The BiblioSanctum

NOS4A2 - Joe Hill Oh boy, I've always adored horror novels that incorporate paranormal elements or a touch of the fantastical, and considering my enjoyment for such types of books written by Stephen King, it's a wonder to me why I waited so long to check out something by his son, an acclaimed author in his own right.

Why I thought this was a great book, reason the first: it succeeded in creeping me out. Honestly, why else would I pick up a horror novel? I mentioned before how much I appreciate having fantasy in my horror, because rather than dulling my fear by being "less realistic", a story with supernatural aspect actually accentuates it. In NOS4A2, Joe Hill manages to balance the "world of reality" and the "world of imagination" perfectly, sometimes blurring the lines.

In this way, a tale about a predator named Charles Manx who snatches children from his vintage Rolls-Royce becomes even more frightening when you think about how in this world of mystical powers, secret places and hidden roads, anything can happen. Manx's powers are even more disturbing, when you find out that his Wraith car has the ability to transport its riders beyond the veil to a place called Christmasland, which at first sounds like a wonderful place, except every moment a child spends there they lose more and more of themselves. Knowing that this villain uses his young victims' love of Christmas against them makes this book even more chilling.

Which brings me to another reason why I found this book so effectively unsettling: the fact that this is, in a way, a story about the loss of childhood innocence. Like Manx, our protagonist Victoria McQueen also has a power, which she discovers at 8 years old, when a rickety old covered bridge appears whenever she rides her bike, always leading her to exactly what she's looking for. Years later and seeking trouble as an angsty teenager, the bridge leads Vic to her first traumatic encounter with Charles Manx.

The events in Vic's past will remain with her forever, but all powers also have their costs. As she grows into adulthood, her memories and power change her life, her personality, her relationships with the people close to her. Her struggles with these changes are a big part of why I felt drawn to her character, because it's easy to sympathize with her desire to be a good person and do the right thing, even if it means facing her greatest fears and returning to the worst time of her life.

Joe Hill builds Vic up to be this fully-realized person, so that her fears became my fears, what she cared about became what I cared about, and what she wanted became what I wanted, too. Indeed, it's not just the thrills and suspense that got me into this novel, but also the factors involving Vic's emotions and relationships with her parents, Lou, and her son.

It takes a very good storyteller to frighten their reader but to also move them, and in this way Joe Hill's writing reminds me a lot of Stephen King's work. This is one seriously talented family. While NOS4A2 may be the first book I've ever read by Joe Hill, it certainly won't be the last.

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The Ocean at the End of the Lane: A Novel - Neil Gaiman 3.5 stars. Returning to Sussex to attend a funeral, an unnamed middle-aged man visits the site of his childhood home, knowing that the house he grew up in no longer exists. But the farm at the end lane still stands and he is drawn to the pond in the back, a pond which an extraordinary girl named Lettie Hempstock once called an ocean. In this place, the man recalls a series of events in his past, of a dark time which began forty years earlier with the suicide of his family's lodger in their stolen car.

This was only the second novel I've read by Neil Gaiman (I'm not counting his short stories or comics, etc.) but I knew enough to know about his knack for storytelling, and particularly his style of using allusion in doing so. This has made me wary about picking up his stuff, because I tend not to be drawn to stories that are more metaphysical and abstract.

Because fables and mythological motifs often feature so heavily in his work, I've come to view a lot of Gaiman's stories as modern fairy tales. Ocean definitely has that vibe to it; as such, the book's description as "terrifying" and "menacing" notwithstanding, I found it more whimsical and odd than anything else. While not a negative factor by any means, admittedly I did expect the book to be somewhat more emotionally stirring.

That said, while it's not typically my kind of book, Ocean packs a pretty good punch, especially given its relatively short length. Gaiman has a way of making me care about his characters if not so much for his themes, and not to mention he also writes beautifully. Very few authors can do what he does to me with his prose, as in the case of this book where he uses such vivid imagery to paint fantastical landscapes and their creatures in my mind's eye.
The Exodus Towers - Jason M. Hough After hearing the praises my co-blogger Wendy had to sing about this book, I decided not to wait any longer and just had to see its awesomeness for myself. I'm so glad I did. At the same time, though, I'm also now hot and bothered over that crazy cliffhanger of an ending. Oh no, you did NOT just end there. I'm not kidding, I actually shouted that at the book, earning me a strange and slightly concerned look from my husband.

