Monthly Archives: May 2015

The Witch Hunter by Virginia Boecker

18190208Title: The Witch Hunter
Author: Virginia Boecker
Published: June 2, 2015
Pages: 368
Publisher: Little, Brown, and Company
Publisher Website: link
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

[Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

Elizabeth has devoted much of her life so far to becoming one of the best witch hunters in the kingdom. She has worked hard and has earned a stellar reputation that has even drawn notice of the king. But in a surprising twist she stands accused of witchcraft and all of that work seems in vain. The accusations are the first clue that things are not at all as they seem in the kingdom, and Elizabeth soon learns the conspiracy runs far deeper than she could have imagined. She is but a single small target in a larger plot that makes an ally of the enemy and turns friend to foe. Elizabeth learns she will have to rely on those she previously worked against if she’s going to save the kingdom, even if she might not be able to save herself.

Virginia Boecker has created a unique and engaging fantasy world that made for a fun and interesting read. Elizabeth’s journey from hero to purported villain and her quest to save her kingdom, her friends, and her name feels like it could be the start of an epic story. The characters, the plot twists, and the magic of this world all combine to create something that is certainly worth reading.

The ending feels a bit more unresolved than I would have liked, but since this is clearly the beginning of a series, that’s likely forgiven in that more resolution will hopefully be given in the next book. I recommend checking this out if you’re looking for a new YA fantasy world in which to immerse yourself.

Cold Hands and the Smell of Salt by J.Y. Yang

Title: Cold Hands and the Smell of Salt
Author: J.Y. Yang
Published: January 23, 2015
Pages: 3
Publisher: Daily Science Fiction
Publisher Website: link
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Anja returns with the groceries to find her dead husband sitting by the white fence he’d built, pale hands uprooting grass blades and dispersing the shards into the wind through bony fingers. She doesn’t know what he was wearing when he died, but the long thin figure by the gate is clad in the matching grey windbreaker and track pants she’d given away weeks ago.

This somewhat dark taken on a Swedish merfolk legend (see my comment a few posts back about the prevalence of merpeople in science fiction and fantasy at the moment) explores what it means to love, to lose, and to find a way to cope and move on. Finding happiness sometimes seems an impossibility, but there’s a level of personal responsibility for finding happiness and being open to those places where we might find it.  An intriguing and well-written short form J.Y. Yang.

Never Spoken by M.J. Owens

24057862Title: Never Spoken
Author: M.J. Owens
Published: December 18, 2014
Pages: 31
Publisher: M.J. Owens
Publisher Website: link
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Peter’s best friends Evan and Kylie are getting married. He’s happy for them and glad to be able to support them on their special day. But there’s something that’s always been under the surface for Peter that he’s never acknowledged out loud. He’s not sure that he should, but he’s also not sure that he can keep it contained forever. Will he be able to make it through their wedding day without ruining everything?

The journey here with Peter is very interesting. The story is told largely by Peter reflecting back on things that have happened over the years as he tries to sort through his feelings and what he should do. The ending is a bit jarring (and I personally found it to be a bit frustrating), but as I reflected on it after, I could see the slow build that got us there.

The Galaxy Game by Karen Lord

18142342Title: The Galaxy Game
Author: Karen Lord
Published: January 6, 2015
Pages: 336
Publisher: Del Rey
Publisher Website: link
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

I’m going to be honest from the very beginning: writing a plot summary for this book is really challenging. The reason is that any sort of synopsis I can come up with doesn’t do justice to the unique and dynamic story that is contained within these pages. Karen Lord has a masterful way of world building and character development that a reviewer like me just cannot capture in a few short paragraphs. I’ll use the book’s blurb instead, because even though I feel like there’s more to this story than is reflected there, at least it’s the publisher’s approved copy and not my mangled attempt to summarize this for you:

For years, Rafi Delarua saw his family suffer under his father’s unethical use of psionic power. Now the government has Rafi under close watch, but, hating their crude attempts to analyse his brain, he escapes to the planet Punartam, where his abilities are the norm, not the exception. Punartam is also the centre for his favourite sport, wallrunning – and thanks to his best friend, he has found a way to train with the elite. But Rafi soon realises he’s playing quite a different game, for the galaxy is changing; unrest is spreading and the Zhinuvian cartels are plotting, making the stars a far more dangerous place to aim. There may yet be one solution – involving interstellar travel, galactic power and the love of a beautiful game.

