I hope everyone is having a happy 2010 so far! Now that the holidays are over, I’m starting to get back into writing reviews (four left at the moment). Of course, as of tomorrow, my vacation is also over, but I suppose that means I’ll be going through fewer books than I have been over the last week.

This week I’ll be going back to the old format since I have a much more manageable number of books for the week – one.

Of Darkness, Light, and Fire by Tanya Huff

This is an omnibus containing two unrelated books, Gate of Darkness, Circle of Light and The Fire’s Stone. The first one is urban fantasy and the second is traditional fantasy. I received this as a gift from a friend. We made a deal this year in which we each picked three of our favorite books from 2009 and the other person has to read those three books in 2010 (the first favorite one has to be read by the end of February). One of her three picks for me was The Fire’s Stone so I’ll be reading that one sometime in 2010 (along with Duma Key, which will be my first Stephen King book, and one other book that I’ll talk about when I get it – that’s the one I need to read by the end of next month). I’m looking forward to reading both of these books since I’ve been wanting to read something by Tanya Huff (shame on me, I have another omnibus containing two science fiction books by her I haven’t read yet).

by Kristin Cashore
480pp (Paperback)
My Rating: 8/10
Amazon Rating: 4.5/5
LibraryThing Rating: 4.29/5
Goodreads Rating: 4.17/5

The YA fantasy Graceling is Kristin Cashore’s debut novel. Her second novel Fire, a loosely connected prequel set 35 years prior to Graceling, came out last year. Cashore does recommend reading Graceling first to avoid spoiling part of it, and even though I read these two books in reverse order, I can understand why since it would have taken me a lot longer to guess what was coming if I had not read Fire first. Currently, Cashore is working on a sequel to Graceling called Bitterblue, which takes place about six years after the end of it.

Sixteen-year-old Katsa’s two different colored eyes mark her as one of the Graced, people with a specific super-human ability. Some people may be Graced with storytelling, mind reading, or dancing, but each person’s ability is at least somewhat unique. When Katsa was eight years old, she hit a man who seemed a little too interested in her – with enough strength to kill him. Ever since then, her uncle the king has found his Graced killer useful for keeping his subjects in line and calls on her to threaten those who aren’t behaving as he’d like.

Katsa hates her uncle and the jobs he makes her do, and she formed the Council in order to do some good. Together she and her friends in the Council set out to rescue an old man, the father of the Lienid king, who has been kidnapped by one of the other kings for an unknown reason. While there, she meets a Graced fighter but lets him live in spite of her better judgment. Soon the two become friends and work on discovering the motives behind the disappearance of the old Lienid.

After reading Fire and loving it enough to include it in my favorite books read in 2009, I of course had to read Graceling. I was a little worried I’d end up disappointed with it, mainly because I had heard Fire was an improvement over the first book. Fire is in my opinion the stronger of the two books – it’s more polished and better paced, plus I loved Fire more than Katsa as a protagonist. Yet Graceling was still very good with several of the elements that made me enjoy Fire so much – it was very readable and hard to put down once it got going, it had a great female lead with some complex problems, it contained some other wonderful characters, and it was not a perfectly happy story where everything works out 100% perfectly for everyone.

It’s probably no surprise that the highlight of this book for me was the characters. Katsa is very hot-tempered and often angry, particularly since she despises her role as her uncle’s torturer but feels like she has no choice but to obey the king. It is fun to see her grow throughout this novel, and the people in her life who help her along the way are such endearing characters – her cousin Raffin and Po. There is a bit of a love story and I think Cashore writes romances very well. Katsa is not a brooding, angsty woman who thinks of nothing but getting married and having children (quite the opposite since she is quite vocal about her desire to do neither). Falling in love is not in her plans, but it happens in spite of herself and even when it does it never makes her lose sight of her goals.

The way the story unfolded was also very well done. Part of it I knew about due to reading Fire first, but I really enjoyed the extra complexity that was revealed about the Graces. Katsa and Po’s Graces were not as straightforward or simple as initially portrayed and learning more about them and what it meant for both characters was enjoyable, if somewhat too convenient at times.

Graceling is another lovely book by Kristin Cashore with a strong, complex female lead. Between this novel and Fire, it’s guaranteed I will pick up anything written by this talented new author.


Where I got my reading copy: I bought it.

