Category Archives: fantasy

False Hearts, by Laura Lam

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Tila and Taema are born with one heart–conjoined twins living in a cult which bans technology after 1969. Tila, the bold one. Taema, the meek one. Both are very, very clever. When the twins discover the medical miracles of the outside world, they plot their escape. Once free, they are separated, able to live apart due to their new, mechanical hearts. Ten uneventful years pass as they enjoy life in a peaceful, technically advanced society. Then, Tila arrives at Taema’s apartment covered in blood. Accused of murder, Tila is arrested, and it is up to Taema to clear her name. Pulled into the investigation by the police, Taema poses as her sister to uncover the secrets of the city’s underground. And the secrets she finds lead back to her past, and to the cult she came from. Set in a futuristic city, this is a story of love, obsession, drugs, greed, and murder. Taema must find her courage so she can clear her sister’s name. Past and future converge as the clues Taema discovers lead her closer to the truth.

This is unusual book. Park sci-fi, part mystery, the author weaves a complex tale. Not only do you get to know Tila and Taema well, but you also see both of their worlds: the world of the cult from their past, and the modern world in their present. Laura Lam’s novel is gripping and fresh. I look forward to seeing what she writes next.

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The Girl With Ghost Eyes, by M.H. Boroson

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The Girl with Ghost Eyes, by M.H. Boroson

Set in San Francisco’s Chinatown in the 1880s, Li-Lin sees ghosts with her yin eyes. This supernatural gift is considered to be a curse by her father, a powerful Daoshi exorcist. Li-Lin honors her father, but embraces her gift in spite of his disapproval. Now widowed, Li-Lin must make her own way in the world, without the full support of her father. When a family friend tricks her into taking a trip into the spirit world and tries to trap her there, Li-Lin is forced to take action to protect her life. The friend seems to be working with a powerful sorcerer, and soon, her father and the entire town are threatened by an ancient evil. With the help of a spirit in the shape of an eyeball, Li-Lin must embrace her own strengths to save those she loves. Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets Kung Fu in this brilliant, vibrant debut.Set in San Francisco’s Chinatown in the 1880s, Li-Lin sees ghosts with her yin eyes. This supernatural gift is considered to be a curse by her father, a powerful Daoshi exorcist. Li-Lin honors her father, but embraces her gift in spite of his disapproval. Now widowed, Li-Lin must make her own way in the world, without the full support of her father. When a family friend tricks her into taking a trip into the spirit world and tries to trap her there, Li-Lin is forced to take action to protect her life. The friend seems to be working with a powerful sorcerer, and soon, her father and the entire town are threatened by an ancient evil. With the help of a spirit in the shape of an eyeball, Li-Lin must embrace her own strengths to save those she loves. Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets Kung Fu in this brilliant, vibrant debut.

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Little Robot and Zita the Spacegirl, by Ben Hatke

Little Robot, by Ben Hatke

Little Robot, by Ben Hatke

I have discovered a treasure, and this type of treasure only gets more
valuable with the sharing. What treasure, you ask? Clearly, it is not a winning lottery ticket, because would already be living in Hawaii and I certainly would not share. This treasure is an author and illustrator. His name? Ben Hatke, and he writes the most wonderful  graphic novels for young children.

He has written a series of three graphic novels about the adventures of an intelligent girl, lost, through no fault of her own, in space. The first book, “Zita the Spacegirl: Far From Home” tells the tale of Zita, who pushes a red button she shouldn’t have pushed and gets pulled into a strange area of space along with her best friend Joseph. Now, far from home, Zita must try to deal with aliens, a broken red button, a suspicious pied piper, and a missing best friend. Can Zita face her fears, find her friend, fix the red button, and finally get home? The titles in this series are “Zita the Spacegirl: Far From Home,” “Legends of Zita the Spacegirl,” and “The Return of Zita the Spacegirl.” These books would appeal to readers from third grade and up.

