I read like a fiend on my Kindle at night while working on the beach house renovation. Today’s book reviews are just the tip of the iceberg. When I ran out of books I’d agreed to read for publishers and authors, I went scrounging around online for books by authors whose work I love but had fallen behind on…and I had a blast getting caught up!
Today, I’ve selected what may look like a mishmash at first glance but all of these novels have several things in common.
1) They’re all really well written by some of my favorite authors.
2) They’re all very imaginative.
3) They explore unusual possibilities.
4) They are part of series we have already reviewed, series we somehow missed, or series that are just beginning.
They fall into several fantasy or sci-fi sub-genres; dystopian, the supernatural, and steampunk. And I liked every one of them so much I could hardly wait to share them with you.
So, let’s talk steampunk for a moment. I love Gail Carriger’s work. It’s steampunk with a strong girl-power thread, turning the Victorian era on its head by featuring strong, independent young women who don’t let the strictures society tries to place on them stop them in any way, shape or form. Talk about empowering!
One of the first novels I reviewed on this web site was Soulless, Book #1 in her Parasol Protectorate series. I loved that series, which isn’t just steampunk but also includes lots of paranormal creatures living among the humans of Victorian England. You can read that review here.
I had seen her latest series, Finishing School, and had wanted to read it, so this summer seemed like the perfect time. I’m giving you an overview of the first 3 books in the series; Etiquette & Espionage, Curtsies & Conspiracies, and Waistcoats & Weaponry. I literally devoured this series back-to-back, and loved every minute of it. Please note: Book #4, Manners & Mutiny, is being published today and I’m jumping up and down because I can hardly wait to read it!
Sophronia Temminick is a real trial to her oh-so-proper English family. She loved taking apart anything mechanical, climbing trees, and playing pranks. Her poor mother despairs that Sophronia may never learn any manners at all, much less attract an appropriate husband. And her curtsy *gasp* is more like a curse. How could her parents have failed so horribly with her when her sisters behave like such proper young ladies?
At her wits’ end, and despite Sophronia’s extensive pleadings, her mother packs her off to Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality in hopes that they can do the impossible, turn Sophronia into a proper Victorian English lady. Needless to say Sophronia believes she is being cast into her unique version of hell, only to quickly learn this particular finishing school is quite different than her mother has been led to believe.
In fact, it’s probably the most perfect school in the world for Sophronia’s inquisitive nature and innate talents. Not only is it not in some stuffy old mansion or cold academic school but it’s a school that floats high above England in an elaborate airship. Don’t get me wrong, Sophronia does have to learn all the fine arts of being a proper Victorian lady; however, those skills will help hide her in plain sight. She also is receiving instruction in other more interesting arts that would cause her dear mother to faint from apoplexy because those arts include espionage, diversion, and even murder…all so she can be a spy and/or assassin for Queen and country.
For readers who loved the Parasol Protectorate’s world, this is the same steampunk/paranormal Victorian world, although it predates that series. It also includes wonderful steampunk inventions, robots, werewolves, vampires, and excellent adventures.
In addition to Sophronia’s school for young ladies, there’s a school for young men training to be inventors, scientists, and spies. They provide inventions the girls can test out…and make for reluctant but important escorts for learning the social graces, such as dancing. And, of course, Sophronia can’t resist exploring forbidden areas of the school, which gets her into all kinds of trouble.
This series is making this Gail Carriger fan very happy. All of the fun elements from the Parasol Protectorate series are included with a fresh new sub-world within that world. I’ve just ordered Finishing School’s Book #4, which I’ll start as soon as I finish the book I’m reading, she said while tapping her foot impatiently. I recommend the Finishing School series for anyone who likes a fun read no matter what their age. Yes, it’s a YA series but we didn’t have these kinds of books when I was a teen and the message is an excellent one no matter how old you are from middle school to infinity.
Can’t wait to read the Finishing School series? Books #1 through #4 are available from your favorite online bookseller now at the links immediately below.
Next up in this book review marathon is Cold Burn of Magic by Jennifer Estep. It’s Book #1 of the new Black Blade urban fantasy series. Since I read it this summer, Book #2, Dark Heart of Magic, has been published. Book #3, Bright Blaze of Magic, will be published in April 2016. I wanted to introduce you to this series even though I haven’t read Book #2 yet (more ordering to do), because Jennifer Estep writes killer fantasy novels with strong female lead characters. I was completely addicted to her Elemental Assassin series. I reviewed Book #4 in that series, Tangled Threads – click here to read that review. I also reviewed Dark Frost from her Mythos Academy series, which I also loved – click here to read that review.
Cold Burn of Magic introduces us to a town that tourists know as the most magical town in America, Cloudburst Falls. It’s still a small town with a high school teens can’t wait to graduate from and with several important families feuding over who’s going to have the most power in town. Unfortunately those same families all have strong magic that could blow Cloudburst Falls sky-high if they can’t keep their magical skirmishes down to a simmer. If an all-out family-against-family war ever broke out – poof – that would be the end of this small town. Think what it would be like if the Mafia had strong magical powers and opposing factions were fighting over a Disneyland-like theme park hiding real magical creatures in plain sight…get it?