The story continues with mystery, action and good sci-fi thrills in this sequel to The Darwin Elevator, Jason M. Hough's hit debut that came out earlier this summer. With the appearance of a second space elevator in Brazil, our protagonist Skyler and the brilliant Dr. Tania Sharma have set up a new colony at its base, using the movable alien towers around it to ward off the deadly subhuman plague. A sudden attack from a band of immune militants, however, halts progress and endangers the colonists. Cut off from contact, Skyler is left on his own to fight off the savage SUBs and to figure out a way take back the colony.

I have to say the second book of a trilogy is often tricky; a lot of times, they end up being labeled as "bridges" since the first book typically is an explosive introduction while the last book contains the grand finale, leaving little for the middle book to do than to tie the two together and ramp up to the conclusion. I'm happy to report this is not the case with The Exodus Towers. Personally, I find it even more gripping than the first book, with non-stop action that starts on page one and won't let up.

At the same time, it also deftly manages to accomplish a prime goal of a second book -- developing and evolving the main characters, establishing the world, and furthering the intrigue of the situation. In this story of survival in a land taken over by the wilderness and hordes of mindless, violent creatures, we get to experience this at both the personal level through the eyes of Skyler, as well as at a community level following the struggles of the colony.

In addition, new threats and new players are introduced to spice things up. The story is getting a little darker and more brutal, and in a time when humans should be banding together, everyone is instead even more unsure of whom to trust. The suspense is also building steadily, as more is gleaned about the mysterious alien Builders and their daunting technology. All in all, this book succeeded in revving up the momentum and raising the stakes. Can't wait for the conclusion!

Note: Received eARC in exchange for an honest review. Thanks, NetGalley and Del Rey!

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A Study in Silks - Emma Jane Holloway A Study in Silks was a book I won from a Goodreads giveaway. Part steampunk historical mystery and part fantasy paranormal romance, I was initially drawn to the story's setting as well as its description of the main character Evelina Cooper as being the niece of the great Sherlock Holmes.

Eveline, however, is not solely defined by her famous uncle, and I liked how Emma Jane Holloway has given her character an exceptional background with which to distinguish herself. Thanks to her Granny Holmes, Evelina was plucked from a childhood of growing up with a traveling circus to be dropped into a world of lords and ladies, and here she must learn to live a life caught between two worlds.

But Sherlock Holmes' work has clearly also rubbed off on her, given how eagerly she aspires to follow in his footsteps. When a young servant girl is killed at the home of her best friend, Evelina does what she can for the investigation, going as far as to use her gift of the Blood, which allows her to communicate with minor spirits and recruit them to her aid.

At first glance, one would suppose there's a lot happening in this novel. In fact, one of the most noticeable features of the paperback when it arrived was how remarkably hefty it was. Coming in at more than 500 pages, it's much longer than I would have expected from a book of this genre and type, and my first assumption was that there would be a lot of world building.

In this, I suppose I was half correct. The setting is ambitious, definitely, in this world of steam barons, demons and devas, clockwork animals and automatons. A little too ambitious, maybe, seeing as I was left wishing more attention could have been given to both the steampunk and magical aspect, putting them in further context. I'd have loved to know more about the deva spirits, for example, beyond simply knowng that Evelina has the power to snare them in her mechanical toys and make them do her bidding.

The fact that A Study in Silks falls more heavily on the "paranormal romance" side of things might have something to do with this. Quite honestly, more emphasis in the story is given to providing juicy details about which character is fancying whom, rather than towards world building and setting up a murder mystery. In truth, if Sherlock Holmes were real he'd probably have a conniption fit over Evelina's methods. While I love her character, I don't actually think our heroine makes a good detective, as she often lets her emotional ties get in the way of her objectivity.

My take: The mystery plot spices it up well, but mainly check this book out if you like historical romance with a little fantasy thrown in, and extra bonus if you are a fan of delicious love triangles, which in itself provides a bit of suspense here. The book is definitely not without its merits, especially if you think you might enjoy the look into its elegant world of Victorian steampunk high society, complete with formal balls and debutantes.

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Tongues of Serpents: A Novel of Temeraire - Naomi Novik These books are still a joy to read, though I've pretty much accepted that none of the sequels in this series are ever going to come close to being as good as the first book again. At least this one was better than the last, which sees Laurence and Temeraire back on an adventure again in a faraway exotic place.

This time, the crew finds themselves in Australia, with Laurence having been banished to the prison colony of New South Wales after being convicted of treason. The British Aerial Corps has nonetheless tasked him of taking care of three dragon eggs, in the hopes of establishing a new base in the area. Exile in Australia is proving much more difficult than expected, however, as Laurence and Temeraire are caught up in a political mess involving an overthrown governor and a band of rebels. To escape, they readily agree to take on a mission to seek out a passage through the Blue Mountains.

