March 31, 2011

Shades of Milk and Honey, by Mary Robinette Kowal

Hardcover, 304 pages
Published August 3rd 2010 by Tor Books (first published July 26th 2010)
ISBN 076532556X (ISBN13: 9780765325563)
Primary Language: English
Source: Won in a drawing at

LOCUS CHALLENGE: I agreed to review this book before the end of April as a part of the Locus Challenge Giveaway from

The Blurb (

The fantasy novel you’ve always wished Jane Austen had written

Shades of Milk and Honey is exactly what we could expect from Jane Austen if she had been a fantasy writer: Pride and Prejudice meets Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. It is an intimate portrait of a woman, Jane, and her quest for love in a world where the manipulation of glamour is considered an essential skill for a lady of quality.

Jane and her sister Melody vie for the attentions of eligible men, and while Jane’s skill with glamour is remarkable, it is her sister who is fair of face. When Jane realizes that one of Melody’s suitors is set on taking advantage of her sister for the sake of her dowry, she pushes her skills to the limit of what her body can withstand in order to set things right—and, in the process, accidentally wanders into a love story of her own.

Jane Ellsworth lives with her sister, Melody, her hypochondriac mother, and her pragmatic father in their family home Long Parkmead of Dorchester. As a family of means, Jane's father has set aside dowrys for his daughters, both of whom were raised with the advantage of education and position. At the ripe old age of 28, Jane has resigned herself to be the spinster aunt to whatever children come of her sister's marriage, whenever that may happen. To compensate for her lack of love interests, Jane has devoted herself to the study of art and glamour, a kind of magic used to enhance music and art.

I have to be honest here. I haven't read any Jane Austen outside of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and I'm told that doesn't count. I've never really been interested in these 19th century British novels. That being said, I really enjoyed Shades of Milk and Honey. It was a quick read (300 pages, compared to the 1000 page novel I read last), and I found myself rooting for Jane. I wanted her to find happiness, while her beautiful shallow sister was left alone. And when her love came from where she least expected it, I was glad. It wasn't something I didn't see coming, but she didn't see it coming, and that is what matters. So I ended up liking this story more than I expected.

Also, I find myself intrigued by glamour. It seems to be a skill that anyone can learn but few people have a natural aptitude, similar to learning a musical instrument. Jane is one of the gifted, able to weave the threads of glamour with the skill of the masters, lacking only the passion that usually accompanies the truly gifted artists. I like the idea of magic being an every day occurrence, rather than something only those specially blessed can use. If magic were real, I think that's how it would really happen.

March 30, 2011

Reading Meme - Day 10

Day 10 – A book you thought you wouldn’t like but ended up loving

I don't normally pick up books that I don't think I'll like. There were quite a few in high school that I was required to read for class that I actually ended up enjoying, though, and my favorite one of those was:

A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens.

I've even read it a couple of times since high school just for fun. So that's that.

March 28, 2011

Reading Meme - Day 09

Day 09 – Best scene ever

How do you choose the best scene ever? There are so many I could name. In fact, since I can't pick the best ever, here are a few of my personal favorites:

Phedre and Joscelin fishing in Kushiel's Avatar.

Mat losing an eye in Towers of Midnight.

Roland finding the Tower in the Dark Tower.

The death of Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

I'm sure I could come up with more, but that's what I'm going with today.

March 27, 2011

The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

Paperback, 361 pages
Published May 15th 2010 by Night Shade Books (first published September 1st 2009)
ISBN 1597801585 (ISBN13: 9781597801584)
Primary Language: English
Source: Purchased from

