Last Star BurningOne of my favorite things about book blogging is finding out about awesome books I might not otherwise run across. A couple weeks ago, Book, Bones and Buffy posted this great lineup of 2017 ya speculative releases and there it was: Last Star Burning.

Must! Have!

Goodreads Description

Sev has been tattooed with the White stars of a criminal since she was eight. That’s the penalty for being the daughter of the woman who betrayed their entire nation.

Now her mother’s body is displayed above Traitor’s Arch, kept in a paralyzed half-sleep by the same plague that destroyed the rest of the world. And as further punishment, Sev must do hard labor to prove that she’s more valuable alive than dead.

When the government blames Sev for a horrific bombing, she must escape the city or face the chopping block. Unimaginable dangers lurk outside the city walls, and Sev’s only hope of survival lies with the most unlikely person—Howl, the chairman’s son. Though he promises to lead her to safety, Howl has secrets, and Sev can’t help but wonder if he knows more about her past—and her mother’s crimes—than he lets on.

But in a hostile world, trust is a luxury. Even when Sev’s life and the lives of everyone she loves may hang in the balance. Last Star Burning is ya fantasy written by Caitlin Sangster and expected to be published October 10th 2017 by Simon Pulse. Hardcover, 400 pages.

The author actually lived in China, so I’m crossing my fingers for some awesome setting-inspired fantasy elements!

What books are you waiting on this Wednesday?

Extracted.jpg

“The first trip fifty years into the future showed a society and species advancing as it should. The second trip, to the same point and location, revealed a post-apocalyptic wasteland.”

About :

A young scientist creates a time machine and discovers that the word ends in 2111. He needs a hero—quickly. In a matter of weeks, three heroes are selected and “extracted” from their own times to save the world:

Safa Patel, a police officer stationed at Downing Street to protect the prime minister; “Mad Harry” Madden, special ops in WWI—before such a thing as “special ops” even existed; and Ben Ryder, an untrained civilian who has singlehandedly stopped two separate group attacks on innocents. And the training begins. Extracted is adult science fiction authored by R. R. Haywood and published March 1st 2017 by 47North.

Thoughts :

Haywood’s trilogy smashes together the sub-genres of time travel and post-apocalyptic fiction. That sounded too irresistible to pass up!

The first three chapters of book I, Extracted, introduce the three heroes by taking us through each one’s final, normal day—followed by his or her extraction. Visceral details enhance these “mini episodes” in strangely addictive and slightly uncomfortable ways: we enter the story in the midst of a fight between Ben Ryder and his fiancée, who are arguing about sex. It’s a dash of cold water right off the bat when Ben discovers that his fiancée has been cheating on him.

But Safa, one of the other heroes, suffers much worse than that in her current day-to-day life, and the crude, sometimes repetitive sexual details made her first chapter very difficult to read.

This in-your-face, very present and very character-driven style of writing brings a whole new level of intensity to the emotionally charged scenes of these first chapters (and to every emotional scene throughout the book), and although I cringed a lot, I sped through them. Some humor diffuses the tension, at times, although it occasionally feels forced and becomes wearyingly repetitive. (The descriptions in this ARC as a whole do get quite repetitive—some of that has hopefully been edited out of the finished copy.) This experience basically characterizes the whole book.

As I continued to read past these first three chapters, the plot never seemed to pick up and I soon realized that although the synopsis promises a world-saving mission, this first installment focuses entirely on characterization and team-building. It might be called a “training” book. “Extracted” is a preliminary, as if the publishers ripped apart one really big book to publish it in thirds. After the extractions, the heroes spend the rest of the book adapting to their new lifestyles and training to save the world. The characters refuse to accept the concept of time travel until 46%, and even then they don’t get started training right away. The specific nature of the training centers largely around helping Ben, the only untrained civilian among the three heroes, overcome the psychological trauma of the situation.

Overall :

I enjoyed the book, despite its problems. Extracted is a compelling, crude, and strongly character-driven “episode” of a new sci-fi time travel trilogy. It reads like a speed demon! Although I wouldn’t call the book “boring” (I definitely came to care about the characters), I will say I was disappointed that we didn’t get any of the promised world-saving action, yet. If the author steps up his pacing and cuts out the filler in book two, I think his style and killer premise have a lot of potential. I might wait for the reviews to come out before reading it.

Recommended To :

Anyone looking for a sci-fi time travel “training” book with strong characters. I haven’t gotten the chance to read Chuck Wendig yet, but from his blog, I gather that he writes using the same kind of searing, in-your-face style as this author, R. R. Haywood; that’s what this book reminded me of, although I think Wendig’s humor succeeds more often that Haywood’s.

Plot: 2.5/5
Characters: 4/5
Worldbuilding: 3/5
Writing: 3/5

***3/5 STARS

Note About Misogyny :

When I was writing this review, I noticed that a couple of reviewers are using phrases like “casual misogyny” to describe certain elements of the book and complaining that it only leaves two options for women: (1) Heroine! and (2) Slut! I’m not highly attuned to what might be considered sexist, but I personally didn’t get that impression. It’s a small cast with a tight focus on Ben and Safa, so that subject didn’t seem to fall within the reference of the book; I’m personally not bothered that Haywood doesn’t spell out all of the options for women. His portrayal of Safa did feel slightly “off” to me, but I could’t quite put my finger on why, so I just decided to roll with it and enjoy the story.

The Hunted

“‘What do you think you’re playing at, Father?’

Without stopping to pause, Tacit powered a fist square into his face and the man went down in a motionless heap.’”

About :

Tacit Poldek is not a normal priest: he’s an inquisitor traveling through an alternate-20th century Europe to neutralize supernatural threats wherever he finds them. Today, he seeks the murderer of a priest in Sarajevo before that murderer can reach its next target: Archduke Franz Ferdinand. The Hunted is adult horror/alternate history written by Tarn Richardson and published February 20th 2015 by Gerald Duckworth & Co.

I ran across this series on Tammy’s terrific speculative fiction blog, Book, Bones & Buffy, and after reading the synopsis of book III (of which she was running a giveaway), I knew I had to try it out. Speculative fiction set against historical backgrounds can often balance entertainment with details that bring a period to life at the same time. Winning! Bonus: The Darkest Hand also deals with church history, something I find endlessly fascinating. Max Gladstone introduced me to the sort of fiction that explores both faith and magic in the same volume, and I’ve been addicted ever since. So finding the short story prequel to the series (available for free on Amazon!) was really exciting.

Thoughts :

“The pavement around the Priest was slick with blood, thick rivulets of darkening crimson snaking from the body drying fast beneath the hot Sarajevo sun.

A priest is dead. The crowd assumes he fell from a window, but Tacit Poldek sees the signs: someone—or something—threw this priest to his death. As Poldek sets off to find the murderer, we quickly learn that this violent brandy-swigging priest will stop at nothing to get answers. The story moves at a good clip and I enjoyed the chase, although the predictable outcome and the repetitive, violent nature of the priest’s investigative techniques left me feeling “meh” about the final third of the story. I think the constraints of the short story form hindered potential character development and clever plotting in The Hunted.

Overall :

However, this free prequel does provide a fast and helpful introduction to the author’s style, the world of the Darkest Hand series and to the hero (or, rather, antihero?). I’m certainly interested in continuing the series to find out more about this dark, gritty world.

Recommended To :

Anyone intrigued by the idea of mixing horror and urban fantasy, set against a background of 19th century alternate history. I would recommend skipping this prequel, though, and going straight to book I. This feels more like a prologue than a standalone story, mainly published to promise series potential.

Plot: 3/5
Worldbuilding: 4/5
Characters: 3/5
Writing: 3/5

***3/5 STARS

 

 

“Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine to spotlight exciting upcoming titles.

thickasthievesAfter turning a quarter century old this week, I decided to share my excitement about the newest installment of a series that has grown up alongside me: Thick as Thieves, book V of Megan Whalen Turner‘s “Queen’s Thief” series of Mediterranean ya high fantasies. We get a new Queen’s Thief novel from Ms. Turner every five or six years–the last was published in 2010–and they’re always stunningly worth the wait. (Every installment has won awards, some including the Newbery, Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Children’s Literature and several others.) Did you see the new covers for the series? Because WOW! 😀

Publisher Description

Kamet, a secretary and slave to his Mede master, has the ambition and the means to become one of the most powerful people in the Empire. But with a whispered warning the future he envisioned is wrenched away, and he is forced onto a very different path. Set in the world of the Queen’s Thief, an ordinary hero takes on an extraordinary mission. Includes two maps, a map of the world of the Queen’s Thief, and a map of Kamet’s journey. Expected publication: May 16th 2017 by Greenwillow Books. YA high fantasy.

I may have to go on an audio-binge of the series to prepare for this. It’s definitely one of my most highly anticipated releases of 2017!

What book are you anticipating this Wednesday? What’s your most highly anticipated releases of 2017?

 

MoonCalled

“I am a walker. The term is derived from ‘skinwalker,’ a witch of the Southwest Indian tribes who uses a skin to turn into a coyote or some other creature.”

About :

Mercedes “Mercy” Thompson runs a Volksvagen garage in Washington and keeps largely to herself. She’s a “walker,” a magical shapeshifter, and she can slip easily into the form of a coyote. Her brand of shapeshifting remains a secret from almost everyone; only the Fae have revealed themselves to the mundane world, and they bear the brunt of significant persecution. As a result, the werewolves, vampires and other supernatural spooks stay underground—and Mercy prefers to do the same. It’s just easier.

But Mercy’s connections with the local magical presence are finally coming around to “bite” her. When a runaway werewolf appears in her garage asking for a temporary position, Mercy gives him a job and hooks him up with the local werewolf pack leader, Adam, who is also her sexy neighbor. But somebody is looking for the runway—and they don’t mind confronting Mercy or Adam to do it. Walker and werewolf race the clock to find the man behind the mystery before more innocents suffer. Moon Called is Paranormal Romance/Urban Fantasy written by Patricia Briggs and published January 31st 2006 by Ace.

Thoughts :

I picked up the first of the Mercy Thompson series because I’ve been wanting to get a better feel for Urban Fantasy, and Niki over at The Obsessive Bookseller told me it was a great place to start. (Thanks Niki! 🙂 ) I also love reading about Native American cultures, so of course I had to start with this series. It sucked me in immediately with the introduction of the runaway and, no joke, the “inciting incident” made me cry! (I’m totally a crier 😋)

Because the cast of this first installment remains relatively small, readers easily get to know everybody. In Mercy we find both a pleasant person and a decent heroine—hardworking and easy to like, lacking gimmicks to rub readers the wrong way. I do wish she had some chick friends (although I like all her guy friends, too). But I enjoyed hearing about her Native family history and how her father was a Walker.

I listened to Moon Called alongside reading an eARC of Melissa F. Olson’s Midnight Curse, so it was fun to compare the two books as I get to know the genre:

Midnight Curse has a stronger mystery element than Moon Called and I enjoyed guessing at the twists. Midnight Curse’s characters also really got to me, as evidenced in my IMPASSIONED REVIEW, haha. But the romance arc kept me from loving Midnight Curse or wanting to continue that particular series (although I’ll definitely consider trying a future new series by this talented author).

As for Moon Called, I just plain liked everything about it! Although nothing blew me away in this first installment (it is a first installment, after all, and only 288 pgs), nothing repelled me either, and Briggs develops the worldbuilding impressively well for such a short volume. It thoroughly introduces the werewolf world, and I’m looking forward to exploring more. (The second book sounds like it might tackle the vampires.) Although I didn’t follow the mystery as well, that could be in part due to the nature of the audio experience. I prefer a book like this as my intro to a series, I think.

And the thing that topped off Moon Called, for me, is the great narrator, Lorelei King. I’m always amazed when one narrator can pull off a whole cast so well.

Overall :

I enjoyed pretty much everything about this short and sweet audiobook. I actually felt rested after finishing it. Just something nice and fast with a fun world to inhabit for a few hours. I’m definitely planning to continue the series.

Plot: 3 Stars
Characters: 3.5 Stars
Worldbuilding: 4.5 Stars
Audio: 5 Stars

****4/5 STARS

Recommended To :

Anyone looking for a quick start to a new Paranormal Romance/Urban Fantasy series. I would say this tends more towards the “paranormal romance” side of the spectrum, although the romance is largely a background element of this first installment; but the romantic tensions swirl beneath the surface of Mercy’s interactions with the two male werewolves in her life. So if that sounds like fun, I bet you’ll enjoy Moon Called!

jUST ANOTHER JUDGEMENT DAYAbout :

After killing a crowd of Springheeled Jacks who entered the Nightside through a Timeslip, John Taylor and Suzie Shooter decide to wind down in a Nightside bar. But they can’t relax for long. Soon John’s on-again-off-again friend and arch nemesis brings news of a different kind of monster: a righteous kind.

“The Walking Man, the wrath of God in the world of men, the most powerful and scariest agent of the Good, ever, has come at last to the Nightside to punish the guilty.”

Problem is, if the Walking Man kills all the guilty in the Nightside, no one will be left. John Taylor steps up to challenge the Walking Man, but how can he defeat the unstoppable wrath of God? Just Another Judgement Day is adult UF written by NYT best-selling author Simon R. Green and published December 17th 2008.

So…how did I end up reading #9 of the Nightside series, you ask?

Story Time (You Can Skip Story Time, If You Want) :

It’s kind of funny story. My rural California library hosts several Dresden-addicts and every time they check out their next installment of the series or graphic novels, they ask me, “So did you start book 5 yet?” They get into conversations with each other at the front desk. They ask me how I liked the audiobooks.

I finally admitted to them that while I enjoyed the Dresden books, other series are taking priority at the moment.

So of course one of them took this as permission to hand sell some Dresden drones to me and he went out and bought me Simon Green’s Just Another Judgement Day. This particular Dresden fan is also one of my very favorite library volunteers, and he does some tasks that I would have to do instead of working on fun things like book displays or the teen summer reading program.

So I thanked him profusely, brought the book home and stuffed it into my overflowing bookshelf. But after seeing the volunteer again (who very politely didn’t ask me if I’d read his book, yet) and feeling super guilty, I decided to jump in that very weekend.

Thoughts (The Actual Review) :

At first, Just Another Judgement Day appeared to be exactly what I expected from the Dresden-like cover, from John Taylor’s trench coat to his girlfriend named Suzie, I mean, c’mon!

But I soon realized the error of my assumptions. Not only is John Taylor’s trench coat a living thing (“I’ve always believed in having a coat that can look after itself,” John casually explains), Suzie Shooter likes to trip Mary Sues and laugh at them as they nurse their bruises.

The opening scene hits noir tones as it kicks off a new story in the magical world of “The Nightside.”

“In the Nightside we’re great believers in letting everyone go to Hell in their own way.”

You’ll find more action in the single first macabre chapter than in whole novels of other series. Literally, chapter one runs through a whole plot that I enjoyed immensely, though it has little to do with the rest of the novel. (It’s similar to the Indiana Jones or James Bond stunt at the beginning of every Jones/Bond movie that sets the tone.) The large volume of wacky, fun adventures overwhelms any little considerations about convenient happenstances that smooth the plot *WINK*

And beside the terrific speed and volume of the action, the worldbuilding surrounding it all is a magical, living thing. I haven’t read anything that felt so effortlessly magical since I read Harry Potter when I was a kid. Breezy comments and even whole scenes hint at great story possibilities for past and future books:

“A great painting of a strange alien jungle suddenly came alive and formed a window into that world.”

Jumanji moment! I almost wish this volume had taken advantage of more of that—but that’s that trouble with coming in at book 9. I’m sure the author has “gone there” in other books, but this very specific adventure deals instead with the shades of morality in the Nightside.

The other great thing about Just Another Judgement Day is John’s first-person narration, which made me literally laugh out loud:

‘It’s not really my usual kind of case,’ I said.

‘I’ll pay you half a million pounds.’

‘But clearly this is something that needs to be investigated. Leave it with me, Percy.’”

I enjoyed the characters, although other reviewers (who have read more than book #9 haha) say they’re very two-dimensional; from this I assume the characters don’t undergo much series-level character change, and yet Suzie does change in this book. I love how her growth caps off the story. It’s the perfect ending, imo. Though the plot climax is otherwise anti-climactic and suffers from some repetition and alittabitta moralizing, I enjoyed the rest of the book enormously and Suzie’s revelation totally made it work for me.

Overall :

Get ready for some serious fun, UF lovers. I think I’d have to be in the right mood to pick up this series again—I like a little more characterization in my average fare—but I would definitely not be opposed. That was fun!

Recommended To :

Anyone looking especially for humor and warp-speed pacing in their Urban Fantasy.

Plot: 3 Stars
Characters: 4 Stars
Writing: 3.5 Stars
Worldbuilding: 5 Stars

3.5/5 STARS

“Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine to spotlight upcoming exciting new titles.

I recently decided to request fewer titles from Netgalley, and removing some of that pressure also seems to have increased my anticipation for these upcoming titles; so I also decided to hop on the WoW train!

The Girl with the Red BalloonAnd then I saw Katherine Locke‘s The Girl With the Red Balloon on Netgalley, forthcoming from AW Teen in September 2017 ahhhh! It immediately tested my “requesting resolution”!

I need 😍

Publisher Description:

When sixteen-year-old Ellie Baum accidentally time-travels via red balloon to 1988 East Berlin, she’s caught up in a conspiracy of history and magic. She meets members of an underground guild in East Berlin who use balloons and magic to help people escape over the Wall—but even to the balloon makers, Ellie’s time travel is a mystery. When it becomes clear that someone is using dark magic to change history, Ellie must risk everything—including her only way home—to stop the process.

!!!! Can’t wait to get my hands on this one! Historical/Alt Historical YA is possibly my favorite thing on the planet!

What book are you anticipating this Wednesday?