Amberlough by Lara Elena Donnelly

Book – In the city of Amberlough, morality depends upon the time of day and everything is for sale. The Bumble Bee is the city’s most notorious club, and Aristide Makricosta the club’s most notorious performer. His lover, Cyril DePaul, is a covert agent, adept at keeping Aristide’s secrets as well as his own. At least, until he’s sent on a mission to the northern reaches of the country, investigating a new political party that seems convinced they can take over the country despite their unpopularity. And if they do, both Cyril and Aristide are going to find themselves in dire straits.

Amberlough is a kind of fantasy mashup of Cabaret and the novels of John Le Carré, with lots of intrigue, behind-the-scenes nightclub shenanigans, and the creeping shadow of totalitarianism looming behind all of it. I found it rough going, emotionally; Cyril sacrifices his principles early on, and watching him attempt to play both sides is painful, especially when he’s dragging other people down with him. By the end of the book, though, I couldn’t bear not to know what would happen next. I’m immensely relieved to report that there are sequels in the works, but this book stands well on its own.

Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor

Book – Onyesonwu is a child of rape, a child of war. Her mother named her “Who fears death?” because after being attacked and impregnated, she didn’t any more. Onyesonwu is Ewu, the light-skinned offspring of a dark Okeke woman and a pale Nuru man, and she encounters disrespect and fear wherever she goes. But she’s also a sorcerer, thanks to her mother’s fervent prayers, and the older she grows, the more powerful her sorcery becomes. And then she learns of a prophecy, about someone who will turn the whole order of the world upside down…

It took me a little while to get into this book, because it’s got some pretty rough going – Onyesonwu’s mother’s rape; the genocide of the Okeke by the Nuru; and Onye’s Eleventh Year Rite, with an explicit description of female genital mutilation, all feature heavily in the first hundred or so pages. But Onye is such a strong character, so full of promise and determination, that I had to see where she was going to go. Your reward for making it through the brutality of her early years, like hers, is an amazing story of love, female friendship, solidarity, and the pursuit of justice. Onyesonwu isn’t perfect – she frequently loses her temper, and sometimes does irreversible things as a result – but she loves life and she loves her people and her world, and is determined to make all of them better. By the end of the book, I couldn’t put it down.

Monstress: Volume 1: Awakening

Graphic Novel – In Monstress, arcanics are a hybrid of ancient ones and humans. Ancient ones are mystic beings with immortality and special abilities. Known as witches, human women have evolved to have special abilities too. They have been at war with the arcanics for some time. Humans capture arcanics sell them into slavery, experiment on them, and kill them.

Maika was donated to The Order by a local merchant. The Order is a group of powerful witches that have waged war on arcanics. Maika is not a normal arcanic. There is something different about her. Maika is trying to find out was she is. She knows she is more than an arcanic and goes in search of answers. Joining Maika on her journey are Kippa, a young foxlike arcanic and Master Ren, a talking cat with several tails, from a race known as children of ubasti in the story.

This being the first volume very little is revealed until much later in the story. The first three chapters do not give the reader much of a backstory. The story is intriguing and made me want to keep going once I got through the first three chapters. With several storylines to keep track of, it makes the read a little overwhelming and confusing at times. I have found this to be normal with first volumes though.

The style of drawing is a cross between manga, steampunk, and contemporary comics. The world the creators have imagined is stunning. Arcanics are varied and beautifully imagined. Some include wings and horns, talking monkeys, ram headed humanoids, talking cats, and some ride unicorns. There is some violence and blood, along with some nudity.  I would recommend this for readers looking for something imaginative, interesting storyline, and intricate artwork. I welcome what is to come in this story and am sure to will enjoy the future volumes.

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

Book – Nancy’s parents don’t know what to do with her. She’s changed – she won’t wear colors any more, only shades of black and white; she doesn’t eat much, and sometimes, when no one’s looking, she goes very, very still. So they send her to Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children, where they hope she will become more like her old self. But Nancy’s parents don’t know what Eleanor West’s real business is. She counsels children who, like her, like Alice and Dorothy and the Pevensies, once stepped through a doorway into another world. And then they came home, to a world much less interesting than the one they’d visited (a different world for almost everyone), and more than anything they long to go back.

