Category: book reviews


Changeless by Gail Carriger Alexia Tarabotti, the Lady Woolsey, awakens in the wee hours of the mid-afternoon to find her husband, who should be decently asleep like any normal werewolf, yelling at the top of his lungs. Then he disappears – leaving her to deal with a regiment of supernatural soldiers encamped on her doorstep, a plethora of exorcised ghosts, and an angry Queen Victoria. But Alexia is armed with her trusty parasol, the latest fashions, and an arsenal of biting civility. Even when her investigations take her to Scotland, the backwater of ugly waistcoats, she is prepared: upending werewolf pack dynamics as only the soulless can. She might even find time to track down her wayward husband, if she feels like it.

Changeless is the second book in the Parasol Protectorate series, and takes a closer look at the werewolves and Lord Maccon’s past.  Alexia is a highly entertaining character, and at the beginning of Changeless, is settling into married life, bossing the pack around and generally enjoying the freedom of a married woman.

When mysterious supernatural canceling areas afflict London, and then greater England; Alexia swings into action to investigate, hampered by her fashion-challenged friend Ivy and Alexia’s bitchy half-sister, and aided by her lady’s maid and a French inventor, both of questionable trustworthiness.

Carriger seems to regard Ivy as comic relief, but I find her annoying and barely relevant to the plot.  Ivy and Alexia’s friendship was plausible in Soulless but I had assumed it would fade with Alexia’s marriage.  Still, I can hope for less Ivy in the next book!

I still find Lord Akeldama and his drones fascinating, I’d love to know what happens when Biffy’s aristocratic father finds out he is a drone. 

The background on Alexia’s fathers life was interesting, I wonder if the coincidences have a point to them?  I still can’t work out why her mother married someone so unconventional.

Overall, I found Changeless to be fast-paced and highly enjoyable, with wonderful characters and dialogue.  Carriger’s writing has improved, with less Americanism’s, and a surer hand with the style.

The setup for the next book occurs in the last few pages and left me bemused at the sudden accusatory nature of one character, but I trust Ms Carriger to explain all in the next book, Blameless, to be released in September this year.

Other books by Gail Carriger that I have reviewed: Soulless

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Walking the TreeBotanica is an island, but almost all of the island is taken up by the Tree.

Little knowing how they came to be here, small communities live around the coast line. The Tree provides them shelter, kindling, medicine – and a place of legends, for there are ghosts within the trees who snatch children and the dying.

Lillah has come of age and is now ready to leave her community and walk the tree for five years, learning all Botanica has to teach her. Before setting off, Lillah is asked by the dying mother of a young boy to take him with her. In a country where a plague killed half the population, Morace will otherwise be killed in case he has the same disease. But can Lillah keep the boy’s secret, or will she have to resort to breaking the oldest taboo on Botanica?

Kaaron Warren’s first novel, Slights, had very good reviews, but I don’t like horror, so I was happy to hear that her second book, Walking the Tree, was fantasy.

The island Botanica, almost entirely taken up by the Tree, is a fascinating place, filled with many different small communities.  Each community has adapted slightly differently to their place on the island, and I enjoyed seeing Lillah experience each new Order, and slowly picking up clues about the true nature of the Tree and the ghosts.

Unfortunately, I didn’t feel emotionally connected to Lillah or Morace.  I only finished Walking The Tree because I wanted to know about the Tree and the ghosts; I didn’t really care about Lillah’s journey to find her place on the island, or whether Morace’s secret would come out and he would be killed.

Regretfully, I have to say that I found Walking The Tree to be intellectually interesting but emotionally unsatisfying.

Year One-Knife, Tenochtitlan – the capital of the Aztecs.

The end of the world is kept at bay only by the magic of human sacrifice. A priestess disappears from an empty room drenched in blood. Acatl, high priest, must find her, or break the boundaries between the worlds of the living and the dead.

But how do you find someone, living or dead, in a world where blood sacrifices are an everyday occurrence and the very gods stalk the streets?