Ben’s newest book, titled “Little Robot,” also features a plucky girl character as she finds adventure. In “Little Robot,” we meet a young girl who just happens across a little robot, one lost from his shipment of other robots headed for a factory. The girl overcomes her wariness, and she and Little Robot are soon fast friends. As Little Robot learns about the world, he longs for friends like himself, but the girl does not want to let him go. When danger from Little Robot’s past threatens them both, can their friendship survive? This graphic novel is aimed at a younger audience than Zita the Spacegirl, with a good portion of the story being told without words. When words are used, they are simple enough that I would happily put this into the hands of a six year old. Ben’s illustrations are superb, and actions and emotions are clearly conveyed through the artwork.

As a woman with a science and engineering background, I applaud that all the books mentioned here feature girls that are bold, smart, and able to fix their own problems and technology. Boys should still enjoy the titles, as they features wit, charm, and a goodly dash of sly humor. Well done, Ben Hatke. Well done!

Zita the Spacegirl

Zita the Spacegirl

The Return of Zita the Spacegirl

The Return of Zita the Spacegirl

Legends of Zita the Spacegirl

Legends of Zita the Spacegirl

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Alice, by Christina Henry

Alice, by Christina Henry

Alice, by Christina Henry

While “Alice in Wonderland” by Lewis Carroll is considered to be a children’s story, I have always found it to be an odd, non-nonsensical tale with more than its fair share of darkness. The Tim Burton movie version is closer to how I see this story, as many of the characters clearly show more of their unsavory inner selves on-screen. Author Christina Henry, with her version of the story, simply titled “Alice,” may have written my favorite Alice story to-date. But let me be clear…this is not a children’s story. This is not even a young adult story. This is an adult story full of adult themes and will appeal to those readers who like horror, magic, and the justice meted out with blood and guns in old Western stories.

When the story opens, Alice has been held in an asylum for the insane for ten long years. Her only persistent memory is of a vicious rabbit with a missing eye. When the asylum catches fire, she is helped to escape by fellow resident Hatcher, and as they run through the Old City seeking safety, they realize that something escaped with them–the Jabberwock is also free. (Beware the jaws that bite, the claws that catch!) The Jabberwock brings death, and Alice and Hatcher must try to stop it. And down the rabbit hole we go, into the depths of Old City, a place full of violence, evil, fear, magic, and just the faintest bit of hope. Hope in the form of mad Alice, axe-killer Hatcher, the cunning Chesire, and the assortment of desperate folks they meet along the way, including a giant, vindictive rabbit named Pipkin. Will the Jabberwock meet his end? Will the Vorpal blade go snicker-snack? Read, and find out. The second book in this series, “Red Queen,” comes out next year. Not for the faint of heart, and meant only for adults, this is still highly recommended.

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Ink and Bone, by Rachel Caine

Ink and Bone, by Rachel Caine

Ink and Bone, by Rachel Caine

The Great Library of Alexandria has survived to modern times.  This ancient repository of knowledge now keeps all original books in a world where private ownership of books is forbidden. Copies of books are provided to the masses through Alchemy, and those that try to smuggle books illegally are hunted down by Library Automata–fearsome robots in the forms of Sphinxes and ancient Greek gods. Jess Brightwell comes from a family of book smugglers. His father trained him early to be self-reliant and to keep secrets well. When his father asks him to train to become a scholar in the Library so he can more easily smuggle books, Jess is conflicted. He loves books, and believes that maybe the Library offers him more than a life of smuggling ever could. When he arrives at the Great Library, he meets a new class of students, an intimidating instructor, and begins to understand that the Library may have a dark side to its services. During a dangerous training mission, students begin to die and Jess must make a vital choice…stay loyal to the Library or stay loyal to his friends.

This is a terrific start to what promises to be a fun new Young Adult series. Steam punk meets Harry Potter as Jess and company begin their journey to understand the workings of the Great Library. Their discoveries and decisions may just change the world. For older fans of Harry Potter, and for fans of Sarah J. Maas’ Throne of Glass series.

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An Ember in the Ashes, by Sabaa Tahir

An Ember in the Ashes, by Sabaa Tahir

An Ember in the Ashes, by Sabaa Tahir

Laia loves her brother, but she knows he is pushing the limits of their marginal life. She fears her brother is involved in the Resistance, a group that is actively trying to bring down the Empire. When Darin is arrested and her grandparents killed, Laia makes the decision to save her brother, no matter the cost. And the cost is that Laia must become a slave of the Empire, her role as a spy for the Resistance her only hope to free her brother.

Elias is a son of the Empire. One of their elite, he is being trained to become a Mask, a ruthless fighter. Yet, Elias is as much a slave as Laia, for he hates how the Empire treats its people, how he is expected to kill without remorse for their purposes. His only hope is escape, his plan carefully thought out.

Laia and Elias think they have different goals. But as their paths cross and their stories weave together, it seems they may not. Together, it seems, they may achieve something more. For change, they are told, is coming. It is foretold.

“This life is not always what we think it will be,” Cain says. “You are an ember in the ashes, Elias Veturius. You will spark and burn, ravage and destroy. You cannot change it. You cannot stop it.”

At first glance, you might think this is another retelling of a dystopian society story, aka “The Hunger Games.” In that, you would be wrong. This story is unique, the world built in the form of Rome, complete with swords and brutality and their own form of gladiators. The language is lyrical and compelling. The story builds slowly, but in such a gripping way that you can’t put it down. Laia is a strong female character, driven by her quest to free her brother, the only family she has left in the world. Elias has family, a mother who seems to hate Elias to the depths of her soul. Elias, a product of hate, sees the hate and violence around him, and tries to understand his place in it. His struggle gives him a complexity, and you sense that he is the keystone to change the entire world.

I loved this book. I loved Laia and Elias, and the only thing I did not love was the book’s ending. While initial information at publication indicated that this might be a standalone title, it is clear that another book must follow. Elias Venturius must be allowed to burn and ravage and destroy. The story would not be complete without it. (Do you hear me Sabaa Tahir? There must be another book!)

This is a young adult title, but it is a strong enough story that it will certainly have adult appear. I should know. I’m an adult, after all. 🙂

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The Winner’s Crime, by Marie Rutkoski

The Winner's Crime, by Marie Rutkoski

The Winner’s Crime, by Marie Rutkoski

In April of 2014, I reviewed a book titled The Winner’s Curse, by a Marie Rutkoski. Ms. Rutkoski was a new author for me, and I wasn’t thrilled by the cover of the book, which seemed overly girly and screamed “Teen warrior chick romance.” But her book blew me away with its meticulous plotting, beautiful prose, and complex, intelligent characters. I had stumbled upon a true gem, and I eagerly awaited book two of this series. Well, book two is here, and all I can say is that it is sooooo much better than book one, and that is saying something.

The Winner’s Crime continues the story of Kestrel and Arin from the first book. Kestrel is now living in the royal palace, engaged to prince Verex, son of the Valorian emperor. Arin, now the Herrani governor, still longs for Kestrel, but feels she’s betrayed him in a quest for power. The truth is that Kestrel is playing a bigger game than anyone imagines. Under the watchful and malevolent eye of the emperor, she must find a way to help the Herrani, stay true to her father, and keep hidden her deep feelings for Arin. A novel of intrigue, well-crafted lies, and soul-searing love.

I won’t say any more than that about the plot. It is rare, for me, that I find a series that gets better as it moves along. Often, I read book one, and then read half of book two, disappointed by the author’s story choices. With The Winner’s Crime, I literally could not read the book fast enough. Brava, Ms. Rutkoski, for your brilliant work. The series shines on so many levels; world-building, character development, pacing, plotting….both books are simply marvelous.

Read my review of The Winner’s Curse here. 

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A Darker Shade of Magic, by V.E. Schwab

A Darker Shade of Magic, by V.E. Schwab

A Darker Shade of Magic, by V.E. Schwab

Kell is a rare mage who can travel between worlds, the adopted son of the King and Queen of Red London. It is Kell’s job to travel to the other worlds on royal business. Red London is a world where magic permeates everything. White London is ruled by those who can wrestle magic to do their bidding. Grey London is a land without magic at all. And Black London? Black London is a place that no one travels to, and no one speaks about.

When the story opens, Kell is visiting mad King George in Grey London. As he travels back to Red London, we learn that Kell has a hobby: he smuggles items from one London to another for the right price. This hobby soon lands him in big trouble, and he is charged with treason in Red London. When he flees to Grey London, he finds himself entangled in the life of one Delilah Bard, a pickpocket whose middle name is clearly trouble. And trouble finds them, for they are again forced to flee from a dangerous enemy. It will take all of Kell’s skill in traveling between worlds as well as Lila’s scrappy street smarts to keep them both alive.

