Once again, I’m doing some more catching up with some shorter reviews/thoughts on a few books. Unfortunately, none of the books in this particular set are ones I liked very much, though you may want to look at some other reviews of them since I’ve seen positive reviews for them, even mainly positive reviews for some. It was going to be a slightly more positive post, but I ended up taking out the book by a new to me author I really liked since I’d like to include it in a post on books that I think deserve more readers and discussion.


The paper called Eli a hero.

The word made Victor laugh. Not just because it was absurd, but because it posed a question. If Eli really was a hero, and Victor meant to stop him, did that make him a villain?

He took a long sip of his drink, tipped his head back against the couch, and decided he could live with that. [pp. 91]

Vicious is either a stand alone book or potentially the first book in a series since the author would like to write more about the characters. It sounded like a book I should have loved—one involving a struggle between two people with superpowers who both felt like they were doing the right thing despite neither being pure of heart of heroic. While it certainly had some strong points, particularly the character of Victor Vale and the ending, it also didn’t have a particularly memorable storyline. However, I would consider reading a sequel since I did enjoy later parts of the book more once it focused more on the present-day story rather than dwelling on the past and the background of how the major characters gained their different powers.

Vicious is not told linearly but slowly advances the story while filling in events from the past. Victor Vale has escaped from prison and is determined to find and punish Eli Ever. In college, the two were good friends and intelligent young men at the top of their class, though Victor generally ended up overshadowed by Eli. When Eli decided to make his project researching EOs (ExtraOrdinary), people with abilities humans should not have, the two of them discover the secret to gaining these abilities—but this discovery tears the two apart forever, landing Victor in jail and starting Eli on a personal quest to rid the world of all other EOs.

The way the past and present of the story were connected was done in an interesting way, and I liked the juxtaposition of Victor’s feelings about Eli 10 years after the two became EOs. In order to become an EO, one must die and be revived, and the glimpses of Victor from the day Eli underwent this transition show he was very concerned about his friend, but Victor despises Eli once he escapes from prison. It sets up a mystery about what changed between the two, and I was a bit let down by the cause of their rift once it was revealed.

On the subject of becoming EOs, I did find how quickly Eli and Victor started trying to kill themselves in order to get superpowers rather strange. They were supposed to be very intelligent people and neither of them had a death wish. It’s not completely unrealistic because smart people can still do stupid things, especially if they are perhaps a bit competitive and want to prove themselves to be right about something. Yet it bothered me that they were so willing to go through with it with so little evidence to support their theory that dying and coming back to life equaled SUPERPOWERS.

I found Eli’s drive to kill EOs based on a religious need to get rid of the unnatural rather trite and did not find him a particularly interesting character, but Victor was intriguing.  He is the underdog, and he never seems to quite measure up to Eli. Eli gets the girl he wants to be with, Eli is smart, Eli is charming, Eli is handsome, Eli is the one who comes up with the EO theory, Eli is the first one to become an EO AND does so on the first try unlike Victor, and to top it all off, Eli gets the better superpower. That in itself is enough to make me root for Victor a bit, but he also seemed less cold than Eli. He’s not beneath murder to further his goal so he’s certainly not a good guy, but he has some complexity and seems far more self-aware than Eli when it comes to the horrors they are both involved in. Plus there are a few times he seems to care a little, despite himself. I also loved that Victor actually had intelligent plans and seemed rather competent at carrying them out.

Vicious and I have a complicated relationship. The story didn’t excite me, but Victor was the type of character I find compelling to read about and the ending was very well done. I’m not likely to make any related books a huge priority, but if one were written that contained Victor, I might have to read it just for that reason alone.

My Rating: 6/10

Where I got my reading copy: ARC/review copy from the publisher.


“So,” she says, looking back up at me. “You are well-equipped for our service.”

“Which is?”

“We kill people.” [pp. 17]

Grave Mercy captured my attention because assassin nuns, but it didn’t live up to my expectations. It certainly isn’t what I would call a terrible book since it could be mildly entertaining, but I found both the characters and the political intrigue somewhat dull. In the end, it wasn’t memorable at all and I forgot about it as soon as I finished it and set it aside—a shame because it had a convent full of women who assassinated people in the service of the god of death! I was convinced this book would be a winner for me.