Other Reviews:

Review(s) of related books:

The Better Part of Darkness
by Kelly Gay
416pp (Paperback)
My Rating: 5/10
Amazon Rating: 4.5/5
LibraryThing Rating: 4.3/5
Goodreads Rating: 4.46/5

The Better Part of Darkness is a debut novel written by Kelly Gay. The sequel to this urban fantasy, The Darkest Edge of Dawn, is supposed to be released in August 2010.

Charlie Madigan works for Atlanta’s Integration Task Force, which monitors immigrants whether they are from this dimension or one of the two other dimensions discovered thirteen years before. Together with her partner Hank, a siren from one of these other dimensions, she is called in to investigate a student found unconscious on the bathroom floor at a local school. It turns out that Charlie knows the girl rather well – Amanda has been a baby-sitter and a sort of big sister to her twelve-year-old daughter Emma. Further examination reveals that Amanda is a victim of ash, a dangerous drug suspected to be from another world about which very little is currently known. Charlie determines to discover the truth about ash; meanwhile, she must also contend with the foggy memories of her recent resurrection from the dead and the strange occurrences that have been happening to her ever since.

After seeing rave reviews about The Better Part of Darkness and reading the first few pages, I was really looking forward to reading this book and moved it way up my to-read pile. It seemed fast-paced and easy to get into, and as far as I’m concerned, an urban fantasy without vampires is always a plus. The alternate world with beings from other dimensions instead of the usual paranormal suspects sounded intriguing. At first, I did enjoy this book, but toward the end I found I was bored with it and only reading it to finish it and move on to the next book. It’s been hard for me to figure out why because there is nothing that stands out to me as irritating or bad about this novel. I simply lost interest before it was over. At first I thought maybe it was because one of the first urban fantasy series I started with was Mercy Thompson and I love Mercy as a character so much that everything else falls short. Even so, I still really enjoyed several books in the genre I read after that and didn’t think were quite as good, though – Blue Diablo by Ann Aguirre and Rosemary and Rue by Seanan McGuire, for instance.

Largely, it may have been because it just seemed to lack character depth. Charlie may appear slightly different since in spite of being the typical smart-mouthed cop urban fantasy heroine with some vulnerability, she is also a divorced single mother raising a preteen daughter. Overall, she just didn’t feel unique to me, and all the other characters felt like they had a couple of interesting surface characteristics or quirks but no real personality that made them just come alive to me. Even though the villian did have motives for what he did, he felt very cookie-cutter evil to me and I tend to like characters who have some redeeming qualities instead of just seeming dastardly all the time. There was one character who had some definite potential, but he did not show up nearly often enough to make up for the rest.

The plot was fast-moving and it did have some high points, such as learning about what really happened with Charlie’s death and what kinds of consequences her resurrection had. Yet it still was not compelling enough to really make me want to read more.

The Better Part of Darkness had some interesting ideas for a different take on an urban fantasy world, but the characters failed to capture me. Quite frankly, I was tired of the book by the end and ready to just be done with it and move on to a new book. It wasn’t a bad book but it also wasn’t one that made me eager to read the next one in the series. However, I do seem to be in the minority since most people loved this one, so if it sounds at all interesting, perhaps it would be a good idea to read some of the other reviews linked to.


Where I got my reading copy: It was sent to me by the publisher.

Read Chapter One

Other Reviews:

Today is the beginning of comic book appreciation month over at Temple Library Reviews. It sounds like it will be a fun time with reviews of comics (including Fables) and interviews with people in the industry. For more information on what to look forward to during the entire month of January, read the official post.

This year I have surpassed my goal of reading 50 books by reading 58 total. Earlier this month, I was hoping maybe I’d make it to 60 but didn’t quite make it. Fifty-nine is a possibility but 60 probably is not (especially since I haven’t wanted to read books that are too terribly short since I’m 6 reviews behind right now and need to get caught up).

A little over a week ago, I posted my favorite books from 2009 over at The Book Smugglers for their wonderful Smugglivus event. However, that list has changed slightly since then due to one wonderful book I received for Christmas so I will be posting a revised version, along with my best of 2009 releases read, favorite new discoveries and goals for 2010. I’m mostly going to link to reviews instead of writing about every book since this is long enough as is.