Servant of the Underworld is the first novel by Aliette de Bodard, and was written in her second language, English. (I can’t even speak another language, let alone write in one!)

Servant of the Underworld is an intriguing murder mystery set in the capital city of the Aztec empire.  The main character, Acatl, the High Priest of the Dead, is reluctant to get involved with politics, and devoted to his duty.  During the course of the investigation, he has to explore his conflicted family history and face the consequences of his avoidance of responsibility.  I really enjoyed Acatl’s emotional growth.

All the minor characters are interesting, particularly the young warrior, Teomitl, and I want to know more about Ceyaxochitl, who seems to have plans for Acatl. (What does she know that he doesn’t?)

The mystery was interestingly complicated (but then I can never guess who’s done what, so all mysteries intrigue me) and I really liked that the stakes started out high and kept getting higher.  I loved the Aztec setting, so exotic and different, and I’m always interested in characters whose culture and mindset is different to mine.  (I’m glad Acatl wasn’t the High Priest for a god who liked human sacrifice though.)

My main problem with Servant of the Underworld was that I had trouble pronouncing the names.  This was not unexpected, with the Aztec setting, but because I had to make up pronunciation for the names (and in many cases shortened them), it delayed my immersion in the story.  I recommend that the publisher add a character and pronouciation guide to the next book.  (Similar to that in Seanan McGuire’s October Daye books – finally I can correctly pronouce celtic mythological words!)

I’m very much looking forward to reading Servant of the Underworld again, and I’m sorry I have to wait for book 2, Harbinger of the Storm, to be published.  (Why does it take so much longer to write a book than it does to read one?)

In addition, I think this is the first book published by Angry Robot I have read, and I really liked the way they laid out the backcover, lots of little touches that let you know what flavour of fantasy this is, and encourage you to pick it up.

[Blue+Diablo.jpg] Eighteen months ago, Corine Solomon crossed the border and wound up in Mexico City, fleeing her past, her lover, and her “gift”.  Corine, a handler, can touch something and know its history – and sometimes, its future.  Using her ability, she can find missing persons – and that’s why people never stop trying to find her.  People like her ex, Chance.

Chance, whose uncanny luck has led him to her doorstep, needs her help.  Someone dear to them both has gone missing in Laredo, Texas, and the only hope of finding her is through Corine’s gift.  But their search may prove dangerous as the trail leads them into a strange, dark world of demons and sorcerers, ghosts and witchcraft, zombies – and black magic…

Ann Aguirre’s debut novel Grimspace blew me away, and I’ve enjoyed all her books since.  Blue Diablo is the first in the Corine Solomon urban fantasy series and has a slightly different flavour from her sci-fi Sirantha Jax series.

When I first read Blue Diablo, I had just realised how unlikely it was that so many people in books get help when they need it, from people who don’t need to put themselves out to give it.   Ann Aguirre neatly explains this as Chance’s luck causes coincidences all the time (not always a good thing), and Corine always needed to know why someone was helping them. 

I liked the unusual setting of Mexico and the US border, and that Chance and Corine both find themselves out of their depth.

To be honest, our chances don’t look good.  We’re light on manpower, firepower, and every other kind of power.

I do wish we could have seen Chance and Corine’s original relationship in action instead of being told about it via remembrances and comparisons to their behaviour now.

It’s possible that I’m disapointed that  Chance and Corines’ relationship wasn’t resolved in one book, when I know romances in an urban fantasy series always takes several books.  I know ex’s can cause complicated mixed up emotions that aren’t at all logical, and certainly in Corine’s situation, it’s unsurprising her emotions swing.  I felt that their relationship was moving through some sort of growth and minor resolution but the last third to a quarter of the book derailed that and moved it backwards.

I had a strange feeling of let down at the end of Blue Diablo.  I felt that the stakes got so high and then everything was OK.  No long term consequences, no-one risked too much and lost it.  All saved, all still friends and talking (except Corine and Chance whose relationship is still up in the air)  And Corine’s final words didn’t ring true for me at all.