Rather than fighting flesh-and-blood adversaries, their main enemy this time is the harsh wilderness of the Australian outback. It's not as exciting as some of the past journeys Laurence and Temeraire have been on, but I love seeing them go to new places regardless. Australia is still an unknown factor to our characters at this time, and it's both suspenseful and awe-inspiring to read about their struggles with the land, which includes surviving thirst, poisonous creatures, brutal storms and savage wildfires.

The characters' purposes, however, could have been more interesting. The goal of trying to find a passage through the mountains is as dull as it sounds, though the book picked up when one of Laurence and Temeraire's precious eggs are stolen. But then they spend more than half the book trying to hunt the thieves and track it down, and that was just too much to devote to this side plot. There really was no climax to this tale either, and the book's ending was not anywhere near as satisfying as I'd hoped.
The Greyfriar - Clay Griffith, Susan Griffith Note: I received a review copy of this book compliments of the publisher, in exchange for my honest opinions. Thanks, Pyr/Prometheus Books!

Vampires and steampunk! The former, obviously, is a topic that's been wildly popular for years and years. The latter, as well, has been a subgenre gaining more traction in the science fiction and fantasy world lately, hence the fact that I would finally stumble across a book which unites both concepts in the foundation for its story was only a matter of time! What did strike me as a pleasant surprise, however, was finding a book that does this so well.

The Greyfriar is set in an alternate history in which humans and vampires have been locked in a bitter war for more than a century. In 1870, the blood drinkers rose up to conquer the northern lands, driving the humans towards warmer climes. Now, the young princess Adele of Equatoria is to wed the famed vampire hunter senator of the American Republic, their marriage to be the start of an alliance to take back their lands. But a month before the wedding, an ambush on the princess' airship throws all plans into turmoil. Adele's way home now involves a partnership with the Greyfriar, a semi-legendary figure who has become a symbol of humanity's fight against the vampires.

Notice I say "partnership with" and not "dependency upon", because as princesses go, Adele is far from your dainty damsel in distress and can most certainly hold her own. In this book, both the main protagonist and also the enemy vampire warchief are female characters one would not be wise to cross, as each woman has a commanding presence about them in their own way. With Adele, I loved her for her independence, intelligence, fighting skills, as well as for her protectiveness and love for her little brother. All the characters here are pretty well written, but it's extra nice having a heroine I genuinely like and enjoy reading about.

Still, while I'm steadfastly rooting for Adele, it's hard not to be drawn to the vampires as well, with their fascinating empire, politics, family conspiracies and infighting among their peerage. The vampires in this book are atypical enough not to bore me, with their strange biological quirks allowing their bodies to be lighter and to "float" in the air, and it amuses me to no end how disdainful they are of human myths like the ones claiming vampires to be their own dead risen to life. Their culture is well defined, like everything else in this book's world.

My favorite part, though, is the thread of romance woven through the second half of the book! Admittedly, as much as I enjoy love stories, romance in these types of books usually make me balk -- like, seriously, why spoil a perfectly awesome action adventure tale by forcing a contrived and cringe-worthy romantic side plot just for the sake of having it? And yet, the thing is, the love story in this book could not have been more natural and just...totally appropriate, like it belongs. I don't know what it is, but perhaps the fact that the authors are a married couple who have been writing and publishing together for years has something to do with it, because the attraction between Adele and Greyfriar felt passionate, gradual, sweet, real and -- most importantly -- earned. None of that insta-love nonsense.

Plus, no worries if romance isn't your thing; as I've said, it's not the dominant focus and does not overtake the entire story, and I liked how there were just as many if not more action-oriented battles and fight scenes in this book. In fact, my only wish is that the novel was better paced and balanced. After a very bombastic introduction, it wasn't until halfway through the book that my enthusiasm spiked again, but once it did, you can be sure I was completely enamored. I read the second half all in one sitting, and loved every minute of it.
The Troop - Nick Cutter Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review! I love delving into the horror genre every now and then, and I have to say the description on The Troop sold me right away. Something about being stranded in an isolated area like the woods or on a lonely island just invokes a primal kind of fear in my heart, the idea that no one can hear you scream when the stuff of nightmares comes to life around you.

