Historical YA review: And I Darken & Now I Rise by Kiersten White

And I Darken & Now I Rise (The Conqueror’s Saga #1 and #2) by Kiersten White

Published by: Penguin Random House

Format: Audiobook

Genre: Historical YA

Order at: Amazon

Reviewed by: Alex

What to Expect: What if Vlad the Impaler was actually a woman? What if a despot’s rise to power could be told sympathetically such that a reader could understand it? And maybe even root for said despot? This trilogy sets out with these questions in mind. People…the third and last book of the series, Bright We Burn, will be coming out in July. Read these and be ready for the conclusion of this dangerous and impeccably researched trilogy. Read More

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YA Fantasy Review: Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard #2: The Hammer of Thor by Rick Riordan

Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard #2: The Hammer of Thor by Rick Riordan

Published by: Disney Hyperion

Format: mobi

Genre: YA/Fantasy

Order at: Amazon | B&N

Reviewed by: Alex

What to Expect: Adventure? Check. Found family? Check. Falafel? Check. Diversity and complexity shared by retellings of Norse Mythology and the world that created it? Check, check, check!  Read More

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Buddy Review: Alex and Edwin talk Apocalypse Alley by Don Allmon

Apocalypse Alley by Don Allmon

Published by: Riptide

Format: eARC

Genre: Fantasy

Release date: February 26, 2018

Order at: Publisher

Reviewed by: Alex & Edwin

What to Expect: Death Race 2000 meets Mad Max in The Matrix. Featuring a hacker, a supersoldier with side servings of the Daddiest orc in history and a terrifying cyborg assassin. Read More

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Edwin’s Recent Reading Roundup: Book 1 Bonanza

Over the past few months, I’ve read a number of “book ones” in multi-book series that I really enjoyed.  Here are four I’d like to highlight, all of which either have a sequel out already (in the case of the first two) or out in the next few weeks (in the case of the last two). No waiting for months before bingeing right on to the next book!


Cold Iron by Stina Leicht

Get it now: Publisher | Amazon | B&N 

The first book in what looks like it’s going to be the epic fantasy trilogy I’ve been wanting for a long time.  I primarily read epic fantasy as a teenager, and I love the sweep of it. The nation-shaking plots, the battles, the magic, the heroic effort to defeat evil.  Great stuff.  But bundled into that is a lot of reactionary pining for feudalism and how replacing a Bad King with a Good King fixes everything.

Cold Iron upends those tired tropes, and gives us an epic fantasy with a revolutionary mindset.  Our two lead characters are royal siblings, yes, but the empire they’re heirs to is kind of crappy and oppressive; at the very best the status quo is deeply flawed.  The book is not the story of how the Good Queen fixes the status quo & makes it a paradise, it’s about how the status quo collapses.  And that is altogether a very different (I’d argue more interesting) story. Throw in plenty of women characters with agency, major supporting characters who are queer, a much less prominent role for the military than is normal in fantasy societies, and a gripping plot and you have something really special.  

The best epic fantasy that I read last year, and I’m excited to read the second book, Blackthorne, which is out now.


Soul’s Blood by Stephen Graham King

Get it now: Publisher | Amazon | B&N

You don’t see much queer space opera out there, and that’s what I thought I was getting when I picked up Soul’s Blood.  And it is what we start with, but it becomes apparent that that is not the book’s primary focus.  Our major characters are Keene and Lexa-Blue, along with Lexa-Blue’s sentient ship, Maverick Heart, better known as Vrick.  They’re interstellar ‘troubleshooters,’ taking on jobs of varying levels of legality to pay their way.  The book opens with a nice little heist scene, but quickly morphs into what consumes the rest of the book: a political technothriller.  One of Keene’s ex-boyfriends is CEO/King of a corporate state, and needs help resolving an escalating conflict with the genetically modified not-quite-human nation which shares his planet.   