The blurb (

Anderson Lake is a company man, AgriGen's Calorie Man in Thailand. Under cover as a factory manager, Anderson combs Bangkok's street markets in search of foodstuffs thought to be extinct, hoping to reap the bounty of history's lost calories. There, he encounters Emiko. Emiko is the Windup Girl, a strange and beautiful creature. One of the New People, Emiko is not human; instead, she is an engineered being, creche-grown and programmed to satisfy the decadent whims of a Kyoto businessman, but now abandoned to the streets of Bangkok. Regarded as soulless beings by some, devils by others, New People are slaves, soldiers, and toys of the rich in a chilling near future in which calorie companies rule the world, the oil age has passed, and the side effects of bio-engineered plagues run rampant across the globe. What happens when calories become currency? What happens when bio-terrorism becomes a tool for corporate profits, when said bio-terrorism's genetic drift forces mankind to the cusp of post-human evolution? In The Windup Girl, award-winning author Paolo Bacigalupi returns to the world of "The Calorie Man" (Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award-winner, Hugo Award nominee, 2006) and "Yellow Card Man" (Hugo Award nominee, 2007) in order to address these poignant questions.

I finished reading The Windup Girl a couple of weeks ago, and I've been thinking about it ever since, which says a lot about the quality of the work. Part of the problem is that I can't decide whether or not I like it. I really like my day job, and this book kind of makes me out to be the bad guy, and I can't really get over that.

That being said, it is an interesting concept. What would happen if genetic engineering were completely unregulated? Would it be possible for a custom-designed pet to get loose and cause the extinction of multiple species on the planet within a few decades? Could biotech companies design plagues to wipe-out food sources to ensure entire countries are dependent on their product for simple survival? In the world of The Windup Girl, all those questions are answered, and not always in the way you would expect.

Honestly, I think the world-building is the most interesting part of this book. I didn't really relate to most of the characters, not because they were shallow or one-dimensional, because they weren't, but because they were so very uninteresting. Anderson Lake is a scheming puss-nugget, but I can't even get up the energy to dislike him. There were three characters I liked. The first one died, the second one was a child we only see in passing, and the third one was a crochety old man trying to get back the fortunes he'd lost in a religious war. And I only like him because of his backstory and his care for the child.

So to sum up, I can't recommend this book. I think it's a good book to have read, but if you're looking for some lighthearted fun or for an intense thriller with a plot that sums up at the end, this isn't it.

March 25, 2011

The Wise Man's Fear, by Patrick Rothfuss

Hardcover, 994 pages

Published March 1st 2011 by Daw Books

ISBN 0756404738 (ISBN13: 9780756404734)

Primary Language: English

Source: Purchased from Barnes and Noble

Warning: There may be some very minor spoilers but I'll try to avoid them...

My name is Kvothe.

I have stolen princesses back from sleeping barrow kings. I burned down the town of Trebon. I have spent the night with Felurian and left with both my sanity and my life. I was expelled from the University at a younger age than most people are allowed in. I tread paths by moonlight that others fear to speak of during day. I have talked to Gods, loved women, and written songs that make the minstrels weep.

You may have heard of me.

So begins the tale of a hero told from his own point of view — a story unequaled in fantasy literature. Now in THE WISE MAN’S FEAR, Day Two of The Kingkiller Chronicle, an escalating rivalry with a powerful member of the nobility forces Kvothe to leave the University and seek his fortune abroad. Adrift, penniless, and alone, he travels to Vintas, where he quickly becomes entangled in the politics of courtly society. While attempting to curry favor with a powerful noble, Kvothe uncovers an assassination attempt, comes into conflict with a rival arcanist, and leads a group of mercenaries into the wild, in an attempt to solve the mystery of who (or what) is waylaying travelers on the King's Road.

All the while, Kvothe searches for answers, attempting to uncover the truth about the mysterious Amyr, the Chandrian, and the death of his parents. Along the way, Kvothe is put on trial by the legendary Adem mercenaries, is forced to reclaim the honor of the Edema Ruh, and travels into the Fae realm. There he meets Felurian, the faerie woman no man can resist, and who no man has ever survived...until Kvothe.

I was browsing through Border's one day when a wise old man stopped me in the aisle and asked if I'd read "The Name of the Wind". When I replied that I hadn't, he lifted the book, which I swear he hadn't been holding when he approached me, and placed it in my hands. He said, "You will." And walked away.* Intrigued, I turned to the back to read the blurb, where the opening paragraph caught my attention: "My name is Kvothe. … You may have heard of me." I was hooked, what can I say? I took it home, and left it sitting on my bookshelf for a good 6 months. When I finally got around to reading it, I kicked myself for putting it off so long. I have been anxiously awaiting Day 2 for a little over a year.

