Well, I didn’t get any books this week but my husband bought one and received a bunch he pre-ordered so I figured I’d talk about those in case anyone else was interested in them.

The Chronicles of Harris BurdickThe Chronicles of Harris Burdick by Chris van Allsburg (and a lot of other people)

Chris van Allsburg has written and illustrated a lot of well known children’s books, including Jumanji, The Polar Express, and Zathura. Another one of these books is The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, a collection of fourteen illustrations. The story is that Harris Burdick showed these pictures to someone to see if he would be interested in the stories that went with them, only to mysteriously disappear and never be heard from again. The Chronicles of Harris Burdick includes these fourteen illustrations with the fourteen stories and an introduction by Lemony Snicket. It includes stories written by Stephen King, Tabitha King, Lois Lowry, Gregory Maguire, Cory Doctorow, Sherman Alexie, and Chris van Allsburg himself.

I had never heard of The Mysteries of Burdick, although I do remember some of Chris van Allsburg’s books from when I was a kid. My husband remembered this book fondly, though, so when he saw there was now a collection of the stories, he had to have a copy.

An inspired collection of short stories by an all-star cast of best-selling storytellers based on the thought-provoking illustrations in Chris Van Allsburg’s The Mysteries of Harris Burdick.

For more than twenty-five years, the illustrations in the extraordinary Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg have intrigued and entertained readers of all ages. Thousands of children have been inspired to weave their own stories to go with these enigmatic pictures. Now we’ve asked some of our very best storytellers to spin the tales. Enter The Chronicles of Harris Burdick to gather this incredible compendium of stories: mysterious, funny, creepy, poignant, these are tales you won’t soon forget.

This inspired collection of short stories features many remarkable, best-selling authors in the worlds of both adult and children’s literature: Sherman Alexie, M.T. Anderson, Kate DiCamillo, Cory Doctorow, Jules Feiffer, Stephen King, Tabitha King, Lois Lowry, Gregory Maguire, Walter Dean Myers, Linda Sue Park, Louis Sachar, Jon Scieszka, Lemony Snicket, and Chris Van Allsburg himself.

Van Allsburg’s Harris Burdick illustrations have evoked such wonderment and imagination since Harris Burdick’s original publication in 1984; many have speculated or have woven their own stories to go with his images. More than ever, the illustrations send off their eerie call for text and continue to compel and pick at the reader’s brain for a backstory—a threaded tale behind the image. In this book, we’ve collected some of the best storytellers to spin them.

A while ago my husband pre-ordered a signed copy of Snuff by Terry Pratchett from this site, which has a whole bunch of books signed by Terry Pratchett available. While he was there, he also ordered a few of these other books signed by Terry Pratchett. Since I suspect most of you have heard of these books, I’m just going to list them:

Snuff was just released on October 13th and is the newest Discworld book. I did mention this book here before since we were lucky enough to win a copy of the ARC from a random drawing of people who pre-ordered a signed copy. We both read that a while ago. It’s a Vimes book and it’s very good. (I also liked that it had a few Jane Austen references.)

Small Gods
We got a copy of this one signed because both of us agree it’s one of the best Discworld books there is – religion, philosophy, and hilarity.

The Science of Discworld, The Science of Discworld II: The Globe, The Science of Discworld III: Darwin’s Watch
We decided to get these three just because they are difficult to find, at least in the US. I was kind of confused about what exactly they were after reading the back and my husband was still confused about what they were after reading a little bit of the first one. They appear to be a combination of a fiction story and information on science from what I read on them.

The Magician King is the sequel to Lev Grossman’s New York Times bestselling novel The Magicians, which was recently optioned by Fox as a television series. Lev Grossman also won this year’s John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, so it seems to be a pretty good year for him.

Since this is a direct sequel, there will be spoilers for The Magicians in this review. If you do not want to be spoiled, do not read the rest of this review. Personally, I don’t think this is a book where knowing the details spoils it since so much of what makes it enjoyable is the tone and the way it is written, but I want to make sure those who can’t abide spoilers at all know to stay away!

