The New Year Cometh

Monday, December 28, 2015

Another year is on the wane, and like so many, I find it a good time to look back and look forward.

This year I read more books than I blogged about. Most of the ones I skipped writing a full review of were fun but not exceptionally strong or weak reads, unexceptional sequels to books I did review, books outside of my normal genres, or re-reads.

I also quit reading a decent handful of books this year, which is unusual for me. I have become more protective of my time, and I am less willing to waste it on books that don’t grab my attention.

This was a really strong year for comics and graphic novels. Half of the books I rated 5 stars this year were graphic novels; three of those are the first in a new series and one is a prequel:

As far as comic books that I’m collecting in issues, everyone should be reading The Wicked and The Divine and The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl. Also if you like dark fantasy, check out Monstress. Loki: Agent of Asgard wrapped up this summer, and it was very good as well.

I rated four novels 5 stars this year: two in the same series, one classic Hugo winner, and one new release:

In 2016 I plan to continue my read of the Hugo Winners (I only got through three this year), and I’m starting into a section of the list where I’ve read many of the winners before.

I’d also like to be a bit more conscious and methodical in expanding into new authors and genres. I already regularly sprinkle mystery, memoir and some nonfiction into the mix, but I do it haphazardly, when a cheap book catches my eye or I hear about something on a website or a podcast.

I had been thinking about this when I stumbled across the 2016 Book Riot Read Harder Challenge. A lot of sites post year-long challenges in December, but this is the first one that’s really appealed to me. I like the mix of categories, and that for me the range of genres seems neither too hard or too easy. Also I have a huge pile of Kindle and paper books that I purchased over the last few years but have not read. I’m going to fill as many of the Read Harder slots as I can with books I already have, and slow down the accumulation of new stuff until I make some inroads on the existing piles.

This year also saw the release of two books I worked on: A Count of Five and A Tide of Ice. I am really enjoying editing this series: the characters are great and the scale of the world is amazing. Expect book three next fall.

Happy new year, everyone. May your to-read piles be full of unexpected gems.

The Raven in the Foregate (Cadfael Series)

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Raven in the Foregate (Cadfael Series)
Ellis Peters, 1986

Crossposted from Mainlining Christmas

This is book number twelve in the Cadfael series, but I jumped ahead to it because it's set explicitly at Christmas.

Premise: In 1141, a new priest comes to the town outside the abbey. He is harsh with the people and quickly makes enemies. The woman and young man who came into town with Father Ailnoth are not who they say they are, and all mysteries must come to light after a violent death on Christmas Eve.

I've very much enjoyed all of the Cadfael books I have read, although this one seems to retread some ground. Cadfael's friendship with and patronage of the young couple particularly, is a repeated thread in more than one of these stories. It's still an enjoyable yarn, with the final solution to the mystery held secret to the end, despite how steadily pieces are revealed.

Cadfael, as usual, keeps his own counsel and works only for what he thinks is the best outcome for all concerned. If you haven't read any of the books, or seen the PBS series starring Derek Jacobi, you'll enjoy meeting the down-to-earth herbalist with a knowledge of both early forensics and what drives men's hearts. I understand why for story reasons the reader occasionally follows other characters, but I prefer more straight Cadfael in these books.

One of the plots in this volume pertains to the struggle for power in England at this time between the Empress Matilda and Stephen of Blois. Some basic knowledge of this time, either from reading other books in this series or just from general history, will be helpful in following the motivations of various characters.

The presence of Christmas is strong enough, I think, to give this credit as a Christmas story. The murder is done during the overnight service between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, as is the first meeting of the young couple. The riddle's solution is discovered on New Year's Day.

This isn't my favorite Cadfael volume I've read, but it is a decent entry in the series, and paints a picture of what Christmas may have been like in both abbey and town in 1141.

3 Stars - A Good Book

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

Friday, December 18, 2015

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever
Barbara Robinson, 1972

Crossposted for Mainlining Christmas

I have been seeing this book on lists of favorite Christmas books since we started the Mainlining project. But reading the back cover blurb made it sound entirely like a cheese-fest, overly religious, or otherwise sanctimonious, so I'd been putting it off.

I have to admit, though, for an eighty-page book written for young readers, this is impressively subversive. Although, it probably seemed less so in 1972.

The plot regards a group of unruly siblings who take over the Christmas pageant in a small town. In doing so, they force the townspeople to confront the reality behind the rote recitation of the myth. This may come as close as any religious-ish story ever has of evoking actual emotion in my cold, dead soul.

The most interesting thing is the narrator. The story is told in the first person, by a young girl. Her opinions and asides add color, humor and context.

The narrator is observant enough to report on all the things that 'everyone knows', while being open-minded enough to allow for other perspectives or new information. The narrator stays very childlike, though, which I think is key to the appeal. You never feel the hand of the adult author shaping the message. A child, in fact, could probably read this book and not realize how skillfully the message of kindness, charity and wonder is woven in.

I was bothered by the first chapter of the book, when the narrator is unquestioningly describing the Herdman family and the awful things they do. But it's exactly the unthinking way that a child thinks about other children: they must just be born bad, no one blames their father for running off, everyone hates them because they're bullies... while the same description allows for an adult reader to see through to a struggling family where the kids lash out at a society that doesn't care about them. The classism and callousness from the townspeople only gets worse over the course of the story, but because of the narrative voice, I didn’t feel hit over the head with it.

I've seen stories along these themes before, that either directly play with the logic of the nativity story or use parallels to explore the emotion or potential reality behind it. This fall, we've seen this narrative across social media with many pointing out that anyone who would tell a refugee family from a war-torn region that there is 'no room' in our country should really think about whether they can call themselves Christian.

The Herdman children have never encountered the details of the Nativity story before taking over the pageant, so they have lots of practical questions, like why didn't Joseph just box the innkeeper's ears if he was rude enough to leave a pregnant woman outside? They put everything into context in a way the other children and even the adults in the town never thought about, and in the end they bring out all the pathos in the plight of a young couple with no one and nothing to help them.

The style is light and funny enough that it never feels preachy, but I did find the ending quite moving. Which is super weird, for me.

I’ll admit it, this book belongs on all those lists.

The Santa Klaus Murder

Monday, December 14, 2015

The Santa Klaus Murder
Mavis Doriel Hay, 1936, ebook reprint 2015

New Release! I received a copy of this book from NetGalley for the purpose of review.