Of course, for me the icing on the cake is that this book is written by a Canadian author (Nick Cutter is the pen name of Craig Davidson, according to the copyright details) and takes place in Canada, in a sleepy town off the coast of Prince Edward Island to be exact. A bucolic maritime province, P.E.I. is known for its fisheries, tourism and potatoes, and I'll always remember it in my mind as a place of lush landscapes and gorgeous coastlines. That said, the contrasting effects created by juxtaposing this setting alongside the horrific things that happen in this book is probably what made it even more terrifying.

When I'm reading, there are two parts to being scared. First, there are the descriptive details that appeal to my senses -- the sight of gore, the smell of blood, the taste of vomit on the back of a frightened character's throat, etc. Also known as the gross-out factor, I think I can safely say that this book did that very well. Still, I find many authors are able to write very descriptively, but simply making me feel nauseous and disgusted is only half of the picture.

This is where the second part comes in, which is more abstract and subjective. For me to be truly creeped out, there has to be that factor of suspense; the horror novelist has to strike me with that sense of dread which makes me want to keep turning the pages and not want to at the same time. I'm happy to report that The Troop succeeded in this as well, artfully combining the two parts to make this reading the book a truly unnerving horror experience.

A big part of this is of course the idea behind the story -- a Scoutmaster and his troop of five scouts being abandoned on a small deserted island to fend for themselves against an unknown infection. Reading about the boys and their interactions, I can't help but be reminded of Stephen King and the easy camaraderie he usually has between the adolescent characters in his stories. I always think it's so much more disturbing when a horror novel stars teenagers, because their behaviors are that much more unpredictable. The boys' minds have not reached full maturity, and this leads to a lot of unsettling things happening, especially given the wide range of personalities present in The Troop. Being kids and scouts, their first inclination is to help others in need, and the fact this natural drive is exploited by the contagious threat is what made the book even more chilling.

You can kind of tell that the author delights in doing this to the reader as well, as the writing in the horror scenes seem to come off more naturally and elegantly than the other parts. Believe it or not, the introduction was the toughest section for me to get through, since the narratives of the Scoutmaster and the boys felt very awkward, rough and unfocused before finally smoothing out after the first few chapters. It's like the book doesn't settle into its groove until the horror parts are underway, but once it does the momentum just builds and builds and doesn't stop! I was on pins and needles right up to the end.
Stormdancer  - Jay Kristoff This was a refreshing read that stood out from all the steampunk I've been chomping through lately. I used to think this sub-genre and setting wasn't for me, but that was probably before I realized how few steampunk books I've read actually incorporate that "steampunkness" so fully and completely as this book does. And it's not just about the cool airships and armor and the wicked chainsaw katanas either (though all those things are indeed cool and wicked). The steampunk aspect is ubiquitous and feels like a living, breathing part of the story, going beyond descriptions of the mechanisms to actually touch upon the relationship it has with the whole society and industry.

But enough about the steampunk, because as brilliant as that is, it's only one of the many reasons why I loved this book. I think the kicker is the feudal Japanese-inspired world as well as the author's version on its myths and legends. In the center stage of Stormdancer is the arashitora, a "storm tiger" or griffin, which the characters Yukiko and the members of her father's hunting team are tasked to capture for Shima's megalomaniacal Shogun. However, the expedition is disrupted by a great tempest before they could bring one home, leaving Yukiko stranded and alone with one of the mythological creatures, and a furious one at that.

At is heart, the story is mainly about the friendship that develops between Yukiko and the arashitora Buruu, an unlikely pair who learns to trust and love one another after facing challenges together. While that's not exactly breaking new ground, I still have to say there were a few surprises in the plot that kept things interesting. Once again, it's the world that really pulled me in, and along with that the anticipation of seeing how the characters will prevail against the Shogun and his Lotus Guild. For a novel targeted at young adults, I am more than impressed with the whole package.

I suppose the only thing that gave me pause was the prose. I am torn when it comes to this, because so much of the writing was given to the world building, and surely no one can accuse the author of skimping on the descriptive details! The downside of this, however, was, well...no one can accuse the author of skimping on the descriptive details...

In general, I found the prose needed getting used to, and also could have done with much less embellishment. But the book's penchant to expound on everything was also both its strongest and weakest point. It may be the reason for its slow-ish start, but also gave life to in my opinion the best and most amazing scene in the whole book, which was the initial hunt in the storm at about a quarter of the way in. There's pretty much no way you can read those vivid chapters and not be hooked afterward! All in all, a great book, and nothing's going to keep me away from the next one.

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Soulless  - Gail Carriger A total impulse read, I had absolutely no idea what to expect when I picked this up. I knew next to nothing about the characters or the story because believe it or not, I hadn't even stopped to read the synopsis or description (which, when you're a bibliophile, is like totally living life on the edge, I tell ya!)

