[Advance Book Review] She’s a guardian, warrior, and…librarian.

Advance Book Review: Worldsoul by Liz Williams

Publication Date: June 06, 2012

The city of Worldsoul is on a nexus point between different dimensions, a place where old stories gather and legends come to die—or to  rise again. And Mercy Fane has one of the most dangerous jobs in her world. She’s a Librarian, guardian of one the largest accumulation of human knowledge and myth.  But despite the Librarians’ best efforts, stories are breaking out of ancient texts and escaping into the city.

“She thought of the thing she had seen; the thing that, mentally, she had started calling “the female.” Part of a story from so long ago that any humanity had surely been leached from her, if indeed she had ever possessed any. Something forgotten, that rages, like so many forgotten thing. Something that wanted to be known.

And something that, now, would be.”

Liz Williams, Worldsoul, pp.35

The range of the stories and cultures that intersect in Worldsoul was delightful in its ambitiousness; a Duke of Hell is tracking down a stolen item, an alchemist is being compelled to do something that goes against her Islam faith, and Perry, an Egyptian spirit, shares one of her nine lives. The imprisoned Norse god Loki stirs and the Abbot General plots to take over the city. And Mercy Fane finds herself in the middle of this–and in the middle of a battle for the Library, the soul of the city.

In creating her vivid and fast-paced world, Williams steers her story around the pitfall of many book-related novels. There are no long, self-indulgent monologues about the wonder of reader or the power of literature.

Instead, Williams’ appreciation for culture and myths permeates the action itself, as organic as if it couldn’t be any other way. This is fantasy at its best, with witty dialogue, political plots, magic spells, and plenty of action and adventure. Oh, and a wonderful writing style.

Worldsoul picks you up and throws you in the deep end from page one. There are no long passages of world-building, no appendices of the hierarchy of hell or types of djinn, and no catch-up sequences badly disguised as character dialogue. Readers dive into the story as it’s happening, and any catching up is done on their own time (yes! an author after my own heart). Williams crafts a vivid world of spinning parts and trusts you to hold on for the ride.

For me, the experience was like getting a pass to my favorite thrill ride–and then on a trip to an ice-cream store. (Of course, mileage may vary for the more cautious reader.)

This is a book that will appeal to fans of both traditional and urban fantasy genres. More than that, it sets up an incredible premise…and then delivers on it.

Complimentary copy of the book courtesy of the publisher.

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Series Review: Outcast Season series by Rachel Caine

Rachel Caine is a master of building nonstop suspense, fun characters who love fast cars (and classy motorcycles), and fast-paced action. The Outcast Season series follows Cassiel, an immortal djinn, after she is stripped of her powers and sent to Earth to live as a human.  This Urban Fantasy is part spin-off, part continuation of the Weather Warden universe. It can be read as a very entertaining standalone, but it’s better with a couple of the Weather Warden books already under the belt. But if you’ve read up on that series (at least a couple books in) and haven’t given this one a try, here’s what you’ve been missing:

Undone (Outcast Season #1) by Rachel Caine

Cassiel is powerful, immortal, and she has existed for millennia.  But when she refuses a direct order from the oldest among her kind, he breaks her connection to her power and reshapes her into human form. Forced to exist as a mortal but still needing power to stay alive, Cassiel must live among (and drain the power of) Wardens–humans who wield magic.

She ends up with Earth Warden Manny Rocha–in return for helping him on his missions, she gets access to his power, even as she struggles to understand the (frustrating and inconvenient) emotions and weaknesses of her new human body. But when something threatens Rocha’s family, Cassiel’s forced to decide what she is and whose side she’s on.

This is, in a way, a fallen angel story, and that was one of the reasons it took me so long to get to the series (oh me of little faith!). It’s a rare thing to see an author pull off a believable immortal–especially one as old as Cassiel, and with a first person point of view, no less. But I shouldn’t have worried; Cassiel’s voice convinced me. Continue reading

[ Advanced Book Review ] Teen assassin nuns in medieval Brittany

Advanced Review: Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers

His Fair Assassin Book 1

Publication date: April 03, 2012

Grave Mercy is middle grade novelist LaFevers’ first foray into Young Adult fiction. And what a great debut!

When Ismae’s arranged marriage ends on her wedding night with her husband going to get a priest to burn Ismae for being a witch, the young girl escapes to the convent of Saint Mortain. There, she is told that the scars she had from birth mark her as a daughter of Mortain, the god of Death, and is given the choice to stay and become one of His handmaidens, tasked with dealing death at his bequest. After seventeen years of being a victim, it is no choice at all.

Why be the sheep when you can be the wolf?

Ismae’s first important assignment takes her straight into high court intrigue; Brittany fights to remain independent from France, and the young duchess who can make that possible is besieged by traitors and treason. It is up to Ismae to use her training to unravel the undercurrents at court and serve Death by eliminating the enemies of Brittany. But in the real world, nothing is so straightforward, especially when it comes to the Duval, the duchess’s handsome and tempestuous young adviser–who may just be the traitor Ismae’s looking for.

