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May 2015 monthly book list

Read in May:
36. Crimson Angel - Barbara Hambly (5/2)

37. Radiant - Karina Sumner-Smith (5/6)
38. Crimson Bound - Rosamund Hodge (5/9)
39. Healer's Touch - Amy Raby (5/9)
40. Relic - Heather Terrell (5/10)
41. Backward Glass - David Lomax (5/11)
42. Dreams of Shreds and Tatters - Amanda Downum (5/13)
43. The Magicians and Mrs. Quent - Galen Beckett (reread) (5/17)
44. Karen Memory - Elizabeth Bear (5/19)
45. Rat Queens v2 The Far-Reaching Tentacles of N'Rygoth - Kurtis J. Wiebe, art Roc Upchurch & Stjepan Sejic (5/20)
46. Night Broken - Patricia Briggs (reread) (5/22)
47. I Am Princess X - Cherie Priest (5/28)
48. Troubled Waters - Sharon Shinn (reread) (5/31)

Radiant by Karina Sumner-Smith
A postapocalyptic future urban fantasy dystopian story about friendship. In fact, about friendship that endures beyond death. Citypunk?
Crimson Bound by Rosamund Hodge
Another YA novel opting not to simplify character, politics, or feelings, even if it doesn't show any sex. What if Little Red Riding Hood were about Fenris and Ragnarok, and set in the 17th or 18th century French court?
Backward Glass by David Lomax
Another YA novel, another Canadian debut author. One of the best handled time travel plots I've run across, with a large cast of teen travelers mostly situated ten years apart from each other over a century - which makes the structure even better handled.

Troubled Waters by Sharon Shinn
One of Sharon Shinn's strongest novels, as good as or better than the best of her Samaria novels. More going on than appears on the surface most of the time.
I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest
Not a tricky mystery, but a well done, fast paced story about web-based princess ninjas. With illustrations, and occasional male friends and not-unuseful parents.

Rat Queens v2 The Far-Reaching Tentacles of N'Rygoth, graphic novel by Kurtis J. Wiebe, art Roc Upchurch & Stjepan Sejic
More fun with two all-female (and one all-male) Generic D&D-style fantasy adventuring teams. This time with Cthulhu and an unexpected uptick in sex. (No, not with Cthulhu.)

April books read

22. Harrison Squared - Daryl Gregory (4/3)
23. Mercy Thompson: Homecoming - Patricia Briggs & David Lawrence, art by Francis Tsai and Amelia Woo (4/4)
24. We Are All Completely Fine - Daryl Gregory (reread) (4/5)
25. Water Logic - Laurie J. Marks (reread) (4/5)
26. Foxglove Summer - Ben Aaronovitch (4/6)
27. The Man Without A Face - Masha Gessen (4/8)
28. Oath Bound - Rachel Vincent (4/10)
29. A Madness of Angels - Kate Griffin (4/14)
30. The Shadow Queen - Anne Bishop (reread) (4/18)
31. Shalador's Lady - Anne Bishop (4/20)
32. Fragments - Dan Wells (4/20)
33. The Kindred of Darkness - Barbara Hambly (4/23)
34. Jacaranda - Cherie Priest (4/24)
35. View of a Remote Country - Karen Traviss (4/28)

Best book of April:
A Madness of Angels - Kate Griffin

I tried starting A Madness of Angels at least three times, and was thoroughly thrown off until I persevered this time. It got high praise for its description of urban magic, "brings to mind Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere", etc. To me, the best version of Neverwhere is always the tv miniseries and not only do I like it better than the novel, comparing something to it is also very high praise. So after enough time had passed, I kept finding myself drawn to trying to force my way into A Madness of Angels and see if I could find great descriptions of city magic - because the trash monster that comes after Matthew Swift in the beginning really does remind me of Neverwhere, or Doctor Who, or Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones.