Crossposted from Mainlining Christmas

Premise: Part of the British Library Crime Classic series of reprints. Sir Osmund Melbury has gathered his fractured family for the holiday. There’s a lot of money at stake for remaining in Sir Osmund's good graces, so naturally he ends up dead, and everyone has a motive.

I liked the first half of this book much more than the end and resolution. I don’t know whether it dragged on too long, or I just lost track of who said what to who when. But I did like the first half quite a bit.

The book explicitly switches between perspective, especially in the first few chapters. These chapters each take the form of a narrative of events written after the fact by one of the characters. You learn a lot about what the characters think of each other and their descriptions are often amusingly snide. The main body of the narrative after the murder is told by the constable in charge of solving the case, with a few interlocutions from an assistant.

The main question of opportunity involves a Santa Klaus outfit. One man wears such an outfit to hand out gifts, and someone dressed as Santa hands out crackers that would conveniently mask the sound of a gunshot, and someone dressed as Santa was seen near the study where Sir Osmund is later found dead. Tracking the costume or costumes and the movement of all the people in the house at the time of the murder falls to the constable, but not all of the members of the family are exactly forthcoming about what they were doing and when.

I really enjoyed the style of this book - it has more than a little classic dry British wit - but I found the resolution of the tale a bit dry and unsatisfying.

3 Stars - A Good Book

Christmas with Anne and Other Holiday Stories

Friday, December 11, 2015

Christmas with Anne and Other Holiday Stories
L. M. Montgomery, edited by Rea Wilmshurst
Collection 1995, Stories originally published 1899 - 1910

Crossposted for Mainlining Christmas

Premise: A collection of holiday tales by L. M. Montgomery.

They can't all be winners. This volume occupies a weird space between light holiday collection and academic archive only of interest to scholars. There isn’t any scholarly commentary, but I can't imagine anyone reading this entire book who isn't either writing this review or looking for common themes in pieces from the time period for a research project.

Because oh, are there common themes.

The strongest pieces in the collection are the two excerpts from the Anne books: a chapter from Anne of Green Gables and one from Anne of Windy Poplars. Both of these have charm, whimsy and warmth in equal portion.

The introduction explains that the other stories were among many written by Montgomery in these years for various magazines - mostly what we would now call work-for-hire, where an author is asked to write to a specific theme and deadline. Unfortunately, there's a reason most of these magazines had been lost to time.

Thirteen of the fourteen stories can be described with only three plots:
People (usually well-off) learn the joy of the season by sharing what they have with others (Seven stories)
Poor people act kindly toward others and luck into gifts/wealth/good fortune for the holiday (Two)
Estranged family members (in one case, friends) make up, due to some kind of misunderstanding (Four)

The final one is about members of a family missing a relative who died in the year prior to Christmas.

Each story independently is decent enough, but all in a row they become a bit tedious in their interminable goodness and kindness. However, reading it has reminded me to go back and catch up on more of the Anne books, so while I can't recommend the volume for most readers, it wasn't a waste of time.

2 Stars - An Okay Book

Forbidden Fruit (Corinna Chapman Mysteries, Book 5)

Monday, December 7, 2015

Forbidden Fruit (Corinna Chapman Mysteries, Book 5)
Kerry Greenwood, 2009

Crossposted for Mainlining Christmas

Premise: It's Christmas with the staff of Heavenly Pleasures and the inhabitants of Insula. Time for heat waves, bands of roving hippies, and a family with a lost daughter and a very dark secret… (Previously reviewed: Book One)

I’ve read all of this series. Yes, I only reviewed the first one until now, (although ironically, the first one was probably the weakest) but I had to come back to blog for Christmas!  It's funny, but for all the different media we've consumed for the mainlining Christmas project, this year might be the first time we’ve done anything conspicuously set in the southern hemisphere. Australia is hot at Christmastime, and yet the holiday comes on all the same, with all the crowds and obnoxious music and such. Corinna’s commentary on the holiday season is especially fun.

The two plots Corrina and her friends are investigating this time around are not as high stakes as some in this series, but they are still disturbing in their way. There is a choral group practicing in the building for a holiday performance, and a few of their members might be taking their beliefs about animal rights to a frightening level. Meanwhile, Daniel has been hired to find a missing pregnant teenager. (See where this is going?)

The darkest part of the plot is elided gently, but the teenager has some strange beliefs about how she conceived a child that reveal some horrifying history. I can’t think of another twisted spin on the Nativity quite like this one.

Of course, everything comes out right in the end with a little trickery, assistance from a series of unlikely sources, and a bit of seasonal mummery. I saw the pivotal scenes coming, but they were skillfully pulled off, and the characters were fully cognizant of the parallels.

I really do enjoy these cozy mysteries for their good-natured narration. The plots are interesting, and the characters are fun, but Corrina's voice is what keeps me coming back. This is an enjoyable entry in the series, and I'll keep it in mind the next time I'm in the mood for something warm in December.

4 Stars - A Very Good Book

A Child's Christmas in Wales

Friday, December 4, 2015

A Child's Christmas in Wales
Dylan Thomas, 1950-1955 (depending on how you count)

Crossposted from Mainlining Christmas

I have seen this book on lists of classic Christmas stories for years now, but it just kept falling to the bottom of the to-read list.

It probably could have stayed there.

There's nothing wrong with it. It's a short story's worth of words poetically describing the activities and feelings of the holiday at a very particular place and time. It's pretty, especially the version I had with big color illustrations. But there's just not much to it other than nostalgia and pretty phrases. There are some very pretty phrases, admittedly.

There's food, and weather, and an amusing story about a fire scare fought with snowballs, and a brief interlude where young boys sing carols outside a creepy house. Whether the narrator is speaking to a general audience or one person was unclear; it seemed to shift without clear demarcation of any sort.

It comes from a piece originally written for radio, and I think it's probably better as spoken narration. It might go nicely over some loose animation as a short atmospheric piece.

It's neither as beautifully written or as personally specific as Capote's A Christmas Memory, but it has a certain charm all the same. It's fine for what it is, it's just a bit thin taken as a piece alone.

3 Stars - A Good Book

Silent Nights

Monday, November 30, 2015

Silent Nights
Edited by Martin Edwards, ebook release 2015

New Release! I received an electronic copy of this book from NetGalley for the purpose of review.

Crossposted from Mainlining Christmas

Premise: Another collection of Christmas Mystery stories, this one from the British Library Crime Classics series. Fifteen tales of murder and thievery at the holidays.