It doesn’t take long to get to the nunnery of death. Ismae’s father marries her off and once her new husband sees the horrific scars marking Ismae as the daughter of the god of death, he beats her and locks her up. While he’s out, a priest helps her escape and sends her to a convent where Ismae learns she has some unique abilities as a child of death. She is offered the opportunity to join in the service of Mortain: training to kill. She accepts and eventually ends up assigned to court in the guise of the mistress of Gavriel Duval, advisor to the duchess.

Ismae’s narrative was overwrought, and she, like the other characters with one exception, didn’t have much of a personality. She’s primarily defined by her role as Death’s handmaiden, and other than wanting to learn to kill and avoid men, there’s not a lot that stood out about her character. (And of course, she predictably falls in love despite herself.) I didn’t care about any of the major characters and despite generally enjoying stories focused around court, I found the court intrigue in this one pretty dull.

Despite feeling lukewarm toward Grave Mercy, I do find myself a bit curious about the second book, Dark Triumph. It focuses on Sybella, who had potential to be interesting, and Beast, the one character I thought brought some life into the first book. Unfortunately, there wasn’t anything compelling enough to save Grave Mercy for me.

My Rating: 5/10

Where I got my reading copy: I purchased it.


A long time ago, in the spring before the five days of the unspeakable, Finnikin of the Rock dreamed that he was to sacrifice a pound of flesh to save the royal house of Lumatere. [pp. 1]

After reading the prologue, I thought I was going to love Finnikin of the Rock. The background of Finnikin’s dream from the gods and the wonderful kingdom that was torn asunder and divided five days later was well told and made me want to know more. However, that was the best part of the book and I found it a struggle to finish because I was so unbelievably bored by both the story and characters.

The first chapter of the book takes place 10 years after the prologue. Finnikin, who ended up on the side outside Lumatere when a curse divided the kingdom and its people, has always believed Balthazar, his childhood friend and heir to throne, managed to survive when most of the royal family was killed. When he and his companion are summoned by a priestess, they are introduced to Evanjalin, a novice who can lead them to this man. He told her of his childhood friend and wants him to take their people home with her aid.

With the way this book picks up in the middle of the story and fills in background details as it goes, I found it difficult to be invested in what happened. I was told about all that had been lost, but I never really saw enough of it to get the full impact, even though it was terrible to think about what it would be like to be exiled from one’s home under these circumstances. There was a lot of traveling and a lot of talking, and I just didn’t care about any of the characters (and really disliked one of the characters who attempted to rape one of the others).

For the most part, there wasn’t anything especially horrible about Finnikin of the Rock other than being so dull and unmemorable. I could barely finish it and found myself having to go back and reread parts over and over again because my mind kept wandering off.

My Rating: 4/10

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

Much like the book above, I thought this one started well and soon ended up bored to tears by it—except I didn’t finish this one. I gave it a couple of chances, setting it aside at one point and then going back to it after reading another book. Alas, time apart did not make my heart grow fonder and I ended up deciding it was too much of a struggle after reading 257 pages. I hate not finishing books, but it’s long and I ended up so bored I had to keep rereading it. It would have taken me forever to read, and it’s one of those books that was making me put off reading to do other things. When it gets to that point, it’s time to throw in the towel and move on to other books.

I was pretty excited about reading A Study in Silks since it was supposed to be a steampunk story about the niece of Sherlock Holmes and sounded like it would have both mystery and romance. While these were present, it was much too meandering to hold my interest. Evelina seemed like a fairly unoriginal character from the start, an “unladylike,” spunky woman with an interest in mechanics, but I was rather interested to see that she had an interest in both mechanics and magic since those two things are often treated as opposites in fantasy books. I was also intrigued by her discovery of an automaton reeking of dark magic at the end of the first chapter, plus there was soon a murder so it seemed to be off to a quick start. And then… It just didn’t seem to go anywhere or progress the plot.

