Tag Archives: fantasy-scifi

#1: The Fairest of Them All by Carolyn Turgeon

And we’re off!  Welcome to Cannonball Read VI!  If you’re new, take a second to learn about CBR and how books can fight cancer.  If you’re looking for more book suggestions, be sure to bookmark the main blog where all of us submit our reviews.  There’s a little bit of everything over there.  And don’t forget to visit Pajiba when you’re done!

FairestOnce upon a time (as so many of these stories start) in a far off kingdom (where so many of these stories take place), there lived a beautiful young woman named Rapunzel.

Rapunzel was raised by Mathena, who rescued Rapunzel when she was seven years old.  Loving and kind, she hid Rapunzel away in the woods so her neglectful and cruel parents would never find her.  She taught Rapunzel everything about the forest – what plants can heal, which ones can hurt, and what to add to the soil to make the garden grow.

One day, the Prince shows up.  Seventeen year old Rapunzel is helpless against him.  His beauty and power tears their way into her heart.  She in turn bewitches his mind, calling him to her from her tower.

Oh, not bewitching.  A witch is killed.  Mathena and Rapunzel are simple healers, even if it’s only women who creep to the cottage at night, begging for cures for their broken hearts or potions to lure a man to their empty beds.

Following the rules of the tale, Mathena locks Rapunzel in her tower to protect her, but of course the Prince arrives to climb her beautiful hair and ride away with her virginity.

He is promised to another.

Rapunzel is with child.

The women who visit the cottage bring stories of the Princess-to-be.  The marriage will prevent a war with a neighboring kingdom.  She is named after Saint Teresa and the court delights in her piousness.  She will bring God’s favor to them with her goodness and religious heart.  Soon, the King dies and Rapunzel’s prince takes the throne.

There is no room for the magic of herbs and flowers.  And the King is not hers.

Rapunzel aches for her loss.  Her belly swells, her body breaks.  Mathena tries to comfort her, but she has shattered.

Soon, the Queen gives the King a child.  Skin as white as snow.  Hair black as ebony.  Lips red as blood.  The kingdom falls in love with little Snow White.

And then, one night, one of the Queen’s ladies arrives at the cottage.  Terrified she will be found out, but desperate for help, she sits next to the fire and cries.  Mathena gives comfort and aid, just as she has to all the women who have come to her.

But she also gives her tea for the Queen, and soon the Queen is dead.

The King races for Rapunzel, finally able to find her now that Mathena has lifted the spells that hid the tower from him.  Ignoring everyone at court, he brings her back to be his Queen, something Rapunzel has been waiting for since seeing him for the first time.  Something Mathena knew would happen.

Queen Rapunzel, the evil stepmother?  Only she loves Snow White.  The girl is beautiful and sweet and Rapunzel longs to fill the ache in her heart left by her mother’s death.  The death that she brought.

Rapunzel gazes into her mirror each night, wanting to know who is the fairest of them all.  Her hair piles around her, brushing against her skin.  Her beauty is both admired and feared.  Her skills are seen as witchcraft but these voice keep quiet, at least for now.  You are, the mirror tells her.  You are the fairest of them all.

She cannot give the King a child.  Desperate, she uses all her magic to try and conceive a son, but her body betrays her.

And then, one day, She is.  The mirror is still, and then She is the fairest of them all.

Rapunzel finds herself craving the heart of the Princess, who has become a beautiful young woman.

She is alone in the castle.

She will have the girl’s heart.

Mathena guides her from afar.

What happens when you learn all that you were bewitched to forget?  What happens when you learn that it’s not your story that’s being told?  How much have you lost because you were desperate for a King?  How long will it take for a poisoned apple to work its magic?

Who is the fairest of them all?

#34: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black

I feel like the jerkiest jerk because I haven’t returned this book to the library.  I checked it out in OCTOBER and finished it within two weeks in between other books.  It’s been sitting next to my computer for me to review and there’s a wait list for it.  People have been waiting for me since October to get this done!  I am so sorry.