I know, you'd think I would be sick of short mysteries after last year's lengthy read of the Big Book of Christmas Mysteries. However, in this book I discovered a well-balanced selection that was of overall enjoyable. I think I may be giving extra credit for being of a manageable length, though.

Here's what you'll find, with stories that I've read previously noted:

The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle (repeat) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
A classic, I would never fault anyone for adding this to a Christmas compilation. It remains charming on whatever number re-read this is.

Parlour Tricks by Ralph Plummer
A cute, simple story of a man amusing a group of guests at a Christmas party that is revealed to be something else at the end. Nothing too special, but not bad.

A Happy Solution by Raymund Allen
A story of a young fiancee accused of theft by prospective in-laws, this had enjoyable prose, though the solution of the mystery was somewhat uninteresting to me.

The Flying Stars (repeat) by G.K. Chesterton
I didn't re-read this one this year. I remember it being enjoyable, but overshadowed by better stories last year.

Stuffing by Edgar Wallace
Cute enough story of connected coincidences, although there's enough repeated plot elements from The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle for me to raise an eyebrow and wonder why this story was included.

The Unknown Murderer by H.C. Bailey
An eerie, well-plotted murder tale involving dark motivations which features a medical doctor detective who ends up solving the case in a rather final manner. I quite enjoyed this one; the winter season just added to the creepy factor.

The Absconding Treasurer by J. Jefferson Farjeon
A sum of money is stolen from a club, but is the treasurer guilty? This story of murder and misdirection follows a solid investigation.

The Necklace of Pearls by Dorothy Sayers
I've had this one recommended a few times, and it's a cute little tale of how a clever thief tries to use the trappings and activities of the holidays.

The Case Is Altered by Margery Allingham
A fine little tangled skein of stolen papers and blackmail at a country house, if a bit muddled at times.

Waxworks (repeat)
Cambric Tea (repeat)
The Chinese Apple (repeat)
All three of these tales were in the collection I read last year. They are each atmospheric and uncanny and I liked both Cambric Tea and The Chinese Apple much more on a re-read than I did last year.

A Problem in White by Nicholas Blake
I liked the way this story built from a set of strangers sitting in a railway compartment to eventually giving each character a name and personality and a place in a tragic murder tied to a train robbery. The mystery is well built, but this is the only story in which the resolution is not actually part of the story, but rather the reader is encouraged to figure out what happened and then check the answer in the back of the book.

The Name on the Window by Edmund Crispin
A locked-room mystery solved at a remove. Not bad.

Beef for Christmas by Leo Bruce
This one I really enjoyed, enough that I might seek out more stories about this character. It's a detective and a narrator pairing, but the narrator is a bit of a pretentious sort, while the detective (Sergeant Beef) is a low-class man who is constantly underestimated. He reminds me delightfully of Columbo. This story concerns a man who claims that someone in his family is threatening him because he's spending their potential inheritance in a profligate manner. The entire story was fun to read and the solution clever.

I quite enjoyed reading through this collection, even though I didn't love every story in it. It's a nice variation of styles and stories.

4 Stars - A Very Good Book

Bitch Planet: Extraordinary Machine (Volume One)

Monday, November 23, 2015

Bitch Planet: Extraordinary Machine (Volume One)
Kelly Sue Deconnick, Valentine De Landro, 2015

New Release! I received a copy of this book from NetGalley for the purpose of review.

Premise: Collects Bitch Planet #1-5. In a near future world, society is run by the Fathers. Women who don’t abide by the rules - aren’t thin enough, pretty enough, submissive enough, compliant enough - are sent to the Auxiliary Compliance Outpost, a prison in space better known as… Bitch Planet.

Oof. I didn’t expect anything less, but reading this book feels somewhere between a punch to the kidneys and the crawly feeling of an effective horror movie. Its masterful blend of tone and style evokes both exploitation filmmaking and old-time comic books and mixes them up into an updated space-age Handmaid’s Tale with a righteous, intersectional feminist rage. I shouldn’t have to say this, but this is for mature readers only. Lots of nudity, violence and language.

The volume opens with a story that mostly sets the tone, telling about one woman’s arrival to Bitch Planet. It’s told in a twisty way that gives only enough exposition to keep the plot flowing along and an ending that makes clear the lack of rights the women have and introduces the key character moving forward.

Kamau Kogo was once an athlete, now she’s an inmate. She’s given a chance to take other women from the prison and make them into a sports team for a popular game called megaton. Three of the remaining issues follow Kam and the other women as they try to decide whether this is a good idea and how to prepare for it. Meanwhile, you also get snippets of the big-money men behind the idea of putting the NCs (Non-Compliants) on TV.

One issue is devoted to another inmate, one of Kam’s cronies, Penny Rolle. Penny’s story is both wonderfully inspiring and heartbreaking. She is a powerhouse, and a fantastic character who is up against so much hate and mistreatment. Her issue gives us a lot more background about the rules and conventions that society is now operating by.

If you aren’t a comics reader, you may not know how fervently this book has been embraced. “Non-Compliant” is quickly becoming a rallying cry for comic-loving women who are fed up with society/media/other people telling us to be prettier, thinner, less athletic, less ambitious, less prudish, less sexual, less. More info:

All this, plus there’s an intriguing story and some great action.

It’s not an easy read or a light one, but for emotional impact it’s definitely

5 Stars

Startide Rising (Uplift Series)

Monday, November 16, 2015

Startide Rising (Uplift Series)
David Brin, 1983

Hugo Winner - 1984

Premise: Streaker is in trouble. The ship from Earth was only supposed to be doing some routine investigation of little-traveled star systems while the mostly-neofin crew gained in experience. They weren't supposed to find a lost fleet of unknown origin, then be chased by hostile galactic fleets who each want to be the sole recipient of whatever knowledge is there to be gained. Now the crew is hidden on an unknown planet, hoping to find a way to get through the massive space battle nearby and get home with their discoveries.

Dolphins! In! SPAAAAACE! Yes, the book is a serious exploration of sentience and morality as well as an ensemble survival adventure. But seriously. I'm here for the space dolphins.

There are a lot of interesting concepts here. There is a huge, complicated, mostly hostile galactic society based on the idea of Uplift. Uplift is racism, slavery/indentured service and colonialism mixed with genetic engineering on an interstellar scale, as existing species modify 'younger' species into space-faring races in return for service. The existence of humanity challenges the idea of Uplift, as they apparently made it to the stars initially alone. Of course, humans are lifting up chimps and dolphins into fully sentient races in turn, which requires a complicated combination of responsibility and caution.

