Speculative Chic year-end roundup

If you aren’t a reader of Speculative Chic, the other blog I contribute to, here’s a run down of what I’ve posted there this year.

Ancillary Mercy by Ann LeckiMy review of Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie

I reviewed Ancillary Mercy, the third and final installment of the Imperial Radch trilogy,  over at Speculative Chic as part of our series on 2016 Hugo nominees. I may not have reviewed Ancillary Justice and Ancillary Sword (books one and two) anywhere — and that needs to be rectified at some point, but I have read them. I’d say Ancillary Justice blew my mind, and the other two cemented Leckie as an author to keep reading.

super-extra-grande-by-yossMy review of Super Extra Grande by Yoss

Super Extra Grande was an impulse read picked up from the library based on the back blurb and the slim size (I can’t often commit to longer books anymore). It’s about a veterinarian that specializes on ginormous space animals, so of course I wanted to read it.

sff-geek-list1A Geekish Gift Guide – this year instead of posting my usual bookish gift guide, I created a “Geekish” one inspired by my fellow contributors over at Speculative Chic. From SFF movies and TV to gaming and banned books, we have a wide range of interests. This was a fun one to put together. Hope you enjoy!

Finally, I talked about a few of “My Favorite Things” over the year:

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The Modern Fae’s Guide to Surviving Humanity by various authors, edited by Joshua Palmatier and Patricia Bray

The Modern Fae's Guide to Surviving Humanity
edited by
Joshua Palmatier
and Patricia Bray

This is an anthology of short stories that I bought while I was at Lunacon earlier this year. The concept behind each of the stories is how fae creatures may have adapted to modern times. I guess you can say all urban fantasy explores this idea, but these stories really focus on the clash of cultures and creative ways a square peg can fit into a round hole.There are fourteen stories in this book and I don’t plan to give away spoilery details to any of them, so this review is going to be really brief overviews and impressions of each story.
 
1) We Will Not Be Undersold by Seanan McGuire – This story centers around big-box store Undermart. Regular-guy Dan is an employee dating Nimh, one of the junior managers, and all is well until he begins to notice odd behavior at work. This was a quick, cute, tongue-in-cheek read and a good one to start anthology on a light note. It feels very different from what I’ve read from Seanan McGuire before. There’s something of a young adult air to it.
 
2) Changeling by Susan Jett – Marisol, a new mother distraught over complications during her son’s birth, discovers how the fae have adapted to New York when her midwife remembers just where she saw the birthing nurse before. A hero’s journey story that has a few familiar folktale elements and a thought-provoking ending.
 
3) Water-called by Kari Sperring – Jenny is some sort of water spirit or elemental that has fed on humans that have fallen into her canal for centuries. Lately the bodies have been leeched prior to their dumping and Jenny is forced to deal with the hunter infringing on her territory. This is a story set in the nighttime, with a main character that is far removed from human concerns and emotions. She is a predator — ancient and terrible. I enjoyed the tangible descriptions of the canal and its surroundings and everything to do with Jenny. Where this story went wrong for me was the ‘hunter’ character.
 
4) The Roots of Ashton Quercus by Juliet E. McKenna – Another story with fae as the protagonist, but this time with less predatory concerns than the last story. It is about a grove of dryads that have discovered that their trees are about to be razed for a new road. I liked the solution they came up with and how their group dynamics played out within the story.
 
5) To Scratch an Itch by Avery Shade – This time the fae in question is a little girl named Avery Sky who was told she had to abide by three rules, and one of them has to do with telling her parents if she ever got an itch between her eyes. This is what happens to Avery when the itch finally comes. This was a sweet story about childhood. I liked that the mystery behind the itch rule is revealed to the reader at the same time it is to Avery.
 
6) Continuing Education by Kristine Smith – Lee Kincaid is enrolled in an MBA program at the Old Campus of Monckton College, but her school’s professors are more than they appear to be. This was a mostly straightforward tale, but touches on the idea of the symbiotic relationship between the fae and humans.
 
7) How To Be Human™ by Barbara Ashford – A jaded “menopausal male fairy” uses his charismatic powers to make money off of self-help seminars. I liked both the premise and the link between power, age, and cynicism in the fairy world.
 
8) How Much Salt by April Steenburg – This is a story about a selkie named Dylan who is forced to go inland because of the way humans are encroaching on the sea shores. The story revolves around where he ends up. I was mildly amused by this one but wouldn’t have minded if it had gone further.
 
9) Hooked by Anton Strout – Hooked is the sort of story that changes as you read it. It starts off with a man knocking on a door because of a flyer, takes a little turn I wasn’t sure I liked, veers into something darker, and then twists and lands elsewhere. Hmm. The destination was OK, but I liked the journey there more.
 
10) Crash by S. C. Butler – A female trader hears a rumor about leprechauns on Wall Street and follows up on it. This left me with a feeling like I’d been gently nudged to imagine some twisted humor in some real world events.
 