What ensues is surprisingly character-driven, which works well because the characters are excellent.  Keene is a cocky smuggler, yes, but he also wears his heart on his sleeve, and Lexa-Blue is a riot as a hypercompetent, gives-no-fucks badass.  Arguably my favourite character, though, is Vrick. Centuries old, the product of banned technology, and a loyal friend to Keene and Lexa-Blue, he’s a marvellous creation.  This good characterisation is backed up with interesting worldbuilding and a fast moving plot.  I might have wished for the book to be a bit longer to spool out some of the relationship developments, but there are worse sins than leaving one wanting more.

Gatecrasher, Book 2 in the Maverick Heart series is out now and is, if anything, even better than Soul’s Blood.


Hunger Makes the Wolf by Alex Wells

Get it now: Publisher | Amazon | B&N

I read this on the recommendation of KJ Charles, who in addition to writing great books gives good recs, so I wasn’t surprised that I really enjoyed Hunger Makes the Wolf, but I was surprised to be really blown away by it.  The basic setup is two young women on an outlying mining planet in an interstellar civilization.  One is in an outlaw motorcycle gang, the other is the niece of the gang’s leader and ends up with a prominent role in the miners’ union.  Both are altered by something weird about their planet to have ‘witchy’ powers, and are set in conflict with the big nasty corporation which runs the mining operations on the planet (and also control all interstellar travel, so we’re talking big corporation).

The setup itself is cool enough: magic SF outlaw bikers in the neo-Wild West (there is also an alien(?) I’m pretty sure I’m not supposed to find sexy but totally do)! How is that not going to be awesome? But that’s not what impressed me so much.  The special thing about this book is its unrepentant howl of working class anger at pretty much everyone who exploits workers.  The church, the rich, corporate interests, all of it.  And a pretty obvious contempt for ineffectual liberal incrementalism, too. So the book is enormous amounts of fun as a science fantasy adventure, and also a big fuck you to our complacent liberal present.  

Highly recommended, and very much looking forward to book 2, Blood Binds The Pack, which is out on 1 February.


The Root by Na’amen G Tilahun

Get it now: Publisher | Amazon | B&N

An unclassifiable and high quality portal fantasy/urban fantasy mashup.

A portal fantasy/urban fantasy of the highest quality. Our two leads are Erik, a former child star in San Francisco whose career has been destroyed by a scandal involving his ex-boyfriend, and Lil, basically an apprentice mage/archivist in the parallel city of ‘Zebub, where humans are an underclass to god-like beings. Both are black, an unfortunately rare situation in fantasy writing.  Both are also excellent characters.  Erik quickly discovers that he is descended from the blood of gods (or angels. Or something more than human), which gives him special powers. He’s introduced to a number of other people who share such powers, and is drawn into a fight between two factions of these children of angels.  Meanwhile, in Zebub, Lil starts off incredibly timid, but finds an enormous amount of strength & bravery as she’s drawn into a mystery of something which threatens the whole of her reality.  The plot is convoluted – in a way I enjoyed – and there are many point of view characters, so it’s hard to give more detail than that. 

Aside from the extremely creative worldbuilding and rock solid prose, there are a number of other things that made this one of the best books I read last year. I really like that Erik’s powers are related to his anger: it’s rare for queer characters in media to be allowed to be angry, for that anger to be justified, and for it to be powerful.  Erik is granted all of those things. I like that the angels are ugly; completely inhuman (and in line with some old testament descriptions).  And the diversity of the book is wonderful.  Erik’s not-quite-love-interest is Asian. A number of his friends and colleagues are queer. Powerful women with real agency abound.  It’s a fantasy where anyone can see themselves, find themselves in it, and that is a precious thing.

Book 2, The Tree, is out on January 23, and is the next book on my TBR pile.


Edwin gets grumpy if his SF/F reading doesn’t feature happy queer main characters.  Aside from that, he reads and writes for a living (though not fiction), so of course his hobby is reading, and now writing about what he reads. Why do anything else?