There was a lot of focus on characters other than Evelina, though she was the central character that pulled most of them together, but they all seemed very stereotypical. There’s a villain, and there are two “bad boys” who are potential love interests, each from one of the two worlds Evelina inhabits through her families: one lowborn rogue and one noble rogue.

The first part of A Study in Silks was just plain uninteresting. The plot moved glacially and the characters were dull, nor was it a particularly well-written book. I just didn’t care enough to want to trudge through about 300 more pages of it.

My Rating: None-did not finish

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

The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature where I talk about books I got over the last week – old or new, bought or received for review consideration. Since I hope you will find new books you’re interested in reading in these posts, I try to be as informative as possible. If I can find them, links to excerpts, author’s websites, and places where you can find more information on the book are included.

The Winner's Curse by Marie Rutkoski

The Winner’s Curse (The Winner’s Trilogy #1) by Marie Rutkoski

I have been hearing great things about this upcoming young adult book, and it was one of my most anticipated titles of the year.

The Winner’s Curse will be released on March 4 (hardcover, ebook). There is an excerpt from the book on the publisher’s website, and the first five chapters can be downloaded for free.


Winning what you want may cost you everything you love

As a general’s daughter in a vast empire that revels in war and enslaves those it conquers, seventeen-year-old Kestrel has two choices: she can join the military or get married. But Kestrel has other intentions.

One day, she is startled to find a kindred spirit in a young slave up for auction. Arin’s eyes seem to defy everything and everyone. Following her instinct, Kestrel buys him—with unexpected consequences. It’s not long before she has to hide her growing love for Arin.

But he, too, has a secret, and Kestrel quickly learns that the price she paid for a fellow human is much higher than she ever could have imagined.

Set in a richly imagined new world, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski is a story of deadly games where everything is at stake, and the gamble is whether you will keep your head or lose your heart.

Tales from High Hallack: Volume I by Andre Norton

Tales from High Hallack: Volume I by Andre Norton

The first of three volumes containing short stories by Andre Norton was released last month (paperback, ebook). The second volume will be available in May with the third to follow in September. More information on the first volume, including the table of contents, can be found here.


For the first time, the Grand Dame of science fiction—Andre Norton—has her short stories gathered for her fans’ reading pleasure. Tales reach back to the 1930s, as fresh and relevant today as they were when she wrote them . . . such was Andre’s skill. High fantasy, fables, science fiction, coming of age stories, and more fill three volumes. This impressive, must-have collection includes stories of Witch World. There are cats sprinkled here and there, as Andre treasured them so. And there is magic in the writing, unequaled prose to delight readers of all ages.

High Hallack was a place in Andre’s fiction, and was also the name of her genre writer’s library she opened in Tennessee. It is a wondrous keep that she called home, and now High Hallack opens its gates and allows these amazing stories to tumble out.

Lose yourself in her enchanted words, and read them again and again.

The Emperor's Blades by Brian Staveley

The Emperor’s Blades (Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne #1) by Brian Staveley

This debut epic fantasy was released last month (hardcover, ebook, audiobook). The first seven chapters can be read on Tor.com or downloaded for free from Amazon or Barnes and Noble.


When the emperor of Annur is murdered, his children must fight to uncover the conspiracy—and the ancient enemy—that effected his death.

Kaden, the heir apparent, was for eight years sequestered in a remote mountain monastery, where he learned the inscrutable discipline of monks devoted to the Blank God. Their rituals hold the key to an ancient power which Kaden must master before it’s too late. When an imperial delegation arrives to usher him back to the capital for his coronation, he has learned just enough to realize that they are not what they seem—and enough, perhaps, to successfully fight back.

Meanwhile, in the capital, his sister Adare, master politician and Minister of Finance, struggles against the religious conspiracy that seems to be responsible for the emperor’s murder. Amid murky politics, she’s determined to have justice—but she may be condemning the wrong man.

