Shelf Reflections

Waiting on Wednesday: The Fandom

“Cosplay ready, Violet and her friends are at Comic-Con.

They can’t wait to meet the fandom of mega movie, The Gallows Dance. What they’re not expecting is to be catapulted by freak accident into their favourite world – for real. Fuelled by love, guilt and fear, can the friends put the plot back on track and get out? The fate of the story is in their hands …”

This one is getting mixed reviews on Goodreads, but I do like the premise–it reminds me of some of the books I read as a kid, where young people fall into magical worlds.  I’ll give it a try and hope that it’s not as bad as some reviewers are making it out to be.

This book will be published on April 24, 2018.

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Brazen by Katherine Longshore

“Mary Howard has always lived in the shadow of her powerful family. But when she’s married off to Henry Fitzroy, King Henry VIII’s illegitimate son, she rockets into the Tudor court’s inner circle. Mary and “Fitz” join a tight clique of rebels who test the boundaries of court’s strict rules with their games, dares, and flirtations. The more Mary gets to know Fitz, the harder she falls for him, but is forbidden from seeing him alone. The rules of court were made to be pushed—but pushing them too far means certain death. Is true love worth dying for?”

One of my random interests is British history, especially the Tudor era. There was so much going on during that time period that it’s as good as any novel—the conflicts, the romances, the backstabbing, all contribute to a portion of history that’s nearly unbelievable. A lot of fiction has been written about the Tudor court, and with good reason. I feel that it’s an especially good subject to get teens interested in history, and Longshore’s novels are among the best contributions to that genre.

The seed of this particular book comes from the Devonshire Manuscript, which is a book of poetry written in many different hands, including that of Mary Howard, the young wife of Henry Fitzroy. The rules at Henry VIII’s court were strict, especially for women, and Longshore does an excellent job of using the Devonshire Manuscript as the backdrop for some of the young women pushing the boundaries of what’s expected of them.

I found Mary an easy character to like. While she is definitely a product of her era, the struggles that she goes through in trying to find her identity and make a place for herself in the world are ones that anybody can relate to. There’s not a lot of information about her life and activities, but we do know that she fought to retain the title that she got from Fitzroy, so she was obviously a strong-willed woman. The author invents a wonderful early history for Mary, setting her character up to become the individual that is known in history.

We may not know much about Mary, but there is a lot of available research on the Tudor court, and the author weaves details about daily life and cultural norms seamlessly into the story. You get a lot of fascinating information without even realizing it, and I’m willing to bet that it will spark some readers to investigate more on their own. Far from being dry and dusty, Longshore’s version of history is vibrant with color and activity and energy. Henry VIII in his early years was something of a “rock star”, handsome and magnetic, and readers will get the full sense of what that era was like.

It’s too bad that Longshore won’t be writing any more Tudor novels for the foreseeable future, because I’ve greatly enjoyed her forays into the lives of the women who helped shape England during one of its most tumultuous time periods. Brazen brings history to life in a way that few young adult novels manage, capturing the allure and dangers of life for the women in Henry VIII’s court.

This review was originally posted on June 30, 2014.

This book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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Dead Iron by Devon Monk

Genre classifications are getting a little more fluid of late, I think.  There are so many books that defy categorization that it can be a challenge to describe what kind of book I’m reading at any given time.  Obviously, not all mash-ups work, but Devon Monk’s Age of Steam series has welded several disparate story styles together into one smoothly working whole.  Dead Iron introduces readers to Cedar Hunt, a man struggles with his inner beast as he navigates an America of gears and steam.

“In steam age America, men, monsters, machines, and magic battle for the same scrap of earth and sky. In this chaos, bounty hunter Cedar Hunt rides, cursed by lycanthropy and carrying the guilt of his brother’s death. Then he’s offered hope that his brother may yet survive. All he has to do is find the Holder: a powerful device created by mad devisers-and now in the hands of an ancient Strange who was banished to walk this Earth.

In a land shaped by magic, steam, and iron, where the only things a man can count on are his guns, gears, and grit, Cedar will have to depend on all three if he’s going to save his brother and reclaim his soul once and for all…”

When I first saw the mishmash of genres that make up this novel, I really wasn’t sure it would work.  However, Monk has been clever in not only the story’s setting, but also its time period.  Having the novel take place on the west coast gives it the rugged feeling of people living in closer proximity with nature and working hard to eke out a living.  It also seems to allow for the presence of magic a little more easily—there are many tales of odd creatures on this side of the country, as well as Native American myths and legends.  By having the story take place during the height of the railroad expansion, the author has seamlessly introduced the concept of steam, metal and rails.  Because of this, the mechanical aspects of steampunk fit right in.

While I liked Cedar’s character, I found myself more drawn to the women, Rose and Mae.  I think that they were a little more interesting as people, and their role in the story was a little more complex.  While the townspeople may not have warmed up to Cedar, he’s still a man and is likely to be left to his own devices.  Women in this time period, especially ones who seem to be “witchy”, face another set of challenges that can escalate and become deadly.  Mae’s situation is further complicated by her marriage to an African American man, something that adds a level of social stigma to her life.  Cedar may be balancing the needs of man and beast, but the women are balancing their natures in a completely different way, and it’s a way has a firm basis in historical fact.  We may not like to think about women being persecuted as witches, but unfortunately it did happen.

The one thing that I occasionally had trouble with was the descriptions of the machines, or “matics”, as they’re called here.  Sometimes I wasn’t able to visualize them very well.  The author spends a decent amount of time describing the things, but after a while they started to run together somewhat.  A few stood out, like the clockwork dragonfly that shows up a few times, but most of them didn’t stand out very well for me.  Maybe there was just too much description at times—and a few battles have several matics in the scene at once—and it all ran together.

For all that, the book moves at a reasonably fast pace.  The narrative moves between several different viewpoints, so readers always have a sense of the story’s motion, the direction in which it is flowing.  Moments that could have slowed the story down become merely short pauses, as Monk smoothly changes from person to person, following all the various plot elements and simultaneously getting you to care about this cast of characters.

It took me a while to get around to reading this book, but I’m glad that I finally picked it up in advance of the release of its sequel, Tin Swift.  Devon Monk is an author who combines unique settings with interesting characters and then adds a dose of strangeness to the mix—or in this case, Strangeness.  Dead Iron is the start of a tale that combines the best of the Wild West with the mystery of lycanthropy and the mechanized realism of steampunk.  I’m looking forward to seeing where the story goes next.

This review was originally posted on July 5, 2012.

This book was a personal purchase.

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Embassytown by China Mieville

Science fiction has a reputation—sometimes rightly, sometimes wrongly—of being little more than space opera.  But it’s also true that all science fact must begin as science fiction, and thus the genre is a prime vehicle for exploring ideas and concepts.  China Mieville has previously confined himself mostly to fantasy novels, but with Embassytown, he makes his first foray into true science fiction.  And what a debut!

In the city known as Embassytown, humans live in an uneasy alliance with the Hosts, aliens who speak with two mouths.  Thus, they can only understand paired human ambassadors who have been raised to think and speak as one.  These aliens also have an inability to lie, and an inability to talk about concepts that they haven’t already experienced.  As a result, they need humans to help with their similes, carefully staged scenarios that, once acted out, allow the Hosts to incorporate the concept into their Language.

Avice was turned into a simile while she was a child.  She spends years off planet but returns with her husband, a man intrigued by the nature of Language.  But two events—one taking place at the annual Festival of Lies, and one taking place when an extraordinary new Ambassador arrives—will change the shape of alien/human relations and Language itself forever.

I’ll say up front that I am fascinated with language and how it works.  It’s been an interest of mine since I was in college and took a course in the history of the English language.  Thus, this novel is right up my alley, as it deals in large part with the questions of how language impacts thought and action, and vice versa.

A good chunk of those questions revolve around lies and lying.  I find it amusing that aliens with two mouths represent unwavering truth, as “doublespeak” is a traditional symbol of falsehood.  But with them, a lie produces a kind of cognitive disconnect that they simply can’t handle.  This may sound like a wonderful and innocent way to exist, but Mieville takes it a step further and begins to play with the notion that similes and metaphors are also forms of lying.  Because of this, they’re more difficult for the Hosts to deal with, unless they’ve actually witnessed a scenario that they then use as a linguistic trick.

But this novel has more layers than just this.  Readers are presented with questions about what it means to speak with intent, how far a species can progress without a true symbolic language, and what the consequences of falsehood can lead to.  And what I liked the most was that Mieville doesn’t shove these concepts in your face.  Instead, he just tells his story and weaves in all manner of intriguing ideas and thoughts.  It’s up to readers to ferret them out and take away as much or as little as they can.  While this does make the novel challenging at times, it’s a good kind of challenge.

I’m put in mind of an idea that I read a long time ago.  I don’t remember exactly where it came from, but I think it was in an essay by Jane Yolen.  In it, she asserts that a novel is a dialogue between the reader and the author.  Each will put something into the experience of the words and take away something at the same time.  I think that this concept is gloriously illustrated by this book.  I’m sure there are things that I missed on first reading, and I hope to find some time soon to re-read it and possibly discover more that the author and I can communicate about.

As a science fiction story, the author excels at worldbuilding, and he manages to include little details that are never explored but nevertheless enhance the tale.  On this world, the aliens live in a landscape that is alive—literally.  The buildings, the vehicles, the everyday objects—all are of bio-material and, to a certain degree, alive.  Little animals and insects move through the background.  The Host/human relations are fraught with mystery and uncertainty.  And it’s all wonderful.  You don’t need to know all the answers about these things.  While some novels can’t pull off having unexplained phenomena, Mieville makes it work in this book.  Some of it may just be that the story is compelling enough to make such details negligible, but that’s probably a matter of personal opinion.

My only complaint about Embassytown, and it’s a small one, is that the story takes a little while to really get moving.  I don’t have any idea how Mieville would have moved things along, because what he’s included in the opening chapters is needed for later sections.  I just know that the action takes a bit to get moving and really draw readers into the tale.  My recommendation is to stick with this novel, because the payoff is well worth it.

This novel was recommended to me by the publisher rep at Random House, and his praise was not overstated.  Embassytown is a multilayered work of art.  It challenges readers, pushing them to really think about the language that we as readers find so fascinating.  If a book really is a dialogue between writer and reader, then this conversation is one of the best ones that you’ll have the privilege of participating in.

This review was originally posted on May 23, 2011.

This title was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

The Alienist Episode One: The Boy on the Bridge

TNT’s limited series The Alienist, based on the book of the same name by Caleb Carr, follows three main characters: Dr. Lazlo Kreizler, our titular alienist, who seeks to understand the minds of those afflicted with mental illness; John Moore, an illustrator for the New York Times, who assists Kreizler by lending his eyes and his pen to the investigation; and Sarah Howard, longtime acquaintance of Moore and the first woman to be employed in any capacity with the New York Police Department.  The show takes viewers on a tour of 1896 New York’s seamy underside of boy prostitution and police corruption as Kreizler and his allies race to catch a serial killer.  The first episode introduces our characters and showcases the first gruesome murder.

John Moore, an apparent patron of brothels, is roused from an amorous encounter by the arrival of Stevie Taggert, employee of Dr. Kreizler, who drives him in a carriage to the construction site of the Williamsburg Bridge.  Talking his way past the police by claiming to have been sent for by Theodore Roosevelt (yes, that Teddy Roosevelt), he finds that he is to sketch a horrific murder scene.  A young boy clad in a girl’s dress has had his throat slit, his eyes gouged out, and his right hand cut off, among numerous other injuries.  His sketches don’t please Kreizler, though, as the doctor finds them too artistic and asks Moore for every detail he can describe.  The reason for Kreizler’s interest?  It turns out a former patient of his, also a cross-dressing boy, was killed in a very similar way three years earlier.  Unable to examine the recent body, he exhumes the earlier victim.  His longtime friendship with Roosevelt gets him the loan of two detectives who use “modern methods” to solve crimes.  Moore’s friendship with Sarah Howard, secretary to Roosevelt, gets him a peek at the autopsy file (although this proves useless).  Kreizler vows to do whatever he can, even dive into the murderer’s thoughts and become like him, to stop any further killings from happening.

Having read the book for the first time not too long ago, the story is pretty fresh in my memory.  A couple of changes jumped out at me right away, with the biggest one being that Moore is an illustrator for the New York Times in the series, as he’s a reporter in the book.  I think that this might give the character in the TNT series less of an active role to play than he did in the book.  The literary Moore was used to digging for information and questioning people to get what he wanted.  I hope that shifting his expertise to drawing won’t relegate him too much to the background, or perhaps worse, cast him as the hanger-on who merely follows the others and has little agency.

Sarah seems more “in-your-face” than her book counterpart, although neither version allows men to run roughshod over them.  This might be simply a factor of having to get the character established immediately on the screen, and thus we get scenes of her smoking and saying “To hell with” men, as well as flinging insults at one of the resident corrupt cops.  I hope they show her character’s intelligence as much as her moxie.

Kriezler is, for me, a breath of fresh air in the “turn of the century detective” genre.  Unlike the many portrayals of Sherlock Holmes, Kreizler’s is a contained genius.  He’s calm, collected, and obviously compassionate towards those he tries to help.  It makes his wild chase after someone who may be the killer, careening between horse-drawn carriages and into an abandoned warehouse, all the more stark by contrast.

I almost want to say that New York itself is a character.  There are wonderful CGI renditions of the New York skyline, the crowded buildings, the squalor and the beauty side by side.  It’s the soul of those streets that informs much of what we see here–if the show follows the book, viewers will see firsthand the living conditions of those less fortunate, as well as what it drives people to do.

My one complaint about this first episode is that it was a little hard to follow.  There’s a lot that needed to be set up in a single hour–the main characters, the setting, the corruption of the local police, the prevalence of prostitution, the attitudes towards those considered to be of a lower class–and because of this, I felt that some information was flying by so quickly that it was tough to take in.  I watched this show with Scott, who hasn’t read the book, and there were a few times that he was asking me for clarification of what was happening.  His attention wasn’t wandering, but he was having a little trouble connecting all the dots in so rapid a fashion, and if I hadn’t read the book, I would have as well.  My synopsis touches on the most important of plot details, because I can’t really document the significance of every glance, every slow motion passage of a shady character, every bit of background that paints the setting.

I’m interested enough to keep watching, so we’ll see what happens next week when we, presumably, see the next victim turn up.

Scourged by Kevin Hearne

“Two-thousand-year-old Druid Atticus O’Sullivan travels to Asgard and faces off against the Norse gods to try and prevent Ragnarok in the final battle for the fate of mankind.”

Two notes: This book will be published on April 3, and this review contains some spoilery stuff.

Well, that’s it.  The Iron Druid Chronicles is officially over.  And I feel… well… I’m feeling pretty neutral about the whole thing.  While I have certainly had many moments where I enjoyed the series, I think that this book in particular encapsulates why my initial thrill at this series petered out into something like a shrug.

Scourged is split between three different points of view: Atticus, who is involved in the main conflict of Ragnarok; Granuaile, who spends time training with Sun Wukong (the Monkey King); and Owen, who handles some minor things and makes friends with a sloth.  Yeah, that last part happened.  Don’t think I’m not suppressing the desire to make a bunch of Zootopia jokes, because I am.  The problem lies not just in the fact that the characters are separated all over the globe and have almost no interaction with each other.  Embedded in this issue is the deeper issue that the only plotline that has any bearing on the overall story arc is the one starring Atticus.  Granuaile and Owen are just side-trips that have very little to do with how the plot plays out.  Granuaile has been sidelined into a fight that she didn’t need to be in, simply because Atticus wanted her out of the way.  Owen is bounced around putting out fires (quite literally) that are merely distractions from the main fight (also quite literally).  And of course, there’s the sloth.

What I see in this book is Hearne’s fondness for telling stories within stories.  He began this with the third book in the series (Hammered), when he had a bunch of gods sitting around a fire telling their backstories for a non-inconsiderable chunk of the novel.  He’s also demonstrated this propensity in the first book of his new series, A Plague of Giants–I’ve only gotten a few chapters in, but it is literally a bunch of stories being told to a bunch of characters.  I feel like I’m seeing that again here, as Owen and Granuaile are off on their own journeys of personal growth.  While I have no problem with characters growing, these vignettes would have been better as novellas separate from the main novel series.  They don’t add anything to the overarching plotline.

I was also underwhelmed by the final battle.  For some reason, I didn’t get a sense of tension in the action, and a lot of the big conflicts don’t involve Atticus directly.  In fact, at one point a character sacrifices themselves to let Atticus fulfill a promise that he made, and there was almost no drama in this scene.  After eight books of build-up, I guess I expected something more spiffy in the series finale.  Oddly, it all seemed too easy, which seems weird to say about an apocalyptic conflict among Greek and Roman gods, Norse mythic figures, and a bunch of undead soldiers.

That’s not to say that there’s nothing good about this novel.  As much as I might marvel at the whole sloth thing, I liked Owen’s interactions with her.  (I just think they belonged somewhere other than this book.)  There’s a little bit of Oberon, our favorite wolfhound, along with his new friend Starbuck, whose limited vocabulary is charming.  I enjoyed the Monkey King and his promptings to Granuaile to think outside the box.  A few characters from past books make an appearance, although not all of them.

Overall, I enjoyed reading this book, but it certainly isn’t my favorite of the series, and I feel a little let down.  I wish I had seen Hearne rediscover the blend of humor and action that made the first few books so much fun to read.

This book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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Wake of the Bloody Angel by Alex Bledsoe

“Twenty years ago, a barmaid in a harbor town fell for a young sailor who turned pirate to make his fortune. But what truly became of Black Edward Tew remains a mystery—one that has just fallen into the lap of freelance sword jockey Eddie LaCrosse.

For years, Eddie has kept his office above Angelina’s tavern, so when Angelina herself asks him to find out what happened to the dashing pirate who stole her heart, he can hardly say no—even though the trail is two decades old. Some say Black Edward and his ship, The Bloody Angel, went to bottom of the sea, taking with it a king’s fortune in treasure. Others say he rules a wealthy, secret pirate kingdom. And a few believe he still sails under a ghostly flag with a crew of the damned.

To find the truth, and earn his twenty-five gold pieces a day, Eddie must take to sea in the company of a former pirate queen in search of the infamous Black Edward Tew…and his even more legendary treasure.”

When I first started reading this series, I remember thinking that the language is a little anachronistic.  What I’ve realized in the interim is that readers shouldn’t necessarily think of this as a fantasy novel with a mystery in it; rather, it’s more of a mystery novel in a fantasy setting.  When I made that change in my reading, the language didn’t really bother me.  No, it’s not quite on par with a medieval-style world, but it fits in with the type of story Bledsoe is telling.

The characters are similarly down to earth.  This isn’t a novel where you’re going to get the extremes of heroism or villainy.  What you get are real people, albeit transposed into a fantasy world.  Eddie and the other characters are fallible human beings, making mistakes and struggling with their own issues just like any of us.  Even so, there are surprising moments of humanity, gentleness and kindness that make readers think of these characters as good people—not just characters, but as good people that we’d all like to know in person.

And speaking of characters… ah, Jane, how I adore thee.  The pirate queen turned privateer who helps Eddie in his quest is a bundle of energy and sass.  She gets some great lines, holds her own on a ship full of men, and commands respect from those in the book and readers alike.  Out of all the personalities in this novel, she’s the one that I’d love to meet the most.

The thing that I’ve enjoyed about this series, and this book in particular, is how Bledsoe can weave an intricate plot with tons of details and red herrings and have it all work out in a realistic way.  It doesn’t always wrap up neatly, but it does wrap up in a way that you could see happening in real life.  Yes, fantasy is escapist, but make it too fantastic and you really can’t relate.  I found this novel’s ending to be satisfying—not full of fireworks and heroics and derring-do, but satisfying.  And frankly, I like that more than fireworks.

Wake of the Bloody Angel is another stellar example of Alex Bledsoe’s writing.  This book is fun, full of adventure and witty dialogue, and thoroughly enjoyable.  If I could pull Eddie, Jane and the others out of the book, I’d buy them a drink and pump them for stories of their exploits.  Alas, all we can do is wait for another Eddie novel and hope that it’s not too long in the making.

This review was originally posted on August 22, 2012.

This book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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The Martian by Andy Weir

“Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars.

Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first person to die there.

After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded and completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive—and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive.

Chances are, though, he won’t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain-old “human error” are much more likely to kill him first.

But Mark isn’t ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills—and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit—he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?”

I picked up this book on a recommendation from a friend. As a note, I don’t usually read a lot of hard science fiction, although I do enjoy science in general. I think it’s more that I don’t like when the plot hangs on technology. In this case, there’s a lot of gadgetry and clever manipulation of scientific principles, but the real story hinges on Mark’s ingenuity in figuring out how to leverage his circumstances in his favor.

Now, this does mean that the narration often strays into (or at least comes perilously close to) the “As You Know” trope. The majority of the novel consists of Mark’s log entries during his stay on Mars, and he spends a lot of time explaining what he’s doing, both in scientific jargon and simpler layman’s terms. The folks on the ground trying to help Mark get home have lots of meetings where they do something similar. It’s a little jarring, but the author does provide a rationalization: Mark is keeping the logs for public consumption, figuring that whether he lives or dies, he should leave a complete record of what happened; the NASA people come from fairly specialized backgrounds and often must share information with others who aren’t knowledgeable in that area.

I will say this, though—the science is fascinating. This is basically Robinson Crusoe in space, but with the main character adrift in an environment that’s infinitely more hostile than any desert island. I don’t think that anybody reading this book will have any doubt that Mark will eventually be rescued. The fun lies in the how of the event. We get to see crop growing in an enclosed environment, use of radioactive materials, exploding chemicals, messages spelled out with rocks, and epic cross country treks. You can’t go for too long without reading about some catastrophe that requires Mark’s boundless creativity.

I am going to call the author out on one mistake, however—and it’s a mistake that should not have been made with a character who is a botanist. In one scene, Mark is shown eating raw potatoes. This is a huge no-no, as raw potatoes are indigestible (and much is made of how much caloric intake he needs per day) and, depending on how long they’ve had to grow, mildly toxic. I can’t see someone well-versed in plant life and farm crops being so silly as to eat something that won’t help him survive.

Aside from this, the science seems accurate and is definitely engrossing. I read this book right after finishing a couple of other non-fiction titles, so it provided a good transition back to fiction. All this science does a good job of supporting the narrative and giving Mark plenty of believable ways to survive in Mars’s hostile environment. And one other note: there’s lots of humor here as well. No stuffy NASA-approved dialogues for Mark! He’s crass and honest and highly amusing, even while struggling for his life.

The Martian is a great book on space exploration, and would be ideal for getting your science-loving friends into reading science fiction. I hope Weir writes another novel, because I enjoyed this one and would like to see more.

This review was originally posted on September 17, 2014.

This book was a personal purchase.

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The Mad Scientist’s Daughter by Cassandra Rose Clarke

“When Cat Novak was a young girl, her father brought Finn, an experimental android, to their isolated home. A billion-dollar construct, Finn looks and acts human, but he has no desire to be one. He was programmed to assist his owners, and performs his duties to perfection.

His primary task now is to tutor Cat. Finn stays with her, becoming her constant companion and friend as she grows into adulthood. But when the government grants rights to the ever-increasing robot population, Finn struggles to find his place in the world. As their relationship goes further than anyone intended, they have to face the threat of being separated forever.”

