Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Not every princess gets a Fairy Godmother

It's not the young fairy's fault that she was born with an honor debt. Her mother was rescued by a human prince long before she was born, and when she died before fulfilling the debt, it was passed on to her. And if she ever wants to grow her wings and develop her adult magic, she'll have to make good on what's owed in Gail Carriger's 'Fairy Debt.'

Princess Anastasia Clementina Lanagoob is a rather unfortunate girl, for a princess. Despite her father's best efforts to gain an honor debt for his daughter's christening, not a single Fairy Godmother showed up. With no bonuses in grace, beauty or any other princessly attributes, she's seen by most as a downright ordinary.

Bella Fugglecups (as the princess knows her) is on a mission. Disguised as a jester, it is her mission to fulfill her mother's debt. But with only her Child Wishes at her disposal, it will be a difficult task indeed.

And when an earth dragon crashes High Tea, things get interesting indeed.

Gail Carriger has moved away from short stories in recent years, favoring the more lucrative novel format. She's hardly lost the knack of endearing the reader to a group of characters in a few short pages, though, and 'Fairy Debt' is a confection perfectly prepared for fans of her most humorous writing.

Highs: If a princess can't be beautiful or graceful, at least she can be humble and good to her subjects.

Lows: Household-related magic seems like it ought to be more of a Brownie talent than a Naiad talent to me.

Verdict: 'Fairy Debt' is a short, sweet story reminiscent of some of the goofiest scenes of the Parasol Protectorate books.

Further Reading: 'My Sister's Song', Soulless'Judge Sn Goes Golfing' 

Monday, December 9, 2013

Manga Monday: Let the wedding celebrations begin!

Laila and Leily finally begin their journeys with their new husbands in A Bride's Story Volume 5.

Note: A Bride's Story Volume 5 is part of an ongoing series. Check out the review for Volume 1 here, and Volume 4 here.  Otherwise, read on!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

A Merry Christmas Horror Shopping List

The Horror Shopping List 2013
As people awaken from their turkey-induced comas and head to the malls, one thing is clear: the Christmas shopping rush is upon us. While the post-holiday winter months keep the readers on your shopping list at home, a good scare can really help pass those cold, dark nights. Here's a list of some of the best spine-tingling stories waiting to be left under the tree.

With the release of the blockbuster summer movie, many more people have hopped on the zombie bandwagon. But what those moviegoers might not realize is that the story of Gerry Lane is hardly the focus of the novel.

Recommended for: fans of zombie movies and shows who haven't read much of the genre.


Zombie books can end up turning silly, with people completely unprepared for disaster striking on on their own with just a shotgun over their shoulder, with no real thought as to where more shells might come from, or what to do when winter hits. John Ringo, more well-known for fantasy and military SF, does a fantastic job at creating a story in which the characters are actually smart enough to keep themselves alive.

Recommended for: people who have read a lot of zombie novels, fans of the TV show 'Doomsday Preppers.'


The zombies have been in the forefront of horror for the past few years, but there are plenty of scares left in the vampire world. The stories in this shared-world collection weave  bloodsucker lore from around the world into into an intriguing tale with plenty to be afraid of.
Recommended for: people who like their vampires scary instead of sparkly.


Since the passing of Michael Crichton, there has been a lack of good medical horror novels. Mira Grant brings that tradition back with her near-future tale of medical science gone horribly, horribly wrong.

Recommended for: People who don't want fantasy mucking up their scares.


Another tale of medical science gone wrong, this time it really is the patient's fault. With equal parts dark humor and action, most people reading this book will have someone that the protagonist reminds them of in their life.
Recommended for: the techie or Big Bang Theory fan on your list.

More near-future horror of the apocalypse type, this time it's our own tech toys that turn on us. As self-driving cars and wearable technology becomes more of a reality, stories like this become more and more frightening.

Recommended for: your favorite technophobe.

An unsettling Japanese schoolgirl, a cursed classroom and an outsider who has no idea what he's wandered into. Japan is known for its excellent horror movies, and this one delivers creepiness in spades.

Recommended for: the anime or manga fan on your list, those bored with traditional scares.