Now that Quentin is one of the four kings and queens of Fillory, he’s finding himself growing bored. It turns out there’s not really that much ruling that needs to be done when residing over a magical kingdom where it’s nearly impossible not to have a bountiful harvest. There are few people and plenty of food and other resources, so there’s not a lot of conflict among the people. What duties there are with ruling are divided among four kings and queens. Quentin is finding the constant leisure time, feasting, and drinking is starting to get dull. He needs some adventure in his life: he needs to go on a quest.

So when he hears the Fillorian citizens of the distant Outer Island have not been paying their taxes, he decides to go there himself and tell them to pay up. In the true spirit of questing, he has a ship refinished to his specifications (which costs more than the unpaid taxes he’s going after) and holds a tournament to find the best fighter in the land to become his bodyguard. Then he sets out on his journey. His actual visit is pretty uneventful since he tours the island and no one argues with him about paying the missing taxes. While he is there, he hears about the magical golden key and sets out to a land beyond Fillory to retrieve them. The first one is easily found, but his magical moment is shattered when he and Queen Julia walk through the portal it unlocks – only to find they are back on Earth.

Quentin and Julia are desperate to get back to Fillory, and they may only be able to do so by delving into Julia’s past and her unique knowledge of magic, gained by learning it outside of the magic school.

In The Magicians, Lev Grossman took the fantasy tropes of the school of magic and the portal to a magical realm and made them more unconventional. The world of learning magic was both more mundane – since learning magic had its dull moments, just like learning any subject – and scarier because messing up had far bigger consequences that were not magically reversed. The part that really made it different to me was the cast of characters, though: a group of very intelligent but very sullen teenagers. They got drunk, they swore, they could be real jerks, they messed up, and there was nothing heroic about them.

The Magician King is an examination of the quests so common to fantasy and what it really means to be a hero. In this book, Quentin wants to find adventure, go on a quest, and be a hero. Now in his twenties, Quentin is not the same person he was in the first book. He’s not perfect hero material by any means – after all, his initial quest is mainly about easing boredom. Since the people don’t really seem to need his help in a magical kingdom, that doesn’t necessarily mean Quentin wouldn’t take on a more noble quest. He does actually express interest in wanting to do something for them, although I’m not sure if it’s really out of the goodness of his heart or just so he has something to keep himself occupied.  When he does undertake his quest, it’s not a selfless act but a grandiose way of going out and finding adventure, although there are some definite signs that Quentin’s developed some empathy along the way. When he meets a talented young cartographer, he reminds him of his younger self and he encourages him by bringing him with him and giving him the task of making a better map of the Outer Island. Likewise, he meets a little girl on the Outer Island who is neglected by her mother, reminding him of his own childhood. Quentin notices this and performs acts of kindness for her. Also – this doesn’t go into details about the specific ending but deals more with the change in Quentin’s character at the end, but since it is from the very end, I’m hiding it behind spoiler tags:

This isn’t just Quentin’s story, though. It’s also the story of Julia, the girl who was rejected from Brakebills but was never able to forget about it like she was supposed to. Throughout the book, it fills in the gaps of what happened to Julia back on Earth after that and before she became one of the queens of Fillory. Much of her story wasn’t as compelling to me as the present story, although I certainly admired her intelligence and determination in pursuing magic – and how she became the best magician on Earth in the process. I also liked the way it showed that there were some advantages to the way she learned magic as opposed to studying it at Brakebills like Quentin and the others. The two ways were different but one wasn’t necessarily superior to the other. What happened to Julia was important, especially because it did end up tying in with the main quest. It was even interesting for the most part, especially once it got to the part that was crucial to the end. Some of the parts in the middle of her story did drag a bit, though, and Julia is less likable than the new Quentin (not the old one from the same time this took place, though – I was really surprised by how much I actually liked Quentin in this book). She’s darker and has less wry humor than Quentin does, and I think the latter reason especially is why I never quite enjoyed her parts to the same degree, regardless of having an appreciation for them. At the end, Julia also undergoes a transformation, although hers is a very different one from Quentin’s.

There is one part of Julia’s past that may bother some sensitive to certain topics, but this is one of the very last parts in her flashbacks so it’s behind spoiler tags:

I loved the writing, mostly for the sense of humor,  phrasing, and Quentin’s observations.


