Book Review: The Glass Sentence by S.E. Grove


The Glass Sentence by S.E. Grove

At some unknown point in time, The Great Disruption fractured the world, sending different areas into different time periods. In the hundred years since, explorers have traveled the globe, trying to map the new world and make sense of this new reality. This story brings us to the New Occident, which roughly corresponds (geographically) to the original thirteen American colonies, in 1891. The government is run in a parliamentary system, where the right to speak can be purchased by the second. Our protagonist, Sophia Tims, comes from a long, distinguished line of explorers and mapmakers. Her uncle, Shadrack, is the preeminent cartologer in the world. When he is kidnapped, Sophia finds herself torn from her comfortable life in Boston as she sets off to rescue her uncle, travelling across countries and across times. But her uncle’s kidnappers are after something legendary, a map that can change the face–and fate–of the world.

This was, simply put, a fantastic YA adventure. It’s one of those stories at crosses age boundaries and can be enjoyed by just about anyone. Sophia is a great character, one who is able to grow and evolve as her world changes around her. Grove also provides us with a number of wonderful supporting characters and villains to flesh out the story. 

Importantly, the world these characters inhabit feels fully formed. The concept of different continents existing in different times is very fun, and Grove makes it work, to ing us insight into the relations between times, their politics, and their religions. 

The Glass Sentence is an adventure story along the lines of The Golden Compass. Anyone looking for a new YA series to try should add this book to their TBR.

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher via Goodreads Giveaways in exchange for an honest review. 

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Book Review: Mister Tender’s Girl by Carter Wilson

Mister Tender’s Girl by Carter Wilson

Fourteen years ago, Alice Hill was brutally attacked by two of her schoolmates, twin girls obsessed with Mister Tender, a demonic bartender character created by Alice’s father. After the attack, her father vowed never to create another Mister Tender graphic novel again. But there are people out there still obsessed with Mister Tender, and Alice, still bearing the physical and emotional scars of her attack, slowly starts to feel he shadowy presence of someone in the background. Someone who knows everything about her past, someone who wants to own her future…

First of all: hurray! A psychological thriller that bring me back hope for the genre! If you’ve been following my reviews you’re no doubt aware that I was getting mightily sick of the damaged heroine psycho trope of most thrillers on the market now, looking to pick up some lingering success from Woman on the Train or Gone Girl. Most fall disappointingly short, but Mister Tender’s Girl has that ineffable something, a spark of real suspense and credible characters that make the genre so much fun.

It doesn’t hurt that the story is based on a true story, the Slender Man stabbing that took place in Wisconsin in 2014. It might just be me, but the fact that something this messed up has actually happened grounds the story and makes it that much more compelling.

Wilson offers us a vastly damaged protagonist in Alice, but her paranoia and PTSD seem to have been earned, rather than tacked on by an author trying to make a main character different. This is a girl who has gone through hell–and has the psychological scars to prove it–yet is trying her best to deal with her past and succeed in the present. The plot twists and turns, as it should, but Wilson is able to keep the plot twists feeling organic. Remember folks, it’s not how many plot twists you have, but how you use them.

This is a dark, occasionally grim look at the fragility of a woman who’s life is falling apart, and who may never have been in control of it in the first place. Yet Wilson is able to set this fragility against a determination and strength that may save her, or may hasten her undoing. In short, this book has restored my faith in the psychological thriller genre.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher via Bookish First in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: The Book of Whispers by Kimberley Starr


The Book of Whispers by Kimberley Starr

Demons are everywhere. But only Luca can see them. Having barely survived a torturous exorcism, he has since learned to keep his mouth shut about the creatures he sees lurking at the corners of his vision. When his father joins Pope Urban II on his crusade to take Jerusalem back, Luca defies his father to seek the church’s promise of divine forgiveness for crusaders. Once the journey begins, however, it becomes clear that the nature of Luca’s demons are not as simple as he previously thought. Coming into possession of a mysterious book of prophecy, and surrounded on all sides by devious relations, sinister clergymen, and terrifyingly powerful demons, Luca must avert disaster. 

This is a medieval crusader story by way of Game of Thrones. Your flawed protagonists find themselves set against devious and powerful opponents, the conflict more or less direct depending on the relative position of the baddie. Luca and Suzan, our teenaged protagonists, are nicely fleshed out and well written. The concept of the demons used in the book is original and interesting as well, and there is a definite sense of menace that pervades the book.

But for all that, the book just couldn’t keep my interest. A lot happens in this book, and a story set against a major crusade has plenty of exciting things going on, but there just wasn’t much sense of excitement for me reading the book. Despite the sense of dread I mentioned earlier (a feeling like waiting for the other shoe to drop), I simply didn’t feel any suspense or tension as the plot moved along.

So in sum, the historical details are great, the protagonists well written (though every other character is pared down to two dimensional sins), and the demonic aspects are interesting. But the book just never took off for me.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 

Book Review: Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson

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Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson

I adore Neil deGrasse Tyson. How can you not? The man has helped make science cool, and is a leading voice in promoting technological and scientific advancement and understanding.

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry is a collection of articles dealing with different aspects of the science of outer space. In each chapter, deGrasse Tyson’s wit is clearly on display, making this more of an intellectual chat between friends than a science lecture. deGrasse Tyson has the enviable talent for being able to explain complex phenomena in a way that is interesting, understandable, and yet not condescending. This gift, plus a clear love for his chosen field, has helped make him one of the most visible intellectuals of the modern age.

I listened to the audiobook, which is narrated by deGrasse Tyson himself, and the read was quick, educational, and at times laugh-out-loud funny. If you’re looking for a fun way to brush up on your astrophysics as possible manned Mars missions and space tourism continue to make headlines, you should read this book (or check out the revamped Cosmos, also featuring Neil deGrasse Tyson doing what he does best).

Book Review: The Man Upon the Stair by Gary Inbinder

The Man Upon the Stair by Gary Inbinder

This is the third book in Inbinder’s Inspector Lefebvre series. There’s probably going to be spoilers for the first two books here. The good news is that while it is definitely better to read the books as a series, you could probably read this book as a standalone without too much trouble.


Achille Lefebvre has just been promoted to Chief Inspector following his successful foiling of an anarchist plot to assassinate a high ranking foreign offical with a new type of bomb. When the bomber meets his fate at the guillotine, Lefebvre is told that his compatriots have targeted him for revenge. In the midst of this, a high ranking member of the aristocracy, Baron de Livet has gone missing. Trying to uncover the Baron’s fate, Lefebvre uncovers easy connections between his missing person and the Russian government. As the conspiracy grows deeper, Lefebvre must use all his considerable intelligence and skills to safeguard himself and his family, and to prevent an international incident.

I received all three Inspector Lefebvre books as a bundle, and powered through the series in a matter of days. These books are entertaining historical mysteries, featuring an intelligent, forward-looking detective, intelligent women (good and evil), fascinating historical detail, and cameos by famous (real) historical figures. Inbinder provides us with enticing mysteries, and a cast of characters to root for and against. I loved how carefully Inbinder used historical details to firmly plant his stories in realistic ground.

The Man Upon the Stair combines historical mystery with political thriller. International intrigue and good old fashioned murder combine to set teetering a nation (and continent) already on the brink of war. The story is richly detailed and beautifully woven. Inbinder is clearly passionate about his subject and that enthusiasm shows through in his stories.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher via Goodreads Giveaways in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Dunbar by Edward St. Aubyn


Dunbar by Edward St. Aubyn

Hogarth Shakespeare is taking the Bard’s classic stories and updating them for modern readers. I loved Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood (The Tempest) and New Boy by Tracy Chevalier (Othello). Dunbar is a recent offering, retelling King Lear in light of cutthroat capitalism and private wealth.

Here, the eponymous king takes the form of Henry Dunbar, influential media magnate and wealthy beyond all reason. When Dunbar decides he is tired of the responsibility of his position, he hands the company over to his two eldest (and amoral and psychotic) daughters, Abigail and Megan. The two promptly stick dear old dad in a remote insane asylum and plot to gut the company and squeeze its corpse for cold hard cash. With the help of an alcoholic former comedian and his youngest daughter, Florence (written out of the will for rejecting the Dunbar wealth), Henry Dunbar must struggle back into the “real” world to save his Empire.

This reimagining of Shakespeare’s tragedy is perfect in this day and age. Henry Dunbar is not someone to admire. He is temperamental, vicious, and (as a comedian whose name I cannot recall once said) “ruin the oceans rich.” Basically, he is someone who has never had to consider the lives and views of others until suddenly everything is taken away from him and he himself is below consideration. By the time we meet him, he is struggling to extricate himself from the hell his daughters have left him in, and he is more a figure of pity, not necessarily because of redemption in his narrative, but in the bringing low of a human being.

