimes the transitions felt a bit disconnected. Overall, it was much better than the first book, which moved too slowly at times, but this one did have some cases of too much happening too fast.

Magic Burns is much stronger than the first installment in every way - the plot is better although it is still weaker when compared to the world-building and character development, the novel is better paced, Kate is more sympathetic and there are some very memorable scenes between characters.

My Rating: 8/10

Where I got my reading copy: I bought it.

Read Excerpt

Reviews of other books in this series:
Other Reviews:

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

BEA/BBC in NYC: Final Post (I Promise)

This is the really final post on Book Expo America (BEA) and the Book Blogger Convention (BBC). I need to start writing all these reviews of the Kate Daniels books because these are ones I really want to talk about (so much that I will most likely also write a separate series review after the individual book reviews - I finished Magic Bleeds last night and so desperately want more).

After writing about what occurred at BEA and BBC, I just wanted to write something more personal on the week. The rundown on what happened at the two events are in three posts:
The highlight for me was definitely meeting so many people I have talked to online. Waiting in line was so much more fun when there were other people to talk to and you could do things like argue over whether or not you should ever read the end of the book first (no, you should not!). Plus it was just so much fun to be able to discuss some of your mutual favorite books in person. I met some awesome people while I was there:
The people I met definitely made it worthwhile because if not for that, I would have probably wished I had saved my money to go to an actual speculative fiction convention like Readercon (whose guests include Elizabeth Bear, N. K. Jemisin and Catherynne Valente - who was at BEA but not signing, and yes, I've seen her before, but she was awesome, so I don't care). There are two reasons for this:

1. Not enough speculative fiction books

Book Expo America had lots of books, but I was disappointed in the lack of speculative fiction that was not young adult. Young adult was everywhere and I ended up with nearly twice as many young adult books as fantasy and science fiction. It's not that I don't enjoy reading young adult - authors such as Kristin Cashore, Laini Taylor and Megan Whalen Turner are some of my more recent favorite discoveries. And the YA books I got at BEA look pretty good, too. I just would have liked to have seen more just plain old speculative fiction, though, so I could at least even out the ratio of YA to non-YA books.

2. Not enough authors I'd read

This may be at least partially related to the above as well as not being the most voracious reader in the world, but I was really hoping to be able to get a book signed by an author I've admired. Once the schedule was released in April, I looked over it eagerly to see who would be there and found two authors I'd read - and I didn't enjoy either one of their books. They were books I actually disliked, not even just ones I just lacked enthusiasm for. So I was sad. A small number of the authors were on my TBR so I picked up a book by one of them I expected to enjoy - Poison Study by Maria Snyder. I did indeed enjoy it and was hoping to get a copy of Inside Out but guess which line at BEA was the most disorganized long mess of crazy I saw the whole time? Yes, that one. Maria Snyder was signing one other book, but I opted for the Deanna Raybourn signing instead since Snyder's other book was a few books into a series I haven't read. Oh well, I am sure I will discover some new authors with the books I did got and will be happy I have pretty signed copies once I read them.

Of course, Readercon also does not have a Book Blogger Convention, which was very well organized and also fun. I did come away from it feeling like I hadn't learned anything new, but it was interesting to listen to the different discussions and viewpoints (although it did seem as if most people in the panels tended to agree with each other - the only major difference of opinion I can remember is the stats argument). Overall, I found it enjoyable and was glad I had the opportunity to attend, though.

Now I will return to reviewing - next up will be a review of Magic Burns by Ilona Andrews followed by Servant of a Dark God by John Brown. The next three books in the review queue are Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder, Magic Strikes by Ilona Andrews and Magic Bleeds by Ilona Andrews. (So I had a bit of an Ilona Andrews kick and just might have to read The Edge and Silent Blade sooner rather than later.)

Monday, June 7, 2010

Book Blogger Convention 2010

The day after Book Expo America was of course the first Book Blogger Convention. I usually try to avoid talking about blogging too much here so I don't bore those of you who aren't bloggers, but this is one thing I would like to discuss as there may be people who are curious about going next year.

It started with registration and breakfast (yes, coffee!!!) and then we all headed into the main room to listen to the keynote speaker, YA author Maureen Johnson, who amused us all with stories about attending a Catholic high school and explaining the plot of one's book to someone who really just isn't all that interested in it in the middle of a busy bookstore. (We each also got the audio version of her book Suite Scarlett as part of our Book Blogger Convention swag.)