He liked the dryads, the mysterious nymphs who watched over oak trees. You really knew you were in a magical fantasy otherworld when a beautiful woman wearing a skimpy dress made of leaves suddenly jumped out of a tree. [pp. 7]


There was some murmuring among among the upper servants that such a spartan chamber was not entirely suitable for a king of Fillory, but Quentin had decided that one of the good things about being a king of Fillory was that you got to decide what’s suitable for a king of Fillory.

And anyway, if it was high royal style they wanted, the High King was their man. Eliot had a bottomless appetite for it. His bedroom was the gilded, diamond-studded, pearl-encrusted rococo lair of a god-king. Whatever else it was, it was entirely suitable.

[pp. 28]

It’s not heavily or densely written, but there are so many quotable lines that made me laugh out loud. That said, there were a few jokes that made me groan, too, such as the reference to the diplomatic queen as “Fillory Clinton.” There were also a few occasions were a joke was initially funny, but then it was drawn out too much. The book is peppered with references from Dr. Who to Lord of the Rings to Super Mario Brothers.

The Magician King is every bit as good as The Magicians, perhaps even a little bit better in its execution. Once again, Lev Grossman has taken some familiar fantasy tropes and made them something slightly different than what you normally read. It’s not always happy and the unhappy parts are not magically reversed, but the hero’s quest has a perfect ending with threads tied together well. In addition, there’s some great character development and parallels between the journeys of the two main characters. It’s not a perfect book since a few parts did drag and while they were mostly funny some of the jokes did fall flat, but it is one where the more I think about it, the more I like it.

My Rating: 8/10

Where I got my reading copy: ARC from BEA where I briefly met and chatted with Lev Grossman and a finished copy from the publisher. (Most of what I read was the finished copy, especially since I reread a lot of it for writing this review. All quotes are from the finished copy.)

Other Reviews:

All Men of Genius is a debut novel by Lev AC Rosen. It’s a steampunk story set in England that draws inspiration from William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest.

Violet Adams is a mechanical genius of extraordinary talent. Unfortunately, she’s also not allowed into Illyria, the world’s best college for the sciences, which only admits men as students. When Violet’s father is away for a year to go to a series of conferences in America, she and her twin brother Ashton devise a scheme to get Violet into the academy of her dreams – Violet will pretend to be Ashton and at the end of the year she will reveal her gender, proving that women can be just as good as men at the sciences.

After submitting her application, Violet-as-Ashton is invited to show her work to the faculty and is later accepted as one of five new students at Illyria. On her first day, Violet has to contend with mad scientist professors and the yearly prank played on all new students where they are taken into the school’s spooky basement and must find their way out – a basement that it seems is hiding some rather big secrets after further exploration throughout the year. While at school, Violet makes friends but also finds some of her relationships rather hindered by her gender pretense, particularly that with the Duke of Illyria and his ward Cecily. Cecily believes herself to be in love with sensitive “Ashton” and seeks to reform him when his sister Violet tries to convince her it’s really better not to get involved with him. Ernest, the Duke of Illyria, finds himself falling for Violet the more he gets to know this intelligent young woman but is confused by some encounters with her brother at the college. What Ernest’s father never revealed to him about his past history is the root of bigger concerns, though – and all their lives may be in danger as a result.

All Men of Genius is a great book and a very impressive and polished debut novel. It’s definitely one of the better books I’ve read this year with a fun storyline, strong writing, and well-written dialogue. (For examples of the writing and dialogue, I suggest checking out the excerpts linked to toward the end of this post which I think will give you a very good idea of if it will work for you as well.) It also manages to be entertaining and comedic while at the same time making statements about roles in society.