I haven’t had much luck with YA novels recently, but this book has renewed my faith that I can still be blown away. It has suspense, adventure, betrayal, and a well-built, believable romance.

Continue reading

[ Book Review ] Hungry for More Collins?

Gregor the Overlander

by Suzanne Collins

I think what surprises me the most in the wake of the Hunger Games fever is how little is ever said about Suzanne Collins’ other series, Gregor the Overlander. I realize that there is a fairly big gap between the two series as far as target demographic goes (Gregor is firmly in the Middle Reader area while Hunger Games is about as Adult as Young Adult gets), but the themes of the two series are so closely tied that the lack of comparison to–or even mention of–Gregor is strange. So let’s change that right now with a proclamation:

If you liked Hunger Games, you’ll love Gregor the Overlander.

Gregor is a five-book series that follows the titular character as he faces the wild and violent world of the Underland, a huge civilization under New York City, filled with transparent-skinned humans and talking rats, bats and spiders. Gregor finds himself at the center of a prophecy that names him as the Warrior of the Underland, the one sent to save the humans from the wrath of the mighty rat monster, Bane.

Just one problem: Gregor wants absolutely nothing to do with fighting of any kind. He doesn’t even want to contemplate that he might be a killing machine. But time and time again, he’s thrown back into the battle, sacrificing pacifiscism for the sake of saving his family and friends. Continue reading

[ Book Review ] The Great Bay, by Dale Pendell

The Great Bay: Chronicles of the Collapse, by Dale Pendell

North Atlantic Books, 2010.

Maybe you’ve seen those images of the earth’s biggest cities underwater, edited to show the predicted effects of climate change on the coastlines we know and love. Maybe you remember the summer when Armageddon and Deep Impact came out, or the next year when Y2K-induced panic sent people rushing to 7-11 for more bottled water.

Fortunately, The Great Bay isn’t really like that. Though it’s the story of The End of the World As We Know It, it’s a gradual end, with lots of beginnings. It’s a history of the earth after the Collapse, a global pandemic that kills most of mankind. What happens next happens slowly, over the course of almost sixteen thousand years.

That’s a pretty enormous scope, so Dale Pendell focuses in on California, and the gradual widening of the San Francisco Bay into a basin at the center of the state. While this is the earth’s story, told on a chronological scale only earthquakes, canyons, and rivers understand, Pendell gives it a human voice. Continue reading

Book Review: Thirteen’s the charm–Tiassa by Steven Brust

Tiassa by Steven Brust

A few days back, I got stood up on a date (she had a legit excuse, promise). However, I wasn’t too bothered at the time. I was in a cafe on the third floor of Barnes & Noble, with a copy of Tiassa in my bag–a book I’ve been wanting to read ever since it came out in March. And this was the perfect opportunity.

Tiassa is the 13th installment of the Vlad the Assassin series, and wins an easy five canaries from me (three if you’ve never read the Vlad books and start this one cold). Brust takes a new approach to the narration in this latest addition to the series, shifting voices and styles as the book progresses. The story follows a small silver statue through time, right after it is stolen by the god child Devera and given to Vlad.

The opening section is a wonderful blast from the past–we get Vlad when Cawti was still his fiance (read: before he grew a conscience). He is refreshingly unrepentant, weaving together complicated Vlad-plots. Then, in the second section of the novel, we fast-forward to when a couple old friends save Vlad’s life from a cadre of assassins and foil an Empire-scale plot–all without anyone ever knowing.

As the story draws to a close, it shifts to present day (ie, after Iorich) as Khaavren investigates a plot on Vlad’s life, narrated by the voice of Paarfi of Roundwood, the “chronicler” of the Khaavren Romances series. Fans of the Khaavren Romances (The Phoenix GuardsFive Hundred Years After, Sethra Lavode, etc.) will wholeheartedly enjoy the return of Khaavren and his wife, as well as the chance to finally see Vlad through someone else’s eyes.

It’s probably obvious from my brief summary above, but I’m going to say it anyway. If you’re a Vlad the Assassin newbie, this is not the book for you. It hinges on references and connections built over the course of the entire series, all coming at you with no patience for floundering readers. But if you like sword and sorcery and sarcastic main characters, Brust’s first book in the series, Jhereg, is a good introduction to the world of Dragaera and this snarky protagonis who hit first place in my list of Top Five Fantasy Assassins.

For fans, Tiassa will be a five-star treat. It combines everything we’ve ever loved about Dragaera–namely, pre-divorce Vlad and his familiar,  Paarfi’s witty, pseudo-Dumas style, and a plot that gives us yet another glimpse into the workings of this world. And if you’re still on the fence, read it to get a glimpse of Aliera hooking up and to find out who is Vlad’s new love interest.

Tiassa is a keeper. So when you’re next going out, bring a book, and make it a Steven Brust book.