So: intelligent space dolphins. Most of the crew of Streaker are dolphins, including the captain. The dolphin culture is really interesting. I find it reasonable, given what I know of cetaceans, and beautifully conveyed through their own language and conventions.

The plot mostly follows the crew's efforts to repair their ship and find a way out of their situation, although there is danger from within the crew as well as without. It's complicated further by discoveries made on the supposedly-uninhabited planet they are hiding on. You also get snippets of the races fighting nearby for the right to capture and interrogate the Earth ship.

I found the book a bit slow on occasion, as there are so many characters and interlocking pieces of the plot. However, it was terrifically inventive throughout, and the pace meant that there was also an extended climax as each character's struggles came to a head.

4 Stars - A Very Good Book

List of Hugo Winners

Sandman: Overture

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Sandman: Overture
Neil Gaiman, J. H. Williams III, Dave Stewart, 2015

New Release! I received a copy of this book from NetGalley for the purpose of review.

Premise: At the start of Preludes and Nocturnes, Dream is imprisoned. What could have brought the Lord of the Dreaming so low as to be trapped by a minor occultist? The answers are held in this prequel volume.


Wow, wow, wow, wow. This should have been terrible. It’s a prequel to one of the seminal graphic novel series of the modern era, written almost 20 years after the release of the last issue. The last stories Gaiman penned in this world (Endless Nights, in 2003) I found mediocre at best. This should have been a cash-grab with maybe a few redeeming qualities.

But it was brilliant. It was brilliant both in that it was smart and complicated, and that it was hard to look too closely, the light might hurt your eyes.

All of the Endless have wonderful moments here, and Desire particularly gets some intriguing and poignant time to shine. But the story is about Dream, his origins, the depth and breadth of his power at its height, and the complexity inherent in being the lord of ALL dreaming.

The art is gorgeous and perfectly matched to the tone here. Williams’ style is always detailed and lush, but I haven’t always enjoyed his work, because I don’t always think it’s suited to, say, Batman. But it’s perfect here.

If there’s any nitpick I have about this volume, it’s that I want to loop immediately back to the beginning of Sandman and re-read it with this story in mind. However, I cringe thinking about the clash in style and technique between how great this book is, and how rough around the edges and not-quite-found-its-tone-yet Preludes and Nocturnes is. (In my opinion, that book is hard to make it through unless enough people have convinced you: no, really, it gets much better and is never this gross again.)

The extra material in the deluxe collected volume is generous (50 pages!) and varied: not just a cover gallery, but interviews with the whole creative team, notes from Gaiman to the publisher, Williams’ sketches of the Endless from before this project even started, and more. There’s even an interesting piece about how the unique lettering was created for the whole Sandman series.

No question in my mind: if you loved Sandman, you’ll love this.

5 Stars - An Amazing Book

Buy on Amazon

Foundation's Edge (Foundation Series, Book 4)

Monday, November 2, 2015

Foundation's Edge (Foundation Series, Book 4)
Isaac Asimov, 1982

Hugo Award Winner - 1983

Premise: The Foundation has worked for five hundred years to ensure that an era of prosperity and relative peace will arise with a Second Galactic Empire in another five hundred years. The only threat to the technological supremacy of the Foundation were the telepaths of the Second Foundation, but they were defeated two hundred years earlier. Councilman Golan Trevize of the Foundation believes that the Second Foundation still exists. Speaker Stor Gendibal of the Second Foundation believes that some unknown force in the universe is also working toward shaping the future of the galaxy for its own ends.

Once upon a time (about a decade back?) I read the first two (or three?) books in the Foundation series. I liked them, but never read the next one. I honestly can't remember why...maybe the second wasn't as good as the first?

I was able to pick right up with this entry in the series. This makes sense, though, as it was written many years after the first three. It helps to know the basic premise of the Foundation books: it is possible to predict mathematically the large-scale movement of society, and the Foundation exists to implement a plan that uses this math to steer society in order to prevent thousands of years of dark age after the fall of the galactic empire. That's all explained in this book, but it's easier to go in knowing.

I very much enjoyed this entry - I like how complicated the plot becomes. Nearly every character has an open agenda, a hidden agenda, perhaps an implanted agenda that they are unaware of... it's tricky, with telepaths. The characters aren't tremendously compelling individually, but they are at least interesting and amusing.

Trevize's search becomes intertwined with research about the sources of humanity in the galaxy: speculation and myths about Earth. Some possible answers are given that I thought were intriguing, and I liked that there were little ties back to other books/series by Asimov. This felt a little like... not a magnum opus, but a nexus-book, something that loops together themes from many different previous works.

Unfortunately, I found the ending a little less satisfying than the build-up, and there was a bit of stuff left annoyingly hanging for a sequel. Also in the last section of the book we run into the character Bliss, and while she isn't terrible, the frequent discussion of her attractiveness made me weary.

It was still a solid read.

4 Stars - A Very Good Book

List of Hugo Winners

Jem and the Holograms: Showtime (Volume 1)

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Jem and the Holograms: Showtime (Volume 1)
Kelly Thompson, Sophie Campbell, 2015

New Release! I received an electronic copy of this book from NetGalley for the purpose of review.

Premise: Jerrica Benton and her sisters dream of a music career. An online video contest seems like a great way to make a splash, but first Jerrica will need a way around her stage fright, and then they’ll meet the competition…Collects Jem and the Holograms Issues #1-6

Up front, I need to admit: I never watched Jem as a kid. I knew that there were dolls in shiny outfits, but it wasn’t a show I was ever into. Today, I think I’ve maybe seen at most one episode, watched on Youtube years back when I was curious. I was told the premise at some point.

So unlike many people who are going to read this book, I don’t care about Jem the show.

I love Jem the comic book.

I love the bouncy, sprightly dialogue, the silly situations. I love the good-hearted characters and the fledgling romances. I love that the antagonists can be BOTH over-the-top-ridiculous and complex and interesting.

It’s a wonderful balance between surreality of setting and premise and reality of story and feeling. But most of all I love the art.

Sophie Campbell does an amazing job with bright, beautiful designs that leap off the page. Gravity-defying hairstyles, candy-coated color and imaginative layouts to evoke music. The diversity of body types is wonderful to see, but even more than that I love the kinetic sense to her art. The characters are always moving or leaning or sitting or crouching in a way that says something about the character, the scene, and feels completely reasonable. No talking heads to be found here.