But perhaps I'm overplaying my daredevilry. The fact is, it's not like this Parasol Protectorate series hadn't been on my radar at all, because I see it everywhere, from people reading it on the bus to copies at the checkout racks at supermarkets. So I had a pretty good idea that these books were wildly popular, and I'll admit I've always been curious, especially ever since stumbling upon a description of it as a "paranormal comedy of manners". That definitely conformed to my impressions of it after seeing that charming cover.

So, discovering that it was a novel about werewolves, vampires and other such uncanny creatures was a real treat for me, as was finding out about the Victorian steampunk setting. After all, this is territory I'm familiar and happy with, and the main character Alexia Tarabotti's life as a "soulless" or "preternatural" sounded new and interesting enough for this book to be right up my alley.

As someone with her unique power, Alexia is able to negate the effects of supernatural beings simply by touching them, thus turning creatures like vampires and werewolves back into their human forms. I have to say I was just in love with this idea! In addition, the book also floated a really neat theory to explain the link between preternaturals and supernatural creatures, utilizing a concept that involves opposing forces and counterbalances. I know I've said this a bunch of times before, but I always enjoy seeing novel ideas like this in the paranormal fantasy genre.

In the book's intro, Alexia's condition as a preternatural was what allowed her to survive an attack by a rogue vampire. In her subsequent investigation into this incident with the werewolf Lord Maccon, they uncover cases of other rogues as well as a disturbing number of missing supernaturals, so now I'm getting really excited, seeing that an element of mystery is in this story line as well. All was going great...until I got to the romance.

Admittedly, here's where my enthusiasm began to wane. Now that I'm finished the book, I would definitely classify Soulless as a paranormal romance more than anything. While I have nothing against that particular genre, I still must confess that a book tends to lose me when the relationship drama begins eclipsing everything else in the plot and becomes the main focus. And so when Alexia and Lord Maccon actually started making out and rounding second base on the dirty floor of a dank dark cell while they were being imprisoned by a gang of fanatical torturers, I kinda knew we'd reached my breaking point.

Pages upon pages describing the etiquette of courtship and totally inappropriate moments to get amorous notwithstanding, this was still a very good book. I'm open to the possibility of picking up the next book in the series if I'm ever struck by the mood to read a fun paranormal romance, especially now that I know what to expect!

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Love Minus Eighty - Will McIntosh See more reviews at http://bibliosanctum.blogspot.com

I have a confession to make: I'm a sucker for love stories. But not just any kind of love story would do, oh no, because I like my romance the same way I like my Fantasy -- gritty, transcendent, in-your-face, plus it helps if it's just a bit bizarre! Love Minus Eighty is definitely all this and more, as if you couldn't already tell from its exquisite tagline, "A novel of love and death in no particular order".

Decades from now, dwindling resources have caused cities like New York City to practically fold in and build upon itself, creating a social stratification system that's even more segregated than what we know today. No doubt, the book paints a pretty bleak view of the future, but it's especially bad if you're one of the hundreds of dead women cryogenically frozen in dating farms, awaiting your lucky day when some rich man will like you enough to pay millions for your revivification before whisking you home to be his wife.

And seriously, to think some of my friends complain about internet dating! Online dating sites have got nothing on the nightmare that are these dating farms, which charge male suitors thousands of dollars by the minute to "date" the dead women, whose consciousnesses are "awakened" for the session before the plug is pulled again and they go back to their state of non-existing. Will McIntosh expanded upon this idea from his award-winning short story "Bridesicle" (because that's what society in this world called the frozen women. Horrible, right?) for this novel, which follows a group of characters whose lives are all interconnected because of these dating farms.

What a disturbing and yet fascinating basis for a story, and it's all set before a futuristic backdrop which seems so outlandish but feels familiar enough to make you feel uncomfortable at the same time. It's a world of digital information and social media on steroids, where attention seekers can be trailed by thousands of literal "followers", their floating user screens going wherever that individual goes. People wear systems on their bodies to connect them to the network, allowing them to call up and communicate with multiple contacts at the same time. The setting was so vividly described that at times I felt like I was watching a movie (oh why oh why can't this be a movie?!)

But in spite of all the new technology, some things always stay the same. For one thing, people will still look for love, that timeless, formless, unshakeable deep connection to another soul. This makes Love Minus Eighty a sci-fi novel that's definitely more about the human story and less about the science and technology. Questions like how the dead can be brought back to life, or how these dating farms even manage to revive dead women for short periods of time aren't the point. Instead, what's important is the emotional impact of the story, and subsequently, the ethical implications of keeping women on ice and in limbo, basically according human beings who have the potential to live again less rights than what you'd give a dog in an animal shelter.