This briskly-paced little novella is an idea wrapped in a murder mystery: what would that kind of adventure, the portal-fantasy adventures that so many of us grew up on and dreamed about, really do to a person? What would they be like when they came back? The mystery is just something to keep things moving along, to give us an excuse to hear about all these kids (many of them teenagers, but some younger) and the worlds they visited. Anyone who’s ever dreamed about falling into a fantasy world will relish this story (and its sequel, due out in June).

The Last Adventure of Constance Verity By A. Lee Martinez

indexBook–This skewering of the adventure genre follows Constance Verity, an adventurer since childhood who was blessed (or cursed, if you ask Constance) by a fairy godmother at birth to live an exciting life full of adventure and die a glorious death. Similar to how Poirot stumbles on murder mysteries even while on vacation, Constance’s life is never far from adventure. Her job interviewer turns out to be a member of a strange cult, her biology teacher is part of a vast conspiracy, and since adventure is par for the course of her life, Constance is perpetually exhausted, trusts no one, and suspects everyone of hidden motives. When your whole life is adrenaline and excitement, monotony and ordinariness become sacred. In a quest for an ordinary life, Constance and her best friend Tia set off, ironically, on an adventure, with the goal of murdering her fairy godmother and thus hopefully shedding her blessing/curse.

Part of the fun of this book is all of the crazy adventures that Tia and Constance refer to in their dialog and the loving way that Martinez sends up the classics of adventure.  This book is the start of a series, so it’s probably actually NOT the “last adventure” of Constance Verity.

Redwood & Wildfire by Andrea Hairston

imagesBook – Redwood is a girl with music in her bones and magic in her fingers, a born performer with a gift for hoodoo and witchcraft. She was never going to be the kind of girl who stayed home on the farm, but rural Georgia in the early 20th century is a dangerous place for a black girl in love with an Irish-Seminole man. So she and her lover Aidan strike out for the big city to get into the movies — Chicago, the birthplace of American filmmaking.

This is a poetic kind of book, full of enchanting twists and turns, beautiful vignettes of what life was and could have been like for people usually ignored by history, although it’s not strong on plot; if you want a strong story to carry you through, you might want to skip this one. But like a mosaic, the scenes in Redwood & Wildfire add up to more than the sum of their parts. If you love magic, romance, Blues music, movies, Chicago, and glimpses of joy that emerge from the struggle for survival, give this book a try, I think you’ll like it. (And if you do, don’t miss its science-fiction sequel, Will Do Magic for Small Change.)

Bitter Seeds by Ian Tregillis

6881685Book – Klaus and his sister Gretel were sold to the Doctor when they were children, and ten years later, after innumerable surgeries, experiments, and hours of training, they and their companions are the secret weapons of the rising Reich. Klaus can walk, insubstantial, through walls or hails of bullets with equal ease; his rival can burst into flames at will; and his sister Gretel’s powers, though less dramatic, are no less important, because she can see the future consequences of all their actions.

Meanwhile, across the Channel, the British Secret Service has formed an even-more secret organization called Milkweed to figure out how to combat the German supersoldiers whose existence they’ve stumbled upon. Raybould Marsh, an up-and-coming SIS agent, recruits his old friend William Beauclerk, the younger brother of a Duke and, more importantly, one of Britain’s secret network of warlocks, able to negotiate favors from impossibly powerful beings with control over the very fabric of reality.

Nazi supermen versus British warlocks — Bitter Seeds (the first book in the Milkweed Trilogy) is like a comic book movie in novel form, in the best possible way. While the Nazi doctor sometimes falls into cartoon-villain territory, Klaus and Gretel more than make up for it, and the machinations of the British warlocks are mesmerizing in their horribleness. This is a dark alternate history (although perhaps no darker than World War II actually was) where everybody makes terrible choices in the service of winning the war, without stopping to think about what will happen if they do.

