[Book Review] Magic tattoos, cat familiars, shadowy phantoms

Book Review: Stolen Ink by Holly Evansstolenink

You know that shortlist of back-of-the-book keywords that are krypton to your wallet? One moment you’re browsing the shelf, the next you’re in the checkout isle, and all because the book mentioned a psychic cat familiar or told you you’re about to embark on a urban fantasy romance filled with tattoo magic. Or both.

Definitely both.

Enter Stolen Ink by Holly Evans.

The concept kicks ass. In this story’s alternative modern day, everyone has an animal spirit that’s bursting to come out. This spirit takes its physical shape through a magical tattoo, which, once inked, becomes a psychic familiar (think Pullman’s The Golden Compass). Drawing these critters is Dacian’s job. He’s a tattoo magician who runs a parlor with his elven partner and pretends to be a middling, third-tier tattooist. Except he’s not.

In a world where everyone is magical to some degree, Dacian’s an ink magician, with a direct line to the heart of magic, who spends most of his time in denial, not doing anything about it. Which is fine and dandy, right up till the Big Bad shows up in his city and starts stealing people’s tattoos and killing them. Continue reading

[Book Review] Girl meets cyborg, starts a war

Book Review: Wanted and Wired by Vivien Jackson

wantedandwired

A mercenary running from a past she can’t remember, a renegade scientist running from a past he can’t forget. What more can you ask for? Throw in a double-cross, explosions, hacking, cyberpunk shenanigans, plenty of heat, and you got something.

It’s a fun read, light on the plot, good with the pacing, with a kind of space opera romance vibe without the space part (well, mostly). It’s a partners-to-lovers story with sizzling romance that builds on the characters’ long history of working and relying on each other. Continue reading

[Book Review] Will the real Sherlock Holmes please stand up?

Book Review: A Study in Scarlet Women by Sherry Thomas

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“With her inquisitive mind, Charlotte Holmes has never felt comfortable with the demureness expected of the fairer sex in upper class society. But even she never thought that she would become a social pariah, an outcast fending for herself on the mean streets of London.”

This is definitely a What If book. What If Conan Doyle’s famous literary detective Sherlock Holmes was actually a woman? The rest of the book flows from that premise.

I am a lifelong Sherlock Holmes fan. Seriously, I’ve read and watched ’em all. And in this new addition to the Sherlockian multiverse, all my favorite characters from the series make their reimagined appearance. There’s Lady Holmes, but also a new Watson and Mrs. Hudson. A new version of the inspector, a bare hint of archenemy Moriarty, and an intriguing Mycroft-based character who promises to play a larger role in the sequel.

A Study in Scarlet Women is also one of the few books I’ve read told from the perspective of Holmes, rather than the average-minded Watson. Here, though, we get an inexperienced Holmes, trying to break into the detective business in a world that is not forgiving to women who try to make their respectable, independent way in it. She is also liable to make terrible, silly mistakes when the world – and people! – do not conform to her logical expectations of them. Continue reading

[Book Review] Assassinations and the second-book syndrome

devils-dueDevil’s Due by Rachel Caine (Red Letter Days #2)

You know those brilliant first books where the mystery is explosive, the danger looming, and the characters thrown in the deep end, barely treading water? That was Devil’s Bargain. A fun, romantic suspense/action thriller that pitted ex-cop Jazz against her mysterious benefactor – a powerful organization with endless oogles of money that mailed her mysterious instructions in red envelopes. She could take the money and be a pawn, or she could throw it all away and be a target.

In book one, Jazz and her partner, Lucia, decided to be pawns. In this second (and, I think, last) installment of the series they chose free will (and the subsequent imminent threat to their lives). Told from Lucia’s perspective, Devil’s Due picks up at the end of Devil’s Bargain. Ben, his name finally cleared, is about to be released from prison, Lucia’s past rears its deadly head, and detective cases (and red letters with morally questionable instructions) keep on coming. And, of course, romance and suspense and action. Continue reading

Buddy Read with Tash | The 5th Wave

Last month, I dove into The Handmaid’s Tale and talked genre drift and the flavors of oppression across the books different international covers. (Check out Tash’s great insights here.)

thefifthwaveThis month, we decided to go in the Teen Alien Invasion Romance direction and tackle Rick Yancey’s The 5th Wave. After all, the movie version just came out, it’s streaming on Amazon, AND the trailer promises an alien invasion with aliens taking over human brains. Who’s infested? Who’s still human? NO ONE KNOWS.

And also because, clearly, I learned nothing from watching The Host. Continue reading

Flavors of oppression and the covers of The Handmaid’s Tale

Anyone who has ever gone to the bookstore with me knows that I love covers. So when Tash and I decided to dive into The Handmaid’s Tale last month, one of the first things I did was pull the cover images. The covers a book goes through says a lot, both about the story the publisher thinks its telling, and the audience it thinks it’s selling to.

First published by the Canadian McClelland and Stewart in 1985, the original cover is cubist bold, colorful, and utterly grotesque. The main character, Offred’s relationship with the Commander takes center stage, and it’s damn uncomfortable to look at. One year later, the iconic U.S. first edition from Houghton Mifflin came out, and the world hasn’t been the same since.

Fast-forwarding to today: While the 1985 handmaids-by-the-wall cover is still, by far, the most common and recognizeable, the 2006 release from McClelland & Stewart went in an airy direction, the 2009 went full on body parts (a common enough tactic in YA, and part of a long-standing tradition of representing women through body parts: the arm, the hand, the legs, the neck and chin. The most recent re-release from 2010 Vintage Classics, though, the last in the images above, bucked the trend by going full conceptual.

Some books pivoted away from both the literal depiction of what happened in any given scene to a more symbolic representation.

Continue reading

[Book Review] One soulmate, too many space princes

Shrouded by Frances Pauli

“When Vashia arrives on Shroud as an indentured bride, Dolfan recognizes immediately that they are meant to be together. Broken, lost, and on the run, she trusts no one, but Dolfan has enough faith for the both of them… Until his people’s sacred ritual gives Vashia to someone else.”

“This one looks right up your alley,” my friend told me. “It’s science fiction full of planet royalty and court machinations and forbidden romance.”

“Nnnngghh,” I said. At that point, I may have been lying on the floor, holding a pillow over my face.

“Four words: Arranged Marriage Space Opera.”

Oh. Well, why didn’t you just say so? Continue reading