I also have to say the focus on love and dating was a nice touch, not only as it's something practically everyone can relate to, but also because it makes the characters and their motivations feel that much more poignant. It's hard to really say whose perspective was my favorite -- Rob, Veronika, Mira, and even a couple of the supporting characters -- because they each had their own experiences which I found acutely heartbreaking and intense.

Of course, this book wasn't perfect by any means, and I for one had some issues with some of the dialogue as well as the pacing, especially with the way it led up to the ending. However, the mere fact that I'm usually so persnickety about these things but was still able to overlook them meant that ultimately for me, Love Minus Eighty was all about the story and its provocative ideas. Above all, I enjoy books that make me feel (and here's where that whole "I'm a sucker for love stories" comes in), and this one was at once a very thoughtful commentary on the ways of the heart and just twisted enough for me to eat it up.
Masque of the Red Death - Bethany Griffin 2.5 stars. Never have I felt so broken up over writing a review for a book that ultimately ended up not being my cup of tea. It's tough, seeing as Masque of the Red Death is a young adult dystopian novel inspired by the Edgar Allan Poe short story of the same name, and so it is at once creative, original and highly ambitious -- which all happen to be qualities I admire in a book. It had some good ideas, and so I wanted to like this, tried hard to like it, but in the end there simply were too many issues that prevented me from getting on board.

The book is set in a gothic, post-apocalyptic rendition of the late 1800s, with a dash of steampunk mixed in for good measure. 17-year-old Araby Worth lives life amongst the elite thanks to her father's illustrious career as a scientist, while the poor are left to fend for themselves in a city ridden with plague and death. Those who have the means to afford them buy the elaborate porcelain masks which help prevent the contagion, but the dictator Prince Prospero has a iron hold over their production. Still grieving the death of her twin brother which she believes is her fault, Araby wants to help change the way things are by working towards making salvation from the disease available to all.

I'm torn over these details. On the one hand, I'm completely in love with the setting, and my one regret is wanting to know a lot more about the history and background than the book was able to give me. I also think the main character had a lot of potential, but for some reason Araby feels pretty much devoid of any personality. If I had to guess, I would say it's the writing style; told in first-person present tense, the narration could have been a lot more powerful, but instead it came across very clipped as I was bombarded with simple short sentences that often described everything Araby saw in front of her eyes but sadly not what was going on inside her head. As such, I couldn't get a sense of who she was at all.

Even now, there are so many blank spots in my mental picture of her as a character, since a lot of her motivations and behaviors just didn't match up. Her father, for example, whom she thinks is cold, aloof and uncaring, is actually in my opinion a sweet, kind and rather cool dad! I mean, here's a man who takes his morose teenage daughter for walks just to get her out of the house and on a whim would buy her nice things like books. Then there's Araby, one of those girls who contemplates betraying her parents for a boy she's only known for a grand total of like five minutes. I'm just shaking my head.

Which brings me to another thing that bothered me -- the dreaded love triangle. It would be nice if I had any interest at all in either romantic option, but behind door number one is Elliott, the prince's nephew who seeks to fuel a rebellion by convincing Araby to join him by his side. Meanwhile, behind door number two is William, the handsome porter with the awesome tattoos who works at the club Araby frequents and whom she is drawn to. One guy is arrogant, the other is dull, and both are patronizing to the extreme. It's really tough for me to get into a book when the romantic drama takes up such a huge part of the story, especially when I think the heroine is deserving of so much more than what she's offered.

I feel like I'm being too harsh in this review, but even after putting my YA-reading hat on and embracing the romance, I just couldn't get into this book. I think it had some great ideas, but I feel like we've only scratched the surface on a lot of them, much like how I think Araby's character could have been much better developed. While this book was a quick read, I can't help but think maybe a little more detail could have gone a long way into fleshing out the story and making it more satisfying.
Dragon's Child  (The King Arthur Trilogy, #1) - M.K. Hume Thank you to Atria Books for sending me an advanced copy of Dragon's Child in exchange for an honest review! Originally published in 2009, a new edition of the paperback and ebook will be available later this fall, thus it was provided to me via Atria's latest Galley Alley program. This book first caught my eye when I found out it was an Arthurian fantasy novel written by an expert on the subject. Like many, I've been exposed to my share of retellings and interpretations of the King Arthur mythos in fiction (there are a ton out there!), but I am most definitely not well-versed in the historical details. This made me curious as to how an academic authority on Arthurian literature would tackle the legend.