Favorite 2009 Releases

Twenty-one of the books I read this year were 2009 releases, largely due to the increased number of review copies I received during the latter half of this year. Out of those 21, my top 10 are as follows:

1. Fire by Kristin Cashore
2. Lips Touch: Three Times by Laini Taylor
3. Corambis by Sarah Monette
4. By the Mountain Bound by Elizabeth Bear
5. Silksinger by Laini Taylor
6. Kings and Assassins by Lane Robins
7. Doubleblind by Ann Aguirre
8. Soulless by Gail Carriger
9. Rosemary and Rue by Seanan McGuire
10. Best Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie

Honorable mentions to some other books I agonized over removing from the list:

Biggest disappointment:

  • The Drowning City by Amanda Downum (not a bad book but not a particularly good one either)

Favorites of 2009

This list includes every single book read in 2009 regardless of publication date and was much harder to make. If you’ve seen my best of list already it’s the same with one exception – number 1, which I just finished a couple of days ago as my final read of 2009 and LOVED.

1. The Snow Queen by Joan D. Vinge (review forthcoming)
2. The Last Hawk by Catherine Asaro
3. Fire by Kristin Cashore
4. Lips Touch: Three Times by Laini Taylor
5. Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey
6. Corambis by Sarah Monette
7. By the Mountain Bound by Elizabeth Bear
8. My Soul to Keep by Tananarive Due
9. Wicked Gentlemen by Ginn Hale
10. The Orphan’s Tales: In the Night Garden by Catherynne M. Valente

Honorable mentions (some of which I really agonized over not including):

Biggest Disappointment:

  • Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr (I think I am the only person who not only didn’t love this book but also didn’t even like it)

Favorite New Authors

Discovering new authors is always fun – and is one of the reasons I often neglect books by old authors I love to read ones by new-to-me authors. There are a lot of new authors I’m glad to have found in 2009.

Laini Taylor – Two of her books made it to my top books published in 2009 list and one of those made it within the top 5 of my very favorites of the year. Her writing is amazing and I look forward to reading much more from her, especially as each book I’ve read by her is even better than the one before.

Patricia Briggs – It’s rare these days that I devour an entire series close together but I ended up doing just that after I read the first Mercy Thompson book (other than the book I was waiting for in paperback). It helps that they are short and just plain fun. Mercy Thompson is one of my favorite new characters I’ve read about this year with her distinct, humorous voice.

Kristin CashoreFire was so wonderful that I immediately purchased Graceling and read it by the end of this year.

Jacqueline Carey – I am late to the party for the Kushiel’s Legacy books, but if the first one is any indication of the rest, I’ve got some great reading ahead. Santa Olivia was also very riveting although very different from Kushiel’s Dart.

Other new-to-me authors I only read one book by this year but must read more of (in no particular order):

  • Tananarive Due
  • Joan D. Vinge
  • Jo Graham
  • Ginn Hale
  • Catherynne Valente
  • Jaida Jones and Danielle Bennett

Most Anticipated 2010 Books

There are so many books I’m looking foward to in 2010. There are 3 books coming out by 3 of my very favorite authors – Elizabeth Bear, Carol Berg and Robin Hobb. Plus I still have two books in one of my new favorite series to look forward to.

  • Bone Crossed (Mercy Thompson #4) by Patricia Briggs (I know it’s out but I’ve been waiting for the mass market paperback although I’m not sure if I can hold out another year for book 5 so we’ll see how that works out)
  • Silver Borne (Mercy Thompson #5) by Patricia Briggs
  • The Sea Thy Mistress (Edda of Burdens #3) by Elizabeth Bear
  • The Spirit Lens (Collegia Magica #1) by Carol Berg
  • Dragon Keeper (Rain Wilds Chronicles #1) by Robin Hobb
  • Wings of Wrath (Magister #2) by C.S. Friedman (again, this is out but I’m waiting for the paperback release so my books match)
  • Stealing Fire by Jo Graham
  • Rebels and Lovers (Dock 5 #4) by Linnea Sinclair
  • Hell Fire (Corine Solomon #2) by Ann Aguirre
  • Killbox (Grimspace #4) by Ann Aguirre
  • A Local Habitation (October Daye #2) by Seanan McGuire (fortunately, I have an ARC!)

2010 Goals

My main goal for 2010 is to make fewer goals for myself. In 2009 I made a whole bunch and I managed to read at least one book that fit into each, even if not as much as I’d planned. But I’m largely a mood reader and like to read based on what I feel like reading at the moment instead of by what I’d planned for the month. So I’m sticking to very basic goals for this coming year that should be fun and easy to accomplish.

1. Read 50 books

I’ve done this one two years in row so it shouldn’t be that difficult, although it is also not an easy goal for me with the amount of spare time I have. So I’ve decided not to raise it even though I’ve done it already.