Since seventeen-year-old Violet is masquerading as a boy of the same age with very few people realizing she is not in fact a young man, it does require some suspension of disbelief. Much like Twelfth Night, there are humorous situations as a result of this pretense, but I also enjoyed the fact that there were some reasonable explanations behind some of them. For instance, when the Duke of Illyria’s ward Cecily falls for “Ashton,” it’s not completely random. Cecily is a talented chemist who is often just seen as a pretty face by all the male scientists around her. Yet Ashton is different because he takes her work seriously and treats her as an equal. He doesn’t chase after her or look down on her for being a female in a man’s world. While these circumstances are mainly to provide humor, it also makes sense that Cecily would become fixated on someone like Ashton (at least if you can get past the fact that she’s also met Violet and never suspects they are the same person).

In general, I really like what was done with the setting. It can be risky for an author to choose to write about a time period in which discrimination against certain people exists and is understood to be the way it was. Some people will be irritated if the facts of the time are changed, while others may not be want to read about it even if it is accurate for the time. In this particular case, the general attitude is true to the time period yet it’s also partially about instigating social change with the underlying message that all people are equal regardless of gender, race, or sexual preference. It doesn’t beat you over the head with a big message and manages to keep itself light and fun, though – it’s woven in but it’s shown more through the characters who are part of those minorities. That said, I did think social change was accepted rather too easily by many of the characters in the end, but then, that is keeping in tone with the rest of the book which doesn’t take itself too seriously.

The only real downside for me was that there wasn’t a lot of character development, but that’s really just the way the book was – the characters were more a conduit for dialogue and action than evolving people. They were likable and had some fantastic exchanges, but it wasn’t about examining their personalities or why they did the things they did. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the characters because I did, especially Violet. I loved her determination and fierce intelligence and the way she didn’t let society’s standards get in the way of what she wanted. Watching her start for fall for Ernest was also wonderful, and I loved the way she seemed to accept her feminine side more the longer she was pretending to be a man. It did have the problem of being rather black and white, though. The villain tended to have only bad character traits, as well as one of the professors who didn’t seem to like the students very much. However, this was only a minor detraction when compared to the rest of the novel and the number of things it did very well.

The ending is rather predictable, but this didn’t bother me at all since this wasn’t a book I was reading for plot twists. The strength was the story and the way it was written, and I think I actually would have been really disappointed if it didn’t end the way I expected it to.

All Men of Genius is a delightful book, and I definitely recommend it to people who enjoy the same type of comedy as Twelfth Night or the girl pretending to be a boy storyline. It sets up some humorous situations that are just all the more fun for being in on the joke. It’s also well written with well-crafted dialogue and contains some mad science – what’s not to like? I will definitely be eagerly awaiting Lev AC Rosen’s next novel.

My Rating: 8/10

Where I got my reading copy: Review copy from the publisher.


Other Reviews:

This week brought a book I purchased because I must read it and an ebook for review consideration.

Cold Fire by Kate ElliottCold Fire by Kate Elliott

This is the second book in the Spiritwalker trilogy following Cold Magic. I really enjoyed Cold Magic (review), so when Cold Fire was recently released I had to make sure to get a copy. I’m not sure when I’ll get to read it since I have my next few books to read lined up, but I knew I’d want to have it around for later because I’m really curious about what happens to Cat!

The first chapter is available online as well as a bonus chapter that is not from Cat’s perspective and takes place between chapters 31 and 32 in Cold Fire.

Only one thing is certain: when Hallows’ Night comes, the Wild Hunt will ride – and it feeds on mortal blood.

Cat and her cousin Bee are caught in a maze of intrigue, treachery, and magic. Everyone seems to want something from them: the Cold Mages are trying to take them prisoner, and the warlord who wants to conquer all of Europa seems sure they have a special destiny to aid him whether they want to or not. Worse, hidden powers deep in the spirit world are rising, and they are the most dangerous of all. Cat must seek allies and figure out who she can trust in order to save the ones she loves. For if she doesn’t, everything will be lost.

The Fallen Queen by Jane KindredThe Fallen Queen by Jane Kindred

The first book in The House of Arkhangel’sk trilogy will be available in paperbook and ebook formats December 6. According to the author’s website, the next two books The Midnight Court and The Armies of Heaven will be released in early 2012.

I have a copy of the e-ARC to look at, and after skimming the first chapter, I’m intrigued.

Heaven can go to hell.