There were a few aspects of the plot/premise that go back to the original show that I found a bit grating, particularly Jerrica’s attempts to keep the true identity of Jem a secret. But overall this was a ridiculous amount of fun.

5 Stars - An Awesome Book

Penryn & the End of Days (Angelfall, World After, End of Days)

Monday, October 19, 2015

Penryn & the End of Days (Angelfall, World After, End of Days)
Susan Ee, 2012, 2013, 2015

Premise: Six weeks ago, the world ended. Or, at least, a series of catastrophes and an army of angels decimated the human race, which amounts to about the same thing. Penryn is 17. She only wants to keep her little sister safe, and her schizophrenic mom alive. When her family is separated, she will do anything to get them back. Even make a deal with an angel.

For a series that, if you emphasize certain parts of the plot, falls squarely into many Paranormal YA tropes, this had some serious bite. The action was fast and furious, the story fascinating in its twists and turns.

I'll say up front that there is a romance and I didn't hate it by the end, because it ended up tying into the plot in a really interesting way. If it had ended up being a romance for the sake of angst or for the sake of romance itself it might have driven me crazy, but I actually think all the relationships are purposeful and build the backbone of the story here. It did frustrate me some in the first and second book, though.

I really liked the slow reveal on the world. It's very bleak, but not without moments of hope. You get the general idea of how bad things are right away, but what happened, and why, is strung out in pieces as new facts come to light. The technology, while not described in depth, is really interesting. The angels have a magic-esque level of science, and also maybe magic? Even they don't seem to fully understand it.

A lot of this series ended up being about the nature of humanity, and the nature of societies. How far will you go to protect one person? All people? Other sentient, non-human races? What happens to sentient races when civilizations fall? If horrible things happen to us, must we become horrible in turn? How do you choose who to listen to? Who to follow? There's actually a lot to unpack here.

By book three, the angels pick up a lot more nuance as well, raising questions of whether they are right to follow their leaders. Interesting stuff for dystopian YA to play with. It doesn't really delve as deeply or as intelligently as I might really love, but there's interesting stuff here.

All three books are short, I read them very quickly and enjoyed them.

3 Stars - Good Books.

Gwendolyn’s Sword

Monday, October 12, 2015

Gwendolyn’s Sword
E. A. Haltom, 2015

New Release! I received a copy of this book from NetGalley for the purpose of review.

Premise: Lady Gwendolyn has been doing a fine job managing her husband’s estate while he is overseas with King Richard. But with mercenaries sympathetic to Prince John passing through and machinations from her sister-in-law, Gwendolyn will use a superstition, her own stubbornness and her unorthodox training to protect her people.

Spoilers ABOUND below, FYI.

I was going to cut this book some slack because I assumed it was YA, but I’m not seeing that on any of the promotional pages.

I might have enjoyed this at age 12. Now, not so much. It’s not that it’s terrible. It’s that it’s terribly cliche.

Gwendolyn doesn’t just know how to use a sword. She’s also great at it, despite the first chapter being the first time she fights in earnest against someone with deadly intent. She’s also secretly the heir of King Arthur. I almost put the book down for good at that point, rolling my eyes.

The historical elements are thin at best. The reactions of characters and their ideals felt falsely modern around gender and sexuality. Gwendolyn’s recollections of a conversation between she and her husband about sex made me almost quit the book a second time. There is a whole plot thread about the fact that she is secretly a virgin. Why is this the case? It only causes trouble for her. Is it just to make room for an annulment and a romance in a potential sequel? I can't think of any plausible in-world reason, so it feels unnatural and forced. It didn’t do this book any favors that I read it within six months of reading The Summer Queen (actual grounded historical fiction set in the same time period).

The magical elements were okay, but it might have been a better book if all the magic had all turned out to be a lie.

The writing is serviceable most of the time, but occasionally swings between describing too much and not enough.

I did not believe the ending at all. The characters depart under a cloud, practically fleeing from an angry crowd, then disappear. And they return injured, having caused the death of the local earl’s son, their only sympathetic witness a little boy who had been friendly with them earlier and people just took their (lying) word for what happened? REALLY?

Overall, not a recommended read.

1 Star - Didn’t really like it, almost a DNF

Ancillary Sword

Monday, October 5, 2015

Ancillary Sword (Imperial Radch Book 2)
Ann Leckie, 2014

Premise: Sequel to Ancillary Justice. If you haven’t read Ancillary Justice yet… I don’t know what to do with you. Breq’s ploys in the first book have allowed her a certain amount of autonomy. Now she just wants to keep herself and her crew alive long enough to fulfill a debt.

I bought this book months ago and only got around to reading it now, just before the release of the third book.

I am an idiot for waiting.

Although, on the other hand, having some distance from the first novel allowed me to fall in love with the conventions of the series all over again. I love Breq’s perspective. She has lived a long time, she is not human, not really, and sees things in a subtly different way from the people around her. I love the way she questions history and draws connections that are uncomfortable or unthinkable for others.

And I still love the pronoun thing.

[In case anyone’s reading this who hasn’t read the first: because of the language/culture Breq is from, all people are “she”. All siblings are ‘sisters’.]

Gimmicky or not, it pushes my brain into this androgynous space where two somewhat-contradictory things seem simultaneously true:
Physical gender is completely immaterial to why or how a character does any action, including sexual or physical violence.
The characters seem female until proven otherwise, which gives the whole thing a all-female society feeling.

Both of these feelings mean that the character’s action can only ever reflect on them as individuals or occasionally on their culture. It makes me really think more about all the assumptions that are usually built into reading about character interaction. Character A threatens Character B. If A is male and B is female, that is a different scene, without any different language, than the other way around, because of centuries of cultural expectation. Or Character A expresses interest and curiosity about Character B. Whether the pair is male/female, female/male, male/male or female/female means a lot about what assumptions the reader is likely to make.

All of those crutches, assumptions and tropes are stripped away by this writing, and it’s delightful.

The plot of Ancillary Sword suffers a little from ‘second-book’ syndrome, in that not a lot happens on a large scale. However, I still thought it was a great story, and I want to know what comes next.

5 Stars - An Awesome Book

Free Country: A Tale of The Children's Crusade

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Free Country: A Tale of The Children's Crusade

Neil Gaiman, Toby Litt, Rachel Pollack, Alisa Kwitney, Jamie Delano, Chris Bachalo, Peter Gross, Peter Snejbjerg. et. al., 2015

New release! I received a copy of this book from NetGalley for the purpose of review.