Nonetheless, I enjoyed Blue Diablo and am looking forward to seeing what questions will be answered and what new questions will be raised in the sequel Hell Fire which is released in a week.

Computer technician Jack Fletcher is no hero, despite his unwelcome reputation as one.  In fact, he’s just been the victim of bizarre circumstances.  Like now.  His sister happens to disturb one of his nanoelectrical system experiments, and suddenly they aren’t where they’re supposed to be.  In fact, they’re not sure where they are when…

they wake up to find a woman with the reddest hair Jack has ever seen – and a gun.  Octavia Pye is an Aerocorps captain with a whole lot of secrets, and she’s not about to have her maiden voyage ruined by stowaways.  But the sparks flying between her and Jack just may cause her airship to combust, and ignite a passion that will forever change the world as she knows it.

What you expect from this book will affect how much you enjoy it.  If you’ve read any of Katie MacAlister’s books before then you’ll know that they contain zany characters, witty banter, very little angst over the romantic relationship and some plot coincidences that you just don’t want to look at too closely.

In fact this entire book doesn’t want to be looked at too closely – I could list the ways that Steamed doesn’t work, point out all the holes in the plotting, and the thin characterisation, but that would detract from what Steamed actually is – a light, funny, fast read that didn’t tax my brain.

In fact, I think the perfect analogy is to compare Steamed to candyfloss*: it looks good and goes down easy; yes, it’s insubstantial and too much is unhealthy; but as a treat, it’s just right.

* cotton candy, fairy floss, spun sugar…

I know, it’s a bit late for a Best Of 2009 list!  I had to think about the December books for a while and get some perspective on them, and I had to figure out how I defined “Best Of”.

When I find an author I enjoy, I will track down and read as many books by them as I can, so I’ve broken my “Best Of” into two sections:

  1. Awesome authors I discovered in 2009 
  2. Amazing Books I read in 2009

But first, lets look at my reading statistics – I am a scientist after all. 🙂

In total, I read 194 books in 2009 (including audio books).  I read the most in December (22) and the least in April (11).

Looking at genre, in 2009 I read:

107 fantasy books (55%)
13 science fiction books (7%)
31 romance books (16%)
16 graphic novels (8%)
21 fiction books of other genres (mystery/thriller/chick lit/whatever) (11%)
and 6 non-fiction books (3%)

In conclusion, I really like fantasy!  (Please note that some of the romance and most of the graphic novels could be also be defined as fantasy.)

Awesome Authors I Discovered In 2009

Can there be anything more fun than reading an amazing book that blows you away and then finding out the author has a backlist of books for you to glom?  I don’t think so!

  • Ann Aguirre
  • Kristin Cashore
  • Colin Cotterill
  • Jeaniene Frost
  • Linnea Sinclair
  • Nalini Singh

Amazing Books I Read In 2009

These books all have something extra that makes them stand out in my memory. (To get on this list I had to have read these books for the first time in 2009.)

  • Cordelia’s Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold
  • Crown Duel by Sherwood Smith
  • Thief With No Shadow by Emily Gee
  • Fire by Kristin Cashore
  • Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson
  • The Eight by Katherine Neville
  • A Shadow in Summer by Daniel Abraham
  • Games of Command by Linnea Sinclair
  • Trick of the Light by Rob Thurman
  • Fables: The Dark Ages by Bill Willingham

Wow – these authors and books are pretty wonderful!  I only hope that I can find some equally amazing  new authors and equally special books in 2010.

Soulless by Gail Carriger

book cover of   Soulless    (Alexia Tarabotti, book 1)  by  Gail CarrigerAlexia Tarabotti is laboring under a great many social tribulations. First, she has no soul. Second, she’s a spinster whose father is both Italian and dead. Third, she was rudely attacked by a vampire, breaking all standards of social etiquette.

Where to go from there? From bad to worse apparently, for Alexia accidentally kills the vampire — and then the appalling Lord Maccon (loud, messy, gorgeous, and werewolf) is sent by Queen Victoria to investigate.