Not surprisingly, the novel turned out to be a story of Arthur (known here as Artorex) and his journey from a humble childhood to become the High King of the Britons. Artorex is presented to us as the reluctant hero, whose personal choice would have been to raise a family on his foster family's farm and live out the rest of his days as a simple steward. Fate, however, has set him on another path.

I'll admit that I found it difficult to get into the story at first. The introduction to the hero's journey is a familiar one: the boy who everyone had initially dismissed suddenly discovers that he has a greater destiny. In the next few chapters, his skills are honed and he becomes stronger. He learns to fight, he learns to ride, and he gains all the experiences he will someday need to become a great leader. It was pretty standard, even as Arthurian legends go, and I had to suppress the temptation to skim this section, especially knowing that the real meat of the story had to be just beyond this point.

Thankfully, I was right and the book did get better. Much better, in fact, with the introduction of Gallia, Artorex's first wife. That's right, I did a double-take too when I saw that. M.K. Hume herself wrote in her Author's Note explaining that she once came upon an evocative reference in an obscure text named Guinevere as Arthur's second wife, but even though she could find no other material in her research that even hints at a first wife, the idea stuck. And I have to say, the fact whole epic trilogies can develop and evolve from tiny little tidbits like that is what fascinates me about historical fiction, and why I love the genre.

In this case, I really enjoyed the author's take on Artorex's childhood and teenage years, as well as her reasoning behind why she chose to tell his story the way she did. A lot of attention is given to these formative years, and I was surprised at how engaging the story became after getting past his boyhood training. Even though Hume used a third person omniscient point of view to narrate the story (which I normally dislike, because it tends to distract me from the main character), the focus always remained on Artorex, making his transformation from the boy known simply as Lump to King Artor of the Britons a very drawn-out but believable one.

In the end, I went from feeling luke-warm towards this novel to liking it quite a lot. The writing style can come off as a bit cumbersome at first if you're not used to it, but I later felt it suited the book very well, giving a cold edge to some of the darker and more violent parts of the story. This first book ends with Artorex being crowned the High King, and the best part is knowing there is so much more to his legend, which I'm looking forward to continuing in the rest of this trilogy.

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The Coldest War (The Milkweed Triptych, #2) - Ian Tregillis Wow, did that seriously just happen?! Those were the words running through my head when I reached the very end of this book. Just when I thought this series couldn't get any crazier with its genre-bending goodness, it decides to throw me for another loop (which in the context of talking about this book is a rather clever pun, now that I think about it. I'm just a little miffed now because I can't explain it without spoiling anything!) The way I see it, as far as those shocking "I-NEED-to-know-what-happens-next" cliffhangers go, Ian Tregillis just raised the freakin' bar.

If I had to go back and talk about the first book of the Milkweed Triptych, Bitter Seeds, I'd probably describe it as an alternate history World War II novel with both fantasy and science fiction elements, mostly due to its main premise involving Nazi Germany's lab-raised soldiers with superpowers versus the British's warlocks and their demons. This second book still has all of that, except it takes place some twenty years later, and even though the war is over, Great Britain now finds itself locked in a precarious power struggle with the USSR.

Now Project Milkweed is threatened when they find out that Britain's warlocks, the country's greatest defense in keeping their enemy at bay, are being killed off by an unknown assassin. Meanwhile, a pair of super-soldier siblings who fought for the Nazis in WWII escape their Soviet prison and make their way to England. One of them is Gretel, the psychopath pre-cog who is still obsessed with manipulating the life of British agent Raybould Marsh. Even after more than two decades, she is still pulling the strings, nudging the future towards her own mysterious agenda.

By all accounts, I should have liked this book more, and I think I would have if it weren't so utterly bleak. I know "Super soldiers vs. Warlocks" sounds like an interesting and unbelievably fun premise -- which it most certainly is, don't get me wrong -- but part of me is still having trouble getting over how dark this series can be sometimes. While I'm no stranger to dark fiction with dreary themes, there's just something about these books that unsettle the heck out of me and chill me to the bone.

I suppose depending on who you are, that can be seen as a good or bad thing. For example, in Bitter Seeds, I found that the disturbing ideas in the first book really worked in giving the story the hard edge it needed. I was able to transform those feelings of dread into suspenseful anticipation which kept me turning the pages, and also because I felt pity for the poor characters who have had such terrible things happen to them or are forced to make these awful decisions.