2. Read more science fiction

2008 was a good year for me as far as reading a lot of science fiction goes, but I didn’t read nearly as much as 2009. Because of this my husband got me mostly scifi books for Christmas books so that should make this goal even more attainable.

3. Make progress in some of these series I’ve started

It’s kind of sad how many series I’ve begun and not finished over the last couple of years – the Mistborn trilogy, the Probability trilogy, the Skolian Saga, and the Miles Vorkosigan series, to name a few. I’ve decided to concentrate on reading more of the latter two since I already have most of the books in both series and it goes with goal #2 since they’re all space opera.

4. Read the following books that are on my bookshelf

Some of these I keep putting off because they’re long or maybe I just keep putting them off for new-to-me authors. Then there are two that I have decided I must read because I have heard such wonderful things about these writers.

  • Kushiel’s Chosen by Jacqueline Carey
  • Calenture by Storm Constantine
  • Night’s Master by Tanith Lee
  • Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier (new to me author that I keep hearing about)
  • Magic Bites by Ilona Andrews (new to me author that I keep hearing about

So that’s 2009 and what I hope for in 2010. What were your favorite books of the year? Is there anything you’ve decided is a must-read for 2010?

Sea of Wind
by Fuyumi Ono
320pp (Paperback)
My Rating: 7/10
Amazon Rating: 5/5
LibraryThing Rating: 4.29/5
Goodreads Rating: 4.28/5

Even though it takes place before events in Sea of Shadow (the first novel), Sea of Wind is the second book in The Twelve Kingdoms series by Japanese author Fuyumi Ono. Of the seven books in this young adult series based on Chinese folklore, three have been translated into English with the fourth translation due to be released in March 2010. Since I loved the anime series, I was excited to hear that they were available in the United States.

This book is the story of Taiki, the kirin of the kingdom of Tai. The twelve kingdoms are each ruled by a king or queen chosen by the kirin. The sole purpose of kirins, beasts that can shapeshift into a human form, is to select and advise the ruler the Emperor of Heaven has chosen for their respective land. Since Tai has no king, a lamia hatches to care for the imminent kirin of Tai. Yet before Taiki himself emerges from the tree fruit that contains him, he is carried away to another world by a storm, leaving everyone to mourn his loss.

However, the lamia and the oracles of Hohzan are not prepared to give up on Taiki and continue to search for him even when he has been unaccounted for longer than any kirin in history. Ten years later, they find a boy in Japan who is the missing kirin and return him to Hohzan where he learns his true identity. It immediately makes sense to him since he has never really felt like he belonged with his family, but it is still not easy for him to understand how he will know the rightful king of Tai or even how to shapeshift into a beast like all the other kirin.

Like the previous book in the series, this novel starts off a bit slowly with an overabundance of background information. Since Taiki does not know how anything works in the new world he has been brought to, there are a lot of conversations in which the other characters explain how the Twelve Kingdoms differs from Japan. I find the Twelve Kingdoms a fascinating place but at times all the explanation does get a little tiresome, especially since it can be very repetitive at times. It doesn’t always move quickly since someone answers a question posed by Taiki, then Taiki often repeats back what the person just said to him as a question, and honestly, Taiki seems rather slow on the uptake quite often during these discussions. For instance, when he is told there are eleven other kirin in addition to him, he then wonders if that means there are twelve in all.

In spite of this, Sea of Wind is a charming story once it gets going just like its predecessor. It reached a certain point and I just wanted to find out what happened to Taiki and the ending was very satisfying. Taiki begins as a fairly weak protagonist since he is very apologetic and cries a lot, not at all like the typical kirin. By the end, he has undergone some growth as a character and learned a lot about himself and what it means to be a kirin. I really enjoyed reading about his journey and actually liked this book a little bit better than the first one because of it. It was very similar in a lot of ways since the girl Yoko was also from Japan and had to come to understand the Twelve Kingdoms – and she also ended up much stronger by the time the final page was reached.

Although this is a prequel of sorts to the actual first book, I would recommend beginning with book one. Keiki, a significant character from the previous novel, does make an appearance in this one and I think having previous knowledge about him makes these scenes with him and Taiki far more fun.

Sea of Wind has too much exposition at times and was not at all complex, but it’s a fun novel set in a fantastic universe influenced by Chinese mythology. After the first half, it was hard to put down since I was rooting for Taiki’s success and I really wanted to find out how his story concluded.


Where I got my reading copy: It was a gift from my husband.

Reviews of other books in this series: