Fuzzy Nation by John Scalzi

Jack Holloway works alone, for reasons he doesn’t care to talk about. Hundreds of miles from ZaraCorp’s headquarters on planet, 178 light-years from the corporation’s headquarters on Earth, Jack is content as an independent contractor, prospecting and surveying at his own pace. As for his past, that’s not up for discussion.

Then, in the wake of an accidental cliff collapse, Jack discovers a seam of unimaginably valuable jewels, to which he manages to lay legal claim just as ZaraCorp is cancelling their contract with him for his part in causing the collapse. Briefly in the catbird seat, legally speaking, Jack pressures ZaraCorp into recognizing his claim, and cuts them in as partners to help extract the wealth.

But there’s another wrinkle to ZaraCorp’s relationship with the planet Zarathustra. Their entire legal right to exploit the verdant Earth-like planet, the basis of the wealth they derive from extracting its resources, is based on being able to certify to the authorities on Earth that Zarathustra is home to no sentient species.

Then a small furry biped—trusting, appealing, and ridiculously cute—shows up at Jack’s outback home. Followed by its family. As it dawns on Jack that despite their stature, these are people, he begins to suspect that ZaraCorp’s claim to a planet’s worth of wealth is very flimsy indeed…and that ZaraCorp may stop at nothing to eliminate the “fuzzys” before their existence becomes more widely known.

Being a fan of the original novels, I approached this retelling with a little trepidation.  I know that Scalzi is an excellent writer, but would his vision of the fuzzies and their world work for me, either by itself or as compared to the original?  I’m happy to say that it does both, and wonderfully.

While the bones of the original novel remain in this new novel, there are some significant changes.  Jack Holloway was conceived by Piper as an older man, well past his prime.  Scalzi paints Jack as a man in his mid-thirties, and he gives him the background to allow him to actively participate in the fight to prove the fuzzies’s sentience.  This brings a lot more tension to the final scenes in the courtroom, as it allows the main character to be right in the middle of the action.  I enjoyed watching him whip out legal arguments and wield them like weapons.

There’s also a change in the history of the fuzzies themselves.  Without giving anything away, Piper’s novels glossed over something that could be seen as a plot loophole invalidating much of what happens in the first book.  Later authors picked up on this and ran with it.  Scalzi’s change neatly deals with that little problem.  I will admit, however, that after decades of having one story in the back of my head, the change was jarring upon first encountering it.  I soon accepted it, though, and as most readers won’t have read the original novels, I doubt it will be an issue to the majority of readers.

The author weaves in a lot of worldbuilding and little significant details, and he does so with such care that you probably won’t notice what he’s doing.  Several things that seem like “throwaway” details become quite important later on, and it’s a testament to the author’s writing skill that readers likely won’t see what’s coming until it happens.  There’s not an ounce of fat on this story—everything is relevant, and you’ll be amazed at how well it all comes together.

I particularly liked the courtroom scenes where the fuzzies’s sentience is being decided.  This isn’t a dry procedure with hours of bland bits of evidence being presented.  Events in this novel happen quickly, and thus the trial involves bombshell after bombshell without feeling like it’s forced.  This is just damn good plotting at work, and I devoured this sequence with the kind of glee that you get when seeing someone getting a just comeuppance.

I can’t say enough good things about Fuzzy Nation.  Not just a wonderful reboot of a classic series, it stands on its own as a tightly-plotted and deeply engrossing first contact novel.  I recommend picking this one up in hardback, because it’s one you’re going to want to keep in your collection.  I hope that Mr. Scalzi intends to continue with this series, and if he does, I’ll be first in line to buy a copy.

This review was originally posted on May 5, 2011.

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

(Description nicked from Goodreads.com.)

In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson

“Every time Bill Bryson walks out the door, memorable travel literature threatens to break out. His previous excursion along the Appalachian Trail resulted in the sublime national bestseller A Walk in the Woods. In A Sunburned Country is his report on what he found in an entirely different place: Australia, the country that doubles as a continent, and a place with the friendliest inhabitants, the hottest, driest weather, and the most peculiar and lethal wildlife to be found on the planet. The result is a deliciously funny, fact-filled, and adventurous performance by a writer who combines humor, wonder, and unflagging curiousity.