Premise: Once upon a time there was an idea for a Vertigo Comics crossover story, which took characters from a handful of titles (Sandman, Swamp Thing, Books of Magic, Animal Man, Doom Patrol, Black Orchid) and gave young characters from these worlds a story together. Unfortunately, given budgets and timelines, the plot ended up a bit rushed. This edition features an all-new middle chapter, giving more characters on-panel time and clarifying the story. Acts One and Three originally released 1993-1994 as The Children’s Crusade 1 and 2.

Premise the Second: Children disappear. It happens. It has always happened. But what if they are all going to the same place? Who could possibly be able to find out?

This story is intriguing for the historical context of how it came about (see premise above), but happily also interesting for the story itself. The second chapter fits into the style and flow perfectly, and I can only see the patch because I’m looking for it.

Of the stories referenced here, I am most familiar with Sandman, followed by Swamp Thing and Animal Man, I think I read a little Books of Magic once, and I don’t really know anything about Black Orchid or what Doom Patrol was like in the 90’s. Luckily for the publishers of this collection, I think most readers are going to be in my situation, since it’s two Sandman characters that are the most prominent in the story.

If you read Season of Mists, you probably remember Charles Rowland and Edwin Paine. When we pick up with them here, they’ve set up a detective agency, but aren’t having much luck with clients, being ghosts and invisible to many people. When an entire village of British children disappears, the one girl who was out of town that day asks the boys for their help.

This reads similarly to parts of Sandman and other Vertigo books of the 90’s: it’s full of digressions, literary and mythological allusions, connected histories and stories told in parallel. The larger plot containing the history of Free Country and the characters who call it home is more interesting than most of the business with the characters from the various other Vertigo titles.

Most of said business is in the new middle chapter: I would have been quite lost on aspects of the story without it. Even as it is, I didn’t entirely follow some of what happened.

As a ‘crossover’ specifically, this volume is just okay. I’d hate to be a big fan of Doom Patrol who picked this up and then found that character relegated to not much more than a handful of citations. However, as a unique piece with slight ties to other stories, I found it a fascinating story.

It’s not going to be for everyone (specifically, it’s for fans of books published by Vertigo in the 90’s), but for anyone looking to scratch that itch, I think this is going to be a hit.

4 Stars - A Very Good Book

Demon Drums

Monday, September 21, 2015

Demon Drums
Carol Severance, originally published 1992, Kindle edition 2015

New eBook release! I received a copy of this book from NetGalley for the purpose of review.

Premise: Iuti had seen enough blood. She retreated from battle and gave up everything for a chance at peace. But sometimes peace is too good to be true, and chance encounters can change the course of war.

I really liked this book. It has an uncommon setting, an uncommon protagonist and an uncommon story, and all of those things work extremely well.

The story starts after the main character has tried to leave behind a major war. The world is evocative of Micronesia, with multiple island nations and a closeness with the sea. Iuti’s tie with a powerful shark-spirit gave her power in battle, but exhausted her soul and finally drove her from her people.

I know that dealing with issues of PTSD is not as infrequent in fantasy as sometimes it seems, but this book also features a fully adult female protagonist in a world that is completely unlike most Euro-centric fantasy, making it a wonderful breath of fresh air. The world is brutal, and featured some descriptions that I found stomach-turning (particularly of the tribe that creates the eponymous Demon Drums). However, none of it felt out of place or gratuitous to me. I especially liked the way the magic and spirit of the very world reacted to death.

Iuti’s relationship with Tarawe, a girl with magical potential but no training, makes up the heart of the story, while the bulk of the plot is their journey back and forth among several lands, trying to survive. The author throws you in deep to this culture and expects you to keep up. I also liked how unique the magic was compared to a lot of fantasy writing.

Thanks to Open Road Media for bringing another gem from the backlist to Kindle.

4 Stars - A Very Good Book

Throne of Glass (Throne of Glass 1)

Monday, September 14, 2015

Throne of Glass
Sarah J. Maas, 2012

Premise: Celaena is an assassin, sentenced to die in a labor camp for her crimes. She has one chance to earn her freedom: Win a competition to work for the king she despises.

Hmmm. I’m quite torn on this book, honestly. I tore through it, read it extremely quickly, but after I was done, all that stayed with me were the bits I didn’t like.

The cover of the book says that fans of The Hunger Games will love this book, and I agree in that it’s very readable. The pace is breakneck from almost start to end. And yet, I found that to be a critique as well, as when I described the competition premise to a friend who immediately said: “So this got published because Hunger Games made lots of money, right?”

The setting and backstory had lots of intriguing hints which might be developed in later books, but the ending of this book I found unsatisfying. There seems to be an undercurrent of untapped magic in the society and the palace, mysteries abound around why magic was outlawed in this land and how it’s connected to a former ruler, and Celaena’s connection to a nearby conquered land is also left unexplained.

I enjoyed the action, and some of the romance, although the romance ends in an awkward forced state. There are two suitors, and it’s as though the author wrote most scenes to point in one direction, but ended up deciding the next book should go in another direction. I wish she’d drop the whole thing.

I liked Celaena’s friendship with a visiting royal from another land. The scenes between Princess Nehemia and Celaena were some of my favorites.

However, some of Celaena’s character traits drove me up the wall. She was trained as an assassin for most of her life, spent the last year in a labor camp. When she gets to the palace, the thing she’s most excited about is the library. And I could accept that, hey, she used to read as a kid and is excited about the chance to read more. What I cannot accept is a character who doesn’t seem at all embarrassed about staying up til all hours reading before a freaking life-or-death competition. That just makes her seem like an idiot.

I don’t know. I did enjoy most of the experience of reading this book, but it just fell apart for me at the end.

3 Stars - Still A Good Book

Hawkeye: Rio Bravo (Volume 4)

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Hawkeye: Rio Bravo (Volume 4)
Matt Fraction, David Aja, Chris Eliopoulos, Francesco Francavilla, 2015

Premise: Follows L.A. Woman. Clint digs down to an ever-deeper rock bottom but finds a place to stand there. Collects Hawkeye issues #12, 13, 15, 17, 19 and 21-22

This is the climax of Fraction’s run on Hawkeye, and I enjoyed it, although I didn’t find this volume as a whole as satisfying as I hoped I would. I might go back and read the issues in the order in which they were released, (which requires flipping back and forth between books 3 and 4) to see if that changes the overall pacing for the better.

