The Cover Made Me Read It: Dogwood Sprocket by Bokerah Brumley

It’s been a while since I’ve read steampunk. The historical aspect of the genre usually keeps me away. But when I saw Dogwood Sprocket’s pretty cover, I couldn’t say no.

The Story I Ended Up Reading. Cuz Cover.

Just look at the shiny silvery stuff. Just look at that top hat.

The Plot:

It’s the year 2287, and Grace York makes a living hand-crafting clever mechanical collectibles in an age of fast flying cars and soaring skyscrapers. Her life is interrupted when she is sucked through a mysterious portal created by Hugh Hawthorne, a clever inventor from a different time and a different, parallel universe. As Grace tries to adjust to the new, mechanical, steam-powered world, she finds herself falling for Hugh, a man who might be lying about whether he can get Grace home again.


Some stories make me angry. Some make me want to call all my friends to rave in delight. And some – the hardest to talk about – land somewhere in the lukewarm middle. This is that kind of story. Dogwood Sprocket is like curling up with a mug of tea on a comfy. It’s pleasant, cozy and sweet. It doesn’t thrill, but neither does it disappoint. It’s nice.

It’s a neat mix of time travel and romance. The first sparkle of romantic connection is instantaneous when the characters meet, but Grace and Hugh slowly and tentatively build their rapport over the full course of the story.

Luckily for Grace, her futurist career as a toy-maker and artisan is probably the only job whose skills transferred perfectly and immediately to a steampunk world. Grace’s independence is a lovely foil for Hugh’s cautious courtship as they navigate tricky issues like Victorian Era dress codes, a formal outing, how to get Grace home again…and what to do once she gets there.

Oh, and there’s a cute cat.

All and all, the short story is a nicely-crafted ode to the steampunk genre.

Canary verdict:

(A pleasant read.)

I received a free copy of the story for review.

More steampunk? Check out the following:

The Cover Made Me Read It: Master of Crows by Grace Draven

Here’s another cover that I couldn’t pass by. Crows and flowy hair. What more can you ask for?

What? Plot? Psh. Who needs plot?

The Book I Ended Up Reading. Cuz Cover.


The Plot:

Welp, on the one hand, you have the renegade sorcerer Silhara, reticent avatar of the evil god, Corruption. On the other, you have Martise a young slavewoman-turned-spy who’s been promised her freedom if she is able to find the proof of Silhara’s crimes that would lead to his execution. She’s set up to be his scribe and apprentice. He is all sorts of suspicious.

Inevitably, romance.

Continue reading

[ Book Watching ] The Hunger Games, from Book to Movie

Warning: This review will contain spoilers for both the book and movie versions of The Hunger Games.

One of the greatest challenges of taking a story from book to screen is figuring out what to change. A movie’s narrative needs to stand on its own, working under the assumption that there will be people in the audience who have not read the source material.

In recent years, we’ve seen this done to varying degrees of success. Atonement is a great example of an adaption done right: the end of the movie is completely different than that of the book (for good reason), but the endings had the same thematic feel and impact. And early this March, our Pirate Canary told us about the successful plot-pruning and adaptation of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Safran Foer.

Of course, then there are the oft-maligned Harry Potter adaptations (past about movie four), in which one too many subplots were left on the editing room floor and the narrative started to get shaky for anyone who wasn’t familiar with the books.

And then we have The Hunger Games, undoubtedly the most-anticipated movie so far in 2012. Would it succeed in capturing the harrowing, break-neck pace of Suzanne Collins’ blockbuster books? Or would it fall victim to too much cut, too little left? Continue reading

Small Chirp: Surely the second book can’t be as bad…

Conversation from early yesterday:

theOtherCanary: I was just rereading my review of Alchemyst.

Is it a sign of sickness that the review made me want to read the second book just to find out if its as bad as the first?

CanaryTheFirst:  Hahahahaha

And not just any review.