Connect with Edwin on Twitter: @gaybookgeek

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Sounds Like Halloween: Day 31, part 1 with Holly Black

Holly Black joins Sounds Like Halloween with a reading from her vampire YA, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown.


About The Coldest Girl in Coldtown:

Coldtown was dangerous, Tana knew. A glamorous cage, a prison for the damned and anyone who wanted to party with them.

Tana lives in a world where walled cities called Coldtowns exist. In them, quarantined monsters and humans mingle in a decadently bloody mix of predator and prey. And once you pass through Coldtown’s gates, you can never leave.

One morning, after a perfectly ordinary party, Tana wakes up surrounded by corpses. The only other survivors of this massacre are her exasperatingly endearing ex-boyfriend, infected and on the edge, and a mysterious boy burdened with a terrible secret. Shaken and determined, Tana enters a race against the clock to save the three of them the only way she knows how: by going straight to the wicked, opulent heart of Coldtown itself.



 About Holly Black:

Holly Black is the author of bestselling contemporary fantasy books for kids and teens. Some of her titles include The Spiderwick Chronicles (with Tony DiTerlizzi), The Modern Faerie Tale series, the Curse Workers series, Doll Bones, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, the Magisterium series (with Cassandra Clare) and The Darkest Part of the Forest. She has been a a finalist for an Eisner Award, and the recipient of the Andre Norton Award, the Mythopoeic Award and a Newbery Honor. She currently lives in New England with her husband and son in a house with a secret door.

Connect with Holly: http://blackholly.com/


Learn more about the Sounds Like Halloween audio series, including authors taking part & what you can expect, here.

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Sounds Like Halloween: Day 22 with FT Lukens


FT Lukens joins Sounds Like Halloween with a reading from her SFF fantasy, The Rules and Regulations for Mediating Myths and Magic.


About The Rules and Regulations for Mediating Myths and Magic: 

Desperate to pay for college, Bridger Whitt is willing to overlook the peculiarities of his new job—entering via the roof, the weird stacks of old books and even older scrolls, the seemingly incorporeal voices he hears from time to time—but it’s pretty hard to ignore being pulled under Lake Michigan by… mermaids? Worse yet, this happens in front of his new crush, Leo, the dreamy football star who just moved to town.

Fantastic.

When he discovers his eccentric employer Pavel Chudinov is an intermediary between the human world and its myths, Bridger is plunged into a world of pixies, werewolves, and Sasquatch. The realm of myths and magic is growing increasingly unstable, and it is up to Bridger to ascertain the cause of the chaos, eliminate the problem, and help his boss keep the real world from finding the world of myths.



About FT Lukens:

F.T. Lukens is an author of Young Adult fiction who got her start by placing second out of ten thousand entries in a fan community writing contest. A sci fi enthusiast, F.T. loves Star Trek and Firefly and is a longtime member of her college’s science-fiction club. She holds degrees in Psychology and English Literature and has a love of cheesy television shows, superhero movies, and writing. F.T. lives in North Carolina with her husband, three kids, and three cats.

Her first novel in the Broken Moon series, The Star Host, was released by Duet Books in 2016. The second novel in the series was released in 2017. Connect with FT on her author site.


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Sounds Like Halloween: Day 20 with Mary Fan

Mary Fan joins Sounds Like Halloween with a reading from her YA dark fantasy novella, Firedragon Rising.


About Firedragon Rising: 

Sinister plots. An underground rebellion. And a treacherous road filled with monsters and enemies unknown.

It’s been three months since Aurelia survived the International Challenge—an elite monster-fighting competition. And the Triumvirate has been keeping a close eye on her ever since … as if they expect her to cause them more trouble.

They’re right.

Now that she knows about the underground revolution—and the dark secrets of her own past—Aurelia is hell-bent on escaping the government’s watchful gaze and joining the rebels. Finally, she’s found a cause worth fighting for. A way for her kind, the Norms, to take back their freedom.

Then, when she overhears a Triumvirate official’s conversation, she learns that it’s even worse than she realized. The government knows about the rebels, and the rebellion. They’re searching for people who sympathize with the cause. And they’re coming after her next.