Madness starts out very abrupt, context-bare, and the narration switches between "I" and "we" and back, frequently in the same sentence. This is because more than Matthew Swift comes back when he's summoned back into life from death, and Matthew wakes up half-fused with a group entity of electric angels who live in the telephone wires. Sometimes the narrative POV will tell you which half of Matthew is speaking and sometimes it's switched around to keep you on your toes. (Which is actually aesthetically pleasing, from a certain point of view which I got to, but was also very hard for me to get through initially.) But it's very much worth getting to the point where you don't mind it, because this book is one of the true heirs of the urban fantasy back in the 90s when it was new and different, when young people walked all over cities and ran into Archer's Good or a funeral for the faerie queen's lover or the Marquis de Carabas or women who talk to rats, with the full sense of depth of place of Sarah Monette's Mélusine quartet or Rats and Gargoyles by Mary Gentle. A history as long as Diane Duane's Rihannsu empire. Although Madness has flaws, it's also in the best of recent urban fantasy along with three other London-based novels, London Falling by Paul Cornell and The Devil You Know by Mike Carey and The City's Son by Sam Pollock. Griffin has as much imagination in her worldbuilding as Simon R. Green's Nightside novels but with better writing. I also like Griffin's concept of sorcerers vs. magicians.

Since the blurb isn't particularly forthcoming about the plot of Madness, the actual action that structures the book is as follows: Matthew Swift wakes up one day in an unfamiliar house, his most recent memory his murder several years before. Most of his friends turn out to be dead or gone bad. He is not thrilled about any of this, and even less so when people start trying to kill him. To get answers he will have to face down the few remaining powerful allies of his mentor and teacher, who was once his friend. Swift is less a noir hero like Felix Castor or John Taylor and more a slightly crazy hero like Antryg Windrose. He's more likely to get carried away by the life and vim of urban miracle-working or to do something sideways or sneaky to get what he wants rather than fighting some monster straight out.

Just as Matthew's initial resurrection reads as disorientingly as it feels to him, the plot pacing varies because sometimes Matthew is waiting for other people and sometimes he is seeking them out, and in two cases he dreads an encounter as enemies with people he used to hold as friends. However, the book is chock full of wonderful dialogue. This is a really really good book. Just don't go into it thinking it's a thriller or a shoot-'em-up. It's not. It's a magic construct of many pieces that other people didn't see any promise in, assembled into an erraticly-moving construct like the trash spirit in the beginning of the book, sent to track you down and engulf you in the entity of words that makes up the background and the story.

The Hidden Prince

If this violates the no ads, I apologize and will remove it.  But I have a new free to read serial up called The Hidden Prince.  It's a prequel to my novel Seventh Night.

I would suggest reading Seventh Night first since this serial is rather spoilerish for the novel, but it would be interesting to get feedback from a few people who are introduced to the world with this story. Helps me know how well it stands on its own.

Interesting-looking books in December

Trying to make this place a little more lively. Here's a list of books coming out this month that I either definitely want to own or else want to check out. (Or already own another edition of.)

Dec 1     Crimson Angel (Ben January series) - Barbara Hambly (HB, isbn 0727884271)
Dec 2     Jason (Anita Blake series) - Laurell K. Hamilton (MMPB, isbn 0515156078)
Dec 9      The Lady (Marakand series) - K.V. Johansen (TPB, isbn 1616149809)
Dec 15    Hidden Folk - Eleanor Arnason (HB, isbn 0990393402)
Dec 23    This Shattered World (Starbound series) - Amie Kaufman & Meagan Spooner (YA, HB, isbn 1423171039)
                Seraphina - Rachel Hartman (YA, TPB, isbn 0375866221)
Dec 30     Low Midnight (Kitty Norville series) - Carrie Vaughn (MM, isbn 0765368692)
Dec 31     Ignite Me (Shatter Me series) - Tahereh Mafi (YA, TPB, isbn0062085581)

In which I taunt you with upcoming books

Some of the upcoming U.S. releases in the next two months:


Wood Sprites - Wen Spencer (Elfhome series, hb) - week of Sept 2
Shifting Shadows - Patricia Briggs (Mercy Thompson/Alpha & Omega series, hb)
The Winter Long - Seanan McGuire (October Daye series, mmpb)
Maplecroft: The Borden Dispatches v1 - Cherie Priest (The Borden Dispatches series, tpb)
Heir of Fire - Sarah Maas (Throne of Glass series, ya hb)
Hidden - Benedict Jacka (Alex Verus series, mmpb)
House Immortal - Devon Monk (House Immortal series, mmpb)
Trial By Fire - Josephine Angelini (ya hb)
Iron Trial (Magisterium 1) - Holly Black & Cassandra Clare (middle-grade reader hb) - week of Sept 9
The Witch With No Name - Kim Harrison (The Hollows series, hb)
Champion - Marie Lu (Legend series, ya tpb)
City of Stairs - Robert Jackson Bennett (tpb)
Yesterday's Kin - Nancy Kress (tpb)
Egg & Spoon - Gregory Maguire (ya hb)
The Vault of Dreams - Caragh O'Brien (ya hb) - week of Sept 16
Tabula Rasa - Kristen Lippert-Martin (ya hb) - week of Sept 23
Unmade - Sarah R Brennan (ya hb)
Silvern - Christina Farley (ya tpb)
A Slip of the Keyboard - Terry Pratchett (collected nonfiction, hb)
Unmarked - Kami Garcia (ya hb) - week of Sept 30
Company Town - Madeline Ashby (tpb)
Priestess Dreaming - Yasmine Galenorn (mmpb)
Never Fade - Alexandra Bracken (Darkest Minds series, ya tpb)
Love Is The Drug - Alaya Dawn Johnson (ya hb)


Hawk - Steven Brust (Vlad series, hb) - week of Oct 7
Parasite - Mira Grant aka Seanan McGuire (tpb)
The Young Elites - Marie Lu (ya hb)
Stray - Elissa Sussman (ya hb)
Closer To Home (Herald Spy 1) - Mercedes Lackey (Valdemar series, hb)
The Blood of Olympus - Riordan (ya hb)
Altered - Gennifer Albin (ya tpb)
Unraveled - Gennifer Albin (ya hb)
Ancillary Sword - Ann Leckie (Ancillary series, tpb)
Poison Fruit - Jacqueline Carey (Agent of Hel series, hb)
The Eye of Zoltar - Jasper Fforde (Chronicles of Kazam series, ya hb)
Fearsome Magics - ed. Jonathan Strahan (pb)
Shovel Ready - Adam Sternbergh (tpb) - week of Oct 14
Snow Like Ashes - Sara Ruusch (ya hb)
Redeemed - P.C. Cast & Kristin Cast (House of Night series, ya hb)
Dead Set - Richard Kadrey (tpb)
Clariel - Garth Nix (Abhorsen series, hb)
Prophecies, Libels, & Dreams - Ysabeau Wilce (short story collection, tpb)
Beware the Wild - Natalie Parker (ya hb) - week of Oct 21
The Slow Regard of Silent Things - Patrick Rothfuss (Name of the Wind novella, hb) - week of Oct 28
Otherworld Nights - Kelley Armstrong (pb)
Talon - Julie Kagawa (ya hb)
In The Afterlight - Alexandra Bracken (Darkest Minds series, ya hb)
Sky Pirates - Liesel Schwartz (Chronicles of Light & Shadow, mmpb)
Hansel & Gretel - Neil Gaiman + artist Lorenzo Mattotti (ya hb, 56 pages for $17)
Prince Lestat - Anne Rice (vampire series, hb)

Shifting Shadows - Patricia Briggs

Title: Shifting Shadows
Author: Patricia Briggs
SpacePlotTime Affiliation: Mercyverse short stories (Mercy Thompson series, Alpha & Omega series)
Publishing Info: 1st edition hb had US release last week, isbn 978-0425265000

LitCrit Stats (Thank you, phoenixfalls)
My rating: 4.5 werewolves out of 5
Bechdel test: oddly enough, I think it fails - possibly due to the nature of writing a two-person hetero romance in short story format.
Johnson test: pass, for "The Star of David" and Mercy with her Native American relatives and the Asian-American vampire plus family in Butte.
Read this for: Asil, Sam, Bran, a sweet love story about vampires set in a Chicago apartment, an in-series reprint of the Anna & Charles origin story so you can sell off your battered paperback romance anthology.
Don't read this for: lots of plot focused on Mercy.
Books I was reminded of:

Contents List, albeit not as relevant here as it usually would be
(The stories are arranged chronologically in the collection.)
Fairy Gifts
Seeing Eye
Alpha and Omega
The Star of David
Roses in Winter
In Red, with Pearls
Outtake from Silver Borne
Outtake from Night Broken

I really enjoyed this collection. I like that it didn't leave any previously published Mercyverse stories out, so I can have all the ones written so far in one place (and possibly sell or gift a few old anthos too, if they were ones I bought solely for the Briggs story). I like that there was not just one new story written for the collection but four stories/novellas (31, 38, 39, and 68 pages long), plus two outtakes from the Mercy novels (Silver Borne and Night Broken, at 6 and 3 pages respectively).