So there you are. Enough shivers to keep anyone busy during the post-holiday slump. As always, make sure to tuck that gift receipt into the front cover, just in case your recipient has had that scare already.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Manga Monday: Alexia is hardly one to take disgrace quietly

Alexia is certainly not one to let things go without a fight, and even goes so far as to fight the Templars of Italy in Soulless The Manga Volume 3: Blameless.

Note: Soulless The Manga Volume 3: Blamelessis part of an ongoing series, and follows the story of the third Parasol Protectorate novel, Blameless. The review for Soulless The Manga Volume 1: Soulless is here, and the review of the novel Blameless is here. Otherwise, read on!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Sometimes, information needs to stay buried

Rachel Bach creates the rollicking SF/Romance that she had wanted to read herself in the first book of her Paradox series, Fortune's Pawn.

Deviana Morris isn't just any armored fighter, she's a gal with a plan. Having risen as far as she can in her armored company without being forced into a desk job, she spontaneously leaves her position with the Blackbirds and starts looking for the next step in her Plan.

Devi wants to be a Devastator. The best of the best of the King's Own fighting force, Devi knows that she'll have to make a name for herself before the recruiters even look her way. So when one of her closest friends suggests she take a post as security on a freighter, she's pretty suspicious. Walking in circles in her battle armor on the deck of a ship isn't generally what the Devastators are looking for on a CV. But after checking out the history of the the Glorious Fool, and realizing just how much trouble the ships gets herself into, she caves and signs up.

What she finds on board is...peculiar. Her fellow security guard Cotter is pretty much the meathead she expected when she first saw his overcompensating armor, and her roommate Novascape Starchild is a predictably spacey, but genuinely a good person.

The ship's doctor, however, is a xith'cal, a sentient lizard race better known for eating humans than patching them up. 

And their pilot is literally a giant bird, an aeon, from a violently xenophobic race whose claim to fame is being the best pilots in the known universe.

And their cook has far more charisma than any one human has a right to.

But it's the captain, Brian Caldswell who is the biggest enigma of them all. Seemingly just another captain of a trade freighter, the more Devi travels with him, the more she realizes that something's up. And as the missions get more bizarre, and more dangerous, none of what she's being told adds up. Perhaps a good merc would simply let things go unquestioned, but that's just not her style. 

Some secrets, though, are more dangerous when they come to light.

Rachel Bach has already proven her writing chops as Rachel Aaron in her Legend of Eli Monpress series, and fans of that quintet will find lots to love here as well. Seamlessly mixing humor and adventure into her science fiction, along with a hearty helping of romance, creates a perfect storm of emotions by the end. Never have I wanted to throw my reader across the room more than when I realized that the book was over, and it would be months before the next one comes out. Bach has an amazing universe created here, and in the first volume has her readers emotionally invested in the characters and eagerly anticipating the rest of the story.

Highs: Every character is so complex and multi-dimensional that their interactions are absolutely fascinating.

Lows: The unexplained strange kid character is becoming more and more common, to the point where I nearly rolled my eyes when she appeared.

Verdict: Bach specializes in the 'hook,' and keeping her readers' interest from page one, and she's done a fantastic job.

Further Reading: Honor's KnightThe Legend of Eli Monpress, The Android's Dream

Monday, November 18, 2013

Manga Monday: Our heroes go on their first survey mission

The 104th Survey Corps is sworn in to protect humanity's last stand in Attack on Titan Volume 5.

Note: Attack on Titan Volume 5 is part of an ongoing series. Check out the review for Volume 1 here, and Volume 4 here.  Otherwise, read on!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The zombie apocalypse marches on, and so do our heroes

As our heroes begin to find more bodies than survivors on ships, they turn an eye to dry land in John Ringo's To Sail a Darkling Sea.

Note: To Sail a Darkling Sea is the second book in the Black Tide Rising series. For a review of the first book, click here. Otherwise, read on!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

A short tale of ancient Greece

It's as if Gail Carriger has studied all her life to write her amazing stories, and in some ways she has. A master's in anthropology certainly helps when writing in historical settings, and her time at Nottingham University must help with her works set in the United Kingdom. But never has her focus in archaeology ben more apparent than in her first professional sale 'My Sister's Song.'