Next we listened to a more serious talk on Professionalism and Ethics given by Ron Howard. The talk is available on his website. He discussed topics such as why he says that book bloggers won the war between critics and bloggers, different standards of ethics and how to be trustworthy, and the FTC Guidelines that caused quite a stir a while ago. I won't go into it too much since if you're really interested, you can watch it and read more about it on the website.

After these two talks and question/answer sessions for each, there were panels in which different bloggers discussed a topic. The first of these, Writing and Building Content, made me feel very disorganized. They were talking about keeping notes on each book read, creating posts ahead of time, coming up with ideas for new features and making sure they had other content such as press releases for days when they couldn't write much.

As much as this one overwhelmed me, it did make me decide that after I start a new book, I may try note taking to see how it works. Lately I just haven't had as much spare time as previous years and keep getting behind on reviews, and then I end up practically rereading some of the books I already read in order to refresh my memory to write about them. It really made me wish I was one of those people with a detailed blogging calendar. I keep thinking it's not possible since blogging is something I do in my spare time after the full time job and how much time I have for it varies, but that's the way it works for most bloggers so maybe I'm really not as organized as I could be.

The next topic was Marketing - things like using Twitter, Facebook and other social media to grow your blog and commenting on other posts to get your name out there and make friends. Toward the end the conversation turned to stats - most people thought quality and generating discussion through comments was more important than the number of visits.

Blogging with Social Responsibility showed how bloggers can make a difference, such as during a couple of the recent instances of "whitewashing" covers (depicting white people on the cover when the main character is a person of color). Recently, there were a couple of instances where this happened and due to the public outrage, the cover art was changed to present a more fitting portrayal of the character (Liar by Justine Larbalestier and Magic Under Glass by Jaclyn Dolamore).

The final panel was on Author/Blogger relationships. I was fairly surprised by the fact that some people will not put up a negative review of a book by an author they've become friendly with. It is difficult to do so I understand it; there have been occasions before in which I've emailed with an author, thought they were so nice and really wanted to be able to say I liked their book - and have been very sad to find I just can't say that. But even if it's not the most positive review in the world, I've seen other people comment on some of these reviews on various blogs and say it sounds like it is their type of book even if not to the reviewer's taste - and they may never have even heard of the book if not for that review, even if it is not a glowing recommendation.

Oh yes and we also had a break for lunch with actual food which was fantastic after living on coffee and chips or coffee and cake during busy Book Expo America!

Next up: One more post on the trip - thoughts about BEA instead of just what I did while there and then back to books, I promise! I actually have two review drafts at the moment that just need to be proofread and edited and should be close to ready to go.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Leaning Pile of Books

On the reviewing front, I've finished a draft of Magic Burns by Ilona Andrews so I'm hoping to get that up next week, perhaps with the other review I've begun (Servant of a Dark God by John Brown). There are two more to write after that one, including Magic Strikes. I'm also nearly halfway through Magic Bleeds so I should be reviewing all the books in the Kate Daniels series in the near future.

This week I got one book. I was ordering a birthday present for my husband and needed to order something else if I wanted free shipping so of course I had to add something from my wish list...

Song of Scarabaeus by Sara Creasy

This romantic science fiction book just came out in May, but I've had my eye on it for months. Linnea Sinclair made a comment on Goodreads about it being similar to Ann Aguirre's books so that caused me to immediately add it to my wish list. Robin Hobb also said it blended plot/action with well-rounded characters - sounds good to me!

The best cypherteck in the galaxy, Edie can reinvent planets with little more than a thought. Trained since childhood in advanced biocyph seed technology by the all-powerful Crib empire, her mission is to terraform alien worlds while her masters bleed the outlawed Fringe populations dry. When renegade mercenaries kidnap Edie, she's not entirely sure it's a bad thing… until they leash her to a bodyguard, Finn—a former freedom fighter-turned-slave, beaten down but never broken. If Edie strays from Finn's side, he dies. If she doesn't cooperate, the pirates will kill them both.

But Edie's abilities far surpass anything her enemies imagine. And now, with Finn her only ally as the merciless Crib closes in, she'll have to prove it or die on the site of her only failure… a world called Scarabaeus.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Book Expo America: Day Two

In my Day One recap, I had said I suspected this post would be short (ha! I should know myself better than that by now) so I was going to write about a few other things. It appears I lied, so this will just be about day two and I'll discuss more about what I actually thought about it in a different post.