Despite the fact that Australia harbors more things that can kill you in extremely nasty ways than anywhere else, including sharks, crocodiles, snakes, even riptides and deserts, Bill Bryson adores the place, and he takes his readers on a rollicking ride far beyond that beaten tourist path. Wherever he goes he finds Australians who are cheerful, extroverted, and unfailingly obliging, and these beaming products of land with clean, safe cities, cold beer, and constant sunshine fill the pages of this wonderful book. Australia is an immense and fortunate land, and it has found in Bill Bryson its perfect guide.”

This year I started re-reading some old favorite books, and I had to include Bryson’s works in that category. His narrative A Walk in the Woods was the book that truly got me interested in non-fiction and sent me down the rabbit hole of learning about subjects that I never would have imagined being interested in. In the case of this book, it’s not that I was never interested in Australia, but more that I never really saw anything about it. The most that I thought I knew was that it is home to tons of things that can kill you.

In a Sunburned Country doesn’t gloss over the murderous capacity of the continent and its resident critters, but it also conveys the stark beauty of the place. From Uluru, the massive rock formation sacred to the Aboriginal people, to the beach where a former Australian prime minister was swept out to sea and vanished, Bryson’s wanderings take him to both large cities and isolated hamlets, to sweeping vistas and small forgotten corners.

What it turned out that I appreciated the most was Bryson’s commitment to learning about Australia’s history, politics, people, and culture. During his narrative, he writes about the books that he reads along the way, the newspapers he picks up, and the people that he talks to. He doesn’t shy away from touching on the plight of the Aboriginal people or the uncomfortable reactions of white Australians when the subject is raised. He delves into scientific discoveries and foolhardy ventures. All in all, Australia is a much more interesting place than its lack of prominence in the nightly news would lead you to believe.

And of course, being Bryson, he infused his narrative with his own signature brand of humor, that dry combination of American sarcasm and British absurdity. I always laugh out loud when reading about his attempts to body board with friends, or hearing his observations on some of that lethal wildlife. Learning and laughter–that’s what Bryson excels at.

Curious about the land of kangaroos and koalas? I wholeheartedly recommend this book as an excellent starting point.

This book was a personal purchase.

(Description nicked from Goodreads.com.)

Half-Off Ragnarok by Seanan McGuire

“When Alex Price agreed to go to Ohio to oversee a basilisk breeding program and assist in the recovery of his psychic cousin, he didn’t expect people to start dropping dead. But bodies are cropping up at the zoo where he works, and his girlfriend—Shelby Tanner, an Australian zoologist with a fondness for big cats—is starting to get suspicious.

Worse yet, the bodies have all been turned partially to stone…

The third book in the InCryptid series takes us to a new location and a new member of the family, as Alex tries to balance life, work, and the strong desire not to become a piece of garden statuary. Old friends and new are on the scene, and danger lurks around every corner.

Of course, so do the talking mice.”

ALL HAIL THE AUTHORIAL PRIESTESS!  Sorry, I couldn’t resist.  I do so love me those Aeslin mice.  And it’s the mice that really represent what I love about this series and about McGuire’s writing in general: quirky and original and not something you’re going to find in just any old book.  The author most definitely has her own voice and style and she’s not afraid to use it.

This book departs a bit from the previous two in that it doesn’t focus on Verity, moving instead to her brother Alex.  While I’ll miss all the ballroom dancing references, I found myself warming up to Alex and his work at a zoo’s reptile house.  His specialization is non-sentient cryptids like basilisks, so his story is less about diplomatic situations and more about being a caretaker to the hidden species of our world.  Or at least, it starts that way.

Just because he works with reptiles doesn’t mean that those species can’t talk back.  The gorgons are a large presence in this book, and there’s even one working with Alex at the zoo.  I continue to like how McGuire delves into mythology for her creatures, and yet she puts her own touches to the different non-human characters and how they live and interact with humans and each other.