There are really fantastic moments in this book. Gorgeous, perfect moments where a character makes a choice or makes a stand, or a bunch of plot pieces come together, or friendship and affection is more important than anger and resentment. The story as a whole just didn’t 100% gel for me. I kept having to go back and re-read sections to catch some foreshadowing I missed or clarify a sequence. It’s a testament to just how great the great parts are that I still really enjoyed reading this.

The art continues to be awesome. There are two issues (12 and 17) done by different artists, and in both cases there’s a story reason which drives the choice. Issues 12 and 13 take place over the same time-frame from different perspectives, which didn’t work quite as well for me here as a similar mechanic did in some earlier issues. Issue 17 is stuck at the beginning all alone as a sort of holiday outtake. I liked it okay, but having it there really set a weird tone for reading the collection.

This volume also contains the much-talked-about ‘deafness’ issue, which is as fascinating and moving as reported. Twisting the conventions of comics to portray hearing loss in a way that reportedly felt incredibly real to deaf fans and gave others a strong sense of that world was a remarkable accomplishment. It was subtle in execution at times, and I had to read the issue several times, but that is not a flaw here.

The action is really good and the dialogue solid. I just wish that the early issues in this volume had as much internal consistency and forward momentum as Kate’s interlocking plotline (see L.A. Woman). That might have made this an unbelievably good collection, instead of just solidly good with some really outstanding issues.

4 Stars - A Very Good Book

Hunter (Lackey 2015)

Monday, August 31, 2015

Mercedes Lackey, 2015

New Release! I received a copy of this book from NetGalley for the purpose of review.

Premise: The barriers between Earth and another, unknown place have grown thin, and humanity now lives in protected cities where they are safe from creatures of magic and myth. Joy is a Hunter, one of a small group of people born with the ability to manipulate magic and fight off incursions of dangerous critters from the Otherworld. She has been called to Apex city to train and work with other Hunters and meet her uncle, an important politician. But politics can turn deadly when a lot is at stake and Joy has to be very careful about who she trusts…

To be upfront: is this sometimes a little like The Hunger Games? Yes, yes it is. First-person, ridiculously badass young female character living in remote, hard-scrabble area brought to the ridiculously technologically-advanced and decadent big city to commit violence (in this case to fight monsters, not other teenagers) and becomes a celebrity but feels incredibly conflicted about that.

That’s roughly where the parallel ends, though. Joy finds just as many friends as rivals in Apex, and there’s just as much fantasy as dystopia in this genre-blend. Hunter also deals with celebrity culture in what I think is a more nuanced manner: both what it means to be ‘on display’ 24/7 and the pros and cons of notoriety.

All the Hunters are paired with Hounds - magical beings that have chosen to ally with humans in the fight with Otherworldly creatures - and they are a particularly intriguing part of the world. The magic is interesting, especially the combinations of Hunter-style-magic, sorcery and psionics as well as ‘mundane’ high-tech weapons.

There’s a romance (of course) but it was sweet and not too much of the plot. It was just present enough to always remind me that Joy is a teenager, and so boys are on the list of important things, right under protecting the city, protecting her friends, and figuring out what the powers that be don't’ want them to know. But even magical first-responders have a social life.

There were some amusing digs at fundamentalist Christianity, as many of them didn’t react well to a catastrophe that destroyed a good portion of the world and unleashed goblins, dragons, the deadly Folk and tons of other creatures formerly-of-myth against humanity. But there was also a main character who was Christian (a minority religion in this future), so the end message on that front was tolerance, like Lackey’s work has been since the beginning.

That said, there’s rightly no tolerance or compassion for anyone working against the health of the Hunters or the safety of the populace.

I enjoyed this book. It’s a bit fluffy; the story and emotions are all on the surface, but it was a lot of fun, and I will gladly read the heck out of the sequel, assuming one is forthcoming.

4 Stars - A Very Good Book

Quick Update: FREE BOOK

I'm not gone! I've just had a heck of a few months, and while I've been reading, it's mostly been re-reads of old favorites, or new books that I just didn't like enough to review.

But the drought ends later today with a new review.


Are you looking to feed your reading habit?

A Count of Five is a fantasy novel with a unique setting and a set a great characters. I haven't reviewed it because I also edited it, which seems more than a little like a conflict of interest.

But you don't have to take my word for its quality, because you can get it FREE on Kindle!

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Lumberjanes: Volume One: Beware the Kitten Holy

Monday, July 13, 2015

Lumberjanes: Volume One: Beware the Kitten Holy
Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, Brooke Allen, 2015

Premise: Collects Lumberjanes #1-4. Alice, Molly, Jo, Mal and Ripley are spending their summer at Miss Quinzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet's Camp for Hardcore Lady Types. They should be learning scouting skills, canoeing, hiking and learning about nature. Instead they’re trying to get to the bottom of some seriously mysterious goings-on.

I read the first issue of Lumberjanes a while back, and knew that all the hype is true: this is a really special book. I bought the collection of the first four issues a few months back, and just finally got time to read it. And good timing, too! Lumberjanes just won two Eisners, for Best New Series and Best Publication for Teens (ages 13-17).

This book deserves its awards and its laurels. It’s loads of fun, funny and clever and sweet all at once. It stars great characters in an insane, cartoonish world, where exploring a cavern full of deadly booby traps is not the weirdest thing the girls do that day.

I ended up reading the book twice in quick succession. The pace of the story is extremely quick and light, and there isn’t a lot of dialogue on many pages. There is so much going on in the art, though the style is deceptively simple.

I love the way the characters are developed. There isn’t the smart one and the girly one and the tomboy, etc. They each have particular quirks, but they’re all scouts. They’re all at summer camp, and willing to fight magic foxes (see issue one) so they’re already on that level together. Alice, for example, is maybe the most feminine in look, but it’s more notable that she’s the most brash and outspoken. Each of the girls is a unique character, and it comes through not only in the dialogue but in the way they stand and move. I really want this series to run for a long time, because I can feel the edges of backstory for several girls that I am very intrigued by.

They are friends, and that’s the most important thing. The teamwork is great, the adventure satisfying. There’s a hint of something stronger possible between two of the girls by the end of issue two, and it’s adorable.

Occasionally the action gets a little more cartoony that I personally like, but it works with the style and tone as established.

I just love the whole premise here: five friends at camp, exploring a crazy mystery, because who else is going to do it… grownups?

5 Stars - An Awesome Book (to the max!)

PS: It risks being cutesy, but the habit of the girls substituting names of female icons into oaths is pretty great. (i.e. on page two: “What in the Joan Jett are you doing?!”)