The story does take a bit to get going–there’s some lead-up and background that doesn’t seem entirely necessary in the early stages but comes back around to be very important to understanding the world in which these characters live. The personalities, cultural dynamics, and themes of family, success, integrity, and survival are well-represented and very natural to the flow of the story.

This was the first book I’ve read by Karen Lord, but I definitely see myself seeking out more.

Greenwode by J. Tullos Hennig

23571391Title: Greenwode (The Wode, Book 1)
Author: J. Tullos Hennig
Published: January 17, 2013 (Re-released October 28, 2014)
Pages: 370
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press (Re-released by DSP Publications)
Publisher Website: link
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

I’m going to simply start off by saying this was incredible! This refreshing and unique take on the tale of Robin Hood had me gripped to every single page. I love when an author can take a time-honored tale and truly make it her own, telling it in a way that hearkens enough to the original legend but has enough new layers to tell a new story. The layers that J. Tullos Hennig has added here are indeed many, but they also feel very natural to the story. There’s almost an air of realism to this fantasy and even an element of historical fiction through the portrayal of religion and the quest of zealous Christians to stamp out anything they view as “pagan” or “evil”. It’s also a true coming-of-age tale for both Robyn and Gamelyn (and, of course, Marion, too, though we don’t quite see as much of her here). The only disappointments I have are that I let this sit on my shelf for so long before reading it and the fact that I don’t have the sequel at hand to pick it up and start in on it immediately. Definitely one of the best fantasy novels I’ve read in some time and certainly one of the better books I’ve read recently overall. Very highly recommended!

On the Quest to Find the Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of 2014: The Locus Awards

I’ve shared before that I don’t feel this year’s Hugo Awards ballot truly represents what readers and fans see as the “best” of Science Fiction & Fantasy in 2014.  This is certainly a personal opinion, but of the dialogue that has occurred online since the ballot was announced is any indication, I’m not even close to alone in this assessment.  In light of this, I’ve been looking for other sources to find great recommendations that might help guide me in finding some of the “best” works that I’ve yet to read. I’ve looked at blogs, I’ve taken recommendations from friends and readers, and I’ve even read some additional works just to see where I think they rate.

One source that I think closely resembles what the Hugo Awards ballot may have looked like if it hadn’t been gamed is the list of Locus Awards Finalists.  Like the Hugos, the Locus Awards are also fan-driven, with nominations open to anyone (though additional weight is given to nominations by subscribers of the Locus Online magazine) but some of the categories are different, providing some unique lists and, in some cases, space to recognize additional works (see that Locus subdivides Best Novel into separate Science Fiction and Fantasy categories, where the Hugo does not).

Interestingly, there are only two works on this list that I personally nominated for the Hugo:

  • The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison (is on the Hugo ballot)
  • City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett

Despite this, I look through this list and feel far more comfortable with its composition. The nominees here make sense.  Many of them are works I’ve heard of or when I look into them further, I can understand why they were nominated.  There are no questions of quality for me here and nothing close to the questions surrounding integrity that exist on the Hugo front.  I’ll definitely be pulling several titles from this list to read in my spare time (ha!) over the next few months and will be looking forward to seeing who takes home these awards in June.

Whispers in the Dark by Chase J. Jackson

23422495Title: Whispers in the Dark
Author: Chase J. Jackson
Published: May 26, 2015
Pages: 114
Publisher: Boutique of Quality Books
Publisher Website: link
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

[Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

Adrian Ramirez has just finished college and returned to his hometown with his girlfriend. He’s been hired as a teacher at the prestigious Finley Academy and can’t wait to make the most of this opportunity. But when his girlfriend is hearing things in their house, he’s experiencing strange and vivid dreams, and there seems to me more to two of his students than meets the eye, there’s a question about whether things are going to be as great for him as he anticipated. Past mistakes can haunt us; this is something Adrian might have to learn firsthand.