Readers even get glimpses of an organization out of Australia that is sort of like the Healy-Price clan, one that might be good allies with Alex and his family down the road.  There’s little to no Covenant presence in this book, but I’m kind of glad, because that might have muddied the waters with too many rival organizations.  Getting a look at the wider world of those who know about the cryptids is something that I was hoping for and was very happy to see.

As usual, I absolutely adored McGuire’s storytelling and humor.  And of course, the Aeslin mice.  Half-Off Ragnarok is one of the most enjoyable novels debuting this month and I’ll continue preaching the gospel of cheese and cake to anyone who will listen.

This review was originally published on March 19, 2014.

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

(Description nicked from B&N.com.)

Raising Steam by Terry Pratchett

“Steam is rising over Discworld, driven by Mister Simnel, the man with a flat cap and a sliding rule. He has produced a great clanging monster of a machine that harnesses the power of all of the elements—earth, air, fire, and water—and it’s soon drawing astonished crowds.

To the consternation of Ankh-Morpork’s formidable Patrician, Lord Vetinari, no one is in charge of this new invention. This needs to be rectified, and who better than the man he has already appointed master of the Post Office, the Mint, and the Royal Bank: Moist von Lipwig. Moist is not a man who enjoys hard work—unless it is dependent on words, which are not very heavy and don’t always need greasing. He does enjoy being alive, however, which makes a new job offer from Vetinari hard to refuse.

Moist will have to grapple with gallons of grease, goblins, a fat controller with a history of throwing employees down the stairs, and some very angry dwarfs if he’s going to stop it all from going off the rails. . .”

I initially had some reservations about this newest Discworld book—which has never happened to me before—because I wasn’t at all impressed with the previous one, Snuff.  I had wondered if the fact that Pratchett is now dictating his books (or was the last that I heard) was affecting how the novels flowed and how their plots came together.  Once I got into Raising Steam, I realized that if Pratchett ever was off of his game, he’s gotten it back in spades.

I was surprised to see how long a period of time was covered in this book.  Most Discworld novels take place within the space of several days or weeks.  This one spanned at least a year, charting the evolution of the steam railroad from concept to common means of transportation.  I think that this kept the story from being too narrowly focused, because every aspect of railroad logistics is addressed, from laying the rails to passenger cars versus cargo cars.

Something that I didn’t expect in a book about more technology in Discworld was how uneasy the whole concept had me feeling.  A predominant theme in the story is that you can’t stop an idea whose time has come, so the best you can do is try to maintain control of where the idea goes.  Introducing steam technology and fast travel to Discworld is a radical departure that will change a lot about this world and how it operates.  Seeing so many changes happening so fast was actually disturbing after so many novels of Discworld remaining essentially the same.

In the middle of all of this change is Pratchett’s best new character, Moist von Lipwig.  He reminds me a lot of Rincewind the wizard, minus all the running away, but retaining that frantic energy that works so well in this setting.  He’s clever, devious, and amazingly he’s almost a match for Lord Vetinari, at least in sheer cunning.  Through his eyes, readers see the vast, breakneck development of the railroad and all of the attendant industries that spring up along with it.  He maintains a tenuous hold on everything going on, sometimes merely riding the tide of change and hoping that he doesn’t land on the rocks.

Mixed into the story is some more subtle stuff concerning change, in this case focusing on the dwarves and their resistance to anything not in line with their traditions.  This plotline provides some of the novel’s more somber moments, as readers are asked to think about the price of change—both the good and the bad.

Pratchett is back and better than ever with Raising Steam, which brings many changes to our beloved Discworld while, as usual, slipping in sly social commentary when you’re not looking.  Make sure you pick this one up and keep abreast of all that’s going on in Ankh-Morpork and beyond.

This review was originally posted on March 18, 2014.

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

(Description nicked from B&N.com.)

Magic for Nothing by Seanan McGuire

“As the youngest of the three Price children, Antimony is used to people not expecting much from her. She’s been happy playing roller derby and hanging out with her cousins, leaving the globe-trotting to her older siblings while she stays at home and tries to decide what she wants to do with her life. She always knew that one day, things would have to change. She didn’t think they’d change so fast.

Annie’s expectations keep getting shattered. She didn’t expect Verity to declare war on the Covenant of St. George on live television. She didn’t expect the Covenant to take her sister’s threat seriously. And she definitely didn’t expect to be packed off to London to infiltrate the Covenant from the inside…but as the only Price in her generation without a strong resemblance to the rest of the family, she’s the perfect choice to play spy. They need to know what’s coming. Their lives may depend on it.

But Annie has some secrets of her own, like the fact that she’s started setting things on fire when she touches them, and has no idea how to control it. Now she’s headed halfway around the world, into the den of the enemy, where blowing her cover could get her killed. She’s pretty sure things can’t get much worse.

Antimony Price is about to learn just how wrong it’s possible for one cryptozoologist to be.”

This is my least favorite of the Incryptid books so far.  Now, that’s not saying anything too bad, because I did still like this book and enjoy it.  It is not, however, one that I found completely un-put-downable.  My standards have gotten pretty high when I see that Seanan McGuire has authored a book, so maybe I’m being too picky, but again, I expect a lot from one of her books.

One of the things I like the most about McGuire’s prose is her ability to create memorable characters.  In this series, the main characters have consistently been not only well-fleshed out in their own right, but they’ve also been meticulously fitted to the family they come from.  Let me give you an example: Verity, star of the first book, is encountered mostly on her own in New York, but her status as a member of the Price family is solid.  She may not live with them—or even near them—but she’s in close enough communication with them and references them enough that you get the sense of a cohesive group.  The same goes for Alex, who takes the stage in book three.  His love of herpetology fits with the main plot but also hearkens back to his family’s love of (and protection of) cryptids.

Antimony just didn’t live up to that standard, in my opinion.  Being in an “undercover” role, she has almost no communication with her family beyond a couple of contacts with one of the family’s ghosts.  Her memories are mostly focused on her time spent with the Campbell family carnival, during which time she was away from the rest of the Price clan.  Maybe this wouldn’t have stood out to me so much if this story had been written earlier in the series, but after five previous novels with strong family connections, I felt that the lack was noticeable.

I also had a bit of an issue with Antimony’s self-identifying as a “derby girl”—she’s into roller derby in a big way.  Although we do see a short scene of her at a derby practice at the start of the story, her actual participation in a derby never comes up again.  We see her doing all kinds of acrobatics, but no skating.  This is in stark contrast to Verity’s ballroom dancing, which is always significantly present, or Alex’s love of all things reptilian.  Again, in many ways this departure from previous form is dictated by the plot, but it wasn’t something I was as fond of.

Beyond that, as an entry into this series, I liked it well enough.  The pacing is good, the setting is unique, and the rest of the cast gets just enough fleshing out to work well with the main character.  We get to encounter a few more kinds of cryptids and have some encounters with the Covenant of St. George up close and personal.  And as usual, the Aeslin mice are adorable.

The Price family tale gets more and more complicated as the novels unfold, and I’m eager to see where things go in the next book, Tricks for Free.  Honestly, your mileage may vary on the character issues that I grumbled about, but I doubt you’ll take issue with the plot or storytelling.

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

(Description nicked from Goodreads.com.)

Chaos Choreography by Seanan McGuire

chaos-choreography“Verity Price is back on the West Coast and getting back into the swing of the family business: cryptozoology. She’s rescuing cryptids from bad situations, protecting them from monster-hunters, and generally risking life and limb for the greater good, with her ex-Covenant partner/husband, Dominic, by her side. Her ballroom dance career is behind her—or so she thinks. When Verity gets the call from the producers of Dance or Die, the reality show she almost won several years before, she finds the lure impossible to resist, and she and Dominic are off to L.A. for one last shot at the big time.