Your own NEGATIVE review.

theOtherCanary:  I mean seriously? What does that say about me?

CanaryTheFirst: Meg, let me stage an intervention.

theOtherCanary: No.

Your intervention will end with me reading it for your profit.

CanaryTheFirst:  if you are inclined to read terrible books, let me switch out that one and switch in–


…you know me too well.


Five hours later, I get a text from Meg saying that the book in question had leaped across the expanse of teal carpeting, dodged a mystified reader, and dove into her bag at Barnes and Noble. As she explains, she has no option now but to read the poor, desperate thing.


Canaries, ever get jumped by a book?

[Small Chirp] A zombie apocalypse in context

One aspect of Mira Grant’s Newsflesh series I particularly enjoy is how the reader is simply plopped down in the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse and then left to fend for himself. The narrative only drops little tidbits of back-story when the plot requires further explanation of the zombie issue and how the zombies came about. This tactic is the exact opposite of what critics lovingly call an ‘info dump,’ and the text in both books in the series is all the more engaging because of this deft narrative choice.

But for all my appreciation of author Mira Grant’s decision to limit background information, I was left a little wanting. After all, a true zombie-phobe like myself needs to know the precise details of any hypothetical apocalypse in order to properly prepare for the coming doom of humanity. So imagine my delight when Grant produced a filler story between Deadline and the soon-to-be-released Blackout. Countdown is a tight novella (the audio was only about two and a quarter hours) chronicles the days just prior to and through the worst of the first Rising–Grant’s term for the zombie apocalypse that takes place in very-near 2014. Continue reading

Book Watching: How a great book became a worthy movie

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is one of the five books I would want with me on a desert island (the others being The Little Prince, any anthology of Jeeves and Wooster stories by P.G. Wodehouse, the Bible, and the fat poetry anthology that lives by my bed). I first read the novel during the worst semester of my college years; my life was so stressful that I read five or ten pages at a time,  barely able to take the grief and pain in Jonathan Safran Foer’s writing. But it was so good that I could not give it up, even when it sent me to bed shaking.

The story, for those who don’t know, is about Oskar Schell, a precocious, possibly autistic nine-year-old boy whose father dies in the WTC on 9/11. His father had played scavenger hunt games with him, so when Oskar finds a key hidden in an envelope labeled “Black” with his father’s things, he takes it as a clue that the last and most important hunt is still waiting for him.

He takes off on a solo mission to ask everyone in New York with the last name “Black” if they know anything about the key. Interlaced with Oskar’s journey to find his father in the boroughs of New York is the story of his grandfather, a man who’s lost both his family and the ability to speak, and his grandmother, the sister of her husband’s true love.

Jonathan Safran Foer doesn’t flinch in the face of emotion, which I find wonderful in the Age of Irony, and he also does some typographical things that feel emotionally powerful, rather than gimmicky. So you can imagine the curdled blend of hope and preemptive disappointment I carried with me into the theater to see the movie adaptation. Continue reading

Fantasy Watch: Fairy-Tales the New Trend?

One day, they found themselves trapped in a world where all their happy endings were stolen. …our world.

Whenever a new paranormal, fantasy, or science fiction show appears on my TV watching radar, I pounce. This Halloween week, we have the pleasure of seeing two fairy-tale related premieres. Grimm, a detective-style story about a guy who can see the fairy tale creatures all around us, and Once Upon a Time, a story of fairy tale characters who find themselves in a small modern-day USA town.

The Story: Once Upon a Time…

…an evil queen got her revenge on Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin) and Prince Charming (Josh Dallas) by cursing them to be sent to a parallel world, their memories wiped and their happily ever afters gone.

“Where are we going?” Snow White demands, as a maelstrom of psychedelic curse clouds consumes the walls of the nursery.

“Somewhere horrible,” the Evil Queen (Lana Parrilla) says. “Absolutely horrible.”

Modern-day state of Maine.