I love love love Holly Black.  When I read Tithe for the first time, I found a kindred spirit.  I’ve read all of her YA and dug up a lot of her short stories in various anthologies.  I’ve been lucky to see her on a few different panels at different book events.  Even better, she lives a few towns over from me, so sometimes I’ll see her when I’m out.  And then I embarrass myself by trying to tell her how much I like her writing.  Seriously, it’s bad.  I once walked past her in a restaurant and didn’t want to interrupt her, so I planned on tossing out a quick “Thank you for writing” but instead I sang it.  I sang it.  “Thank yooooooooo… for wriiiiiiiiitinggggggg…..”  Think of the scene from Elf where they think Buddy is a sing-o-gram except make it horrific.  I don’t know what happened in my brain.  I then followed up with “I donnnnnn’t knowwwwww… why I am sinnnnnnngingggggg….”  She laughed and thanked me.  I went to the bathroom and realized I was going to have to walk by her table again on the way back to mine.  I’m in my thirties and I had just awkwardly and painfully serenaded a favorite author.  I think I managed to save it on the way back with a casual “I really love your books” as I passed by.  Smooth.

Coldtowns are where the vampires live.  And those who might become vampires.Coldtown  And those who are obsessed and enthralled with vampires and want to serve them in any way.  It’s also where people are sent who are infected and if you can prove you’ve made it through your quarantine without turning, you can leave.  But no one ever seems to leave.

When you’re bit by a vampire, you get cold.  And hungry.  If you go Cold and then drink human blood, you’re done.  You get sicker, then you die, and then you come back to life, or whatever the category is for vampires.  The guideline for quarantine is eight-eight days.  If you can make it that long without taking human blood, you’ll be OK.  The problem is that when you’re craving blood, you will do anything to get it, including trying to kill your own daughter.

When Tana was ten, her mom went Cold.  Terrified of being sent to the nearest Coldtown, she agreed to be locked in the basement until it passed.  Within weeks, the screaming was nonstop.    It took a little over a month for Tana to give in, sneaking the door open to let her mother out.  A moment, and then teeth tearing into her arm.  Her mother wasn’t a vampire yet so couldn’t infect her daughter, but she was going to kill her.  Her father saved her by killing her mother.  Tana is now seventeen with a silver scar.

She wakes up at a party where she’d passed out in a bathtub with the curtain drawn.  A sundown party, where garlic hangs from the windows and holy water is sprinkled over the doorways.  Only something happened.  A window left open and the house is filled with dead friends.  Somehow they missed Tana, but she has to get out before they realize she’s there.  She knows they would have gone to the darkest part of the house to rest, their blood filled bodies waiting for darkness.  Terrified, she creeps to get her car keys and finds her ex-boyfriend alive, gagged and tied to a bed.  Just out of his reach is a young vampire, chained to the furniture.  He’s being tortured, having to look at this living boy but not being able to feed.

Tana starts to untie Aiden and he lunges for her, trying to bite.  Horrified, she realizes he’s been infected.  She’s in a room with someone going Cold and a full vampire sitting and watching.  He seems to be panicking too, straining at the chains around his neck and frantically looking back and forth between her and the door.  Someone is coming.  Someone who will love to drain her life.

Without fully understanding why, Tana saves them both.  Wrapping the vampire in as many blankets as she can find, she shoves him in her trunk.  Trying to figure out a way to keep Aiden from attacking her, she gets him in the car.  As she desperately claws her way out the window, the sun sets, the door is kicked open and she feels the scratch of something on the back of her leg.  Was she bitten?

And that’s the first three chapters.

The rest of the book is Tana trying to figure out what she’s going to do.  She wants to save Aiden but he doesn’t seem to want to be saved.  She’s waiting to see if she’ll turn Cold and turn on him first.  She’s either holding a vampire captive or being held captive by a vampire.  And he’s cute and mesmerizing and dangerous but also seems hesitant to hurt her.  None of this is normal, and she lives surrounded by things that aren’t normal.