Of course, nothing is that simple. When two contestants turn up dead, Verity will need every ally she can find with the investigation, without blowing her cover…”

Oh, happy day, my favorite series is back and set on a televised ballroom dancing competition!  I fell in love with Verity in the first two books of this series, partly because she’s a ballroom dancer, but partly because she’s so well drawn.  McGuire’s prowess at creating characters serves her well here, as Verity’s established character plays well off of the newer ones that show up.  We get to meet people that Verity knew in the past, and just as importantly, the people that know her completely independent of her life as a cryptozoologist.

That’s not to say that there aren’t any cryptids in this novel–far from it.  There are plenty of new faces to put to the things that go bump in the night, including a very outspoken chupacabra who is a delight to watch.  Old favorites return as well, in the form of the Aeslin mice and a family member whom you might not expect.

I really enjoyed the plot, because it put Verity deeply into both parts of her world: there’s a heavy focus on the dancing aspect and how strenuous it is; but equally featured are the part of her life that involve cryptids and making sure that our world and theirs don’t collide.  Along with this is a good dose of the family dynamics that make this series work so well.  Dominic is integrating into the Price family and learning to deal with its special brand of insanity, and it’s fun to watch.

In fact, if I look at the series overall, the unique thing that makes it so engaging is that it is, as the author puts it, a generational story.  Not only do you have the “on screen” characters like Verity and Alex, but all of the past history that shapes who they are.  Quotes from family members like Enid Healy and references to the Healy’s history with the Covenant of St. George keep the past alive and flowing through the current generation.

I find myself not only reading this book and enjoying it, but really caring about the characters and what happens to them.  And that’s the mark of an excellent author.  This is, in my opinion, the best book of the series so far, and if I know McGuire, it’s only going to get better from here.

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

(Description nicked from Goodreads.)

The Road to Little Dribbling by Bill Bryson

the-road-to-little-dribbling“In 1995 Bill Bryson got into his car and took a weeks-long farewell motoring trip about England before moving his family back to the United States. The book about that trip, Notes from a Small Island, is uproarious and endlessly endearing, one of the most acute and affectionate portrayals of England in all its glorious eccentricity ever written. Two decades later, he set out again to rediscover that country, and the result is The Road to Little Dribbling. Nothing is funnier than Bill Bryson on the road—prepare for the total joy and multiple episodes of unseemly laughter.”

I make no apologies about my love for Bill Bryson’s writing.  His blend of dry British humor, love of odd facts, and storyteller’s sense of timing combine to make, for me, something pretty close to perfection.  And his newest book is more of the same, showcasing his observations of a Britain very different from the one he first encountered in Notes from a Small Island.

One of the things that first drew me to Bryson’s writing was his humor.  I think some of it comes from the tendency of Brits to employ that wacky, off-the-wall sense of what would be funny.  Think Monty Python and the things they pulled on their TV show and in their movies.  But some of it seems to be specific to certain British print humor–I’m thinking of Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams–wherein the author channels that wackiness into turns of phrase that sound absurd and yet are instantly recognizable as true or accurate.  It makes for some marvelous imagery, and rarely a chapter goes by in which I don’t dissolve into a giggle fit over something.

I also love Bryson’s sense of place.  What I mean by that is, he has this magical way of ferreting out the oddest bits of history concerning locations or time periods or the people in them, and then weaving it into his narrative.  You’d think that it would become boring or rambling, but it doesn’t.  Instead, you get this sense that absolutely everyplace has a forgotten history just waiting to be unearthed, and if you just look hard enough, you might find it.  Whether it’s the twisting streets and side-alleys of London or the broad sweep of the coast near Brighton, you can’t help but want to go there and see these wonderful places for yourself.

Bryon is a little bit more curmudgeonly in this book than in previous ones.  He’s never held back on acerbic observations, but in this book it’s a bit more on display.  Some of this is the nature of the book itself: the author is revisiting places that have gone through tremendous amounts of change and economic upheaval, and it’s natural to think “Yeah, but back in MY day…”  Mostly it’s tempered with his humor, but there’s a note of wistfulness here, a note of disappointment, that so much has changed.  At one point, he sums up the situation succinctly by saying that the things that make England so charming (old churches, hedgerows, etc.) add nothing to the economy and are therefore in danger of being swept aside.