Their brother Valyn is struggling to stay alive. He knew his training to join the Kettral— deadly warriors who fly massive birds into battle—would be arduous. But after a number of strange apparent accidents, and the last desperate warning of a dying guard, he’s convinced his father’s murderers are trying to kill him, and then his brother. He must escape north to warn Kaden—if he can first survive the brutal final test of the Kettral.

Crown of Renewal by Elizabeth Moon

Crown of Renewal (Paladin’s Legacy #5) by Elizabeth Moon

The final volume in the Paladin’s Legacy series will be released on May 27 (hardcover, ebook, audiobook). The previous books in this series, set in the same world as Elizabeth Moon’s well-known Deed of Paksenarrion books, is as follows:

  1. Oath of Fealty (Read an Excerpt)
  2. Kings of the North
  3. Echoes of Betrayal
  4. Limits of Power

Acclaimed author Elizabeth Moon spins gripping, richly imagined epic fantasy novels that have earned comparisons to the work of such authors as Robin Hobb and Lois McMaster Bujold. In this volume, Moon’s brilliant masterwork reaches its triumphant conclusion.

The mysterious reappearance of magery throughout the land has been met with suspicion, fear, and violence. In the kingdom of Lyonya, Kieri, the half-elven, half-human king, struggles to balance the competing demands of his heritage while fighting a deadly threat to his rule: evil elves linked in some way to the rebirth of magic.

Meanwhile, in the neighboring kingdom of Tsaia, a set of ancient artifacts recovered by the former mercenary Dorrin Verrakai may hold the answer to the riddle of magery’s return. Thus Dorrin embarks on a dangerous quest to return these relics of a bygone age to their all-but-mythical place of origin. What she encounters there will change her in unimaginable ways—and spell doom or salvation for the entire world.

Red Rising, a debut novel by Pierce Brown, is a dystopia set on Mars and the first book in a trilogy. I’ve seen it being referenced as a young adult book a few times, but as far as I can tell, it is not being sold as a young adult novel. The publisher’s website does not list it as such so if you are looking for it in a bookstore, I don’t think it will be found in the young adult section.


I would have lived in peace. But my enemies brought me war. [pp. 1]

As a Red, Darrow spends his life underneath the surface of Mars, mining for helium-3. The Earth is dying, and as humankind is finding new homes on other planets, the Red miners are performing a vital role by providing the element necessary for terraforming Mars. The Golds, the highest group in their society, tell them that their sacrifice will allow other humans to someday join them, and they will be able to live on the surface of the planet where the Reds will be revered for the toil and suffering that made this new home possible.

Darrow works hard and takes risks in order to win the Laurel, a prize given to the team that mines the most helium-3 in a quarter. Another team always wins it, gaining prestige, food, and extra luxuries for their families. Darrow manages to give his team the lead during a quarter, but his dreams of glory and tasty treats are dashed when the award is still given to the same group as always. At first Darrow is upset by this injustice, but he soon decides it doesn’t matter. After all, he has his wife and his family, he’s not on the doomed Earth, and he’s content to pave the way for future generations to live on the planet. However, Darrow’s wife Eo is not content with their situation, claiming they live as slaves and urging Darrow to act toward freeing them. Darrow disagrees with her assessment and doesn’t see why he should do any such thing; his own father was hanged for rebellion, and it didn’t change anything other than leaving him fatherless.

After a great tragedy, Darrow is recruited by the Sons of Ares, a rebel group that shows him how deeply the Reds have been misled by taking him to the surface of Mars and showing him that it is already populated. The Sons have a plan for Darrow and he agrees to be forged into a Gold—and if he is one of the few who survives the process, they hope that he will be accepted to the Institute and succeed, eventually rising to a position that will allow him to serve Ares from within.

Red Rising is an absorbing novel from start to finish. It begins with a brief glimpse of Darrow’s infiltration of the Institute before telling his story linearly beginning with his time as a Red, and it keeps getting better and better until it reaches its conclusion. While I thought it could have been better in some areas—namely characterization, especially of secondary characters, and world-building—I very much enjoyed it and am looking forward to reading the next book.