Mithra is one of the warrior women of the Melissai. Born to it, she's one of the fastest scouts her army has. This day, however, she's taking advantage of a dry day during a wet Springtime and is out in the forest mushrooming. It's a good thing she is too, since she saed her sister Arite from making a fatal mistake while charming a hive of bees.

Only a few days later, the Romans start marching towards their village. 100 men strong, there's little hope that their fighting force a fourth the size will be able to defend their village from a head-on attack.

Unless mother nature gives them a hand.

Carriger even credits an anthropology article for giving her the idea for this story. Authors find inspiration for their tales in all sorts of places, and Gail Carriger pulls many from the depths of history. 'My Sister's Song' is a wonderful debut story that takes a moment in history and runs with it.

Highs: It's amazing how a tactician's mind can pull from seemingly random experiences to create a wholly new strategy

Lows: As with most of Carriger's work, I wish there was more story to be had

Verdict: A sweet story set in a time not too often mind for fiction

Further Reading: 'Marine Biology', Soulless, 'Clockwork Chickadee

Thursday, October 31, 2013

A final test before graduating

In traditional video game fashion, Ran steals the sword and rescues the princess in this short story intro to the Shadow Warrior world, "The Sorcerer of Daigawa."

Ran is about to graduate from his training as a Shinobujin, or shadow warrior. Before he can be considered a full warrior, however, he must complete a mission assigned to him, to show that he can apply what he has learned.

So this is how we join Ran, waiting outside a castle that he's been casing for at least two weeks, planning his next move. He's watched the guards to see how attentive they really are. He's examined the walls during the light of the full moon so he knows their weaknesses now that the moon is new. He's memorized the interior layout, from plans stolen by another Shadow Warrior on his own final training mission. Everything seems perfect for a quick grab of the sword, and no one would never need to know how it disappeared.

That is, until Ran discovers a locked cell, with a princess being held for sacrifice within. And Ran learns the hard way that every action - even saving a princess from an evil sorcerer - has consequences.

Jon F Merz writes this story to tell us a story only alluded to in The Undead Hoardes of Kan-Gul. While the plot is tight and the characters are just as compelling, his attention to every stealthy detail perhaps isn't the best fit for a short work. Nevertheless, 'The Sorcerer of Daigawa" is a fun ninja adventure read, available for free at the Baen website.

Highs: Ran is written as a pretty good guy who has to reconcile his conscience with his rather ruthless training, which makes him utterly charming

Lows: The pacing started out very slow for a short story, but did pick up further in

Verdict: Another solid addition to the magic and zombie filled ninja world

Monday, October 28, 2013

Manga Monday: How to be a cat

Chi meets some new kittens and gets lessons from Auntie Calico and Blackie in Chi's Sweet Home Volume 10.

Note: Chi's Sweet Home Volume 10 is, of course, part of a series. Check out the review of Volume 1 here, or the review of Volume 9 here. Otherwise, read on!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Sometimes help comes from the most unexpected places

Miss Evelina Cooper finds herself in a new situation in Emma Jane Holloway's A Study in Darkness.

Note: A Study in Darkness is part of the the ongoing The Baskerville Affair series. For the first book, A Study in Silks, click here. Otherwise, read on!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Manga Monday: Learning to fight together

Armin's plan to retake Wall Rose isn't going exactly to plain in Attack on Titan Volume 3.

Note: Attack on Titan Volume 4 is, of course, part of an ongoing series. Check out the review for Volume 1 here, and Volume 3 here.  Otherwise, read on!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Remember when you had to work up the courage to hold a girl's hand?

Betrayal. Revenge. Sparkly vampires and emo witches. Recently, young adult romances have been very much like adult bodice-rippers, but with teenagers in high school instead of neglected housewives or lonely lasses on the Scottish Highland.

Rainbow Rowell's Eleanor and Park bucks this trend with the most realistic young adult romance in years.

Park is the son of an Army veteran and his Korean wife. They don't live in the best neighborhood but they get by. His mother sells Avon and takes pride in her house and her sons. His dad is hard on him, and tends to favor his more traditionally masculine brother, but is still involved in his life and does the best he knows how. He's hardly a popular kid, and Taekwondo isn't enough to make him sporty, but he has is place on the bus and headphones to block out most of the noise from his classmates.

For all that Park's family does the best with what they have, Eleanor's family is an all too common disaster. As the oldest child, she stilll remembers how it was when her parents were still together. She remembers her mother baking cookies and making Christmas dinners. She remembers the kids having their own rooms, not to mention their own beds.

She remembers a time before her stepfather Ritchie. Before being sent to their shared bedroom at 4:30pm. Before having her mother guard the bathroom without a door while she takes as quick a bath as possible. After a year's exile to the friend of the family's house, Eleanor is back with her mother and siblings, and is determined to make the best of it.

Like most relationships, it isn't love at first sight. In fact, it is nearly the exact opposite. Not hatred, but an almost complete indifference. But as Eleanor and Park share a bus seat, and English class, they both begin to thaw towards one another. In typical 1980s fashion it begins with mix tapes and comic books, and slowly it develops into one of the most truthful, honest relationships I've ever read.

High school is hard. Some people have money and charisma and it's not so bad for them. Some people don't, but a loving family can make up for a lot, and fore them it can be tolerated. Some kids go through hell; tortured at school because kids are cruel, and then go home each night to another kind of nightmare.

Sometimes, two kids from very different backgrounds find one another, and together pull each other through.

Highs: Everyone in this book, from the overenthusiastic teacher to to Park's mother, react in very authentic ways.

Lows: That said, Eleanor's siblings didn't always ring true to me.

Verdict: Eleanor and Park transports the reader to those days in high school when life was harder than it should be and you couldn't do anything about it.

Further Reading: Fangirl, Beautiful Creatures, Moribito

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

An adorable cat doing adorable things

It's hard work being a kitty, and we get to learn all about it in Clare Belton's I Am Pusheen the Cat.

Pusheen's a very active kitty! Her perfect weekend includes everything from blogging to partying. Unfortunately, she's also a kitty, so her plans end up being mostly a series of naps, but A+ for effort!

She also makes quite the argument for being a cat yourself. Who can turn down free food and free rent? And when you toss in sleeping as long as you want to, I think this whole 'human' thing is totally for the birds.

Pusheen's the kind of cat who doesn't care if she's a little extra fluffy. She'll still eat all the cookie dough before it has a chance to reach the oven, order in pizza when she fails to make it herself, completely fail at her new years' resolution to work out more, and still get all fancied up.

Pusheen's even (relatively) kind to her annoying younger sister Stormy. She might have to share her kibble, and get harassed to play while she's trying to sleep, but they're still best friends in the end.

Like other webcomics, I Am Pusheen the Cat loses a little bit when translated to the printed page. Part of the adorableness of the website is that the gifs are presented as little tidbits of cuteness, and as the book goes on you miss a bit of the surprise. The book doesn't drag on, though, and at 192 pages, the length is just about spot-on. A great book to give as a present, I Am Pusheen the Cat would be great for any cat-lover.

Highs: It's always adorable to watch what a cat thinks its doing, versus what the reality is.

Lows: I wish we'd seen more of Stormy.

Verdict: A great stocking-stuffer or gift card holder present.

Further Reading: Chi's Sweet Home, How to Tell if Your Cat is Trying to Kill You 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

A small town with a big secret

Small towns everywhere have a few things in common. There's a group of overly-involved mothers who rule the town via a network of gossip. There's usually a relatively incompetent sheriff's department that gets lazy due to the lack of real crime to deal with. There's kids who will live out their whole lives there, and others who want to leave the day after they get their diplomas. Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl do a wonderful job at setting the scene of Gatlin, South Carolina in their novel Beautiful Creatures

Ethan Wate is one of the kids who can't wait to leave town. He has a map of all the locations in the books he's read that he wants to visit. He hides his books under his bed, Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird, since even though is family is more progressive than some of the other families in town, it's still not expected that one of the stars of the basketball team would have a bookwormish bedroom. He's had a hard time of it recently, following the death of his mother, and with his father retreating more and more into his study to work on his 'Great American Novel,' he's been relying on Amma more and more for advice and love. Good old Amma, with the little wards she leaves around the house, and her wise advice mixed with cryptic phrases.

He's been having nightmares recently. In them, a girl is falling, and her fingers slip out of his hand. He can never quite make out her face, and he's sure that he doesn't know her, but he also knows that he loves this girl more than he can believe. He can never remember how the dreams ends, and even stranger, no matter how sure he is that he shut the window at night, it's always open when he wakes up.

On his first day of school, after yet another one of these strange dreams, he finds a new song on his ipod. 'Sixteen Moons.' He tries to show it to his best friend Link, but when he goes to pull it up again it's vanished. But there's news at school: there's a new girl. An actual girl, named Lena Duchannes, that they haven't known since they were babies. Big news in such a small town. And even stranger, she's the niece of the town recluse, and living in the house that everyone's convinced is haunted. Arriving at school in a hearse probably didn't help the rumors much, either.

Later in the day, he hears the strains of the dream song wafting up from the band room, but again the person playing it is gone by the time he gets there. 

Driving home from a freak thunderstorm, Ethan almost runs over a shadowy figure in the road. It turns out that the person in the road is Lena, and her hearse broke down. As Ethan gets a good look at the new girl, he realizes something: this is the girl that he's been dreaming about.

Beautiful Creatures takes the typical YA romance story and infuses magic. Lena is overprotected for a reason: this year, on her sixteenth birthday, she will be Claimed as either a Light or Dark magic user, with huge consequences either way. Ethan learns more than he ever thought he would about the men he was named after, and each of the 'Families' of Gatlin have more skeletons in their closets than an anatomy classroom.

There's quite a few storylines in this book, possibly because it is the first of a quartet. As such, at times the book drags terribly. At one point, Ethan and Lena's lives turn into "try to find information, can't find information, hang out some more." And while this is how life usually is, it didn't need to be shown to the reader. Also, perhaps because both authors are women, at times Ethan seems to be more of a female character skinned as a high school boy than an actual guy. Both he and Link are completely idealized teenage boys, without any of the crudeness that one expects.

Despite its flaws, Beautiful Creatures is an engaging Young Adult romance, with a well thought out magical system and side characters that fascinate even more than the main ones.

Highs: The Caster Library is every bibliophile's dream.

Lows: Naming a librarian Marian is just too spot-on-the-nose for me.

Verdict: At an intimidating 560 pages, Beautiful Creatures drags occasionally but is still a relatively quick, entertaining read.

Further Reading: A Discovery of Witches, A Shimmer of Angels, Dust Girl

Monday, October 7, 2013

Manga Monday: Complicated families make for complicated emotions

Rin contemplates what it means to be a family in Bunny Drop Volume 8.

Note: Bunny Drop Volume 8 is, of course, part of a series. Check out the review of Volume 1 here, or the review of Volume 7 here. Otherwise, read on!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

An early Steampunk adventure gets a revisit

Mr. Dower is back in London, but it's hardly the city he remembers in K W Jeter's long-awaited sequel to Infernal Devices, Fiendish Schemes.

Note: Fiendish Schemes is the direct sequel to Infernal Devices: A Mad Victorian Fantasy. Check out the review of the the first book here. Otherwise, read on!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Medical science gone too far

Science has a way of taking something that seems completely commonplace and making it into the next leap forward. Medicine especially can take the strangest things, like white willow bark, turn the extracted acetylsalicylic acid into salicylic acid, and market it as Asprin. Russia took a different route to fight bacterial infections than the West, and now uses a variation of a microbe found in the sewers called bacteriophages to attack the specific infection found in the patient without damaging surrounding tissues. Ideas that not too long ago were the stuff of science fiction have been appearing in the real world.

In Parasite, by Mira Grant, the scientists and SymboGen Corporation have taken that idea a step further. They've genetically engineered the tapeworm parasite into a whole healthcare system. It can secrete hormones such as insulin, making most maintenance medications obsolete. It has just enough markers similar to human DNA to avoid an immune system response, and it's unable to reproduce, so it can't escape into the wild.

Her symbiote is the only reason anyone can figure that Sally Mitchell survived her car accident. After being in a coma, with a diagnosis of "clinical brain death," her family made the painful decision to take her off of life support, so her organs could be used for other patients. As they were saying their final goodbyes, however, Sal's eyes snapped open. 