The morning of the second day at Book Expo America was another flurry of signings, although it was a bit rougher since I started the day much more exhausted than day one. The highlight was Deanna Raybourn - I haven't read her books yet but I keep hearing about them and she was just so friendly and nice and talked to everyone while signing their books.

Around 11:00 there wasn't much going on so I got a coffee cake and vanilla latte over at Starbucks (fortunately, the line was a bit more manageable than earlier - I got my tired self over there first thing when I got in but the line was as long as the one for some of the signings). I found a place to sit and read for a bit but was too wiped out to concentrate that well. And it's not like I wasn't reading a really good book because I was reading Magic Strikes by Ilona Andrews, which was nothing short of awesome from beginning to end (so much so that I'm already reading Magic Bleeds).

Before hitting the afternoon signings, I decided to head over to the Orbit booth since they not only send me a lot of review copies but tend to be pretty good about randomly sending me books that I'm actually very interested in reading (and make me wish I could read faster). Plus I was curious about what they had coming out. While I was over there, the woman at the booth was very apologetic about not knowing much since she was "just the cover designer." Just the cover designer?! She was Lauren Panepinto, who designs some fantastic covers - I've looked through the list she has on Goodreads before (which includes The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin, The Parasol Protectorates books by Gail Carriger, The Gaslight Dogs by Karin Lowachee and the new covers for Jo Graham's books). They had copies of Married with Zombies, which Lauren Panepinto described to me as zombie chick lit, and I was drooling over the poster for Surface Detail, the Culture novel by Iain M. Banks that is coming out in October.

Then it was back to the signing rush, which is all a blur other than wandering around for a while trying to find the one for Jeri Smith-Ready's book Shade. I thought I wasn't going to find it and then once I did the line was deceptive - it looked short but was actually quite long since it wrapped around the corner. But I got my book and Jeri Smith-Ready was also very friendly, even by the time she'd gotten to the end of the line.

After that, I spent some time at the very packed Book Blogger Convention reception. Janice from Janicu's Book Blog and I were looking for something to do between that and the evening's party hosted by The Book Smugglers, so we decided to take a cab over to the area of the party and find a coffee shop. Half an hour later we FINALLY got a cab and then the driver tried to tell us it was too hard to get to where we wanted to go! So we were going to have him drop us off at the nearest subway but then he'd changed his mind and decided it was fine. We were at least happy to find a Barnes and Noble with a Starbucks right there, although we made sure to let the man at the door know we came in with books - the last thing we needed was to be arrested for book theft after all that! It was fun to just hang out, not lug around books and chat about books with Janice for a while. She's another great book blogger I'm really glad I met.

The party was a good time, although very loud. The most fun I had there was conversing/yelling about The Queen of Attolia with Angie from Angieville. She is one of the people who convinced me to read this series, and I'm grateful she did since this book was fantastic. And it was wonderful to be able to talk to someone about it without worrying about spoilers.

Next up: Book Blogger Convention report (unless I finish the Magic Burns review first - I have been working on that this week too!).

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Book Expo America: Day One

Of course, as any bibliophile will tell you, being able to get so many books at Book Expo America (BEA) is great (especially the signed books - I am such a sucker for those!). But I've already talked about during my weekly book update posts so now it's time to talk more about the experience (although I will include any interesting book-related news just in case you missed it in the other posts).

Due to technical difficulties with my husband's camera (ok, a wrong setting but I swear I tried that one multiple times), I do not have pictures so I'm afraid this will just be lots of babbling without any photos to break up the monotony. However, a lot of other people got pictures so I will direct you to the blogs of some awesome people I met who have plenty of them.
So after finally figuring out how to get a ticket for the LIRR and then going the wrong way once I got off, I found the Javitz Center. Not that long after getting my press pass, I met Ana and Thea of The Book Smugglers at the Tor booth (or, er, Macmillan since Tor didn't really have its own section in spite of being one of the more present speculative fiction publishers as far as having books available in the signings went). Their blog is one of my favorites so this was exciting, and they were both so much fun.

We made sure to get there early for the signing of Felix Gilman's forthcoming novel, The Half-Made World, and were so close to the front that we also had a chance to go back to Macmillan and get signed copies of Passion Play by Beth Bernobich. I had been agonizing over not getting this one because both it and The Half-Made World looked so good and were at the same time so this made me very happy. After looking at the book, I think this is the one I am most looking forward to reading. When I got my book signed, I asked if it was the start of a series and was told it is the first novel in a trilogy and there is also supposed to be a related book and a short story. It just looks so good from the description, and yes, I admit the fact that the cover is striking doesn't hurt either. Plus Ana and Thea found out the day before at a tour of Tor that Bernobich's editor was the same one who discovered Jacqueline Carey so that just moved it even higher up on the 'must-read' list.