Suddenly the time for dreaming about the rebellion is over. Aurelia must make contact with the rebels and plot a quick escape … before the Triumvirate has a chance to capture her. But government forces and miles of monster-filled wilderness stand between her and the rebel headquarters, and dangers she never imagined lurk in the shadows.

Before she can fight for the freedom of her people, she must achieve her own—or die trying.

Find it on Amazon or add it on Goodreads.



About Mary Fan:

Mary Fan writes sci-fi/fantasy and young adult books about intrepid heroines and fantastical worlds. Her books include the JANE COLT space opera trilogy, STARSWEPT (YA sci-fi), and the FATED STARS novellas (YA high fantasy). The FIREDRAGON novellas (The Firedragon, Firedragon Rising) are prequels to her YA dark fantasy novel, FLYNN NIGHTSIDER AND THE EDGE OF EVIL, which will be released on May 15, 2018 from Crazy 8 Press.

Mary is also the co-editor of the BRAVE NEW GIRLS anthologies about girls doing techy things in sci-fi worlds. The goal of these anthologies is to encourage more girls to explore STEM fields and raising money for the Society of Women Engineers scholarship fund.
Visit her at www.MaryFan.com.
Twitter: @astralcolt
Instagram: @astralcolt


Learn more about the Sounds Like Halloween audio series, including authors taking part & what you can expect, here.

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Sounds Like Halloween: Day 17 with Linsey Miller

Linsey Miller join Sounds Like Halloween with a reading from the YA fantasy, Mask of Shadows.


About Mask of Shadows:

Sallot Leon is a thief, and a good one at that. But gender fluid Sal wants nothing more than to escape the drudgery of life as a highway robber and get closer to the upper-class-and the nobles who destroyed their home. When Sal steals a flyer for an audition to become a member of The Left Hand-the Queen’s personal assassins, named after the rings she wears-Sal jumps at the chance to infiltrate the court and get revenge.But the audition is a fight to the death filled with clever circus acrobats, lethal apothecaries, and vicious ex-soldiers. A childhood as a common criminal hardly prepared Sal for the trials. And as Sal succeeds in the competition, and wins the heart of Elise, an intriguing scribe at court, they start to dream of a new life and a different future, but one that Sal can have only if they survive.

 



About Linsey Miller:

A wayward biology student from Arkansas, Linsey has previously worked as a crime lab intern, neuroscience lab assistant, and pharmacy technician. She is currently an MFA candidate represented by Rachel Brooks of Bookends Literary. Her debut novel MASK OF SHADOWS is the first in a fantasy duology out now (8/29/17) from Sourcebooks Fire. She can be found writing about science and magic anywhere there is coffee.

 


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Sci-Fi Fantasy review: Dalí by E.M. Hamill

Title: Dalí by E.M. Hamill

Published by: NineStar Press

Format: Mobi

Genre: Queer SFF

Order at: Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Publisher

Reviewed by: Alex

What to Expect: When we meet Dalí Tamareia, they’re like Princess Leia combined with Han Solo in that first moment they met, except with more drugs, more sex, more implants, and more time in emergency care than a Sol Fed Ambassador should have to endure. This sci-fi novel goes fast and, damn, is it good.

Read More

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YA Fantasy Review: Magic of Blood and Sea by Cassandra Rose Clarke

Title: Magic of Blood and Sea: The Assassin’s Curse; The Pirate’s Wish by Cassandra Rose Clarke

Published by: Saga Press

Format: Mobi

Genre: YA/Fantasy

Order at: Publisher | Amazon | B&N

Reviewed by: Alex

What to Expect: Just your standard, everyday, typical run away from your arranged marriage only to fall in love with your own assassin romance whilst being a pirate, escaping demons who keep ripping through the fabric of your world in order to steal the assassin of your dreams, creating cautious friendships with manticores, and being surrounded by magic of the blood and sea variety.  Read More

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