And yet, the love of his adopted country is still evident.  He may at times think that it’s silly, or misguided, or plain weird, but he still loves it.  And that’s what I like to see most–I want to see that love in his stories so that I can get a bit of that vicarious pleasure.  With luck, I’ll visit England one day myself, but until then, I’ve got no better tour guide than Bryson and his stock of tales.

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

(Description nicked from B&N.com.)

Pocket Apocalypse by Seanan McGuire

“Alexander Price has survived gorgons, basilisks, and his own family—no small feat, considering that his family includes two telepaths, a reanimated corpse, and a colony of talking, pantheistic mice.  Still, he’s starting to feel like he’s got the hang of things…at least until his girlfriend, Shelby Tanner, shows up asking pointed questions about werewolves and the state of his passport.  From there, it’s just a hop, skip, and a jump to Australia, a continent filled with new challenges, new dangers, and yes, rival cryptozoologists who don’t like their “visiting expert” very much.

Australia is a cryptozoologist’s dream, filled with unique species and unique challenges.  Unfortunately, it’s also filled with Shelby’s family, who aren’t delighted by the length of her stay in America.  And then there are the werewolves to consider: infected killing machines who would like nothing more than to claim the continent as their own. The continent which currently includes Alex.

Survival is hard enough when you’re on familiar ground.  Alex Price is very far from home, but there’s one thing he knows for sure: he’s not going down without a fight.”

I’ve decided that not only is McGuire’s Incryptid series my favorite of all the things she writes, but it’s also one of my favorites series, period.  There’s a wonderful blend of creativity, humor, and wit that keeps me eagerly anticipating each new book as it comes out.

And this one is the best of the series so far.  The author continually changes things up so the books never become cookie-cutter.  This is the first book to take place in a location other than America, and this means that the main character is not in very close contact with the rest of the family.  It also means all new kinds of cryptids to marvel at.  It gives Alex that “fish out of water” status that allows him to be intrigued with the new, but his already established competence with cryptids means that he doesn’t come across as too over-matched.

I find it interesting that McGuire also chose werewolves as the main antagonistic force in Australia, because it’s not like there aren’t enough things in Australia that want to kill you.  I think that by using werewolves, she has rooted readers in something familiar while also painting them very differently than you “typical” werewolves.  That’s what I like most about the cryptids that are more commonly known–they’re not what you expect, but they’re recognizable enough to make that connection.

Of course, it’s the cryptids that McGuire creates herself that are the most awesome.  I speak, as usual, of the Aeslin mice, towards which I feel a squeeful love and a desire to cuddle them.  The lesser gryphons (like the Church Gryphon and Australia’s garrinna) also awaken in me a deep longing for a plushie of one of them.  Basically, the author regularly makes me say “aaawwwww”, and some days that’s just what I need.

In general, McGuire’s writing style is one that I truly enjoy.  She has a Pratchett-esque way of stating things that make you both laugh and think “Hey, that’s a good point”.  I’m constantly making note of lines that I want to share with others.  Pair that with a great, action-packed story, and you’ve got an unbeatable combination, as far as I’m concerned.

I’m already jonseing for the next Incryptid book and my fix of giggle-worthy dialogue.  I’m constantly recommending this series to others, so that should give you a good idea of how highly I regard it.

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

(Description nicked from B&N.com.)

Armageddon Rules by J. C. Nelson



“Marissa is due for a little happily ever after. After all, she did kill the evil Fairy Godmother, end a war, and snag a sweet promotion within the Fairy Godfather’s magical-problem-solving Agency. But between maintaining a relationship with someone whose amorous advances can cause third-degree burns, dealing with a killer-poodle infestation, and helping her best friend, Princess Ari, learn to wield spells more powerful than curing a hangover, she’s not getting as much peace and quiet as she hoped.