11) Fixed by Jean Marie Ward – Jack Tibbert starts off as a cat and is taken to an animal shelter where trouble ensues. This was another story that felt decidedly YA since the narrator, Jack, is a teenage boy and definitely notices the teenage girl who picked him up. There was a good sense of urgency and action in this one, but I could guess where the story was going.
 
12) A People Who Always Know by Shannon Page & Jay Lake – A sort of cloak and dagger story that reveals political fighting between older traditionalists and younger upstarts among the fae. I always like stories that have something of a battle of wits in them so I liked where this went, but I wish there was more to this.
 
13) The Slaughtered Lamb by Elizabeth Bear – I think The Slaughtered Lamb was one of my favorite stories in the anthology in terms of the world building. It had that gritty UF style, and a New York City where magic overflow means there’s a “liaison between the real world and the otherwise one”. This is conveyed to us through the eyes of a transvestite werewolf with achy feet. I liked the characters more than what was actually going on, mostly because the action was quickly dealt with. The characters lingered longer. Yup, another I wanted to continue.
 
14) Corrupted by Jim C. Hines – This was (in my mind) the darkest of the stories, so this book closes on a very different note from which it began. A fairy whose job is protecting humans from those of her own kind, has to pay a high price to keep people safe. I thought this was very grim.
 
Overall: I think my reaction is on the middle ground when I look at the anthology as a whole. There were bits and pieces of each story that sparked my interest but I didn’t find a story that really burned itself in my brain. All of these stories stood alone just fine (if they were companion stories to a series, I couldn’t tell), but there were a few stories here whose worlds I wouldn’t mind revisiting – Elizabeth Bears’, Shannon Page and Jay Lake’s, and April Steenburg’s, in particular. Many felt complete and satisfying as they were (Susan Jett’s, Juliet E. McKenna’s, Barbara Ashford’s, Seanan McGuire’s and a few others), then there were the 3 or 4 stories that felt a little flatter than the rest. These focused on the premise of the fae creatures surviving among humans but I didn’t really notice other elements to them. The stories that incorporated some sort of growth and/or inner conflict, or conveyed the adaptation while telling a bigger story were the most memorable for me.
 
Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository
 
Links:
The Modern Fae’s Guide to Surviving Humanity website

Discount Armageddon by Seanan McGuire

Discount Armageddon
Seanan McGuire

I’m a big fan of Seanan McGuire’s Toby Daye books so I’ve been looking forward to reading Discount Armageddonever since I first heard of it.
 
The Premise: Verity Price comes from a line of cryptozoologists — people who categorize those mythical beings and monsters that humans don’t think really exist. If such a creature (a cryptid) is a danger to people and won’t curtail its harmful nature on its own, her family steps in, but mostly they leave the cryptids alone. They believe in maintaining an ecological equilibrium — not a philosophy that the Covenant of St. George shares. Ever since the Healy/Price family broke off from the Covenant, they’ve been branded as traitors to the human race. After emigrating to America, they’ve kept their heads down to make it harder for the Covenant to find and hunt them down. The exception to the “no publicity” rule is Verity. No one really thinks of dance training as fight training, so she’s allowed to move to New York City where she can monitor the cryptid population there while trying to make it as a dancer. All goes well until a Covenant member is seen in town and members of the cryptid population begin to disappear.
 
My Thoughts: Although they are both classified as urban fantasy, the InCryptid series is very different from the October Daye books. Do not approach this series expecting something like October Daye. I had to do a mind-reset because I found myself comparing them, and it’s like comparing apples and oranges. The biggest difference is that this series is a lot less serious. Verity Price is a younger protagonist with no known baggage and a big dream. She just wants to dance. While she’s respectful of her family business and trained just as hard as her brother Alex and sister Antimony, her indulgence in her real passion, her blonde, blue-eyed look, high energy, and her Smart Aleck demeanor make her by far the least moody urban fantasy heroine I’ve ever met. Verity may not be what a lot of people expect in their urban fantasy, but I don’t think she’s a bad thing. She’s just a UF heroine coming from a different direction.
 
Since Verity is a more light-hearted character, if you guessed that other aspects of Discount Armageddon are light-hearted too, you wouldn’t be wrong. I wouldn’t call it light-hearted to the point of being a farce, because there is some gritty thrown in there (monsters and death and dark, damp, places), but it’s definitely a lot more fun than the UF I’m used to reading. Verity likes to let herself live in the moment with dancing her heart out at a club, free running across rooftops, or dropping into the dark from her kitchen window. She shares her apartment with a colony of talking, religious mice. Mice that worship her family, pepper her apartment with the word “Hail”, and enthusiastically celebrate mundane events as religious holidays.
 
The relationships in this book are blessedly uncomplicated by past drama. When she talks to her family she’s clearly happy and close with them, and they talk about killing monsters and have conversations where basilisks, crossbows, and “I’ll tell them you’re insane but being responsible about it.” are part of the conversation. Verity’s family isn’t in New York with her (with the exception of her cuckoo cousin Sarah), but we hear a lot about them from Verity, and they all seem great and kick butt in their own unique ways.  Verity approaches her romantic relationships without some dark past relationship clouding in her present. What you see is what you get with this girl. There is a blossoming romance in this book and I liked that Verity approached her attraction a straightforward way (although, whether things will work out remains to be seen).
 
The main plot here is the arrival of Dominic De Luca, a young member of the Covenant, to Verity’s turf, and the disappearance of cryptids not long after. Verity has to make a decision about the impressively trained but ill-informed Dominic, and she has to figure out what exactly is behind the missing cryptids. With the help of Sarah, Verity’s nerdy mathematician adopted cousin, who happens to be a Cuckoo (which means she’s got some amazing skills at blending in, including telepathy), the mystery feels relatively straightforward. OK, there are a couple of twists and turns, but I was so much more entertained by Verity’s life that the investigation took a back seat to that for much of the book before coming to the forefront at the end.
 
P.S. The cover – it matches the fun tone of the book, and I like that it’s different from the usual all-black, serious look of other UF covers, but still not in love with the scantily clad in stilettos look. Yes, Verity works as a waitress in a strip joint, and her uniform sounds like what she’s wearing on the cover, but still.
 
Overall: A refreshing urban fantasy that does not take itself too seriously. Discount Armageddon is full of fun and humor, but is balanced with just the right amount of grit. I thoroughly enjoyed Verity’s dynamo presence and her enthusiasm for being in the Now. She’s a kick-ass UF heroine who isn’t angry or angsty, doesn’t have a painful past, and comes with a supportive family. I recommend this one for urban fantasy fans that are looking for something that approaches the genre from a different angle.
 
Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository
 
Other reviews:
Starmetal Oak Book Blog – 6.5
Tynga’s Reviews – positive
Fantasy Cafe – 8.5/10
Fantasy and SciFi Lovin’ News & Reviews – 4.5 out of 5
Lurv a la Mode – 4.5 scoops (out of 5)
Calico Reaction – 9 (Couldn’t put it down) (LJ link, wordpress link)
 
Interesting Links:
The Cryptid Field Guide
 

Conjure Oils: Toby Daye Scent Collection sampler

For a while now, I’ve been curious about the Toby Daye collection from Conjure Oils. This is a collection of scented oils where the fragrances are inspired by the characters and writing of Seanan McGuire. If you read the Toby Daye series, it’s pretty common to read about the scent of a character’s magic, and there are some pretty out-there combinations.  The collection at Conjure Oils consists of 21 scents, from “Makeshift Morgue” and “Garden of Glass Roses” to “Toby Daye” and “May Daye”. It’s $20 for a 5ml bottle, and $35 for a pip selection of 7. I’ve always wondered what pennyroyal and civet musk smelled like…and this is totally book related… so might as well buy..
 
After checking out the selections and reading the comments on the collection in the forum, I decided to try a pip selection with:

(Each of the links above go to the forum post about that scent).
 
About a week later I got this small package:
 

And inside it was:

And inside that was:

My seven choices:

Plus two extra:

I am not really a perfume person (actually some can trigger migraines for me), but let me try to give you my impressions of these scents so far!

The Queen of the Mists – “Madness and the monarch by the sea.  The scent of frozen salt, as cold and unforgiving as the deep. “
Has a floral, soapy sort of scent. Fresh out of the bottle, it reminded me of green grass and the longer it was on my skin the more I smelled like.. the smell of the outdoors after rain, and soap.
 
Tybalt – “A cat may look at a King.  A King may look at anything he likes.  Pennyroyal, civet musk, leather and wild honey. “
I found this a strong smelling scent. A small dab goes a long way. But not a smell I liked really. Very spicy, patchouli/sandlewood/incense range of scent. Lingers for a long time.
 
Quentin – “The knight in waiting: noble wood, sweet blooming heather and the metallic tang of steel. “
Well this is another strong one. Has a sharp scent. Chemical. Then a floral mixed in there. Unfortunately, the combo of the two smells like mothballs to me.
 
Maye Daye – “The Fetchingly sweet smell of burnt sugar and ashes, like a bonfire on the carnival midway.  Have your ticket ready at the door. “
At first the smell reminded me of a coffee shop and then a smell I couldn’t place, then I realized that it was the burnt sugar. I’m not sure I smell ashes – I smell lighter fluid. Maybe that’s the smell of something burning. The combination makes me think of the smell of dessert flambéd at the table.
 
Dare: “Dangerous black amber and Pippin apples, still unspoiled. “
I smelled green apple jellybeans. Sort of a yummy apply smell, but it’s under this is other odor which is sort of musky and sour – it might be the black amber. Kind of an interesting scent. Unfortunately smells sort of musty on me after a while, like old dusty building smell.
 