In The Wise Man's Fear, we see a lot more of Kvothe at the University. He gets into the swing of classes, and continues to be plagued by the empty state of his purse. He deals a lot with Devi, and gets closer to Denna. His friends prove how much they care for him, and of course, he uses his University access to try and learn more about the Chandrian who killed his family.

But as the blurb indicates, after yet another run-in with Ambrose, he takes a semester off to roam the countryside. And as would be expected, it is out in the world where he learns the most valuable information. He learns how to fight, how to love, and most importantly I think, how dark his soul can become. I really enjoyed his adventures. Tempi was probably my favorite new character from this book. The land of the Adem was interesting, and I got a good chuckle over the "man-mother" comments.

I love Rothfuss' storytelling. Most of the novel borders on poetic. In fact, the interplay between Kvothe and Denna often takes the form of verse (are these two EVER going to stop dancing around each other?). The prologue really got to me, too. I’ve gone back and read it half a dozen times now.

Favorite quote from this book: "I am trying to teach you. Stop grabbing at my tits." I laughed for two days at that.

*You would be surprised how often wise, old men approach me in bookstores.

March 20, 2011

Pale Demon (Rachel Morgan/The Hollows #9) by Kim Harrison

Hardcover, 432 pages
Published February 22nd 2011 by Eos (first published February 20th 2011)
ISBN 0061138061 (ISBN13: 9780061138065)
Primary Language: English
Source: Purchased from Hastings

Note: There may be minor spoilers.

The Blurb (

Condemned to death for black magic and shunned, Rachel Morgan has three days to somehow get to the annual witches convention in San Francisco and clear her name. If she fails, the only way she can escape death is to live in the demonic ever after . . . for ever after.

Banned from the flight lists, Rachel teams up with elven tycoon Trent Kalamack, headed for the West Coast for his own mysterious business. But Rachel isn’t the only passenger along for the ride. Can a witch, an elf, a living vampire, and a pixy in one car survive for over 2,300 miles? And that’s not counting the assassin on their tail.

A fearsome demon walks the sunlight, freed after centuries of torment to slay the innocent and devour souls. But his ultimate prey is Rachel Morgan. While the powerful witch with nerves of steel will do whatever it takes to stay alive, even embracing her own demonic nature may not be enough to save her.

I really just don't even know where to start. The book opens with Rachel planning on going to the west coast to be in her brother's wedding and testifying on her own behalf to get her shunning revoked. But we all know by now how Rachel's plans work out. So instead of a quick plane ride out there, we get a cross country road trip.

Trent, it turns out, is on an honest-to-goodness "ElfQUEST" and has to follow all these rules on how to the coast. He never tells anyone what his quest is, but whatever it is, it's important enough to have brutal elven assassins on his tail. So on top of the assassins after Rachel, she's got a lot of dark magic and death threats to deal with.

As fun as this whole road trip was (and it was very exciting), I felt like the plot didn't even really get started until they made it to the coast. So many world changing things happened at the end, it was hard to pick it all out. Ivy saying goodbye to Rachel really got me. I wasn't sad so much as angry, either. It was like Ivy was giving up, and I hated her for it. And you know the thing that made even more angry? Rachel's brother. He never even makes an actual appearance, but he still managed to piss me off.

I loved getting such an in-depth look at life in the ever-after. I have a bit of a soft spot for Al, and he rose to the occasion. I also love Newt, and seeing in to her life a bit was very satisfying. She may be crazy, but she's crazy smart too, and that makes her VERY frightening. She could tear down the world without blinking, and I feel like I need to know more about her.

And on the twist ending? Finding out what Trent was after all along? I totally called it. And I am really looking forward to how that plays out, along with the fallout from the destruction that seems to follow Rachel wherever she goes. I think I read this book in about two or three evenings, and I had a lot going on that week. It was fantastic!