Dark Triumph (His Fair Assassin: Book Two)

Monday, July 6, 2015

Dark Triumph (His Fair Assassin: Book Two)
Robin LaFevers, 2013

Premise: Sybella blessed the day she was told she was a Daughter of Death and taken into Mortain’s convent to be taught to kill. Because her human father, the nobleman d’Albret, was the stuff that nightmares are made of. But now she is back in his household, spying for the young Duchess of Brittany, and trying to keep both her life and her sanity intact long enough to kill d’Albret.

If you liked Grave Mercy, don’t be foolish like me and allow a few years to go by before you read this sequel. I was intrigued but terribly confused for several chapters before I remembered barely enough of the political plotline to pick up on how this story fits into that story.

I remember being very interested in Sybella before, as she was a mysterious side character in book one, and at least the first half of her story lived up to those hints. She was subject to an incredibly dark childhood, but now must face those demons, external and internal, while she works secretly on behalf of the convent.

She constantly wonders whether the darkness that she sees in d’Albret is in her as well. She is good at the skills taught at Mortain’s convent. She enjoys killing those who deserve to die. Adding that to her background, it’s only natural that she worry about the darkness within her. Balancing what she wants with what the convent wants, her past with her potential futures, and her instincts with her fears, are her core conflicts, and they are well handled, for the most part.

And she’s really interesting, and her story is complex and haunting….for the first half of the book.

And then there’s a romance.

And really, really I’m fine that there’s a romance. It’s done well, and the characters fit together in a satisfying way. Even if there is some painfully maudlin stalling in the form of some predictable I’m-sure-he-hates-me-so-I’ll-hate-myself-no-of-course-he-doesn’t-really shenanigans.

And then she gets a big piece of plot/character/world knowledge dropped in her lap by the protagonist of the first book. Maybe this wouldn’t have bugged me if I’d remembered the first book, but I found it awkward. It could have been more effective if she’d discovered more of it on her own.

And THEN late in the book she gets a big dollop of (spoiler) mental and spiritual healing from the visit of a divine character who only appears the once. Which, for me, rather makes the whole story that came before seem unimportant. It’s all a bit deus ex machina, and between this, the romance, and the way the final fight shakes out, for a badass assassin maiden, she sure depends on validation from a lot of dudes.


All that said, I did still enjoy the experience of reading the book, and the parts that were good were very good. I’m intrigued by the third book as well. Maybe I won’t let years go by again? Or maybe not.

3 Stars - A Good Book

Batgirl (Volume 1: The Batgirl of Burnside)

Monday, June 29, 2015

Batgirl (Volume 1: The Batgirl of Burnside)
Cameron Stewart, Babs Tarr, 2015

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley for the purpose of review.

Premise: Babs moves to a new neighborhood for a fresh start, a new look, and a new outlook.

Reviewing this book is really hard. I think I'm too old for it. (For what it's worth, I am 33.)

I like the art; I like the humor. In principle I like the lighter take and I liked aspects of the story. But for me, it's not my Batgirl, without quite being a brand new Batgirl.

In this volume, they did a soft reboot. The character gets a new outfit, new friends, a new neighborhood to protect, and the protagonist has been called (both affectionately and not) "hipster Batgirl". She does live in a Brooklyn analogue, and is making dumb mistakes the way young people in their early twenties do ... although it bothers me a little that at the same time she's struggling with, not college, but her dissertation. That's just one of the little story mis-matches that gave me pause.

I really enjoy the current Ms. Marvel, whose success clearly paved the way for more lighter, woman-centric fare. And I liked quite a bit of this. The tone is fun, the art is snappy: it has a striking, singular style, without losing clarity. The facial expressions are often great. The visualization of her eidetic memory was very cool.

The writing between Babs and Dinah, or with her other friends, feels pretty good. The love interest(s) I found forced and awkward. The moral is... something about protecting people? I'll admit, at the end there I was far more interested in the pathos of (spoiler) her unhinged AI clone, and was sad when that story wrapped up in such a simplistic manner.

Maybe I would enjoy the next arc more. This one feels like a transition to me. If there had been absolutely nothing connecting it to anything that has gone before, I might have been able to just go with it as a full reboot. But as it was, there are just enough callbacks that remind me of my Barbara: adult, capable, meditative, goddamn majestic at times. And then cute early-twenties-but-acts-like-a-teen Babs is just...cute. Capable enough at times, but not the same at all.

Erin had a really good point about this version of the character: she's Batgirl from the animated show The Batman. If you missed that one (it aired from 2004-2008), it started super rough, but grew into a perfectly good show. This is a great comic version of that character.

This is hard for me, because the book is getting a lot of love, and I'm really happy that lighter comics and comics targeted at girls are being released and gaining traction. This one just isn't for me.

2 Stars - An Okay Book (But, add a star if “The Batman” is the animated superhero series of your childhood, and maybe add another if you’ve never read a comic with Oracle in it.)

The Magpie Lord (A Charm of Magpies: Book 1)

Monday, June 22, 2015

The Magpie Lord (A Charm of Magpies: Book 1)
KJ Charles, 2013

Premise: Lucien Varney has returned from abroad to take up the unwanted mantle of Lord Crane after the mysterious deaths of his father and older brother. But someone doesn't want any of his line left alive, and to fight magic he'll need some unconventional help from a young magician...

If you've been here long, you probably know that I'm ambivalent towards romance, as a genre. But sometimes... Sometimes romance is just perfect. Particularly when there is magic. And.. I’ll be upfront with you... pretty boys.

This book was delightful. It has no pretentions of great “literature”, and it flirts with unreality as most romance does. It was a joy to read, and I've already bought the sequel.

This book handily manages what I consider to be a core element of the best romances: give me two interesting characters who are even more interesting together. Lucien and Stephen both have interesting backstories, interesting lives, and great chemistry.

Lucien, as the black-sheep/vagabond returning to England after a long time abroad, is light-hearted on the surface, despite the fact that it's his life and fortune at stake. Stephen, while mostly professional and quiet, struggles both with a dark history with the Crane family and the burden of his talent.

The adventure/mystery plot is playfully interwoven with the romance. I devoured this book in less than 24 hours, I was sucked into this story to a depth I haven’t experienced in a while.

It was start-to-end fun and incredibly charming. I didn’t know I needed more LGBT fantasy romance in my life, but I’m glad this is the one I stumbled into.

4 Stars - A Great Book