Seventeen-year-old Lila lives smack dab in the middle of all of this. She has fallen on hard times and has been sleeping in a small hidden cubby in the local library while stealing from powerful local families for the last four years, ever since her mom was murdered defending the Sinclair Family. She also works part-time in a local pawnshop for a friend of her mom’s who promised to look out for her – and does in his own unique but often self-serving way. Lila does have at least some protection against the big bad uglies because she has her mother’s black blade and she knows enough to not tempt fate most of the time (aside from those pesky burglaries). For example, she always pays the toll when she crosses the troll bridge…she’s no dummy. She also has some hidden talents we won’t talk about.
When Lila steps in to save Devon Sinclair’s life, she does so instinctively despite the fact that she despises his family. If she had known what would happen next, and how it would turn her world completely upside down, would she still have saved him?
Jennifer Estep has created another world in Cold Burn of Magic that I know I’m going to have a great time reading about. She writes complex characters and complex stories. This might be classified as YA fiction by some but to me it’s quite well thought out and mature writing. Although Cold Burn of Magic may sound like a classic good vs. evil, black & white story, it’s not. Estep’s characters all have the same complicated elements all of us have, including good qualities and a few that are less than optimal (our shadow side). Most of us work to optimize our good qualities and accept while minimizing our shadow side – but some don’t. Estep is also wonderful at creating light elements in her novels, including characters who defuse a story thread that could go really dark if it didn’t include them. Ms. Estep also doesn’t confine herself to magical talents we’ve seen over and over again – she’s invented some excellent new ones that I loved. And, last but not least, this book is self-contained – no cliffhangers. Yay! Looks like we’ve got another winning magical series to look forward to reading, and I can’t wait to get started on the follow-up books!
Can’t wait to read the Black Blade series? The first 2 books are available from your favorite online bookseller. Just click on the links below to go get them now!
Next up, we’ve got two very different sci-fi novels from Angry Robot, one of my favorite sci-fi/fantasy/dystopian publishers. I agreed to read these books and possibly review them last summer before the renovation became something that ate my life. This novel is Dawnbreaker by Jay Posey, Book #3 in the Legends of the Duskwalker trilogy. You can read my review of Book #1, Three, here and my review of Book #2, Morningside Fall, here.
This trilogy takes place in a post-apocalyptic world – a world that’s very unsafe for humans. It contains elements of Mad Max, the Old West, and sci-fi creatures from hell. It may be dystopian but it also has horror/sci-fi elements that set it apart from a lot of dystopian novels. Now you know I’m a wuss when it comes to horror; however, I loved this trilogy because of the human characters in it and it’s testimony to the indomitable human spirit – we humans never give up, no matter what and there are a lot of no matter whats in this trilogy.
Because of the danger in giving away huge spoilers for people who haven’t read the first two books, I’m not going to say anything about the content in Dawnbreaker except that it ties everything up quite well but without a big red bow – it’s too pragmatic and realistic for that kind of unrealistic ending. If you’ve read the first two novels in the trilogy, I can tell you that you will definitely want to read Book #3. If you haven’t read the books in this trilogy, and you like dystopian or post-apocalyptic novels then read my review of Book #1. I’m betting you’ll want to read this one because the genre combinations in it make for one hell of a good read!
Can’t wait to read the Legends of the Duskwalker trilogy? All 3 books are available from your favorite online bookseller now. Just click on the links below and get them to read now!
Last but definitely not least is the sci-fi/dystopian novel Empire Ascendant, Book #2 of the Worldbreaker Saga series by Kameron Hurley. Click here to read my review of Book #1, The Mirror Empire.
This series revolves around two worlds populated by identical people (doppelgangers) who have taken divergent paths. The people of both worlds are fighting for their survival, as one dying world’s people begin to invade the other. It’s maddening because it becomes incredibly difficult to determine whether someone you’ve known your entire life is that same person or a doppelganger from the dying world bent on your destruction. Is there any way to prevent the dying world’s vast armies from destroying everything good in its twin world, as it did on its own planet? Is there any way to close the gate between the worlds before it’s too late? What sacrifices will have to be made to end the slaughter?
Survival – this core need is at the heart of this series. Individual survival, family survival, cultural survival, and world survival. Both worlds are struggling to survive at the other’s expense. That makes for one hell of a story thread. What makes it such a compelling read, though, are the individual stories woven throughout both worlds’ populations – stories that tug at our hearts and stir outrage. Stories that make us cheer for those who refuse to give up, despite seemingly overwhelming odds that would overwhelm all but the most determined and persistent. The ones who say, “I will never give up, no matter what.”
Kameron Hurly has created two worlds with a variety of complicated cultures and a fairly unique method for invasion. Within those cultures are classically identifiable human power struggles and bonds that tug at us overtly and covertly. Are the invaders evil because they must kill their doppelgangers to survive? Are the safe world’s citizens blameless and victims, or do they play a role in what is destroying their twin planet? Where does the truth lie, and is there only one truth? This series just keeps getting better. It’s one of the most complex sci-fi series I’ve read yet I quickly got back into its worlds when I picked up Book #2. Should you read it? If you love digging deep into worlds and relationships among divergent people, as well as exploring what makes people tick, then I think you’ll really like this series.
Can’t wait to read the Worldbreaker Saga series? The first two books are available from your favorite online bookseller. Just click the links below to get them to read now!
I know I’ve “thrown” a lot of books at you today. It’s a bit overwhelming even to me. I’d love to get your comments on any of the above authors, the books reviewed or their other books, and or how you felt about this kind of multi-book review (which had to be briefer for each book just so it didn’t turn into a book itself).