Unfortunately, my sympathy for the characters ran out and was largely absent for the most part in The Coldest War. The main players were mostly the same, but in the twenty-two years since the events of the last book, many things have happened to turn even the "good guys" into pretty despicable people in my eyes. While the main antagonist Gretel is still as evil as ever, I nevertheless had a difficult time bringing myself to muster up any enthusiasm to root for Marsh or Will this time around. There are no truly upstanding characters in this book, which normally isn't a problem for me; I find I can be drawn to even the most morally corrupted of characters if they are written well, but I honestly couldn't find anyone particularly likeable in this book, with the possible exception of Klaus, Gretel's brother.

Story-wise, though, I am absolutely floored. The ending alone was probably worth all the frustrating moments the characters put me through, not to mention the next book presents the perfect opportunity for many of them to redeem themselves. That last line in the epilogue has got to be the most effective two words in the history of book endings. I can't wait to pick up the third book for the finale, I MUST find out how it all ends.

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Glow - Amy Kathleen Ryan Note: received this one a while ago from a goodreads giveaway. Thanks!

This wasn't bad at all -- but ultimately, probably not my cup of tea. I enjoyed the characters and the overall story, but I admit, reading this felt more than a little strange, though it's through no fault of the book itself. Admittedly, being more used to reading space operas that are military and war-based has pretty much made reading this "YA dystopian romance in space" a very surreal experience. Probably a good choice for YA readers, especially if they're interested in the space-faring angle of the setting.
Think of a Number (Dave Gurney, # 1) - John Verdon Note: received this a while ago from a goodreads giveaway. Thanks!

A departure from my usual genre, but I was in the mood for a thriller crime mystery and this book definitely fits that description. I usually go into these kinds of books all mentally prepared and alert to spot the clues to predict the outcome and whodunit, but this book always seemed to manage to stay one step ahead of me. It's an impressive debut and a good choice for those who like the genre, admittedly not that heavy on the character development but makes up for it by being very plot-driven and suited for readers who enjoy fast-paced action.
Countdown City - Ben H. Winters What would you do if the world was going to end in a little less than three months?

Being a wimp, I’d probably hide in the basement closet with a comforter over my head, praying that it’s all a bad dream. Most likely I’d be depressed and wouldn’t be able to go about my everyday life like everything was normal. I definitely wouldn’t be like Hank Palace, the main character of this novel, because even with an asteroid hurtling through space towards earth threatening to wipe out all life on the planet, he’s still out there patrolling the streets trying to be the best damn policeman he can be.

Not that Hank’s even a policeman anymore; he’s been relieved of his duty, after what’s left of law enforcement in the country went through some major restructuring. In the time between Countdown City and the previous book The Last Policeman, things have gotten worse. Even the last vestiges of institution and pockets of civilization are starting to break down, with electricity gone now and water about to be next.

Hank, though, is still on the job, taking on a missing-persons case to find the husband of Martha Cavatone, the woman who used to be his babysitter. Much like he was in the last book, he becomes rabidly obsessed with the case, but is this merely due to his personal connection to Martha? Or it this just Hank’s own version of hiding in the basement under the covers? I get the feeling that beneath his focused exterior, he’s just as crazy with panic as everyone else. To me, this made him a very interesting breed of unreliable narrator.

Once again, I’m just floored by Winter’s interpretation of a pre-apocalyptic America. While I’ve read tons of apocalyptic novels, most of these take place after the destructive event has already happened, or they take place just before. Very rarely do you see a book like this where everyone knows the end is coming, but the catch is that it’s not coming for a while yet, and the world has to suffer through this plodding march towards doom like watching a slow death.

In circumstances like these, anything can happen, really. But the author makes it so realistic, showing a wide variety of human reactions to the killer asteroid. There’s Hank, who immerses himself in work, and there are also people like his sister, who still believes there’s hope and joins a commune. As you’d expect, there are also those who just lose it and commit suicide (thus giving us the basis of the first book) as well as a significant portion of the population that goes “Bucket List” (which forms an interesting theory for this book). As Hank notes, cases that seemed mundane under normal circumstances take on a whole different meaning in these new times, because there’s no such thing as “normal circumstances” anymore.

A police procedural set against a backdrop like this takes on a brand new twist – and I think this is the key to why I enjoyed this sequel more than its predecessor. The Last Policeman had a good story, but I felt the details of the case Hank worked on in that book had very little to do with the social climate or the situation with the asteroid. This book, however, has those elements all over his missing-persons investigation. It made the impending armageddon an integral part of the case rather than just the background. Clock’s ticking and it’s getting real now, and this book really makes you feel it.

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