If you like Marvel’s Captain America movies or the X-Men in any form, do yourself a favor and pick this up. Another great alternate-World War II novel is Jo Walton’s Farthing, an English country house mystery set during the long peace between Britain and Nazi Germany.

The Dream-Quest of Vellit Boe by Kij Johnson

51eCqp7J8OLBook – When Vellitt Boe settled down as a professor of mathematics at the Women’s College of Ulthar, she thought that her wandering days were over. In her youth she’d traveled the Six Kingdoms of the dream world and even met dreamers from the waking world. And now she is forced into traveling again, when her student Clarie Jurat, a daughter of one of the College’s Trustees, runs off with a dreamer, putting the future of the college – and perhaps much more – at risk.

If the title sounds at all familiar, it’s because this novella is a kind of inversion of H.P. Lovecraft‘s “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath,” in which a dreamer from our world travels the mysterious and dangerous realms of the dreamlands – and these are the same dreamlands, from the gugs and ghouls of the under-realms to the mad and unpredictable gods. You don’t need to know that to enjoy this story, though; Vellitt Boe stands comfortably on her own two feet without the need to stand on anyone else’s shoulders.

This is a tremendous amount of questing in a very small package; if you like epic fantasy novels like those of Tad Williams, Robert Jordan, or J.R.R. Tolkien, but you don’t have time for another thousand-page tome, The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe packs a whole world’s worth of strange beauty into fewer than 200 pages.

Lost in Austen (2008)

51h8cwyC6nLTv Mini-Series– Long a fan of movie adaptations of Jane Austen’s classic novel, Pride and Prejudice, I absolutely adored the 2008 British Tv Mini-Series, Lost in Austen.  This film follows the Jane Austen obsessed Amanda, who lives in present day London with her boring boyfriend who just doesn’t hold up to her precious Darcy.  A girl in love with the romance and time period of Pride and Prejudice, Amanda is in for the shock of her life when she finds herself trapped in a real life world of her favorite Jane Austen novel.  There she stays with the Bennett’s, meets the sobering Darcy, and manages to ruin relationships while making a mess of the entire plot.  Will she ever return to modern London or is she forever fated to live her life in a broken edition of Pride and Prejudice?

Amanda is such a wonderfully quirky, cute character full of sass and spunk; I immediately adored her.  She speaks her mind, which often backfires on her, but makes for a good laugh.  Lost in Austen’s Darcy (Elliot Cowan) does not disappoint the eyes, and is definitely in the same ranks as Matthew Macfadyen (Pride and Prejudice, 2006) and Colin Firth (Pride and Prejudice, 1995 Tv Mini-Series).  The story itself is fun and magical, taking a step into your favorite fictional world.  It was whimsical twist on the classic tale of Pride and Prejudice, and I loved it.

I would recommend it to Jane Austen enthusiasts and romantic comedy lovers alike.  For more fun Austen adaptations, check-out Austenland The Jane Austen Book Club, and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies*! *All three films are based on novels of the same titles.

 

The Gentleman by Forrest Leo

6174e2-23JL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Book – Sometimes, it’s easy to know from the outset whether a book will be a good fit or not.  Such is the case with The Gentlemen, a book about a vain Victorian poet who meets the Devil at a masquerade ball, accidentally sells his wife’s soul in exchange for poetic inspiration and consequently launches an expedition (peopled by his bluff adventuring brother-in-law, his scandalous sister, a shy mad scientist and a stalwart butler) to Hell to retrieve her.  If that premise sounds as delightful to you as it did to me, you’ll love the book; if not, don’t bother.  Simple as that.

Forrest Leo’s language in The Gentleman is perfectly Victorian, his parodistic humor is spot-on for the absurd, over-the-top story he’s looking to tell, and the steampunk elements of his universe are used sparingly and well.  While reading, there was a moment when I feared I would feel cheated by the ending, but I was happily mistaken in that.  If I had to quibble, I wouldn’t have minded a little more swashbuckling action.  Overall, however, The Gentleman was a delightfully silly, light, fast-paced, fun first novel, with a great and original premise, from a clearly talented young writer.  I can’t wait to see what he writes next!