This is a tragedy, and if you’re familiar with the original, there will be few surprises in store. Instead, St. Aubyn has concentrated his efforts on bringing us a fable about the hazards of greed, and the value of things which money cannot buy.

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher via Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: The Unkillable Kitty O’Kane by Colin Falconer

The Unkillable Kitty O’Kane by Colin Falconer

At the turn of the twentieth century, Kitty O’Kane grows up poor in the slums of Dublin, Ireland, enduring beatings from her drunken father and dreaming of a better life. She gets herself out of her old life and into service with the prestigious White Star line. She is able to secure a position as a stewardess on the line’s newest and largest ship: the Titanic. And so starts the saga of the Unkillable Kitty O’Kane. After becoming romantically involved with a firebrand journalist, Kitty dives into the fight for the poor, the disenfranchised, and for women’s sufferage. She bears witness to the some of the most calamitous and tumultuos events of the early twentieth century. Through Kitty’s eyes we experience the sinking of the Lusitania, the Russian Revolution, and the start of The Troubles in Ireland.

Kitty spends much of the book lamending her past. She ties herself early on to the increasingly erratic reporter, and pines for Tom Doyle, a young boy from her childhood in Dublin who has since grown into a handsome young doctor in London. And this is the crux of the problem for the book. Romance and love triangles are all well and good, but Kitty’s relationship with the men in her life completely takes over any true agency she might have had.

Yes, she witnesses the October Revolution in Russia, but she is only there because the journalist, Lincoln, has dragged her there. She wants to be a journalist herself, but lacks the courage to write in her own words, and rather follows Lincoln’s lead in all her writing. She eschews becoming a wife and mother in favor of adventure and activist (a decision I applaud) yet will not picture a life with her “true love” Tom Doyle that does not adhere to traditional relationships. She may be The Unkillable Kitty O’Kane, survivor of two shipwrecks, Russian snipers, and British armaments, but she is only that by accident, or by someone else’s agency. She is on a quest to better the lives of women in the world, but the author doesn’t let her make an attempt except by the side of a man.

So, the historical aspects of this book were lovely, and Kitty’s insertion into actual historical events, and her meeting with real historical people is well done. But I found Kitty’s lack of agency, and her dependence on an increasingly erratic Lincoln to be frustrating, and runs counter to the plot of a book that emphasized the personal strength and growth of a woman born with nothing who makes something of herself.

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher via Goodreads Giveaways in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Will Save the Galaxy for Food by Yahtzee Croshaw

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Will Save the Galaxy for Food by Yahtzee Croshaw

Like a lot of people, I discovered Yahtzee Croshaw via his incredibly funny animated video game review, Zero Punctuation. Croshaw has a biting wit, incisive comments, and ridiculous visuals to accompany his reviews, which are delivered snarkily with barely pause for breath. When I later learned that he had written actual books, I quickly picked up Jam (a silly and fun take on the apocalypse) and Mogworld (a frankly brilliant look at everything that’s wrong with MMOs). Will Save the Galaxy for Food is Croshaw’s latest, and keeps up with his snarky cultural commentary.

The story finds our protagonist living a down-and-out existence on the moon. Ever since Quantum Tunneling made interstellar travel safe and instantaneous, demand for space pilots, even ones that have saved entire planets, has simply vanished. Living day to day scrounging for space tourists is demeaning, but what else can you do? When a fat paycheck falls into his lap, he figures that nearly anything is worth the money. Unfortunately, the job involves flying around the spoiled son of an Earth mobster, while having to pretend to be Jacques McKeown, a greasy bastard who turned the true stories of space pilots into pulp novels of derring-do, and who is universally despised by pilots across the black. Naturally every goes wrong, and our hero is thrown against space pirates, casual violence, upstart societies, political intrigue, man-eating aliens, and deadly hitmen.

The book was fantastically funny and delightful fun. Zaniness abounds as the pilot and his cohorts scramble from one adventure to another. The background given for the story is rich with references to problems we face in our own time. In fact, you need look no further than the brutish and devious Mr. Henderson, the Terran mobster (for lack of a better term) who hires the protagonist. Mr. Henderson is an insanely rich, casually violent, orange-skinned shady businessman prone to over indulging his spoiled, not-the-brightest-bulb son (now why does this sound a bit familiar?)