I thought one of the things that made Red Rising so compelling is that life isn’t great for anyone, even those close to the top of its hierarchical structure. The Reds risk their lives mining helium-3 and are forbidden from certain activities, everything from visiting certain places to singing a specific song to burying those hanged for such actions. However, as Darrow discovers, Golds inhabit a brutal world, particularly those trying to achieve any sort of status. Many of the young people at the Institute belong to important families, but that doesn’t always protect them. There is a literal culling at the Institute, in which some students are killed by others since they’re told a limited number of spots are available in class. After this, the students are divided by their Houses and must win by conquering the others. Although killing is discouraged at this point, it’s also expected that there will be some casualties—as long as they don’t exceed a set number of deaths, no one will get too upset over this.

There is a large Roman influence in their society, and I would have loved to have learned more of the details of the shift that lead to this. While I was glad there wasn’t a lot of awkward infodumping, I also would have liked to have seen this developed further and I’m hoping the remaining books delve more into the history of the worlds. As it was, it seemed more like Roman influence was added because it was familiar rather than because it was an integral part of the society.

Darrow’s situation is quite unbelievable, and he seemed too perfect. I found it quite implausible that someone who spent his entire life of 16 years isolated from those on the surface of the planet could not only adapt so quickly but do exceptionally well on the test for their prestigious Institute. It is clear that the test is focused more on solving problems involving innate intelligence rather than facts, and it is also mentioned that Darrow took some sort of potion that allowed him to “wake knowing three thousand years of literature and legal code and history” (pp. 92). Even with the ability to technomagically gain knowledge, I find it hard to believe that one could just integrate into an unfamiliar society, fit in, and excel no matter how intelligent they were. He’d barely even socialized with Golds, and the biggest point that kept coming up as a difference between the Reds and Golds was that Darrow had to keep remembering to say “gorydamn” instead of “bloodydamn,” which seemed like it should be one of the smaller differences he’d have to deal with to me.

While the quickness and convenience of Darrow’s entry into Red society had me rolling my eyes, Darrow didn’t end up being quite as flawless as I’d initially feared after reading about how amazing he did on the test since he did make mistakes—and he learned from them as he went, and part of the reason he got by was a bit of luck and other people. This made the book more exciting and Darrow more compelling than I expected since I was anticipating he was going to be one of those characters who outsmarted everyone else with ease. I still had issues with too much perfection and the willingness of others to follow him, but it at least kept him from being overwhelmingly better than everyone.

There were not a lot of standout characters and most of the secondary characters did sound somewhat alike instead of having distinctive personalities and voices. Eo with her determination and ideals was one of the more memorable characters, and she wasn’t even present for most of the book. The only other secondary character I felt was at all memorable was Mustang, a young woman at the Institute, but she doesn’t appear until later in the book so I’m not going to say anything more about her.

Red Rising required a lot of suspension of disbelief on my part, especially when it came to the main character’s quick rise from a helium-3 miner with no knowledge of the Golds on Mars to one of their best and brightest. However, it completely succeeded as a well-paced, entertaining novel with a storyline that grew more intense throughout. Despite my reservations, I found it compulsively readable and do really want to read the rest of the trilogy once it’s available.

My Rating: 7.5/10

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

Read an Excerpt

Other Reviews of Red Rising:

The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature where I talk about books I got over the last week – old or new, bought or received for review consideration. Since I hope you will find new books you’re interested in reading in these posts, I try to be as informative as possible. If I can find them, links to excerpts, author’s websites, and places where you can find more information on the book are included.

The Golem and the Jinni by Helen Wecker

The Golem and the Jinni by Helen Wecker

When I first heard of this book in the spring of last year, I thought it sounded wonderful and have wanted to read it ever since, especially after seeing it show up a lot on end of the year reading lists. I’m not much of an ebook reader, but I couldn’t resist purchasing the ebook when it was really cheap a few days ago.

The Golem and the Jinni is available in hardcover, paperback, ebook, and audiobook. The author’s website contains a lot of information on the book, including an excerpt.


Chava is a golem, a creature made of clay, brought to life by a disgraced rabbi who dabbles in dark Kabbalistic magic. When her master, the husband who commissioned her, dies at sea on the voyage from Poland, she is unmoored and adrift as the ship arrives in New York in 1899.

Ahmad is a jinni, a being of fire, born in the ancient Syrian desert. Trapped in an old copper flask by a Bedouin wizard centuries ago, he is released accidentally by a tinsmith in a Lower Manhattan shop. Though he is no longer imprisoned, Ahmad is not entirely free – an unbreakable band of iron binds him to the physical world.

The Golem and the Jinni is their magical, unforgettable story; unlikely friends whose tenuous attachment challenges their opposing natures – until the night a terrifying incident drives them back into their separate worlds. But a powerful threat will soon bring Chava and Ahmad together again, challenging their existence and forcing them to make a fateful choice.

La Santisima by Teresa Frohock

La Santisima by Teresa Frohock

I didn’t exactly buy this short story since it is free but I read it so I’m including it. “La Santisima” can be read on the author’s website or downloaded from Smashwords. I loved Teresa Frohock’s debut novel Miserere so I of course had to read this story after I found out about it. It’s very well-crafted, and despite its short length, I had a good sense of the characters. It also has some lovely prose and a lot of emotional impact.


Sebastian’s friend Carlos claims that La Santa Muerte watches over the poor, the ones that the Church abandons. He promises Sebastian that La Santa Muerte will be his patron saint, that she will protect him and grant his wishes.

Death comes for us all. Keep her as your friend.

Sebastian is disappointed as prayer after prayer is rejected by the saint, and he loses faith. One night his sister Lucía joins him, and La Santa Muerte answers their prayer to bring their brother home …

Black Dog by Rachel Neumeier

Black Dog by Rachel Neumeier

This is one of my most anticipated books of 2014 because I loved Rachel Neumeier’s last published book, House of Shadows. Black Dog, the first book in a duology, will be released on February 4 (paperback, ebook). You can read or download an extract on the author’s website.


Natividad is Pure, one of the rare girls born able to wield magic. Pure magic can protect humans against the supernatural evils they only half-acknowledge – the blood kin or the black dogs. In rare cases – like for Natividad’s father and older brother – Pure magic can help black dogs find the strength to control their dark powers.

But before Natividad’s mother can finish teaching her magic their enemies find them. Their entire village in the remote hills of Mexico is slaughtered by black dogs. Their parents die protecting them. Natividad and her brothers must flee across a strange country to the only possible shelter: the infamous black dogs of Dimilioc, who have sworn to protect the Pure.

In the snowy forests of Vermont they are discovered by Ezekiel Korte, despite his youth the strongest black dog at Dimilioc and the appointed pack executioner. Intrigued by Natividad he takes them to Dimilioc instead of killing them.

Now they must pass the tests of the Dimilioc Master. Alejandro must prove he can learn loyalty and control even without his sister’s Pure magic. Natividad’s twin Miguel must prove that an ordinary human can be more than a burden to be protected. And even at Dimilioc a Pure girl like Natividad cannot remain unclaimed to cause fighting and distraction. If she is to stay she must choose a black dog mate.

But, first, they must all survive the looming battle.

The Waking Engine by David Edison

The Waking Engine by David Edison

This debut will be released on February 11 (hardcover, ebook). An excerpt from The Waking Engine is available on Tor.com.


Welcome to the City Unspoken, where Gods and Mortals come to die.

Contrary to popular wisdom, death is not the end, nor is it a passage to some transcendent afterlife. Those who die merely awake as themselves on one of a million worlds, where they are fated to live until they die again, and wake up somewhere new. All are born only once, but die many times . . . until they come at last to the City Unspoken, where the gateway to True Death can be found.

Wayfarers and pilgrims are drawn to the City, which is home to murderous aristocrats, disguised gods and goddesses, a sadistic faerie princess, immortal prostitutes and queens, a captive angel, gangs of feral Death Boys and Charnel Girls . . . and one very confused New Yorker.