When I picked up this book, I expected to find something with a higher science fiction quotient—after all, the synopsis makes it sound like robot rights are a central issue.  What I got, though, was something far better: a love story that transcends the way we think about what is human and what isn’t.  Of course, it’s impossible not to compare this novel to The Bicentennial Man, but this story comes out ahead in that particular contest.  At the risk of sounding cheesy, the movie was about how many years you live, and The Mad Scientist’s Daughter is about how much life you allow into your years.

The love story takes center stage over the other plotlines concerning robot sentience and the state of the world in which this novel takes place.  It still feels like a fully fleshed out setting, though.  In fact, I hope that Clarke writes more in this world, because I would like to have seen a broader picture of the landscape and the people.

Much of the novel is achingly poignant.  As Cat grows up and grows older, her contact with Finn decreases and her life takes a turn for the worse.  Clarke’s writing at these moments is extremely evocative, and I felt genuine sorrow at what Cat goes through.  I wouldn’t necessarily call Cat a completely sympathetic character, as she doesn’t always treat Finn as well as she should, but believe me, you will feel for her by the novel’s end.

This book is a great Valentine’s Day present for the science fiction aficionado in your life.  It hits all the right notes and delivers a tale that is often heartbreaking but always has that element of hope that love will conquer all.  The Mad Scientist’s Daughter is a lovely and moving story, and I highly recommend it.

This review was originally posted on February 12, 2013.

This book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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Maplecroft by Cherie Priest

“The people of Fall River, Massachusetts, fear me. Perhaps rightfully so. I remain a suspect in the brutal deaths of my father and his second wife despite the verdict of innocence at my trial. With our inheritance, my sister, Emma, and I have taken up residence in Maplecroft, a mansion near the sea and far from gossip and scrutiny.

But it is not far enough from the affliction that possessed my parents. Their characters, their very souls, were consumed from within by something that left malevolent entities in their place. It originates from the ocean’s depths, plaguing the populace with tides of nightmares and madness.

This evil cannot hide from me. No matter what guise it assumes, I will be waiting for it. With an axe.”

Lizzie Borden mixed with Cthulu mythos. All righty then. I’ve been reading Cherie Priest’s books since she first started publishing, and I thought that this might be a bit weird even for her. I’m happy to say that it works just fine—surprisingly well, actually. I know almost nothing about Lovecraft’s Cthulu stories, so maybe that worked in my favor, but I honestly think that Priest is just that good of a writer.

The Borden murders are one of the great unsolved mysteries in America: two people found brutally killed with multiple axe blows; a suspect with a changing story; and no clear evidence as to what happened. Admittedly, I didn’t know a heck of a lot about the case, my basic knowledge consisting of the children’s rhyme quoted above. There are enough details about Lizzie’s life contained in this novel to make me go hunting around to see if they were accurate. And for the most part, they are. (Obviously, Lizzie’s dad and stepmom weren’t possessed by evil beings, but that should be apparent.)

Priest’s narrative takes the facts that are known and weaves them seamlessly with her horror story. She explains why Lizzie killed her parents, why she and her sister stayed in the same town after her trial, what caused she and her sister to fall out, and what Lizzie’s relationship was with a prominent actress of the time. There’s no point at which I felt the author’s imaginings interfered with actual facts, and it made the read that much more fascinating.

In reading this book, I was put in mind of Orson Scott Card’s distinctions between dread, terror and horror. Dread is the anticipation of fear, terror is what you feel in the moment, and horror is the aftermath. Much of this novel takes place in the realm of dread—monsters are rarely seen, but their influence is keenly felt as innocent people fall prey to them. There are moments of terror as creatures attack and mythical monsters sing their siren call. There’s very little horror aside from snippets when Lizzie sees the consequences of the supernatural events plaguing her town.

Although the mash-up seems crazy, the end result is a dark historical fantasy that draws you into it as surely as if one of Priest’s monsters had its hooks into your soul. Maplecroft is an incredibly unique and creative novel that brings the thrills from both fact and fiction.

This review was originally posted on September 8, 2014.

This book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

(Description nicked from

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