When an enemy from her past appears to exact a terrible revenge, Marissa’s life goes from hectic to hell on earth. With Grimm inexplicably gone and Ari trapped by a sleeping spell, Marissa decides to fight fire with hellfire—and accidentally begins a countdown to the apocalypse.

With the end of days extremely nigh, Marissa will have to master royal politics, demonic law, and biblical plagues in a hurry—because even the end of the world can’t keep the Agency from opening for business…”

If you’re looking for a series to give you a giggle, this is a great one to choose.  Although the Armageddon theme will likely produce flashbacks to Good Omens, this book stands up well to the comparison. Nelson’s own particular brand of humor runs to the quirky, and it fits in well with the fairy-tales-in-the-real-world theme.

What sets it apart from other humorous fantasy is the sheer cleverness of the main character.  Marissa is forced to unleash three plagues onto the city because she’s the herald of the Apocalypse.  She also must provide steeds for the Four Horsemen.  Her creative way to fulfull her requirements and still hold the end of days at bay gave me some out-loud laughs.  (Minor spoiler: Marissa’s interpretation of “rivers of blood” as every woman in the city getting her period at once is sheer genius.)

The author removes a lot of Marissa’s support system for this book, letting her stretch her wings and deal with problems by herself.  And boy, are those problems weird!  A new Piper who controls rats, a princess who fails her driving test, and a prince with OCD are the least of her worries–of more concern are the killer poodles set to infest the city.

All of this adds up to a fast-paced novel that never gets boring and delivers on the thrills and laughs of a great humorous fantasy story.  I’m really looking forward to the next novel in August so that I can see what Nelson dreams up next.

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

(Description nicked from B&N.com.)

Rise of the Spider Goddess by Jim C. Hines

rise-of-the-spider-goddess“In 2006, DAW Books published Jim C. Hines’ debut novel Goblin Quest. But before Jig the goblin, before fairy tale princesses and magic librarians and spunky fire-spiders, there was Nakor the Purple, an elf who wanted nothing more than to stand around watching lovingly overdescribed sunrises with his pet owl Flame, who might actually be a falcon, depending on which chapter you’re reading.

This is Nakor’s story, written in 1995 and never before shared with the world. (For reasons that will soon be painfully clear.) Together with an angsty vampire, a pair of pixies, and a feisty young thief, Nakor must find a way to stop an Ancient Evil before she destroys the world. (Though, considering the relatively shallow worldbuilding, it’s not like there’s much to destroy…)

With more than 5000 words of bonus annotation and smart-ass commentary, this is a book that proves every author had to start somewhere, and most of the time, that place wasn’t very pretty.”

Take heart, all you aspiring writers: Jim Hines is here to show you that everyone has to start somewhere.  While there are certainly some egregious errors in this book–the bird that is sometimes an owl and sometimes a falcon is a great example–there are smaller things that you might gloss over without the author pointing them out.  Because of this, Rise of the Spider Goddess serves as a wonderful treatise on what not to do as a writer.  Hines even mentions in the forward that he doesn’t harp on every single mistake he made–some of them are there for you to find on your own, so keep a sharp eye out while reading.

Quite apart from the very real lessons shown by an author who is willing to dissect his own early work, the annotations are just plain funny.  Think Mystery Science Theater 3000 for the book geek and you’ve got a pretty good idea of what lurks in these pages.  One of my favorite bits is the ongoing “raised eyebrow count” that reaches into the double digits before the story ends.  Hines spares himself nothing, poking fun at his purple prose and terrible worldbuilding, but he does so in a way that lets you know that it’s all in good fun.

Most of all, reading this will give budding writers hope: hope that they can learn their craft with time; hope that early mistakes don’t have to define you; hope that you can even look back on those early fumblings with humor.  I’ve become fond of Hines’s writing from his Libriomancer books, but I’ve gained a lot of respect for him through this baring of his writerly soul.  It’s a fun little foray into the sometimes embarrassing evolution of literary skill.

This book was a personal purchase.

(Description nicked from B&N.com.)

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