Late of Manhattan, Cooper finds himself in a City that is not what it once was. The gateway to True Death is failing, so that the City is becoming overrun by the Dying, who clot its byzantine streets and alleys . . . and a spreading madness threatens to engulf the entire metaverse.

Broken Homes by Ben Aaronovitch

Broken Homes (Peter Grant #4) by Ben Aaronovitch

Broken Homes was released in the UK last year, and it will be released in the US on February 4 (mass market paperback, ebook). An excerpt is available on the publisher’s website.

The previous books in the series are as follows:

  1. Midnight Riot (US) / Rivers of London (UK)
  2. Moon Over Soho
  3. Whispers Under Ground

My name is Peter Grant, and I am a keeper of the secret flame — whatever that is.

Truth be told, there’s a lot I still don’t know. My superior Nightingale, previously the last of England’s wizardly governmental force, is trying to teach me proper schooling for a magician’s apprentice. But even he doesn’t have all the answers. Mostly I’m just a constable sworn to enforce the Queen’s Peace, with the occasional help from some unusual friends and a well-placed fire blast. With the new year, I have three main objectives, a) pass the detective exam so I can officially become a DC, b) work out what the hell my relationship with Lesley Mai, an old friend from the force and now fellow apprentice, is supposed to be, and most importantly, c) get through the year without destroying a major landmark.

Two out of three isn’t bad, right?

A mutilated body in Crawley means another murderer is on the loose. The prime suspect is one Robert Weil, who may either be a common serial killer or an associate of the twisted magician known as the Faceless Man — a man whose previous encounters I’ve barely survived. I’ve also got a case about a town planner going under a tube train and another about a stolen grimoire.

But then I get word of something very odd happening in Elephant and Castle, on a housing estate designed by a nutter, built by charlatans, and inhabited by the truly desperate. If there’s a connection to the Crawley case, I’ll be entering some tricky waters of juristiction with the local river spirits. We have a prickly history, to say the least.

Just the typical day for a magician constable.

The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature where I talk about books I got over the last week – old or new, bought or received for review consideration. Since I hope you will find new books you’re interested in reading in these posts, I try to be as informative as possible. If I can find them, links to excerpts, author’s websites, and places where you can find more information on the book are included.

This is the last holiday post, and it’s only sort of a holiday post since only the first 3 are holiday gifts. This one includes the signed books, including my favorite gift of all, and ARCs/review copies from the last week.

Warchild Limited Edition

Warchild (Warchild #1) by Karin Lowachee

Warchild became one of my favorite books of all time after I read it as part of Sci-Fi Month. I didn’t even know there was a hardcover signed limited edition, but my husband got it for me for Christmas (along with Burndive and Cagebird, the other two books in the series). I love it.


When Jos’ parents are killed in an attack on their trading ship, the boy is kidnapped by the attackers and then escapes – only to fall into the alien hands of humanity’s greatest enemies. He is soon coerced into becoming a spy against the human race.

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin

Confession: While I have read 4 books by Le Guin, this isn’t one of them. I will have to remedy that at some point, especially considering this one sounds like one I’d really like.


A groundbreaking work of science fiction, The Left Hand of Darkness tells the story of a lone human emissary to Winter, an alien world whose inhabitants can choose -and change – their gender. His goal is to facilitate Winter’s inclusion in a growing intergalactic civilization. But to do so he must bridge the gulf between his own views and those of the completely dissimilar culture that he encounters.

Embracing the aspects of psychology, society, and human emotion on an alien world, The Left Hand of Darkness stands as a landmark achievement in the annals of intellectual science fiction.

The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo

The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo

My husband got me a signed copy of this book for Christmas, which I’d never heard of before opening it. It sounds like something I would enjoy as a fan of fairy tales, though.

An excerpt from The Tale of Despereaux can be read online.



Kate DiCamillo introduces a hero for all time!