Until her cousin slaughtered the supernal family, Anazakia’s father ruled the Heavens, governing noble Host and Fallen peasants alike. Now Anazakia is the last grand duchess of the House of Arkhangel’sk, and all she wants is to stay alive.

Hunted by Seraph assassins, Anazakia flees Heaven with two Fallen thieves–fire demon Vasily and air demon Belphagor, each with their own nefarious agenda–who hide her in the world of Man. The line between vice and virtue soon blurs, and when Belphagor is imprisoned, the unexpected passion of Vasily warms her through the Russian winter.

Heaven seems a distant dream, but when Anazakia learns the truth behind the celestial coup, she will have to return to fight for the throne–even if it means saving the man who murdered everyone she loved.

The Dread Hammer is the first fantasy book by Trey Sheils, who has written more books as science fiction writer Linda Nagata. Linda Nagata has won the Locus Award for Best Science First Novel for The Bohr Maker and the Nebula Award for Best Novella for Goddesses.

When Ketty’s father decides she is to marry an old man who has been married twice already, she runs away and desperately prays to the Dread Hammer for help when these two men pursue her. Instead of being rescued by the Dread Hammer, she is rescued by Smoke, a handsome young man who often hears prayers. Smoke is one of the Bidden, a descendant of the spirit Koráy who left her home to aid an oppressed people when she heard their pleas to the Dread Hammer.  Yet Smoke is different from the other Bidden and is also trying to escape his past.

While Smoke often responds to the cries for help he hears, he’s never felt drawn to any of them as he does Ketty. Ketty is rather attractive, and Smoke almost immediately decides she must be his wife. At first, Ketty is resistant to this idea, but she does find Smoke rather alluring and soon gives in. The two retire to Smoke’s cottage, where they live together rather happily and even have a child together, a rarity for one of the Bidden. However, when Smoke becomes careless about remaining in hiding out of concern for Ketty, he has no choice but to return to the past he thought he had finally escaped – at least, if he values the well-being of his new family.

The Dread Hammer is a fairly short, quick read and is a somewhat entertaining book. Although it is a good story, I do think it’s a rare instance of a fantasy book that would have benefited from having more length. There’s a lot packed into it with a world full of legends, peoples in conflict with each other, a dysfunctional family, a love story, and a lot of background on the Bidden and Smoke himself. Yet it flits so much between all these different parts that it feels somewhat rushed. While there is some depth to it in the natures of the various characters and the fact that neither side in the war seems entirely pure of heart, it ends up feeling shallow because there is no time to get to know the characters or really become immersed in it.

The highlight of this book as far as I was concerned were the myths and legends and how they influenced Smoke’s family. As the story progresses, much of the background is filled in by one of Smoke’s sisters. These vital pieces of information and her insights add a lot to the story even though they are short and spread out. It’s through her that we learn of how Koráy was bidden to come to the aid of what would become the Koráyos people when she heard their prayers to the Dread Hammer. The story is also divided between Smoke and the rest of his family in the beginning when they separated. These sections supplied what it means to be direct ancestors of Koráy who have some magic because of this – and the fact that Smoke is still both more and less than they are somehow. It also filled in more of the continuing conflict between the Koráyos and the Fitáwan people, whom Koráy had come to protect them from in the first place.

Smoke’s family and their life in the Puzzle Lands was a lot more compelling than Smoke’s life. It’s not that he’s not an interesting character in his own right, because he is. He has this carefree, playful side when he’s around Ketty, but Smoke has a dark side that makes it hard to be completely sympathetic toward him. He is a killer who has killed women and children in the past, although he hates to. Yet he doesn’t have great respect for human life and will kill without a second thought if he thinks it’s necessary, especially when it comes to protecting himself and his family. That’s not to say he’ll only take a life when faced with an immediate threat, though – he’ll kill someone just for knowing of his existence so they can’t let others know. For all that, he doesn’t quite seem cold-blooded, though, as he’s more practical than cruel and doesn’t seem to enjoy killing as long as he doesn’t have a personal cause. He also obviously loves Ketty and his daughter, although I was a bit confounded by how quickly he decided he was in love with Ketty. He was obviously intrigued by her courage, and perhaps he felt her a kindred spirit since she was also trying to unburden herself from the plans her family had for her. I was more puzzled by Ketty’s response to Smoke’s sudden affections. While she was initially hesitant to become the wife of a man who appeared out of nowhere and offered to kill her father and would-be husband, it wasn’t long before she changed her mind and went home with Smoke. She didn’t have a lot of good options if she didn’t want to go home, but they had just met and Smoke did seem a bit like a sinister character (even if one that had a bit of charm and was supposed to be rather handsome).