Green potion – “The treatment is sometimes just as bad as the disease, but smells a lot sweeter.  Pennyroyal, cowslips, and wisteria.
Smells very flowery but my favorite. Has that high note you get when you smell jasmine or honeysuckle. Lovely.
 
Toby Daye – “Our heroine herself: the sweetness of newly-cut grass mingled with the bloody sharpness of copper, a changeling blend “
Something fresh & greenish (I guess this is the grass smell) and something that reminds me of bandages! Like the smell of the adhesive of a band-aid. Very interesting. Another favorite I think, although if I smell it too closely it’s a bit too chemical/sharp – but from afar it smells flowery and nice. The longer it’s on my skin, the more it smells floral instead of sharp.
 

** EXTRAS **

Gears of Imagination – “Stoke the boilers and get ready to take flight! A bold and adventurous blend of red amber, oak leaf, steeped black tea, amber musk, aged leather and a dusting of cacao powder. “
First smell – chocolate!!! Then a sort of smell of Boy (OK, “masculine scent”), which I think comes from the leather and black tea. The leather is there the most. Like it, but smells more like a man’s scent than a woman’s.
 
A Strychnine Kiss  – “Sparkling pomegranate wine, white patchouli, vanilla musk, pink gardenia and amber incense “
I smell something very sweet in this, like a fruity smell, not quite apple. And a lot of amber. I think it actually smells a lot like sandalwood on my hand. Just incense-y. Diffuses quickly. Not very strong.
 
At $35, this is on the high end for sample selections, but I think if you are a scented oil person it would be worth trying out the scents before buying the $20 5ml bottle. I was surprised by what ended up being my favorite (Green Potion) and least favorite (Tybalt and Quentin). I would buy Green Potion in a bigger bottle.  These scents diffused quickly so I didn’t have problems with headaches for most of them. I had a headache on the day I tried Dare and Maye Daye but I couldn’t say if either of the scents were a trigger.

Best of 2011 and plans for 2012

2006 - 103 books, 2007 - 99 books, 2008 - 77 books, 2009 - 79 books, 2010 - 82 books, 2011 - 85 books

(click chart made via onlinecharttool.com to embiggen)

Every year, same goal of reading 100 books, but the only year I made it was 2006, before I started reviewing.

Newsflash: reviewing cuts into reading time!  But, that’s OK, I like to blog.

To break down the books I’ve read, you can check out goodreads. There you’ll see I read 86 “books”, but I didn’t count the one graphic novel. I did count a couple of novellas because I read some longer 500+ page books as well and figured they balanced each other out. So in 2011, I read 85 books.

Out of those books, I have my favorites, and my favorites have two categories. Those books that blew me out of the water, and those that came very close to doing that. Blew me out of the water always a difficult group to get into, because it’s based on sheer emotion. If I feel euphoric LOVE after I finish a book, it goes on the list. Not many books do that to me. So:

Blew me out of the water:

Close to perfection:



(each image links to my review, if I have reviewed the book).

There are so many books not on this list that I consider keepers. Another 20 books at least, so 2011 was not a bad reading year at all. Check out my goodreads to see all the 4 star books this year not on this list here. I was actually good about putting the books I read on there this year.

Goals for 2012:

  • Again keep trying to get to 100 books read
  • Since I can’t finish a challenge to save my life.. try not to join so many challenges (hah, we’ll see)
  • Buy whatever books I want to. 🙂 I have given up the fight against the TBR, but I know what’s reasonable.
  • Stay relaxed with the blogging thing.
  • And this year, the goal is to catch up on some series. I have a lot of series that I’m realizing I’m behind on and would like to get back into.

One Salt Sea by Seanan McGuire

One Salt Sea
Seanan McGuire

 

This is book 5 of a series that I’m a rabid fan of (you know, checking the shelves day of release, making the store order copies so I can have my choice of the nicest looking one, that kind of thing). If you haven’t started this series, I very strongly recommend beginning at the beginning. Here’s the order of release so far:
 
Book 1: Rosemary and Ruehttps://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg
Book 2: A Local Habitationhttps://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg
Book 3: An Artificial Night – https://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg
Book 4: Late Eclipseshttps://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg
 
**** There may be mild spoilers for earlier books in this review ****

 
The Premise:  Some time has passed since Toby has survived her latest near-death experience and annoyed the Queen of Mists. Now trouble is brewing with the fae neighbors bordering her Queen’s lands. This time the children of the Duchess of Saltmist, have been snatched up from the waters along the California coast, and a familiar enemy may be behind it. Toby has to rescue these boys soon, before war erupts between the land and the sea.
 
My Thoughts: Well, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, let me speak yet again of the delicious breadcrumbs left throughout these books. Those readers paying attention get to play a little game of “guess what THAT means”. Keen-eyed readers probably noticed the foreshadowing of this latest brouhaha in the last volume, and had some questions cleared up in this one (although new clues bring new questions). I admit, I’m like a dog with a bone when I have a puzzle to chew over, so that side of me is really happy when reading a October Daye book. I am not saying the puzzles are diabolical, but they are there if you like that sort of thing.
 
But if you aren’t the kind of reader to obsess over the details, the progression of Toby’s story and her character growth is reason enough to read these books. In One Salt Sea Toby is stronger in a lot of ways.  Her detecting skills and her understanding of the fae has improved so Toby misses less and regroups faster. She is surrounded by allies, so rather than being alone, now she has a posse she can rely on – from her roommate May, teen proteges Quentin and Raj, to Tybalt and other fae friends with useful skills. (And this is a series with well developed side characters. Even Toby’s cats have distinct and lovable personalities). Toby is also beginning to understand her own power, and she’s starting to use it.
 
All these things make the actual investigation feel much smoother than it has been before. Toby is still herself, but she takes charge in a way that has the force of her recent experience behind it. All of the past books inform on the present book, from the knowledge Toby has gathered to cameos from characters Toby has helped.
 
Most of the story deals with piecing together what happened to the two missing boys, but Toby’s life is also a big part of the story. There may be a lot of improvements to her life, but she still has a lot to work through. Toby’s mother has hidden things from her, she still hasn’t found the enemy who took twelve years of her life, her love life is a bit messy, and she has a family in the human world who have moved on.  Not all of these issues are addressed in One Salt Sea, but there are significant events that impact some of them. The October Daye series is one where the hero doesn’t have the power save everyone. Knowing that there is the potential for real heartache despite Toby’s best efforts is what makes this series so compelling. One Salt Sea is not alone in having it’s share of shockers and emotional moments, but I felt like I was able to accept them and wonder what effect they will have on the rest of the series.
 
The next book, Ashes of Honor won’t be out for another yearI got spoiled by the 2 book a year schedule that the October Daye series has been on, but these books are worth waiting for. There are a couple of other series that could tide a fan over.
 
Team Tybalt: And now a message for those on Team Tybalt. If you are on another team, you may skip this section (is there another team? really?). The thing that worried me the most about this book, especially when I saw the cover (Toby as a mermaid!) was that Tybalt wasn’t going to be in it very much. I was pleasantly surprised to be wrong. Anyone else with the same fears: you can stop worrying.
 
Overall: Another good one, of course.  I feel like I should just cut and paste what I always say because it applies to every book:  the way these books build upon each other is extremely gratifying and long running story arcs are cleverly integrated with each self contained mystery. I should probably also mention that there’s plenty of wry humor, a cast of three dimensional side characters that grows as the series progresses, and wonderful world-building. I am so addicted.
 
Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository
 
Other Reviews:
Fantasy Cafe – 8.5 (out of 10)
Urban Fantasy – positive
Fantasy Literature – 5 stars (out of 5)
calico_reaction – 9 (out of 10) – this review has spoilers

Late Eclipses by Seanan McGuire

Late Eclipses
Seanan McGuire

Ahh, October Daye. This is one of my favorite series, and each time I read a book, I want to read the next one right away.

Late Eclipses is the fourth book of the series:
Book 1: Rosemary and Rue – https://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg
Book 2: A Local Habitation – https://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg
Book 3: An Artificial Nighthttps://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg

**** There may be mild spoilers for earlier books in this review ****

The Premise: Toby has had barely any time to settle down after the events of the last book when she is ordered to appear before the Queen of the Mists, and since Toby has annoyed the queen before, this request sounds like trouble.  Soon after that she receives news that Lily, her friend and The Lady of the Tea Gardens is sick. When more people are stricken, it becomes apparent that Toby and all that she holds dear are a target. When Toby detects the scent of an old enemy, Oleander de Merelands, in the wind, she thinks she knows what’s going on.  Unfortunately, things are never simple for Toby, and this time she may have very few options to save both her friends and herself.

My Thoughts: When I think about the October Daye series, I think about structures that are built piece by piece and brick by brick.  The first book, Rosemary and Rue was the cornerstone, and every subsequent book has built upon that. It’s not just the worldbuilding (where there are pockets of worlds through secret doorways and fae creatures live parallel to the ordinary world – love it), but the way Toby’s back story has informed and continues to inform the current plot. This is why I don’t recommend reading this series out of order (it can be done, but it wouldn’t be as much fun); without the first books, the places Toby has been and people she has met wouldn’t be as significant in the current story.

I love how there are always hints throughout the books about Toby and her situation. It’s like some kind of delicious game between the reader and the writer. I try to guess what’s coming, I spend time mulling over what happens in the books and what some remarks may mean, and I wait for the next book. Then I’m either rewarded by being somewhere in the ballpark or I’m completely and utterly wrong. In Late Eclipses I was happy to have some of my suspicions answered, but not the way I expected. Of course I can’t speak of it here, but let’s just say that it is good stuff. In fact, this book manages to be the best in the series so far because of all the revelations within. It’s not unusual in urban fantasy to find a main character that investigates otherworldly crimes, but the guessing games set this series apart.

In Late Eclipses the newest disaster is a mysterious sickness which strikes Toby’s friends (friends who cannot get sick), right when Queen of the Mists begins her machinations involving Toby. As usual there’s a lot of action and Toby spends much of the book breathlessly running from one place to the next in an attempt to stop bad things from happening. In the past Toby gets knocked around quite a bit. This book is no different, even with Toby making smarter decisions and with friends backing her up.  I was at the edge of my seat, mentally yelling at Toby to watch out because it seemed like someone was out for her in particular. There was more of an anticipatory feeling throughout this book than in the past because it wasn’t as simple as finding a murderer. This felt like a conspiracy.

I was expecting characters that until now have been off the page to finally show up (not a spoiler, since this is on the back blurb), but Toby has many more allies now than she did when the series started. They rally around her, even when it could result in adverse consequences for them. I really like that Toby’s circle of friends has grown over the course of the past three books, and it’s very touching to see the rewards of her being her usual Hero self.
The side characters in this series are great, and we get to learn a little bit more about them in Late Eclipses, especially Toby’s Fetch, May, and her liege, Sebastian. There’s also some new information about people who don’t love Toby, including Raysel. The only problem I had with the characters was that I noticed there were a lot of them who hate Toby for failing as a Hero. It was odd for this motivation to pop up repeatedly, but before I got too perturbed by this, the characters differentiated themselves from each other, making the observation moot. Your mileage may vary on this pattern.

Of course one of my favorite secondary characters is Tybalt, King of the Cats. I’m always hoping that there will be romance between him and Toby. The romance in this series is never in the foreground, but there are some interesting developments here. I think fans of both Tybalt and Connor will be happy with how things go in this book. It does complicate things for the next one though. I was already looking up the release date for the next one, One Salt Sea while I was midway through Late Eclipses (September 2011).

Overall: If you are an urban fantasy fan, you should read this, but don’t stop at the first book, because the overarching storyline builds up as the books go along. It is rewarding to keep reading the series – if I think over what was revealed in this book, I become positively gleeful. I need to run out and find someone who has read it so we can discuss. To me, this series just gets better and better, and this is the best installment yet.

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
Fantasy Cafe – 8.5 out of 10
Scooper Speaks – positive (“the bom-diggity-dog”).
Lurv a La Mode – 5 scoops (out of 5)
All Things Urban Fantasy – 4 out of 5
Fantasy Literature – 4 out of 5

Favorite Reads of 2010 and plans for 2011

First, the stats:

  • 2006 – 103 books
  • 2007 – 99 books
  • 2008 – 77 books
  • 2009 – 79 books
  • 2010 – 82 books

As you can see, I still haven’t made my yearly goal to read 100 books, but the number is climbing upwards! The problem is that reviewing books (2006 and 2007 I didn’t review as I do now), cuts into reading time. Oh well, I won’t stop reviewing!

Out of those 82 books, these were my favorites (click on the book to see my review):

Blew me out of the water – Two books this year just had the perfect mix that made me feel like I was in utter love from start to finish. Unless I don’t feel consumed to a semi-obsession, a book won’t get on this list.

 

These books I loved and came close perfect (and wow, I had 9 of these this year. Up from 5 last year)

(Note: The Man Who Loved Pride and Prejudice is the repackaged mass market version of Pemberley by the Sea and Cordelia’s Honor is actually 2-books-in-one – I linked to the first book)

Goals for 2011:

1) Keep working on the TBR but don’t worry so much about how many books I buy. Last year I held back on buying books when I wanted to because I was concerned about the size of my TBR (it was 190, now it’s over 250). I’ve decided not to do that – if the TBR grows, it grows. Instead I think I’ll focus on trying to read more often than I have been (this year I often had rows of days where I read nothing. I’d like to read even a few pages a day as long as I read something)

2) Try to read 100 books – this is a long standing goal, just for a number to aim for. I don’t think it will ever not be a goal!

3) Be better about reading challenges – I sign up for online book clubs and challenges and I pretty much NEVER complete them. I suck at it. I’m going to try to read books for book clubs and challenges early this time. And oh man, I’d love to complete the Everything Austen challenge for once. Both times I joined, I got 4 out of 6 Austen related books/movies read and watched, then ran out of time. In 2011.. oh, I will get 6 out of 6. I WILLLLL!!

4) Stay easy going in this blogging thing. I think that will all the book blogs out there, it’s easy to put pressure on yourself and lose perspective. I want to make sure to remember that I do this because it makes me happy.

An Artificial Night by Seanan McGuire

An Artificial Night
Seanan McGuire

This is one of my new favorite series. It follows October (Toby) Daye, a half-fae changeling who lives in San Francisco and works as a private investigator and Knight for the knowe of the Shadowed Hills. An Artificial Night is the third book in the series. I reviewed the first two here:

Book 1: Rosemary and Ruehttps://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg
Book 2: A Local Habitationhttps://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i1.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg

The Premise:
In this installment, Toby becomes involved when her friends Mitch and Stacy call her in a panic because two of their children are missing from their beds, and a third will not wake up. Shortly afterwards more children are discovered gone, including those of the Cait Sidhe, and Quentin’s human girlfriend, Katie. Signs point towards Blind Michael and his Wild Hunt that runs every 100 years. He is one of the Firstborn and no one who has tried has been able to stop him. To try is certain Death. When Toby’s Fetch shows up at her doorstep, it only confirms her impending demise, but because children are involved, Toby refuses to walk away.

**** If you haven’t read the first couple of books, I suggest you go off and read the earlier reviews. This one has minor spoilers for them *****

My Thoughts: This is a book where the mystery differs from the first two books in that Toby doesn’t spend the whole book trying to figure out who has the missing children and why. The main problem is really How to Get Them Back and Not Die in the Process. It’s refreshing not to have Toby completely clueless about what’s going on, but she does need help from her friends. In An Artificial Night we see a lot of characters we’re now familiar with.  She has to go to Lily, the Lady of the Japanese Tea Gardens, the Duke and Duchess of the Shadowed Hills (Sebastian Torquill and his wife Luna), the Luidaeg, Quentin, Connor, and Tybalt. Toby makes much use of these allies, but they are not always able to tell her everything she needs to know or to follow her into Blind Michael’s lands because of certain Rules of Faerie.

It’s interesting to see the dynamics during all of this. First we see the reactions of everyone when they are sure that Toby is walking into her death.  That her Fetch has shown up only reinforces their concerns. It’s telling that she has a limited lifespan while those around her do not. Secondly, because they think Toby is going to die, I think we see a few things from her friends that they would usually keep hidden.  I think we learn a lot, particularly about Luna.  We also gain more information about Faery and how it works. Particularly about some of the first races since Blind Michael is one of the Firstborn. There’s a pleasing mix of nursery rhyme, complexity, and strange rules which continue to make the world build satisfying. I think the grit and otherness and the Terrible Beauty is as Faery should be.

This is a series where much of my thrill is catching hints throughout each installment about much bigger story arcs. One of those is about Toby herself. Her past is something we’ve discovered in bits and pieces – and it’s only the most recent past (being turned into a goldfish for many years), that Toby has directly explained.  Her past as a child, and her famous mother Amandine, are things we sometimes catch brief glimpses of and they feel like they may be important in the future. There are some cryptic remarks by many characters, that I don’t think she notices, but they’re repeated enough in this book that I’m SURE they’re important. I’m having a fun time puzzling it out and I have a few theories. The other thing I’ve been keeping an eye out for is hints about Toby’s romantic interests. As in the previous books, Toby runs into both Connor, a married selkie that she had a romantic past with, and Tybalt, King of the Cats. I’m firmly in the Tybalt camp, and I’m guilty of flipping ahead for glimpses of his character. Yep, I’m a flipper-aheader (sometimes). I was a little sad in the flip through that there’s not much Tybalt in these pages, but, after reading through it all, what there is enough to sustain me. So far it’s been very light on the romantic elements, but there’s enough possibility to keep me hooked.

Anyway, this book is not really about romance. In fact there is more emphasis on friendships than romance, particularly between Toby and her female friends. Have I mention that I am loving the friendship that’s developed between Toby and The Luidaeg? There’s a nice buddy dynamic hidden by threats from the sea-witch there. Then there is Toby’s Fetch May, who at first annoyed me (chipper and mouthy is not charming), but she grew on me when she became less of the universe’s way of rubbing in Toby’s Death and more like another friend there to help Toby. It helped that May’s personality became more distinct and different from Toby’s. I have certain suspicions about her in the next book which I’m dying to see if I’m right about.

P.S. There is an excerpt from the next book Late Eclipses at the end of this book which has me salivating to read what happens next (it comes out in March, 2011).

Overall: What an awesome series this is. Every time I read one, it manages to make me feel a jittery need to read the next one. Luckily, McGuire seems to be a prolific writer and so far we’ve seen two Toby Daye installments a year. I highly recommend you start the series from the beginning because there are story arcs and hints that begin in the first book and are cleverly built up on in each successive installment. It becomes a game to guess where things will go, and I do find myself obsessively wondering about things days or weeks after I’ve finished a book.

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
Lurv a la Mode – 5 scoops (out of 5)
Dreams and Speculation – 7 out of 10
Karissa’s Reading Review – 4.5 out of 5 stars
Fantasy Cafe –  8/10
Fantasy Literature – 4/5

A Local Habitation by Seanan McGuire

Seanan McGuire may be my new favorite writer from last year. I have been anticipating A Local Habitation ever since I put down the first book in the series, Rosemary and Rue (which I reviewed here:

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When I won a copy of the book at Book Love Affair (awesome blog), I was ecstatic. I read this book RIGHT after I received it.

The Premise: October (Toby) Daye is a Daoine Sidhe changeling. Her mother is well known for her ability to “ride the blood” and garner memories from it. Toby has a diluted ability which she uses in her PI practice, and in her investigations as a Knight under the Sylvester Torquill, the Duke of the Shadowed Hills. At the start of this book, she’s asked to check in on the county of Tamed Lightening by Sylvester. His niece, the current ruler has stopped calling him for five weeks and he wants to know that she is OK. Sylvester sends Toby along with a foster at his court, Quentin, so that Quentin can learn something. It looks to be a simple mission, but once they get there, Toby and Quentin find it’s anything but. People are dying one by one under mysterious circumstances.

My Thoughts: I am so easily sucked in by the writing of this book. I’ve seen comparisons to Patricia Briggs, Ann Aguirre, and Ilona Andrews and I would agree that if you like those authors you will probably like Seanan McGuire too. It has only been two books but I’m already on giddy auto-buy mode.  I didn’t think Rosemary and Rue was perfect, but the world building was amazing, and I’ve been anticipating what would happen next for Toby.  There are a lot of hints about unfinished business in her life in the first book which have me hooked to this series already.

Like a lot of urban fantasies, the books are narrated in first person by Toby. Her character is interesting in that she has some power – the ability to read blood and to do small magics that most fae can do, but she’s a lot weaker than the purebloods and there’s a high price for even simple tasks, often in the form of a killer headache from overexertion. So Toby straddles the line between human weakness and fae power, and this along with small reminders that she isn’t considered to be in the same league as purebloods are, makes her a sympathetic character.

Although Toby isn’t one to really dwell on her differences, she is aware of them, and we are aware as readers by how banged up Toby gets in her investigations, that she’s not without weakness. I like how her bit of humanity along with her Daoine Sidhe blood makes her more able to deal with death than the regular fae, who don’t die of old age. She spent some time in the Summerlands so she knows a lot about fae culture and thinking, and we don’t have a heroine who needs things explained to her. She explains things to us as the story moves along, and she’s only ignorant about things most fae don’t know about or who the murderer is. Otherwise she is a heroine who is respected for her experience, which is something I can appreciate.

In A Local Habitation, there’s a new cast of characters from the county of Tamed Lightening and we’re introduced to some new kinds of fae. As in the first book, I enjoyed learning through Toby about these new fae and what their abilities are, particularly the Bannick and the Dryad. We’re also treated to reappearances from the first book from Sylvester and Quentin, and from Tybalt and Connor. The reappearance of Quentin and Toby’s taking him under her wing reminds me of how I thought she had a soft spot for young people in Rosemary and Rue.  And there is of course Sylvester, the Duke of Torquill who Toby never thinks is anything but the perfect ruler. I wonder if he will stay untarnished for the rest of this series. In my mind Toby is a bit of an unreliable narrator, and she doesn’t see things that the reader may notice. Anyway, I’m speculating out loud about where things may go, which is what this series makes you do (and I love that).

There’s not really any romance in this book. There were hints of possible interest in Rosemary and Rue from both Tybalt and Conner (Toby is more aware of Connor than Tybalt because of their past history) which continue in this book, as well as from a new character. I am really fond of Tybalt, and although there is a promising early scene in A Local Habitation, there’s very little interaction between them which made the situation hard to read into.  On the other hand I thought Toby was getting herself into messy waters with Connor in this book, which you could have seen happening a mile away after Rosemary and Rue. The guy is married to an unhinged woman who hates Toby. You can’t expect anything good to come out of that.

In Rosemary and Rue, I thought the second part wasn’t as strong as the first, but in A Local Habitation I didn’t have this problem, so I liked this book more. If I were to look for problems,  I’d say the mystery may be the weakest part. There’s a small pool of suspects and throughout the story, the pool dwindles as more characters become victims. There are some hints which point at someone who Toby kept discounting, so I had my suspect who turned out to be the murderer. On the other hand, I didn’t guess the whole thing, especially why the murders were taking place, and I don’t think most people would guess the Why, although they may have the Who.

Overall: I liked this one better than the first book. I love the heroine and the pacing of the story seems just right, although I wish there was a tad more romance (I hope there is in future releases).  I highly recommend this series if you like Ilona Andrews, Patricia Briggs or Ann Aguirre. The author writes complete installments but threads each book with hints as to the ongoing drama of Toby’s life,and anticipating what could happen next is delicious. This is actually a series that I hope won’t end at three books.

The third book An Artificial Night comes out this September (I’m glad there isn’t a long wait).

Buy: Amazon | Powells

Other reviews:
Book Love Affair – “Seanan McGuire takes the best parts of mystery, the best parts of urban fantasy, mixes them up, and mixes everything up.”
The Book Pushers – positive review, 4 out of 5 stars
Lurv a la Mode – 4.5 out of 5
bookblather – Her enthusiastic review represents how I feel about this series. And I think Quentin is a favorite character of hers..