But the story really starts when a ten year old kid (Jared Gilmore) takes a Greyhound bus upstate, turns up on bail bondswoman Emma’s  (Jennifer Morrison)  doorstep, and announces, “I’m your son.”

Not only that, he insists that Emma needs to come back with him to Storybrooke, Maine to save everyone from the Evil Queen’s curse. Everyone there is a fairy tale character, he tells her, and they’ve all forgotten who they are.

By pairing the two worlds, Once Upon a Time promises something to both fantasy-lovers and those of us in it for the mystery, drama, and small-town angst. Each episode will spend time in both worlds, moving Emma’s story forward, even as it retraces the steps of Snow White’s happy ending and the lead up to the Evil Queen’s curse.

The performance is top-notch, with the actors playing up the melodrama of their fairy tale roles, and the gritty humanity of their modern day counterparts. Robert Carlyle (Mr. Gold aka Rumpelstiltskin) plays his creepy, mad role to perfection and there’s something so adorable about Jennifer Morrison’s frustrated confusion as the little boy demands she return to Storybrooke with him.

And of course, my personal favorite bit of the first episode? The soundtrack as the Evil Queen crashes the wedding.  Dun-Dun Dun-Dun Dun-Dun.

The pilot creates and builds on its dramatic tension. We, as viewers, know the truth about Storybrooke and we also know who everyone’s alter ego is. But it’s a secret between us, the town mayor (aka Evil Queen), and the little boy. Fairyland itself incorporates an interesting cross-section of fairy tale characters: Carlo Collodi’s Pinocchio exists alongside Brothers Grimm’s Snow White and Red Riding Hood, promising variety and vivid characters.

With its premiere on ABC netting over 12 million viewers, Once Upon a Time is sure to stick around. But only time will tell if it’s a story worth watching.

[ Best and Worst ] Where Our Hearts Lie

Part of the Best and Worst Series

Many thanks to the birds at TheCanaryReview for inviting me to contribute my thoughts on a pretty daunting subject: The Best and Worst Books that I’ve ever read.

Recently, I completed a meme (The 30 Days of Books) where the ultimate question is, of course, favorite book. When I did that, I chose The Hobbit–a novel I read early in my teens and one that filled me with wonder, kindling the love of fantasy literature that continues to drive my reading choices to this day. It would be easy to select it again. But while it might be my favorite, I don’t think it’s the best book I’ve ever read.

In thinking about this post, I tried to strip away a little bit of nostalgia from my answer, so I went back to my list of favorite reads. If you take a peek at my Goodreads reviews, you will see that the shelf collecting five-stars is pretty small–no grade inflation from me!

And so, I choose a book that was a revelation to me not as a teen, but as an adult. This is the book that moved me to sadness, anger and considerable self-reflection:

We Were The Mulvaneys by Joyce Carol Oates

The Mulvaney’s are an upper middle-class family that have it all: Smart, loving parents that are known and respected in their upstate New York community, smart kids from whom much is expected, and a bright future. The family lives on a farm–the sort of farm that the well-do-to can “work” without any expectation of needing it to, you know, produce anything.

We Were The Mulvaneys tracks the family in the wake of their daughter’s date-rape.  The family’s mettle is tested and it’s not too long before cracks begin to appear.

The story is heartbreaking and very American–an ugly truth glossed over for propriety’s sake, a lack of justice, the loss of innocence, the schadenfreude of bringing down the high & mighty and sometimes just trying to get by. Each family member reacts to the events and to each other. As the years pass, each faces a reckoning–about the crime and about their family.

What really makes this book stand out for me though is its human quality and the way Oates’ writing forces each of us to inhabit the lives of the different Mulvaneys, as if asking us to gauge what our own response might be. I certainly didn’t grow up rich, but having been a “gifted” kid in my day, watching the Mulvaneys struggle through self-doubt and the weight of expectations affected me like no book before or since. Powerful, moving stuff.