But no need to get too caught up in politics, or my projecting American problems onto a British-Australian writer’s story. Will Save the Galaxy for Food is simply fun. If you’re a fan of A. Lee Martinez, Douglas Adams, or Christopher Moore, you will find this book to be the perfect read for bringing yourself out of a reality-induced funk.

Book Review: Prudence and Imprudence by Gail Carriger

 

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Prudence and Imprudence by Gail Carriger

Okay, these books are pretty much a sequel to Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series, so if you haven’t read those books, you probably aren’t going to get a lot out of them. However, you really should read that series, it is one of the best examples of paranormal-steampunk out there. But for now, if you keep reading, there’s going to be spoilers for the Parasol Protectorate series.

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So I was a huge fan of the previous books featuring Alexia Tarabotti and Lord Conall Maccon. Carriger manages to give us stuffy Victorians, steampunk gadgets, werewolves, vampires, and tea fanatics, and make the entire thing funny, entertaining, and (most astonishingly) not ridiculous.

Prudence and Imprudence continue the story two decades later, featuring (naturally) Alexia and Conall’s metanatural daughter, Prudence (though she prefers to go by Rue). Having been raised by a combination of her werewolf father, preternatural mother, and vampire spy master Lord Akeldama, Rue has had anything but the typical Victorian childhood. Fortunately, Rue is her mother’s daughter and thrives in the atypical. When Lord Akeldama presents Rue with her very own Dirigible for her birthday, she naturally takes to the skies with her best friends Percy and Primrose Tunstell, and Quesnel leFoux. Through the two books, she travels to first India and then Egypt, her time heavy with the style of adventures Alexia Tarabotti would have dived into in her day.

It is always hard to continue a series in the same world, but with new characters. People inevitably long for the good old days with the characters they know and love. Carriger does a great job of modernizing her story (to the 1890s, let’s not get crazy), and keeping enough of the old guard about to make the entry into Rue’s world both novel and satisfying (it doesn’t hurt that there are so many ageless characters to choose from). It is gratifying to see what became of some of our favorites in the intervening two decades, but Carriger keeps the focus on the newest generation, and does a wonderful job of it. Rue is definitely her mother’s daughter, though she would never admit it. Seeing Ivy’s twins grown up and rebellious in their own ways is fun. And of course, we have our requisite bad boy in Quesnel leFoux.

What I especially like in this series is Carriger’s willingness to tackle the dark sides of the Victorian era. She deals frankly (though in a steampunk fantasy way) with the violence the British wrought in India and their other colonies, and with the Victorian tendency to see people other than themselves as less than human. Rue marches straight into the teeth of these issues, and the books are the better for it. So many Victorian-era books glide over the problems with the era. I’m not opposed to romanticism on the face of it, but these books came through like a breath of fresh air.

If you were a fan of the Parasol Protectorate series, you should definitely check these books out. If you haven’t read the first series of books, this review is probably highly confusing. Go read ’em!

Book Review: Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch

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Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch

This is the first book in the Peter Grant series. I was recommended this series by a friend of mine, who knew I’d been meaning to start The Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher. Note to self: book shopping after talking with friends during a long night at the bar can be dangerous.

Peter Grant is a fresh new constable with the London Metropolitan Police. He seems to be your average constable destined for average desk work until one night, while guarding a crime scene, he has a chat with a ghost. This odd ability brings him to the attention of one Chief Inspector Nightingale, and Grant suddenly finds himself swept into a world where magic is real and very, very dangerous.

I really enjoyed this book. I still haven’t read The Dresden Files (my bookworm friends will understand the unstable sand that is a TBR list), but from what I know of the series, this is built in the same vein. As always, first books always have the awkward getting-to-know-you-and-the-worldscape stage, but Aaronovitch manages to get through that with a minimum of sacrifice for pacing. There is a good amount of action, and quite a few scenes that were genuinely creepy. Add that to the fact that the book is so firmly set in London that you can follow the action on Google Earth (I absolutely did this), and this is vastly entertaining, incredibly realistic fantasy read.

Fans of Jim Butcher, Kevin Hearne, and other urban fantasy series should absolutely check this out. The best part is, since I’m coming onto this series late, I can binge!