The only lasting effect from her accident seemed to be a profound amnesia, which left her a complete blank slate. The last few years have been spent learning to walk and talk, feed herself and interact properly with others. Now, Sal's able to work part-time at an animal shelter, and even has a boyfriend. She's also turned into SymboGen's pet guinea pig, since no one else has ever come back from such massive trauma, symbiote or no.

That's not the only thing that SymboGen has on its plate. People have been acting oddly. Sal's seen it herself. People will be perfectly fine one minute, and then turn into something like sleepwalkers. They'll simply stop what they're doing and wander off, eventually falling into comas. And as both SymboGen and her parents become more and more controlling, Sal will have to start finding answers on her own.

Parasite give a lot of information to the reader very quickly, starting most chapters with 'excerpts' from news articles and biographies involving SymboGen and its founders. Grant excels at this type of info-dump, never making the reader feel talked down to or bored. While a few of the characters, especially Sal, occasionally react in ways that make the reader want to shake them by the shoulders until they see what's right in front of their faces, Parasite is an inventive rollercoaster of a novel, that slowly turns from a near-future science-fiction novel to eerily creepy horror.

Highs: Tansy, with a very Harley Quinn style personality, is one of my favorite characters in a long while

Lows: As smart as many of the characters are, it's as if they were being purposefully dense about one particular plot point

Verdict: Mira Grant is back in fine form, with a new universe to explore

Further Reading: Feed, Machine Man

Monday, September 23, 2013

Manga Monday: Eren's hardest trial yet

Eren, Misaka and Armin face a new enemy - their fellow soldiers - in Attack on Titan Volume 3

Attack on Titan Volume 3 is, of course, part of an ongoing series. Check out the review for Volume 1 here, and Volume 2 here.  Otherwise, read on!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

A blend of the modern and the traditional

The lines between the modern, the traditional and the magical blur in Nnedi Okorafor's short story collection Kabu Kabu.

In the titular story, all Ngozi wants is to get to the airport. Her sister, while born in America like her, is getting married in Nigeria, and she needs to support her through the unfamiliar ceremonies. But after a late start, she only has half an hour to make it to O'Hare. Maybe that's why she takes the kabu-kabu that stops for her. A Chicago cop, she knows better than to get into an unregistered cab., but the ride that she takes goes much farther than a simple pickpocketing.

'The Ghastly Bird' is a homage to one of humanity's atrocities against the natural world. A renowned ornithologist, Zev chooses to make Mauritius his base of operations. Once home to the flightless, trusting dodo, Zev is convinced that the bird was too smart to go extinct so easily. Rather, the dodo must be hiding somewhere on the island, biding its time until ti is safe to reappear. He creates a wonderful sanctuary around his home, including fruit trees that are favorites of the island's indigenous birds. And one morning, he hears that distinctive call.

'The Carpet' is the nearest that this collection comes to a haunted house story. Sisters Zuma and Mukoso have traveled to their father's home village in Nigeria to visit their family, as well as to check out the house that their parents had built their for themselves. After a strange run-in at the market, the sisters arrive at the house to find it completely empty. Not only have all the furnishings for the house disappeared, there is no plumbing or wiring either. It has all been taken by the people of the village, their own family members. Rather than stay in the home of these people, the sisters choose to stay in the empty house by themselves. But the nights are awfully dark out in the village, and the sounds outside their bedroom door aren't what they're used to.

Okorafor is a master of the short form. In just a few pages, she can transport the reader a thousand miles away, seamlessly blending reality and fantasy in a way that leaves the reader almost questioning where the line between real and unreal lies.

The only flaw with the collection, and it's a big one, is in the first story. 'The Magical Negro' is a response to the stereotypical "exotic shaman survives just long enough to give the hero that vital piece of information before he's killed off" trope that appears all too often in poorly written fiction. While it's well-written, not only is it not representative of the rest of the collection, out-of-context it's quite hostile to the reader. If I had flipped through the book at a store and stopped to read the first story, I'd have put it back on the shelf and missed out on the rest of this wonderful book. Instead, I might have put this as a closing story for the collection.

Beyond that, though, Kabu Kabu is magical realism at its finest, showing the world a mythology sorely overlooked by most authors.