I'd read four of the six previously published stories before. I've always loved Anna and Charles' meeting/origin story, "Alpha and Omega", and am very happy that it has an in-series publication so I don't have to keep shelving my battered copy of the On The Prowl anthology in the novels part of my library. I like "Fairy Gifts", which is a story about vampires and fae in Butte, Montana, and doesn't involve any of the series characters. "In Red, with Pearls" is about Warren and Kyle - which is a good thing - plus it's got a zombie, plus it's noir, and I'm sure a lot of people will like it for those reasons, but Warren's cowboyisms got on my nerves in this one. I like him in the novels, so I'm not really sure why his speech patterns annoyed me here.

I really liked "The Star of David" for being about David Christiansen, who appeard in Moon Called. I like his voice and perspective: having lived through so many hard things and not just making himself keep on moving but having learned about people from experiencing those events. And his self or soul has decided to not just learn the practical things that keep him or others alive while becoming cynical enough about people that the universe is cold and desolate. Instead he keeps all his experiences and insights in one great work of perspective (or perspectives) so that he learns about the horrible sides of people's natures but he still cares about people because they're people.

I do find a few turns of phrasing having to do with David being African-American troubling. I also find it kind of troubling to be a white person judging a character of colour thinking about race. On the other hand, the character is being written by another white woman. To state my theoretical position on fiction writing and race, I think it's not possible to make some sort of hard, fast, simple rule like 'don't write characters of colour having negative associations about their skin colour' and have that rule make a genre better. People are too complex and there's also the issue of internalized prejudice. Readers also get as tired of reading about perfect characters as they do of reading about angsty teenagers or sardonic pragmatists with no conscience or evil overlords or any other single type of character without a context of variety. I do think it's a good thing to have a large enough ratio of characters of colour with positive depictions to ones with negative depictions that kids don't interact with their media, then conclude all African-Americans are involved with drugs and they should transfer that idea over to real life. Unfortunately each written description in a book is mainly dependent on the individual book context and the individual author's mind. It's like the distinction between institutional racism and the actions of a single person. Sometimes that one person is acting out of racism, sometimes they're not, a lot of times you can't tell, and while that person is probably influenced by institutional racism, their actions are not determined by it.

So here's the passages that keep bugging me:

His own skin was dark as the night and kept him safely hidden in the shadows where he and people like him belonged. (p246)

This sentence is from a short paragraph describing characters' physical appearances. I don't have a problem with the first half of the sentence (ending right after shadows and right before where) and I don't have a problem with the last half of the sentence (beginning approximately after safety and before hidden). David has dark skin (here described with a metaphor) and David carries a lot of self-hatred for being a werewolf due to going into a berserker rage after his first transformation and killing his wife and her lover in front of their (David+wife's) children. However, if you put both halves - one saying something about David's skin colour and one saying something about David's being a werewolf/killer/guilty person - together, then it leaves an impression, at least to me, that they are related. I don't think Patricia Briggs intended this at all. It's really easy to to write sentences that don't specify everything in one's mind or relay it imperfectly.  But when I run across it in a text without having gone over and over the text before trying to edit it and play around with it, it feels unpleasant to read.

The other passage is the juxtaposition of a few sentences that begin two successive paragraphs.

Maybe it was the name, or maybe the image that "foster kid" brought to mind, but he'd expected Devonte to be black. Instead, the boy looked as if someone had taken half a dozen races and shook them up - Eurasian races, though, not from the Dark Continent. [2 sentences of physical description]

Not that it mattered. He'd found that the years were slowly completing the job that Vietnam had begun - race or religion mattered very little to him anymore. (p252)

I have trouble thinking of this as an accurate phrasing of David's character voice. Since he has a werewolf lifespan and fought in Vietnam as a young man, he probably comes from my parents' generation, kids born right before or right after the end of WWII. I guess some people used the phrase "the Dark Continent" then. Did African-Americans? I don't know. It's still odd to hear showing up in a character's head nowadays, especially an African-American man's head. I'm also not sure someone of that generation would say race matters very little to him. David hasn't lived out his probable human lifespan yet, even if he looks like he's in his thirties instead of like a senior citizen. Race and religion may matter very little in whether or not he chooses to help someone or be friendly with them, but I can't really imagine the phrase "mattered very little" being accurate without that crucial modifier of "in".