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[ Book Review ] When being a healer is a death sentence.

A Touch of Power by Maria V. Snyder (Healer #1)

When the plague broke out, the healers could do nothing for the sickness, and so were blamed for it. Three years later, Avry – once an apprentice healer, now a fugitive – is on the run, hunted because of what she is. But when she is finally caught by an armed group, Kerrick, their leader, doesn’t want her for the bounty. He doesn’t want her dead–at least, not until she does one more healing for him. And the person Kerrick wants healed? Prince Ryne, a man Avry would rather die than save.

Avry is the kind of smart, tough heroine that I’ve grown accustomed to seeing in Snyder’s novels. As Avry finds herself trekking across the lands, dodging mercenaries and the deadly creatures that decimate the landscape, she is forced into uneasy alliances with the people who want to use her. A Touch of Power is a promising opening to the series.  But it can also be read as a completely self-contained (and fully satisfying) stand-alone novel.

Continue reading

[ Book Review ] The Son of Neptune is questing once again

The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan

(Book #2 of  The Heroes of Olympus)

This review will contain spoilers for The Lost Hero.

I’m pretty pissed at Rick Riordan right now.

But why, Meg? you ask. Riordan is your favorite.

I ended up listening to the last hundred-or-so pages via audiobook when I discovered that the reader for The Son of Neptune was actually palatable. Around the 30-minutes-left mark, I started to get anxious.

The narrative wasn’t as far as I wanted it to be. This whole book, I’ve been waiting for the characters from The Lost Hero to show up, but there just wasn’t time to do it justice. The minutes ticked away, and I started to verbally cuss at iTunes. By the time the Audible tag played at the end, I was positively fuming.

Yes, I’m mad. Now I have to wait a full year before I find out what happens with that delightful, torturous cliffhanger.

Let me lay it out for you: Continue reading

[ Small Chirp ] Has Riordan worked himself into a corner?

Warning: This article will contain major spoilers for The Lost Hero.

At midnight on Monday, I will get the email alert I’ve been waiting for all year: the PDF of The Son of Neptune will be ready to download to my nook. I expect the squeal of joy I make at the alert will be well into the octaves that only dogs can hear. It’s not just the fact that Percy Jackson is back. The book should answer a burning question I’ve had ever since finishing The Lost Hero: Does Rick Riordan actually expect that he’ll be able to pull this plotline off?

In The Lost Hero, the first book of the sequel series to the wildly popular Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, we were introduced to Jason, a teenage demigod whose memories had been stolen. He find himself at Camp Half-Blood, the safe haven for the children of the Greek gods. He makes friends, defends the camp, fully integrates himself into the culture before he learns the truth about his birth.

He is not the son of a Greek god.

He is the son of a Roman god. Continue reading

[ Book Review ] Naked Economics, Skeptical Canary

Naked Economics by Charles Wheelan

Four semesters of economics in college convinced me of one unshakable truth: economics is irredeemably boring. So when I saw the tagline to this book included the phrase “dismal science”, I approved.

I approved even more when I read the intro and the author’s promise of no-graphs and no-math. The part of me that convinced me to take those four semesters of econ in the first place reared its head then: “Economics are important. You’re gonna fail at life if you don’t read this book!”

Okay, okay, fine, Inner Voice of Reason and Responsibility, I’ll give it a try. And maybe become a more productive citizen in the process.

I dove in and realized a few things very quickly.

1. Wheelan doesn’t lie. There are no graphs, charts, or number crunching. Even Bill Bryson, who made space and geography fun, hadn’t managed to do that. Plus respect points to Wheelan!

2. It might have been a much dryer read if I hadn’t already had some small amount of economic background. I breezed through the first few chapters, and only started slowing down when it got to talking about the recent economic crisis and Wall Street.

3. It’s fun! The narrator pulls out plenty of amusing anecdotes that had me chortling.

4. The approach and context is US-specific rather than global. If you’re international, mileage may vary!

What about the book in general?

Wheelan, the middle bird.

Ideologically, it takes the middle ground between the kind of rhetoric I listened to last night during the US Republican debate (see upside down canary for more details) and the kind of approach proposed by economists like Jeffrey Sachs (if you like non-fiction, neoliberalism, and NPR, check out The End of Poverty*). Indeed, most of the content in the first half of Naked Economics was standard textbook material, minus the canary-numbing, narcolepsy-inducing dryness. It answered questions such as “what in the world does the US Federal Reserve do?”,  “Why are set prices and rent ceilings a terrible idea that makes everything pricier, not cheaper?” and “Why can’t we just print money–oh wait, we do? How does that work?”

Specific examples, light tone, fits in a very large pocket…It’s like the newest iPad of Economics.

(Well, okay, iPads don’t fit in pockets, have fun Econ examples, or go pastel. But they could, if Apple put its mind to it.)

*Yes, sir! I have my NNN badge, right here!