With unexpected vampires appearing and expected vampires disappearing, everyone seems to believe Alexia responsible. Can she figure out what is actually happening to London’s high society? Will her soulless ability to negate supernatural powers prove useful or just plain embarrassing? Finally, who is the real enemy, and do they have treacle tart?

For a book called Soulless, there isn’t much reference to what we think of as a soul.  In Alexia Tarrabotti’s world, soul is how people explain the supernatural.  Those who can be successfully changed into werewolves and vampires have an excess of soul, most have the normal amount, and a very few (like Alexia) are said to have none, thus explaining how she can negate the vampire and werewolf characteristics just by touch.

The relationship between Alexia and Lord Maccon was very well drawn.  I got a sense of how well suited they are to each other which can be rare – sometimes people just seem to end up together because the plot says so!  I look forward to spending more time with Alexia and Lord Maccon, and I hope that Lord Akeldama plays a part in the next book as he is a very intriguing character.

I picked up on a few Americanisms that slipped though the copy editing, but overall the Victorian atmosphere was well done.  However, the steampunk trappings didn’t quite work for me.

In one scene, when Alexia is riding in a carriage, the occupant shows off the latest technology – a combustion engine to raise a large sheltering parasol and a mechanical (hand cranked) water boiler.  I was jolted out of the story because I couldn’t (and still can’t) figure out how you can have a mechanical water boiler.  Unless this means using an early form of electrical power?  And a combustion engine to raise a giant parasol?  However large the folding parasol, this just seems like overkill.  I really think the two devices should have been powered the other way around.

To be fair, I have similar problems with the steampunk aspects of Catherine Webb’s Horatio Lyle books and Michael Pryor’s The Laws of Magic series, and that doesn’t stop me from reading them.  I just need to train my suspension of disbelief to extend to steampunk as well as  magic!

While some of the humour didn’t quite work for me – Lord Akeldama’s speech patterns and Ivy’s lack of fashion sense just seemed a tad contrived – I found Soulless to be a light and refreshing change to the darker urban fantasy I tend to read.  I’m definitely going to read the sequel, Changeless, when it is released in March 2010.

If you are curious about Soulless, why not listen to an excellent audio reading of the first chapter?

Other books by Gail Carriger that I have reviewed: Changeless

Boston PI Remy Chandler has many talents.  He can will himself invisible; he can speak and understand any foreign language (including the language of animals); and if he listens carefully, he can hear thoughts.

Unusual, to say the least – for an ordinary man.  But Remy is no ordinary man – he’s an angel.  Generations ago, when he was known as the angel Remiel, he chose to renounce heaven and live on Earth.  He’s found a place among us ordinary humans, with friendship, a job he’s good at – and love.

Now he is being drawn into a case with strong ties to his angelic past.  The Angel of Death has gone missing, and Remy’s former colleagues have come to him for help.  But what at first seems to involve much more – a conspiracy that has as its goal the destruction of the human race.  And only Remy Chandler can stop it…

I really wanted to love this book.  The premise sounded interesting, and the fact that Remy Chandler’s wife is now an old woman and dying, made A Kiss Before the Apocalypse sound different than many other urban fantasies.

Unfortunately, aspects of this book just didn’t work for me.  I’m not a dog (or cat) person, so, rather than charming or realistic, I found the conversations with Remy’s dog to be repetitive and not particularly important to the plot.

It also seemed unrealistic that all the people that Remy needed to visit to find out information would all live in the same city in America, especially since many of these people are biblical in origin.  I thought it would make more sense for at least some of them to live in the Middle East, among cultures similar to those they had interacted with the most.

While I couldn’t feel much connection or sympathy for Remy Chandler’s character, his relationship with his elderly, dying wife, did intrigue me.

Ultimately, I finished this book feeling slightly irritated with Sniegoski’s interpretation of Christian mythology, and vaguely disappointed.  A Kiss Before the Apocalypse was not the enjoyable book I had hoped it would be.