March 19, 2011

Reading Meme -Day 08

Day 08 - Your Favorite Work in Translation

Unfortunately, I can't say I've read many books in translation. There were a couple I read in high school, and maybe 2-3 since then. Because of this, my favorite will seem like a cop-out, seeing it's so popular right now:

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

Stieg Larsson tells a riveting tale of familial intrigue and betrayal, and I liked how everything was wrapped up in the end. I've seen a lot of people say they liked the second or third book in the Millenium trilogy better than the first. I can even see why. However, the first book is a stand alone, while books two and three are so interconnected it can be difficult to pull them apart, and that's why I picked the first as my favorite.

March 14, 2011

Secrets of the Demon (Kara Gillian #3) by Diana Rowland

Paperback, 310 pages
Published January 4th 2011 by DAW
ISBN 0756406528 (ISBN13: 9780756406523)
Primary Language: English
Source: Purchased from Borders

The Blurb (

Homicide detective Kara Gillian has a special talent: she can sense the "arcane" in our world, and there's quite a bit of it, even in Beaulac, Louisiana. She's also a summoner of demons, and works on a task force that deals with supernatural crimes. Her partners are attractive and smart FBI agents, but they're not summoners, and they're not telling Kara why they are on this special force with her.

To make things worse, Kara has pledged herself to one of the most powerful of demons-a Demon Lord-who helped save her partner's life, but now expects things in return. Meanwhile, she's trying to solve a string of murders that are somehow tied together by money, sex, rock music and...mud. But how can she concentrate on the case when she's not even sure who-or what-her partners are?

Secrets opens on a goth concert in New Orleans, with all the colorful characters from the previous book on an undercover protection detail. The lead singer of a local band received a death threat, and the FBI special task force was called in on the off chance that the threat of a demon pulling the lead singer into hell on stage wasn't just a threat. We immediately see Kara Gillian using her arcane powers to control a demon and get set on the scent of a creature even she had never heard of.

The mystery of this installment was solid. It seemed like every time Kara turned around, someone died, and she had no idea how to stop any of it from happening. There was quite a bit of suspense building up to the final reveal. And I have to tell you, I did not see it coming. I thought I had the whole thing figured out, and it turns out I was wrong, so kudos to Rowland for that.

We also got to see a lot of character development in this book. Kara did a lot of soul searching regarding her relationship with both the Demon Lord Rhyzkahl and sexy FBI man Ryan. Some of her confusion bordered on whining, but I forgave it based on all the juicy tidbits we managed to learn about the objects of her affection. We learned how her aunt changed from her time floating around in the ether and even got some insight into Carl, the creepy morgue tech Tessa is now dating. And most importantly, at least to me, we got to see Kara building friendships with people outside the arcane circle, leaving her less isolated, and in my opinion, better able to do her job.

One negative side-note: Diana Rowland published Secrets under a different publisher than the previous two installments, and while I know there were probably many reasons that went into the switch, I have to say I'm disappointed. The book was filled with grammatical errors and typos that I found very jarring at times. But aside from that, I highly recommend this book.

March 12, 2011

Reading Meme - Day 07

Day 07 - A Writer You Don't Like

**I really don't like putting a black mark against someone on the net, but my opinion is my opinion, so take it or leave it. I should have put this disclaimer before the last author bashing I did, so I apologize for that.**

The one writer I know I don't like is Robert Newcomb, author of the Chronicles of Blood and Stone. The first book in the trilogy, The Fifth Sorceress, made me so angry after reading it that I haven't been able to look at any of his other books without cringing. The Fifth Sorceress is a violent and bloody tale of a world where all women are evil and only men can be trusted. Robert Newcomb appears to have some serious hatred of the feminine, and the violence that fills the tale is completely gratuitous. The author even spends a lot of time describing how the evil sorceresses do horrible disgusting things just for the sake of shocking the reader. As I've mentioned before, I can't NOT finish a book I start, but this was one of the few I wish I had.

March 11, 2011

The Blood King (Chronicles of the Necromancer #2) by Gail Z. Martin

Mass Market Paperback, 615 pages
Published January 29th 2008 by Solaris
ISBN 1844165310 (ISBN13: 9781844165315)
Source: Purchased from

The Blurb (

The second installment of the Chronicles of the Necromancer. Having escaped being murdered by his evil brother, Jared, Tris must take control of his magical abilities to summon the dead, and gather an army big enough to claim back the throne of his dead father. But it isn't merely Jared that Tris must combat. The dark mage, Foor Arontala, has schemes to raise the Obsidian King...