I really can’t tell you how awesome this book is. The world is unique, with its four very different Londons. Kell is a fascinating character, at once both naive and wise beyond his years. Lila is keenly intelligent, loves adventure, and yet she has failed at every turn to change her life for the better until she meets Kell. And Kell’s enemies! All I can say is they are true villians, unlike many stories where the bad guy is only misunderstood.

I really hope this is the start of a series, as I adored this book. Amazing storytelling. Simply splendid!

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Half the World, by Joe Abercrombie

Half the World, by Joe Abercrombie

Half the World, by Joe Abercrombie

Joe Abercrombie’s Shattered Sea series continues with book 2, after Half a King, which featured the trials and tribulations of a young prince Yarvi. Yarvi is now Father Yarvi, counselor to the King and Queen of Gettland. Gettland is marching toward an inevitable war with the forces of the High King, and Gettland needs allies. Yarvi is charged with this task, and he undertakes it in a very untraditional way. But really, this tale of finding allies is not Yarvi’s tale. Rather, it is the tale of two teenagers: Thorn, a warrior girl touched by Mother War, and Brand, a calm, strong young man who only wants to do what is right.

When the story opens, Thorn is training to become a warrior, and accidententally kills one of her fellow trainees. Though the incident was truly not her fault, under the laws of the land, she must die for her crime. Enter Brand, who feels the injustice of Thorn’s plight. He takes the issue to Father Yarvi, who intervenes. Instead of being crushed by stones, Thorn will come with him on his journey to seek allies for the King. Brand will also join him. Yarvi brings together a large cast of characters to help, some familiar, some new, and off they go, sailing up the river on their quest.

One of Yarvi’s merry band is Skifr, a very skilled warrior woman who takes up Thorn’s training. Brand, who is still not sure of his place in the world, continues to try and do the right thing. And onward they go. And of course, adventure, peril, death, and even some victories follow. This is a story of the difficulties of growing up, of facing ackwardness and uncertainty with the help of those who can assure you it’s all normal. Yarvi, the star of the first book, is in the background, but clearly his is orchestrating the actions, and hoping for an outcome that only he can see.

I enjoyed this book more, in many ways, than the first book of this series. With both books, I will admit that the characters and plot took a little longer than I like to get going. Once the story is rolling along, however, it will keep you reading long into the night to find out what happens. Thorn is awesome, and Brand is cool, and Father Yarvi is a deeply cunning man. If you like fantasy, and like a fast-paced story, then this series is for you.

Full-discloser: I received my advanced reading copy from Edelweiss at Above the Treeline. Half the World goes on sale February 17th.

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Written in Red, by Anne Bishop

Written in Red, by Anne Bishop

Written in Red, by Anne Bishop

When we first meet Meg Corbyn, she is cold, desperate, and on the run. By chance, she sees a help wanted sign, and in her mind, a job means money, and money means safety. What she doesn’t know is that the job is for Liaison for the Lakeside Courtyard, one of the business districts for the Others. Meg may have not know who the Others were when she started her job, but she soon learns. The Others are beings out of myth, who have established communities where humans and Others can mix in safety. Humans that do not honor the boundries of the Courtyard are eaten. (Literally.)

Meg, acting as the Courtyard Liaison, starts to build relationships with other members of the community. Her primary dealings are with Simon Wolfgard, a shapeshifting werewolf, but she also a favorite of Erebus, an aged vampire, and Tess, a mysterious woman with terrible powers. Her new friends do not know that Meg is hiding a secret; she is a blood prophet, or cassandra sangue. By cutting her skin, she can see the future, and her prophecies are of great value. When it is suspected that the Courtyard is harboring her, the Courtyard draws the attention of dangerous people. Now, the residents of the Courtyard must make a choice…do they protect Meg, or do they let go?

This urban fantasy is a good addition to the genre. Meg is an intereting character, and I loved the Others, who really are not afraid to bite. This book may appeal to those who read titles by Kim Harrison or C.E. Murphy.

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