Knowing her father won’t help, he’s been drinking nearly nonstop since her mother first went Cold, and terrified she’ll hurt her little sister, Tana decides the best thing she can do is get herself to the nearest Coldtown and wait it out.  Somehow she’ll figure out something to get herself out after her eighty-eight days have passed.  She’ll also somehow drag Aiden along with her, forcing him to wait it out, even though he’s looking at her, waiting for her to slip up so he can feed.  She was in love with him once and he broke her heart.  He knows what to say to her and how to say it and she hates herself for wanting him to be safe.

Then there’s Gavriel.  He seems to simply be waiting.  Why was he being tortured by the pack of vampires in the party house?  It makes sense that they’re coming for Tana and Aiden, but what do they want with one of their own?  And why isn’t Gavriel attacking his human saviors?

Tana just wants to come up with a plan.  Coldtown seems to be the safest bet.  If you turn in a vampire, you’re given a marker.  Get out of jail, free.  She can betray Gavriel, get herself locked in until her Coldness passes, then leave.  She’ll have to figure out something for Aiden once she’s there.  And she might not even be going Cold.  She’s still not sure she’s been bit.

The Coldtowns have become the center of reality TV.  Blogs, live feeds, 24 hour programming… the vampire followers are intense.  Many kids fall in love with the idea of forever.  They change their names and dye their hair.  The set up elaborate websites while they are on the outside, making connections and families on the inside.  When they are ready, they lie and tell the guards they have gone Cold so they can start their real lives inside of Coldtown.  Not surprisingly, not all of them do well.  They are often robbed as soon as they get there.  No one quite knows who to trust.  Some vampires don’t care where or how they feed.  There are plenty of people who will hook up IVs for them to sip from, but if you find a human wandering about…  Other vampires hate themselves and when the sun comes up, they stand in it, begging for an ending to what they’ve become.

It’s a party and anyone can come.  While Tana isn’t the only one who is afraid, she’s the only one in her group who doesn’t want to stay locked up.  Aiden is eager to see what happens next.  Maybe he’ll stay Cold without completely turning.  Maybe he’ll give in to his hunger.  Maybe he’ll kill Tana before they even arrive.

And Gavriel?  He seems to have business behind the locked gates.  Tana still doesn’t know why the other vampires want him, but he has a plan no one needs to know about.

Get him there, get her marker, get out with Aiden.  That’s all she needs to do.

And of course, everything goes to shit.  People die, people disappear, friends betray each other, people get bit.  Tana makes mistakes.  She figures things out too late.  She makes powerful enemies and traps herself.  She tries to get help from people who don’t want to leave and worship the vampires as gods.  She is completely alone, lost in Coldtown without any backup plan.

Well, maybe Gavriel?  But she doesn’t even know where he is.  Or who he is.

This is another solid book from Holly Black.  Her writing is wonderful, her story telling is skilled and she once again captures than unnamed longing that you have when you’re a teenager.  You feel like you own the world while at the same time feeling completely out of control.  You want someone to be in charge while knowing that no one can understand what’s happening.  Things seem so simple but plans become complicated.  You feel like you’re in a huge group of friends while feeling completely alone.  Black has a fantastic ability to pull from this turmoil and create characters who are completely relateable.   Sure, as an adult I can roll my eyes at a seventeen year old falling in love with a vampire.  But my inner seventeen year old is thinking “Yeah.  Go for it.”  And this happens because of Black.  She doesn’t write weak, easy characters.  Tana struggles and makes mistakes and you want her to win, even though you have no clue what winning is going to look like.

I highly recommend Holly Black to any fans of fantasy, urban fantasy and to people who just want to get their hands on smart, well-written YA.  She is extremely talented and she’s also really nice if you sing at her in public.

 

 

 

Bonus Review! Raven Girl by Audrey Niffenegger

 

Raven GirlAnother short story that doesn’t count toward my CBR goal.

This wasn’t a great read for me.

A human and a raven fall in love and have a daughter who is neither human nor raven. She knows something is wrong and doesn’t fit into either world. Science tries to make her whole but will she become what she was born to be?

This is a super quick read, complete with Niffengger’s illustrations. I’m not sure why I didn’t like it. I think part of it was the Detective Boy who follows the Raven Girl on her secret travels. Although his character and the scientist do play against each other, making you wonder if either is the bad guy.

Not a favorite, but in no way a waste of ink and paper.

#17: The Talisman by Stephen King and Peter Straub

TalismanThis was a book club pick and many of my Facebook friends were shocked that I had never read it before.  A huge group of friends love this book and many have it in their Favorite Books of All Time lists.  I expected that my like-minded reader friends would of course be on board, but I found that friends that I wouldn’t have guessed like this genre loved it as well.  Clearly this is a book that spans readerships and ages.  Several friends read it and loved it as teenagers and then picked it up again as adults and were thrilled that it held up and they still loved it.  All of these FB responses made me wonder why this book was never on my radar.  I’m really glad my book group picked it.

The challenge for me was figuring out how to describe the authors’ writing.  Was it King’s part?  Straub’s?  King-Straub?  Straub-King?  There were definitely parts that were 100% King, but I’ve never read anything by Straub so couldn’t know what he created.  For the purpose of this review I’ll stay with the book’s order and the author is now King-Straub.

Our protagonist is Jack Sawyer.  It’s 1981 and he’s on the cusp of turning 13.  His father is dead, his mother is dying and she has scooped him up and fled to New Hampshire, and he doesn’t know why.  She won’t admit she’s dying, or even that she’s sick, and Jack is angry and scared at everything she’s keeping from him.

His father’s business partner is relentlessly pursuing them both and this ads to Jack’s confusion.  Uncle Morgan (not really his uncle) has been bullying his mother about something.  It has to do with Jack’s father and it is clear that his mother wants nothing to do with Morgan’s plans.  The more she resists, the angrier Morgan gets and Jack begins to wonder exactly what his father’s business was.

He also begins to remember when he was a little boy and would Daydream.  His mother was quick to tell him to forget them, although lately he’s begun to see things he knows aren’t real.  Humans don’t have eyes that turn to yellow and hands that turn to claws.  Seagulls don’t rip oysters apart while staring at you, making it clear that they’d rather the oyster was your heart.  The sand beneath your feet doesn’t spin and speak to you about your beloved and trusted Uncle Tommy’s sudden death.  Tommy, the only person would could have protected your mother from Morgan.

The Talisman follows traditional folklore motifs which almost always makes me happy.  Sometimes an author uses this structure and fails and it’s horrible, but in the gifted hands of King-Straub, it’s amazing.  Jack follows the Hero’s Journey, finding a guide and friends to lead him on his path.  Morgan and other enemies are constantly at his back, and Jack knows little about what his quest even is.  He knows he needs to save his mother and now he knows there is another world.

Turns out his Daydreams were real.  His elder guide is Speedy Parker who seems to know things that Jack has always suspected.  He expects greatness from Jack, who is frustrated and confused and scared that he’s supposed to know who he is and what he can do.

The Territories are waiting for him.

He needs to save both worlds.

He doesn’t understand any of it.

With Speedy’s help he slips back and forth between the two places, feeling helpless and young.  He still doesn’t understand who  he is, only that there is a Queen in the Territories who is and is not his mother and must also be saved.  She is dying and Morgan is waiting to take the Kingdom from her.  Only it’s not Morgan.  At least not the Morgan in Jack’s world.  Not Jack’s world… Jack’s other world.  The one with his mother and not the Queen.

Jack must travel between the two worlds from New Hampshire to California to find the Talisman and save his mother.

In the Territories he must avoid Morgan’s Twinner and the Twinners that serve Morgan in both worlds.  It now makes sense that humans do have eyes that turn to yellow and hands that turn to claws.  Jack has no Twinner.  The Queen’s son died, but Jack lived.

Jack’s story continues along the folklore motif and he must overcome challenges in order to get to the prize.

If the book follows the folklore rules, he will win, but how?  And what if he doesn’t?  Even knowing these rules, how will an almost thirteen year old boy with so little knowledge defeat a man who has wanted him dead since he was a baby?  A man with so much power that he’s is already taking the Territories over while the Queen sleeps?  A man with a son in this world who is Jack’s best friend and must learn who his father is.

I loved this book.  The characters are amazing.  From pure evil to pure innocent and everything in between, King-Straub have created a the kind of cast that you want to be real.  You want to be friends with Wolf.  You are comforted that Speedy is out there keeping an eye on things.  You’re willing to let Richard slip away from you in order to stay sane.

I understand why so many of my friends love this book and consider it an all time favorite.  When an author follows the folklore rules and creates something new and exciting, it’s incredibly satisfying.  As readers we know what will happen (or should happen) but not how the authors will get us there.  There is a fear that the hero will fail and we agree with him when he’s ready to give up.  It’s easier to lose, no matter how important the prize at the end will be.  It is exhausting to watch him struggle and lose his way, especially knowing how much balances on his decisions.  If he fails in one world, he will lose everything in the other.

And I was lucky to get to go with him.

Fantasy and SciFi: Whoops

fantasy v scifi

I don’t know why I did it this way, but for some reason I fell into the Fantasy-SciFi tag and bookshelf.

I think it’s because they’re usually grouped together in the bookstore, but looking at my books, I read a lot more fantasy than scifi.  I think I need to make two separate tags/bookshelves and look at all my reviews to fix them.

I have noticed that some bookstore are giving them each their own section, so that’s good.

Anyone want to tackle my GoodReads shelf?

Also, go to FLOWCHART: Navigating NPR’s Top 100 Science Fiction and Fantasy Books.  It’s now interactive!

#12: Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

SeraphinaI was in love with this book a few sentences in.  By the end of the five page prologue I realized I was going to stay up all night reading it cover to cover, but it was a work night, so I forced myself to stop before 2:00am.  I was not happy about this.

Seraphina lives in the kingdom of Goredd.  There has been an uneasy truce between the humans and dragonkind for four decades.  The humans distrust the dragons living in Goredd, even though they remain in their human shape all year, except for the anniversary of treaty day.  Although time has passed, many in the kingdom still hate the dragons and wish to return to war so they may completely wipe them from existence.  A few hours into their cups and they seem to forget that the dragons are bigger and more dangerous than any one man.

The dragons are distant and logical, and humans confuse them.  They’re sort of a mixture of Spock and Aspies.  (I am aware that people will fight to the death defending the point that Spock is/is not an Aspie.)  Because they live so long, they see humans as quick flickers and don’t bother to learn things like emotion, body language, or even the correct pronouns.  Why refer to a baby as “she” when “it” works just as well?  Their world is pure logic and reason, and when they spend too much time with humans, they return to their Board of Censors where their minds are erased and all ideas of emotion are taken away.  Anything that can be considered self-pleasure, such as music or love, is pointless and makes a dragon weak.  It makes them humanlike, which is abhorrent.

When in human form, they must wear bells to distinguish themselves from the humans, although their manner would quickly show the truth.  Many wear their bells proudly, although a few try to keep a low profile so as not to attract the attention of the Sons of St. Ogdo, the group craving to rid the world of dragons, preferably in the most violent manner they can think of.  A few are allowed to remove their bells and study and teach without having to deal with Goredd’s human interference.

It is quickly revealed that Seraphina is part of both worlds.  No spoilers here; we know very early on that she is half human/half dragon.  This is an abomination on both sides and her father is furious and heartbroken that the woman he loved lied to him.  He didn’t know she was a dragon until she died in childbirth, silver blood pooling around her.

He creates a world of lies for the girl, possibly more to keep himself safe than her.  Perhaps if she was never born, he never would have know what his wife was.

Seraphina’s two sides are almost constantly at war.  Her mother implanted memories in her and if Seraphina is not careful she collapses to the ground, overwhelmed with her mother’s visions.  Her dragon uncle, one of the dragons allowed to teach in secret, has taught her to control her dragon mind and hide her identity to keep herself safe.  She must take time each day to calm her dragon side in order to maintain her secret.