The end of The Summoner pretty much left us standing in a crowded room, everything having come together, with no idea what to do next. It wasn't exactly a cliffhanger, but it sure left me wanting more. So of course I immediately started on this The Blood King.

The novel begins with a lot of training and planning. We have Tris/Carina training with the Sisterhood. We have Jonmarc Vahanian training Carroway and Kiara in fighting. We have Sarterious and the Vayesh Maru planning how to invade Margolan.

Then, after all the training and planning, everyone splits in to 2 groups, with one group going to wage guerilla warfare in Margolan, and one group simply traveling toward the palace.

The book was long, and not a whole lot happened, to be honest. I love the characters, and I was pleased with the outcome. Typical ending, the good guy wins and the bad guy loses after the bad guy screws up monologuing. But that's not really a spoiler because we all know that's how a book like this is going to win. Honestly, if it was about 200 pages shorter, it would have been a lot more enjoyable I think. There seemed to be a lot of rambling, like the author just couldn't figure out how to get where she wanted to go.

There were some good scenes, even so. The fight in the Sisterhood when Tris began his training. Sarterious discovering the berserker fighters. But all in all, I was a little bit disappointed. I'm still starting the third book though, so we shall see if it gets better.

March 7, 2011

Reading Meme Day 06

Day 06 - Your favorite writer

I've already mentioned that it's difficult to choose a favorite. And for the most part, that's true. Except here.

Brandon Sanderson

Need I say more? The author of Elantris, The Mistborn Trilogy, The Alcatraz series, and more. The man hand-picked to complete Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time. Yeah, him. Love him!*

*Yes, I did jazz hands. He's that awesome.

March 6, 2011

Reading Meme Day 05

Day 05: A book you hate

I'm going to be honest. I don't "hate" very many books. Most books, even if I don't enjoy them, I am willing to say it just wasn't my thing and move on. That being said, there are a couple that just made me angry to read. I have a minor OCD tick in that I can't start a book and not finish. I just can't. And when I'm reading a book that I think is ter
rible, I can't put it down and walk away. Which makes me angry. There are a couple of these that I could choose from, but some of them could show up later in the Meme, so I'm picking one for each slot.

Conspiracy in Kiev by Noel Hynd

A shrewd investigator and an expert marksman, Special Agent Alexandra LaDuca can handle any case the FBI gives her. Or can she?

While on loan from the U.S. Department of the Treasury, Alex is tapped to accompany a Secret Service team during an American Presidential visit to Ukraine. Her assignment: to keep personal watch over Yuri Federov, the most charming and most notorious gangster in the region.

Against her better judgment---and fighting a feeling that she's being manipulated---she leaves for Ukraine. But there are more parts to this dangerous mission than anyone suspects, and connecting the dots takes Alex across three continents and through some life-altering discoveries about herself, her work, her faith, and her future.

I got the book through a promotional free download from Amazon's Kindle website, and in preparing this post I discovered that Noel Hynd is carried by the Christian publishing house Zondervan. I mention this because the book made me so mad in its awfulness that I wanted to find out if it was, in fact, put out by a mainstream publishing house or instead was a self-published or vanity press kind of set up.

It was bad. The writing was terrible, the story was slow and full of plot holes (I spent a great deal of time yelling "WHY???" in frustration), and the characters are shallow and one-dimensional. That doesn't even bring in the fact that half the minor details in the book were wrong, like the author did some half-baked attempt at research on Yahoo search and called it good.

As an example, the protagonist finds herself in Venezuela, hiding in the jungle, when a diamondback rattlesnake crawls up her leg and she is forced to hold her gun in front of her face and shoot it off her chest. Not only did this snake appear in a part of the world where it shouldn't be, but the protagonist did not have any sort of deafness, blindness, or burns resulting from firing a weapon two inches from her face. Oh, she had thought to herself that if she missed she would only have 2 or 3 seconds to realign the shot and try again. Really?!?