With just one touch, Jessa Bellamy can see anyone’s darkest secrets, thanks to whoever tampered with her genes. What she doesn’t know is that a biotech company has discovered her talent and intends to kill her and harvest her priceless DNA…

Gaven Matthias is forced to abduct Jessa himself so he can protect her, but Jessa has a hard time believing the one man whose secrets she can’t read. As a monstrous assassin closes in and forces them to run, Jessa will have to find another way to discover if Matthias is her greatest ally—or her deadliest enemy.

Shadowlight is the first book in the Kyndred series, set in the same world  as the Darkyn series that Lynn Viehl completed in January 2009.  The Kyndred books will explore the lives of a group of genetically modified humans, who are searching for why and who modified them, and a way to be safe from exploitation.  Currently the Darkyn do not know about the Kyndred, but that looks set to change over the course of the series, as a Darkyn couple (Lucan and Samantha from Dark Need) are minor point of view characters in Shadowlight.

Some of the same issues that I had with the Darkyn series are present here.  There seems to be slightly too many point of view characters for me to keep track of easily and many subtle hints are dropped that need to be keep in mind. If I can remember to read the next book all in one go, these issues should be minimised for me, but I wonder if people who read slower than me have the same problem. (It could just be me!)

Shadowlight was fast-paced and I enjoyed Jessa and Matthias’ romance.  Drew and Rowan were interesting secondary characters I will enjoy seeıng more of.  Rowan’s story will be book 2, Dreamveil, and I hope Drew will have his own book as well.

The information discovered and the hints that are dropped about where the Kyndred have come from are very intriging, leaving me waiting to read Dreamveil when it is released.

Note:  This was an e-ARC (Advanced Reader Copy) sent by the author.  The only condition was that I post a review (positive or negative) before Shadowlight’s release date.

Lynn Viehl also writes science fiction as S L Viehl, I really enjoy the StarDoc series.  I also recommend Lynn’s blog. I check Paperback Writer every day, there is always something entertaining, interesting or informative to read.

Trick of the Light by Rob Thurman

trickofthelightcoverLas Vegas bar owner Trixa Iktomi deals in information.  And in a city where unholy creatures roam the neon night, information can mean life or death.

Not that she has anything personal against demons.  They can be sexy as hell, and they’re great for getting the latest gossip.  But they also steal human souls and thrive on chaos.  So occasionally Trixa and her friends have to teach them some manners.

When Trixa learns of a powerful artifact known as the Light of Life, she knows she’s hit the jackpot.  Both sides – angel and demon – would give anything for it.  But first she has to find it.  And as Heaven and Hell ready for an apocalyptic throwdown, Trixa must decide where her true loyalty lies – and what she’s ready to fight for.

Because in her world, if you line up on the wrong side, you pay with more than your life…

I enjoy Rob Thurman’s Cal Leandros series, so I was very keen to read Trick of the Light, the first book in her new Trickster series.

I found the first third of Trick of the Light was slow going.  My main problem with the beginning was the amount of time spent telling me that Trixa’s friends Zeke and Griffin were damaged and their co-dependancy made them functional, but not actually demonstrating this.  By the end of the book, Zeke and Griffin’s issues had been clearly shown to me, so I understood the choices they had made.  It was just the first part of Trick of the Light that drove me crazy!

 This telling not showing issue could be because Rob Thurman is trying to settle into a new first person character after 4 successful books with Cal’s first person narrative, or it could be an issue with introducing the reader to a new world.  (Actually, it’s the some universe as the Cal Leandros books, just exploring a different part.) 

I guessed some of Leo’s (the bartender and Trixa’s closest friend) background, and a tiny part of Trixa’s, but most of the background information about the characters is revealed in the final confrontation.  And what a finale!  I forgive the annoying beginning because of the totally awesome ending, that leads you to rethink everything that has happened previously.

Trick of the Light works because Trixa hasn’t told us even half of what we find out at the end.  I wonder how Rob Thurman will be able to write another Trickster book – but I’m eagerly waiting to find out!