Once Smoke was reunited with his family, it got a lot more interesting, though.  Smoke’s father despises him and is a jealous, cruel, and hardhearted individual. Despite his murderous tendencies, Smoke never comes across as outright evil, but his father certainly does – and much of the darker side of Smoke can be attributed to his father. Smoke also seems to have a greater capacity to truly care for people than his father does. In contrast, Smoke’s twin sisters (who are beloved by their father) love him and raised him due to the death of their mother. There’s some major drama with Smoke’s father manipulating him and one of Smoke’s sisters falling in love with a man Smoke has a rather unpleasant history with. Through it all, the only one who remains measured is Tayval, the twin who never speaks yet has been gifted with great power and insight.

While the story is entertaining, I do think the writing could have been a bit stronger. The dialogue between Ketty and Smoke was sometimes a bit abrupt and clunky, even though there was quite a bit of it that was also full of playful affection that rang true. Other than the sections belonging to Smoke’s sister, which had a bit more poetic flair and were some of my favorite parts, the sentences were very short and simple. In some cases, this works, but in this case I was sometimes thinking about this more than the story. There was also the occasional cheesiness of referring to the vagina as the “sacred gate” anytime it was referenced, which was a very distracting phrase.

All in all, The Dread Hammer is an enjoyable way to spend a few hours since it’s a good story and the unraveling of Smoke’s origins makes for an intriguing mysterious element. Since it is very short for the amount that happens in it, though, it seems rushed. It could have been a much better book if only some time had been spent really getting to know the characters, and if the writing, particularly the dialogue, was a little more complex or inventive. It’s not a bad book by any means, but it’s also not one that would have me clamoring to read the sequel were there ever to be one.

My Rating: 6/10

Where I got my reading copy: Review copy from the author.

Read an Excerpt

This is one of the posts where I just want to talk about a book that looks interesting that I recently came across (I have a long mental list of next year’s books I’m saving for later this year). Night Shade Books linked to the starred Publisher’s Weekly review for The Emperor’s Knife on their Facebook page, and I was intrigued enough to look it up since they used the magic phrase “compelling characterizations.” This debut novel will be available December 6, and I noticed that the author is giving away a signed copy on Goodreads (and people from LOTS of countries can enter)!

The Emperor's Knife by Mazarkis Williams

About The Emperor’s Knife:

There is a cancer at the heart of the mighty Cerani Empire: a plague that attacks young and old, rich and poor alike, marking each victim with a fragment of a greater pattern. Anyone showing the marks is put to death. That is Emperor Beyon’s law . . .

But now the pattern is reaching closer to the palace than ever before. In a hidden room, a forgotten prince has grown from child to man, and as the empire sickens, Sarmin, the emperor’s only surviving brother, is remembered. He awaits the bride his mother has chosen: a chieftain’s daughter from the northern plains.

Mesema travels from her homeland, an offering for the empire’s favour. She is a Windreader, used to riding free across the grasslands, not posing and primping in rare silks. She finds the Imperial Court’s protocols stifling, but she doesn’t take long to realise the politicking and intrigues are not a game, but deadly earnest.

Eyul is burdened both by years and by the horrors he has carried out in service to the throne. At his emperor’s command he bears the emperor’s Knife to the desert in search of a cure for the pattern-markings.

As long-planned conspiracies boil over into open violence and rebellion, the enemy moves toward victory. Now only three people stand in his way: a lost prince, a world-weary killer, and a young girl from the steppes who once saw a path through a pattern, among the waving grasses.

Mazarkis Williams pieces together a complex mosaic of personality and ambition in a brilliant work of magic and mystery set in a richly imagined world, the first book in a fantastic new series.