For fans of young adult paranormal, this is a find. It’s an interesting story, a quick and easy read, and suspenseful enough to keep a reader glued to the pages. One thing I appreciated is that there wasn’t much in the way of extraneous material. This book focuses on the story it’s meant to tell. And it’s just on the unsettling side of eerie.

Wide Awake by Kade Boehme

18273077Title: Wide Awake (Wide Awake, Book 1)
Author: Kade Boehme
Published: July 30, 2013
Pages: 158
Publisher: Kade Boehme
Author Website: link
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Tyler Marcus has found a guy he’s interested in, but it’s not as easy as just saying “yes.” Because the guy is Mark Riley, a man much older than him and who also happens to be his best friend’s father. On top of the challenges of starting a new relationship, the two will have to contend with the opinions of their friends and family, something exacerbated by the fact that many of them are still rather upset with Mark since his divorce. Can they find the strength to be true to themselves? And is their bond strong enough to withstand the negative feelings of everyone around them?

This was a cute story on a number of levels. I thought it was interesting to see how both characters’ families reacted to learning about the relationship and the complex dynamics that came into play. Sometimes I felt like the reactions were a bit contrived, but it didn’t really detract too much from the overall story. I also was slightly confused by the age difference as it never really added up to me (did Mark and his wife have their son when they were 11 or something?), but that’s another item that I was able to tuck away and not have it distract me.

In the end, it’s a nice romance with a focus on finding and being true to yourself, and it’s a generally enjoyable read.

Love Comes Around by Andrew Grey

23153207Title: Love Comes Around (Senses, Book 4)
Author: Andrew Grey
Published: September 19, 2014
Pages: 200
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Publisher Website: link
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Connor grew up in foster care and has worked hard to make good for himself. He’s started his own business as a carpenter and has found success in his work. While completing some repairs at the local orphanage, he meets Dan who is there dropping off one of the kids after a brief stay at his house. Dan wants to hire Connor to make some renovations to his house, but Connor is initially reluctant because of what he thinks of Dan’s character. But what starts as a misunderstanding paves the way for friendship and possibly for something more as Connor is asked to help Dan make his home ready for a new addition.

The fourth book in Andrew Grey’s senses series, this is yet another great installment. The way these books tell complete complex stories that focus not only on the relationship but also what it means to find love, to love yourself, and to be a part of a family is wonderful. I feel like there’s no other word for it. I’ve enjoyed every one and this is no exception.

While these books are part of a series, they can be read as standalone books, too. The main characters in one book are secondary/background characters in others, but knowledge of the rest of the series isn’t necessary.

Saving Sean by Con Riley

15832099Title: Saving Sean (Seattle Stories, Book 2)
Author: Con Riley
Published: September 24, 2012
Pages: 280
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Publisher Website: link
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

When Peter Morse is asked by his friend Theo to track down Theo’s assistant’s brother, Sean, he is hesitant at first. He’s been on the road and just wants to get home and enjoy some downtime. But he ultimately finds himself agreeing, having no idea what’s in store for him when he finally tracks down Sean. While things get off to a rocky start, Peter is quickly smitten with this new man and finds himself going to great lengths to help him get his life back together.

The story here is an interesting one. The layers of issues that Sean has to work through in the aftermath of his father’s death are many and makes for a very fascinating set of circumstances. And it was great to see all of the major players from After Ben return in this installment.

One thing that really bothered me is the narration in relation to Peter. It’s stated at the beginning that he often says what he’s thinking out loud and doesn’t realize he’s doing it. This isn’t clear in the text – his thoughts are presented as thoughts and sometimes the other characters respond as though they were said out loud and sometimes they don’t. I found it very confusing and a bit distracting. But it’s still a great story overall.