Speaking of moving–let’s move on to the opposite end of the spectrum. Worst book.

This label isn’t for the forgettable stories and cardboard characters; there are plenty of bad books and hopefully you don’t come across them too often.  This is about That Book. That Book you wish you’d never ever read.

Easy. It’s a book I’d read with great expectation, only to be left reeling. Not only was it a huge disappointment, but it also managed to tarnish one of my all-time favorite series.

That Book is Ursula K. LeGuin’s Tehanu.

Tehanu was published almost twenty years after LeGuin’s third (and what we thought was final) Earthsea book, The Farthest Shore–and it shows. I was excited to go back to Earthsea when Tehanu came out, but it didn’t take long to figure out that this book wasn’t going to dovetail with the others.

In it, Ged, the hero of the first three books and the greatest wizard of his age who saved the world…loses all his power. Now this might have been an interesting twist, but not only does he lose his powers, he also manages to lose his will, his decisiveness, his personality—everything that made him the character he was, and the character I loved. The book also went out of its way–and the way of the story–to focus on the implications of gender and power: LeGuin heavy-handedly emasculates Ged, makes just about every other male in the book either weak or evil, and proclaims that the only wisdom and power for good is to be found in the hands (and hearts) of women.

Now, I’m all for gender equality and the exploration of gender-roles in society (whether that society is ours or a fantasy one), a topic that LeGuin herself has covered thoughtfully and effectively in her classic 1969 novel The Left Hand of Darkness. In its obviousness, however, Tehanu was more of a tirade than a tutorial. And worst of all, not only did Tehanu fail to extend and enhance the wonderful Earthsea world, the book tore it down.

The Earthsea trilogy still remains one of my all-time favorite series (read it, if you haven’t yet). In this original trilogy, LeGuin writes tight, lyrical fantasy stories that stand tall outside of Tolkien’s sphere. But with this latest installment in the Earthsea mythos, LeGuin’s becomes the George Lucas of fantasy writers, as if wanting to say, “Yeah, those first three books? Screw them!”. For me, Tehanu undermines an entire, beloved mythos that LeGuin created once upon a time.

What a heartbreaking shame.

That’s my best and worst—now it’s your turn. Which are your nostalgia reads? Have you read any books that failed to live up to the original series?

You can find more reflections on awesome books by Steve at his blog!

[ Series Review ] Patricia Briggs and the Flying Critters

It’s confession time for CanaryTheFirst: series intimidate me. Trilogies, no problem. Anything longer, and I start getting nervous. Why?

Because I know that the moment I latch on to the first of whatever-have-you, I will be reading the entire series, first to twenty-first. Somehow, I will find the sequel as an audiobook on my mp3 player. The third of the series will clamber up from the shelf and into my bag. The fourth and fifth will end up on my desk at home. And the sixth–well, what’s the harm? Seven and eight follow on its heels.

So when I reluctantly picked up the first Mercy Thompson book (werewolves, urban fantasy, spunky female lead, yes please), I had already made a list of friends to call for an intervention. And when I realized Moon Called was not-bad-at-all, it just fed into my obsessive reading tendencies.

Exactly one month after I posted my first review of Moon Called, I’m back with more.

In the last 29 days, I’ve read the entire Mercy Thompson series (Moon Called, Blood Bound, Iron Kissed, Bone Crossed, Silver Borne, River Marked), swallowed the Alpha & Omega series (On the Prowl, Cry Wolf, Hunting Ground), gnawed through the Raven series opening (Raven’s Shadow), and finished the first Hurog book (Dragon Bones). I even picked up Patricia Briggs’ 1993 debut novel (Masques) before my library hold on River Marked came through and derailed that effort. I’m still waiting on a couple more books, but it’s probably time for a review–or ten.

I’ll start with the two classic-style fantasies, Dragon Bones and Raven’s Shadow: Continue reading