Actually, October 2010 is looking pretty good for new releases since the three books I got that I am most looking forward to all come out then - Passion Play by Beth Bernobich, Dreadnought by Cherie Priest and The Half-Made World by Felix Gilman.

After some signings, we caught part of the Dystopian Fiction panel featuring authors Ally Condie (Matched), Adam Dunn (Rivers of Gold), Lesley Hague (Nomansland), and Sigrid Nunez, (Salvation City). There was an interesting discussion about whether or not there should be a glimmer of hope in dystopian novels. Afterward, I got to meet Angie from Angieville who runs another one of my favorite blogs ever and was a lot of fun to talk to.

Most of the rest of the day was dedicated to signings - there were so many to get to and unfortunately I missed the steampunk panel with Cherie Priest and Catherynne Valente.

I had been so disappointed that were not going to be any authors at BEA that I had read and enjoyed. There were two I had read, but I didn't actually like the book I read by either of them, not even in a "it's ok" sort of way - I actually wanted to go back in time so I could read something better in place of these two books. So I made sure to read a book by one of the authors who was going to be there that I thought I'd like - Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder. I did enjoy it and really wanted to get a copy of Inside Out, but the scariest, craziest line I saw the whole time I was at BEA was for this signing so after all that I missed it!

The most fun autographing session had to be for Zombies vs. Unicorns, a young adult anthology edited by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier. It stemmed from an argument between the two editors about which of the two was better, and they were asking everyone if they preferred zombies or unicorns. Before I even got a chance to answer, each of them said I must be on her side. Not being a zombie fan (gore, ick) but having been a little girl who adored unicorns as well as a big fan of Peter S. Beagle's The Last Unicorn, I had to side with Holly Black on that one. To which she exclaimed "YES!" and Justine Larbalestier asked me if I was sure since I was wearing black. They were quite funny and I'm looking forward to reading the book more after talking to them (even if I am a tad disappointed that it sounds as though there will be no unicorns waging war on a zombie horde).

On the first day of BEA, I also met Kenda of Lurv a la Mode, who had the prettiest bookmarks. She writes great reviews and her blog is one of my go-to blogs now too so it was very nice to get to meet her.

Those are the highlights of day one at Book Expo America. Next I'll write about day two, which should be shorter since I ended up crashing from exhaustion with some coffee and a book in the middle of the day, as well as some general impressions about the event.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

May Reading

May was at least a little bit of a better reading month than April, although I'm still more behind on reviews than usual due to a number of factors (moving, being without steady Internet for a while after moving, general craziness due to buying our place, and of course going to New York City for a few days for Book Expo America and the Book Blogger Convention, both of which I hope to post more about later this week).

In May I got halfway through Feed by Mira Grant, a 600 page book. Complete books read during May are:

20. Magic Burns by Ilona Andrews
21. Servant of a Dark God by John Brown
22. Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder
23. Magic Strikes by Ilona Andrews

Eek, I haven't reviewed any of those yet although I have started on a review of Magic Burns.

Favorite book read during May: This is an easy one - Magic Strikes. I read this one on the bus while traveling and it was the perfect read for it since it was so easy to get absorbed in and it didn't have a dull moment. When I finished it right after boarding the bus to Boston, I was really upset I didn't have the next book and didn't want to start any other book. So I read the part that was available for free on iBooks and bought Magic Bleeds the very next day. It really surprised me just how much I enjoyed it. I am seriously considering putting up a post for spoiler discussion of the first three books in this series, followed by one for the whole series after more people have had a chance to read the book that came out last week - so if you're interested, let me know.

June Plans: Yes, I know, I've been trying to avoid this. I couldn't do anything but start Magic Bleeds next, but after that I'm going to finish Feed and read some more review copies since I've read so many books I've bought myself lately. Tentative planned reads after that are: The Darkly Luminous Fight for Persephone Parker by Leanna Renee Hieber (and a give away if I can find the extra copy they sent me in all this disorganization from moving), Shadow Bound by Erin Kellison and Stealing Fire by Jo Graham.

What did you read during May? What did you think of the books you read?