March 5, 2011

2011 Locus Challenge

This year I am participating in the Locus Challenge.

Details can be found here:

I pledge to this year try to read books from the Locus 2010 Recommended Reading List. Those books will be reviewed here (if they haven't been already).

To date, I have read the following:

The Passage, Justin Cronin
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, N.K. Jemison
The Broken Kingdoms, N.K. Jemison
Changeless, Gail Carriger

The Summoner (Book 1 of the Chronicles of the Necromancer) by Gail Z Martin

Mass Market Paperback
637 pages
Published January 30th 2007 by Solaris
ISBN:1844164683 (ISBN13: 9781844164684)
Source: Borrowed from a friend

The Blurb (

The comfortable world of Martris Drayke, second son of King Bricen of Margolan, is shattered when his older half-brother, Jared, and Jared's dark mage, Foor Arontala, kill the king and seize the throne. Tris is the only surviving member of the royal family aside from Jared the traitor. Tris flees with three friends: Soterius, captain of the guard; Carroway, the court's master bard; and Harrtuck, a member of the royal guard. Tris harbors a deep secret. In a land where spirits walk openly and influence the affairs of the living, he suspects he may be the mage heir to the power of his grandmother, Bava K'aa, once the greatest sorceress of her age. Such magic would make Tris a Summoner, the rarest of magic gifts, capable of arbitrating between the living and the dead.

A friend of mine gave me this book to read after I admitted that not only had I never read it, but I had never even heard of Gail Z Martin. I'm glad she did, because now I am totally hooked!

The story starts by giving a glimpse into Tris' life. We meet his friends, his family, and his enemy, who also happens to be family. It doesn't take long for his perfect happy life to fall apart, however, when he witnesses the murder of his father, mother, and younger sister at the hands of his half-brother. Tris is then forced to flee his home with his closest friends. Together, this band of refugees travel incognito across the country, gathering new allies (and a love interest) when they are needed most, eventually coming to the capital city of a neighboring country under the guise of gathering an army to retake his family's throne.

Honestly, the story is a very typical "journey to oust an evil king" kind of a story, but the characters are real, with all their quirks and faults, and Martin kept the story moving at a quick pace throughout. I'm glad that I knew going into it this book was the first in a trilogy, because I never found myself looking at how much book was left and wondering how they were going to get everything taken care of in so short a time. Especially considering how many new twists were introduced at varying intervals.

One thing I would like to mention: there are quite a few epic fantasy authors that feel the need to outline every second of every day that passes. One of the things I appreciated the most in Martin's writing was the actual passage of time by glossing over the intervening periods of boredom. You know what I mean. The times where your favorite protagonist spends a week waiting to receive a letter, so you get to read a daily account of said protagonist wandering restlessly and picking fights with friends out of frustration. Martin did the reader the favor of simply stating: A week went by. It left a lot more room for action, in my opinion, and is one of the reasons I enjoyed the story so much.

And now back to your regularly scheduled programming…

I was doing pretty good there for a while. Posting reviews of each book I read and keeping up with, if not daily, at least every other day blogging.

And then, disaster struck.

And by disaster, I of course mean I discovered Dragon Age: Origins on PS3 and was sucked in to a time sink of epic proportions.

This, in and of itself, should not have been such a big issue. But unfortunately, at the same time, my laptop self destructed and I found myself without regular access to a computer. Really, that's the main reason. But I prefer to blame Dragon Age (which I am still playing in anticipation of the release of DA2 later this month). If it weren't for Dragon Age, I would have made the effort to find a computer to use and get some blogs written anyway.

Now, I have a shiny new laptop computer with lots of cool laptop computer-type accessories one would normally take for granted. Like a functioning battery. And programs that aren't at least a year outdated because your OS can't run the newer versions. And the ability to NOT set things on fire.*

So, we now return you to your regularly scheduled programs.

*My laptop never actually started a fire. But quite a few batteries in that model were recalled for just that reason and my computer frequently overheated to the point of being able to scald skin…