The races listed as Devonte's possible ethnic groups after "Eurasian" are Native American, Asian, Jewish, and Italian. Italians had an odd status in America's already odd race relations and stereotypes for a while, but they are more arguably people classed by citizenship or birth or residence, not a race. And Native Americans aren't Eurasian. I'm pretty sure these two paragraphs as a whole result from sloppy writing or sloppy editing. But again, reading the final product makes me feel bad and jars me out of the story.

I also find that for me personally there was not enough shown or stated to indicate the reasons Stella changed her mind about including her father in her life. We see the events but we don't see her interpretation of them.

Again, apart from these concerns I found the story very enjoyable. I hope we get to read more things written in David's narrative voice (with better editing) in the future.

I also enjoyed Moira's voice in "Seeing Eye". She is admirably fierce with an admirable sense of humour. I do think it's overly emphatic symbolism or author in-joke to make the protagonist a blind woman with the family name Keller. I also think the protagonists letting this go without laughing about it in a story where they spend a half page explaining and laughing about Moira's personal names is highly improbable.

And now we come to "Gray". I love "Gray". I didn't buy the anthology it came out in, and I evidently missed out until now, at least with regard to this story. It is a truly sweet love story, a vampire story, a reverse gender role romance with the woman wooing the man, and a ghost story, and I love the intensely-drawn characters in their brief but unforgettable appearances. Elyna the vampire, Peter the cop, Jack with his sense of humour, Steven the African-American vampire with his practically visible aura of loathing for the vampire leader who makes him call him master. (I'm curious if Steven Harper the vampire is a tuckerization of Steven Harper the author, aka Steven Piziks and Penny Drake.)

I really hope Briggs writes more about these characters.

New stories.................we have four: "Silver", "Roses in Winter", "Redemption", and "Hollow". Silver is a novella about Sam and Ariana's first meeting, and I really enjoyed it. We find out more about Bran too. "Roses in Winter" is about Asil, whom I also really like, and his friendship with Kara Beckworth, who was apparently a character mentioned in Blood Bound but never seen and whom I'd completely forgotten. "Redemption" is about Ben and has a lot of geek humour and corporate absurdity humour, which I like, but I dislike the events of the ending. Ben is supposedly redeemed by feeling the desire to protect a young woman instead of hurt her, because he treats her like pack, which means he's learning to be a healthy, good dominant wolf who protects instead of hurts. I don't think Ben learning to like one woman he doesn't think is intelligent - once she's under his leadership in his mind - is a redemptive ending. Although admittedly for Ben it's probably an improvement. It was an enjoyable story to read and I'm glad Ben's made an improvement in his character, but as for redemption he's got a long way to go, baby.

"Hollow", the final story in the book, takes place after Night Broken and is another ghost story. Again, I really liked it. I think Briggs is succumbing to the desire to make everything happy for her characters though, which runs the danger of making everything too perfect, lacking realism and dramatic plot points. David Christiansen runs a mercenary/contractor group that only accepts contracts he thinks are ethical enough, and it gives him enough good PR amongst the ethical that there's sufficient good guys wanting to hire contractors to keep his company afloat and give all his employees the month of December off every year? I approve, but I'm not convinced. So yeah, Mercy's one car project that survived the destruction of the garage sells for $19,000 in an auction, giving her money to rebuild at exactly the moment when she's about to give up, bulldoze the ruins, and sell the real estate. Which she's doing without consulting Adam, because she worries about his finances and feels bad making him worry just to continue her life's passion. Mercy's actions and luck here are actually possible. She does good and creative work, and some guy finding the car of his heart at an auction, buying it at any price, and getting his friend to hire her for another car restoration job could happen. And while I think her feelings/actions regarding Adam are unhealthy and annoying (and meanwhile he's already called the building contractor and said rebuild without consulting Mercy), this part of her mindset is a problem Mercy has, and hopefully she'll deal with it in some upcoming book. This is still kind of a windfall that just drops out of the blue, without having much to do with "Hollow"'s main plot (although you can use it to contrast Mercy, Lisa, and Rick in terms of work and relationship fulfillment), and it also prevents Mercy (and Adam) from having to deal with the consequences of their insecurities. I've known series that degraded to the point of blandness because the author didn't want to make things un-utopian or couldn't stand to do horrible things to their characters. I'm pretty sure it's the aspect of the Star Trek universe that generates the most audience and writer complaints. (Well, that and the lack of fan service for people's OTP.)