Highs: The imagery of teaching a security and repair android to appreciate music is absolutely beautiful

Lows: It was hard at times to tell if the stories had interconnected storylines, or if they were each different takes on the same folk story

Verdict: A hauntingly beautiful collection of stories

Further Reading: Moscow but Dreaming, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, The Midnight Palace

Monday, September 16, 2013

Manga Monday: Like mother, like daughter

Osamu Tezuka revisits the realm of Silverland from his beloved shojo classic in The Twin Knights.

The Twin Knights is the sequel to Princess Knight. Although it takes places years later, there are a few spoilers from the first series. The review of Princess Knight Volume 1 is here. Otherwise, read on!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Attending the Season in London has rarely been so dangerous

With an uncle like Sherlock Holmes, it only follows that Evelina Cooper would end up in the middle of a murder mystery in Emma Jane Holloway's debut novel, A Study in Silks.

Evelina hasn't had the easiest upbringing. Her mother left her easy life when she married into a gypsy family, and after she died, Evelina was lucky that the circus kept her on. Of course, she worked for her keep, as a tumbler and acrobat, but it's hard for a young girl to bring enough of a draw to justify the extra mouth to feed. But as long as she was there, Niccolo was also around to keep an eye on her, either as a big brother figure, or perhaps something more. From her father's side, she's also inherited a knack for the magical. Able to talk with small spirits around her, she and Niccolo have an affinity with each other than neither can quite control.

But later, as she got older, her mother's family took an interest in her. Eventually, she's taken away from the circus by her Grandmother Holmes, and installed in a proper boarding school. It took quite awhile to adapt to the much different society she found herself in, but in the end she learned that she has a real knack for her schoolwork, and enjoys learning more than anything else. She also developed something of a knack for clockwork devices, much to the chagrin of anyone who would want her to be a proper young lady. Her new dream, though, is to attend one of the Women's Colleges.

While at school, she befriended a rather sickly girl named Imogen Bancroft. Much more the proper young lady than Miss Cooper, Imogen helped Evelina catch up with the ways of the gentry, and they developed a fast friendship. Now that Imogen is ready for her first Season in London, she's invited Evelina to stay with her at her family's house and partake of the balls with her. And perhaps they can both find husbands out of it, as well.

All these plans are thrown into question, however, when one of the maids is found murdered. Any sort of attention to the Bancroft family about something so unsavory could ruin poor Imogen's chances at making a good match, so Evelina takes it upon herself to solve the mystery before it gets too well-known. As the mystery deepens, Evelina finds herself facing down enemies, both steam-powered and magical, that she would never have believed. From a man that Lord Bancroft wishes would stay in his past, to Tobias Bancroft's idle mischief involving eight-legged mechanical chaos, the Bancroft house spirals out of control, and it'll take a mind like the great Holmes himself to set it all right again.

Reading this as an ebook, the reader doesn't quite realize what a weighty tome it is. With the paperback edition coming in at a hefty 560 pages, this is not a Steampunk novella to be ripped through in an evening. Rather, the reader enjoys the points of view of not only Evelina, but Tobias and Niccolo as well, along with the intertwining mysteries that each is involved with. While there is a bit of the love triangle between the three of them, it's not the bodice-ripper that the genre has, unfortunately, become known for. Instead, we get a proper Victorian will-she-won't-she as Miss Cooper must finally decide whether to be a part of the circus she grew up in, or the gentry that affords her the opportunity of college. Either way, there will be hurt feelings and regrets. A Study in Silks, the first novel of The Baskerville Affair, leaves the reader eagerly anticipating the next installment.

Highs: Holloway perfectly conveys the longing for a former life that Evelina is going through, especially during the scene at the circus

Lows: People who are attached to the original Sherlock Holmes stories, in which the answer is never magic, might object to the addition of magic to this story

Verdict: A wonderful book that will enthrall the reader from beginning to end

Further Reading: A Study in Darkness, 'Clockwork Chickadee', 'Tanglefoot'

Monday, September 9, 2013

Manga Monday: No time to mourn

Our new graduates are called on to defend humanity from an invasion lead by the Colossus Titan in Attack On Titan Volume 2

Attack on Titan Volume 2 is, of course, the sequel to Attack on Titan Volume 1. Check out the review for Volume 1 here.  Otherwise, read on!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

An early Steampunk romp through Victorian London

After his father's death, a young man's world begins to crumble around him in K W Jeter's Infernal Devices: A Mad Victorian Fantasy.