And of course she almost blows her cover in the first chapter.

Her whole life she’s tired to remain invisible, but when she is forced to play at the Prince’s funeral, she’s suddenly known to all.

The Prince’s funeral threatens to destroy the treaty between Goredd and the dragons.  His death is suspicious and points to dragonkind.  They have sworn off eating humans, but perhaps their taste for blood has returned.

Seraphina finds herself on both sides, desperate to keep her true self hidden while saving both kingdoms and the treaty.

She quickly makes friends with members of the royal family as well as discovering that there are more like her.  These other abominations have also crafted secret lives for themselves and are horrified that there are others which makes their secret that much easier to reveal.  If  you’re the only one, you’re safe.  However, a part of them is relieved that they aren’t alone.

There’s lots of twists and turns and forbidden love and heartache and loneliness as Seraphina is forced to confront who she is and what it means.  How does she keep her friends and family safe and will she be forced to choose a side?  If her true nature is discovered, she’s not safe with the humans or dragons and if she is somehow not killed, there is nowhere for her to go that will be safe.

Family secrets are revealed and her own mind and memories begin spilling out  and she’s caught up in so many undragonlike and intense human emotions that it seems impossible that she won’t be found out by either side.  The constant hiding, lying, and redirections are exhausting and I kept expecting her to slip up or simply give in so she didn’t have to struggle anymore.

Hartman follows traditional fantasy paths and I liked it.  Seraphina is a fairly strong YA character, even though at times she does fall a little bit into the plot device of a lost young woman desperate for friends but forced to hide a terrible secret.  There’s also a teeny bit of Mary Sue lurking about when she quickly makes powerful friends who either willingly overlook her oddness or are completely blind to the signs.  I’m willing to forgive this because I liked all of the characters so much.  Sometimes it’s OK to use a pattern if you make it enjoyable.

I’m very pleased that this is Book One and I hope the follow ups get better and better as Hartman reveals more of the story and her writing gets stronger.

If you liked The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater or Kristin Cashore’s Graceling Realm series, then try this.  Seraphina isn’t as strong as the female leads in the others, but she’s a good companion.

#7: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

Mr PenumbraThis is a book about books for people who love books.

I liked it SO MUCH.

Clay has had bad jobs and things are getting worse.  But fate or happenstance or J. Randomness has him stumble into Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore.  Seemingly without his knowledge, he takes a job there and things are weird.  Really weird.

There aren’t many books that you’d expect to see in a bookstore and not a lot of customers.  But there are really weird people who come in and out to borrow books from the back.  Climbing ladders like a monkey, he lends out and reshelves books that make no sense to him.

So, of course, he investigates.

A new girlfriend and old friends join in on the adventure.  From technology created right this very second to scribes and giant books chained up in a basement, this book is all about books.  And exploring books.  And loving books.

I had no clue what was happening and there were times where I wasn’t sure who was The Good Guy in Clay’s journey.  I was totally on one side, but then.. waitaminute… what if?  I was more into the characters than the solution to the investigation, but that’s a compliment.  I wanted to see how everyone approached it in their own way and how it was going to all come together to reveal what was happening.

And this is what I liked the most about this book.  Everyone is searching for the same thing, but in different ways and the answer might not be the same.  Someone is going to be disappointed.  Someone is going to fail.  It’s possible that no one will even figure out the ultimate question, let alone solve the problem.  People want to keep with tradition while others think it’s criminal not to use technology to approach the problem.  Everyone is working on the same goal, but everyone has different reasons.

Clay does fit in to that sort of Everyday Hero Man.  He’s not too much of anything and he surrounds himself with people he can draw from to move forward.  This was a bit clichéd but I didn’t mind.  Books follow motifs because motifs work.

I wish I worked in a crazy bookstore with weird secrets and odd customers and rules.

PS: The cover glows in the dark.  IT GLOWS IN THE DARK!!!