The outtakes from the books are very short and I'm not going to comment on them, except to say I enjoyed the one from Silver Borne but thought the dialogue from the second outtake felt unnatural even though I enjoyed the plot and like that it came to Briggs in a dream. 

Urban fantasy music.

Ben Aaronovitch, one of the scriptwriters for the old Doctor Who, writes an urban fantasy series about a biracial London cop drafted into the magic division which is now at four books (and counting). The first of these is Midnight Riot (original UK title: Rivers Of London). He recently exec-produced a rap video for it. It's kind of neat - see below:

Rivers Of London/Peter Grant series (in order):
Midnight Riot (UK: Rivers Of London): my review here
Moon Over Soho
Whispers Under Ground
Broken Homes
Short stories!

Shall We Gather - Alex Bledsoe (a Tufa story)
"Oh, he ain’t no denomination. He ain’t set foot in a church for thirty years. He’s just scared, now that he’s facing the pearly gates. He wants a man of God to tell him he ain’t going to hell."

Wait For Me - Sarah Monette/Katherine Addison (a Kyle Murchison Booth story)
"And since the box of Stapleton diaries looked very much like the boxes containing the Thorne-Sainver correspondence, giving it the protective coloration of an Arctic fox against snow, and since I had developed a slight aversion to Mildred Truelove Stapleton after the unpleasant things which had happened in her house, I am afraid I would have entirely forgotten about the diaries if it had not been for a small and unsettling coincidence."
(Warning - this scared the heck out of me.)

If Dragon's Mass Eve Be Cold And Clear - Ken Scholes
"The night was clear and cold but I paid it no mind. The hymn might’ve promised that the Santaman’s grace would find us here, but the reality was I’d already seen at least a half-dozen clear and cold Dragon’s Mass Eves and the Santaman had yet to come back, reeking of anything, much less love. There had been, according to my father, over two hundred and thirty-seven cold, clear Dragon’s Mass Eves to be exact, to the great consternation of the few remaining theologians."

Book giveaway! And art.

In December I read Cracked by Eliza Crewe. And I was happy because it was awesome. It is about a very snarky girl named Meda who eats people.

"Well, technically, she eats their soul. But she totally promises to only go for people who deserve it. She’s special. It’s not her fault she enjoys it." --blurb

Meda is a very fun heroine who is having a gleeful time eating murderers to survive until she runs into three people like her. Who don't seem to like her very much. Fortunately she is rescued by Crusaders (yes, as in idealistic paladinlike Templars-in-hiding –— on motorcycles) who figure that since she is being attacked by three demons, she must be predestined to become a great power for good. Meda's trying to hide her actual source of sustenance while playing for any opportunity to find out how a girl with a dead human mother ended up needing demon-food (read: YOUR SOUL) to survive.

And now you too read this book, because it's free!

Well, if you win.

When I wrote the author to squee at her, she kindly hooked me up with a publisher publicity person, and they said if I posted the cover for book two, Crushed, which is coming out in August 2014 (art below, created by Dominic Harman), then I could run a book giveaway for others and get myself a chance to read the sequel early. More squee! :D


So how do you get a free book?

Just comment on this entry (or on its crosspost sister in bookish) and say you want to enter the book giveaway. I will put each username on a sheet of paper and use a random number generator (or possibly a couple of dice, because Crusaders believe deeply in their pair-o'-dice) to pick one username who gets the book - in either ebook or pbook (printed, physical) format, winner's choice.

(I will only list each username once, so you can't increase your chance of winning by commenting in both places, sorry.)

As someone once said, may the odds be ever in your favor.