When George Dower inherited a watch shop from his absent father, he knew it wouldn't be the best fit for him. A basic understanding of such devices is hardly enough to make sense of the amazing inventions found in his shop, and a disaster involving a clockwork choir in a nearby church was almost enough to ruin him once and for all. But for the time being, Dower's been getting by with the simple repairs he's able to do, along with selling off some of the more complex items he's found in the workshop.

His bubble of genteel poverty bursts the day a strange man enters the shop hoping for a repair. Described as 'a murderous savage Ethiope' by his loyal, if somewhat dramatic, assistant Creff, he's brought a small chest with a device the likes of which Dower has never seen and certainly cannot repair. Nevertheless, the Brown Leather Man isn't willing to take no for an answer, and leaves the device, along with prepayment, behind.

After a break-in by perhaps the strangest pair of confidence men ever to grace Victorian England's streets, Mr. Dower's life simply derails. From The Church of Saint Monkfish, to a violinist with an ego problem, to a nobleman's delusional plan to destroy the Earth, it's a wonder that poor George doesn't simply give up and go mad. It would certainly be the easier course of action, especially after the Ladies Union for the Suppression of Carnal Vice starts chasing after him.

KW Jeter may be best known for coining the term 'Steampunk' as a tongue-in-cheek reference to an earlier work in the late 1980s, but his stories deserve more credit than this. Constant action, curious characters and a splendid streak of dark humor makes Infernal Devices a modern steampunk classic.

Highs: So many scientific ideas, viewed through the quasi-scientific lens of the Victorian age, come together beautifully at the end

Lows: The Angry Robot ebook edition is full of spelling and formatting errors, so a paper copy would be the way to go here

Verdict: One of the earliest modern works of steampunk fiction, with a story that holds up well, this is a quick read that fans of the genre should definitely check out

Further Reading: Fiendish Schemes, 'Tanglefoot', Chasing the Moon

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Undead army VS mysterious ninja

Magic, martial arts and an undead army all come together in Jon F. Merz's The Undead Hordes of Kan-Gul.

All Ran really wants is to travel to the west, to the kingdom of Valrus. After rescuing Princess Cassandra, Ran had to report back to his clan, but now that he's out on a wandering quest, he fully intends to wander his way west.

His choice of boat is rather unfortunate, however, and he quickly finds himself shipwrecked on an island rumored to be the home of an evil sorcerer. Ran isn't the type to believe fantastical rumors of armies of dead soldiers risen once more, but there's something odd about this island. Besides the swarms of mosquitoes, there doesn't seem to be anything else alive on it. No birds, no mice, nothing. And when one of the castaways disappears seemingly without a trace, it becomes apparent that they need to get off this island, however they can.

His fellow castaways are something of a mixed bag. The rich merchant that Ran first encounters at the pub seems like he'll be completely useless in a situation where money doesn't help. The ship's captain seems pragmatic enough, but that shark bite to the leg is going to slow him down a bit. The beautiful sorceress-to-be and her bodyguard are surprisingly able, and the old warrior whose background is as fuzzy as Ran's is a strong ally.

As they cross the island, one thing is made perfectly clear: the rumors of Kan-Gul are absolutely true.

Merz creates an alternate Asia for this novel, and gives the reader glimpses into what seems to be a very fully developed world. The characters gain depth and personalities during the course of the novel, and the reader ends up rooting for the good guys simply because they're likable. It's a classic, clean-cut good-guys-versus-bad-guys tale that leaves the reader wishing the next book was already out.

Highs: Watching Jysal develop from a young damsel in distress to a very powerful, if uncontrolled sorceress in her own right, is fun to watch

Lows: I caught a few of the 'twists' pretty early on, but that might be because I've been reading a lot of 'twist-y' books lately

Verdict: A very fun, traditional adventure novel, with dark magic, ninjas and zombies tossed in for fun

Further Reading: Under a Graveyard Sky, The Legend of Eli Monpress, Moribito