Welcome to the story of Despereaux Tilling, a mouse who is in love with music, stories, and a princess named Pea. It is also the story of a rat called Roscuro, who lives in the darkness and covets a world filled with light. And it is the story of Miggery Sow, a slow-witted serving girl who harbors a simple, impossible wish. These three characters are about to embark on a journey that will lead them down into a horrible dungeon, up into a glittering castle, and, ultimately, into each other’s lives. And what happens then? As Kate DiCamillo would say: Reader, it is your destiny to find out.

From the master storyteller who brought us BECAUSE OF WINN-DIXIE comes another classic, a fairy tale full of quirky, unforgettable characters, featuring twenty-four stunning black-and-white illustrations by Timothy Basil Ering, in an elegant design that pays tribute to the best in classic children’s books and bookmaking traditions.

The beloved author of BECAUSE OF WINN-DIXIE enlightens us with a tale of adventure, despair, love, and soup.

Arcanum by Simon Morden

Arcanum by Simon Morden

Arcanum will be released on January 28 (trade paperback, ebook). An excerpt is available on the publisher’s website.

I hadn’t really heard much about this one, but after taking a look at it I’m rather intrigued by it—even if it is a massive book that would take me forever to read all the way through.


Rome was the center of the most powerful empire the world had ever seen, but that didn’t stop it falling to Alaric the Goth, his horde of barbarian tribesmen and their wild spell-casting shamans. Having split the walls with their sorcery and slaughtered the inhabitants with their axes, the victors carved up the empire into a series of bickering states which were never more than an insult away from war.

A thousand years later, and Europe has become an almost civilized place. The rulers of the old Roman palatinates confine their warfare to the short summer months, trade flourishes along the rivers and roads, and farming has become less back-breaking, all due to the magic, bestowed by gods, that infuses daily life.Even the barbarians’ gods have been tamed: where once human sacrifices poured their blood onto the ground, there are parties and picnics, drinking and singing, fit for decent people and their children.But it looks like the gods are going to have the last laugh before they slip quietly into ill-remembered obscurity…

Iron Night by M.L. Brennan

Iron Night (Generation V #2) by M.L. Brennan

Iron Night was just released earlier this month (mass market paperback, ebook). An excerpt is available on the publisher’s website.

I’m really excited to read this since I liked the first book, Generation V, a LOT. It was one of the best openings to an urban fantasy series I’ve read so I’m looking forward to finding out what happens next, especially since I’ve been hearing the second book is even better than the first.


Underemployed by day. Undead by night.

Underachieving film theory graduate and vampire Fortitude Scott may be waiting tables at a snooty restaurant run by a tyrannical chef who hates him, but the other parts of his life finally seem to be stabilizing. He’s learning how to rule the Scott family territory, hanging out more with his shapeshifting friend Suzume Hollis, and has actually found a decent roommate for once.

Until he finds his roommate’s dead body.

The Scott family cover-up machine swings into gear, but Fort is the only person trying to figure out who (or what) actually killed his friend. His hunt for a murderer leads to a creature that scares even his sociopathic family, and puts them all in deadly peril.

Keeping secrets, killing monsters, and still having to make it to work on time? Sometimes being a vampire really sucks.

Sparrow Hill Road by Seanan McGuire

Sparrow Hill Road (Ghost Stories #1) by Seanan McGuire

Sparrow Hill Road, the first book in a new series about Rose Marshall, will be available on May 6. I love Seanan McGuire’s books so I was pretty excited to see that this will be coming out this year in addition to another InCryptid book and the next Toby Daye!


Sparrow Hill Road is the first volume in the story of Rose Marshall, who was the first victim of the man called Bobby Cross, although she was far from the last — and unlike most of them, she did not go easy into that good night. Sixty years down the line, she’s still kicking ass, taking names, and more than a little bit pissed off about the way that she died.

You want a good little ghost who’ll stay where she’s put and only haunt the people who deserve it? Go to a sleepover. You want the real story of the American ghostroads? Come and have a word with Rose.

Transformers: Retribution by David J. Williams and Mark S. Williams

Transformers: Retribution by David J. Williams and Mark S. Williams

This prequel to the television series will be available on January 28 (mass market paperback, ebook). It’s possible to read some of the beginning of Transformers: Retribution on the publisher’s website.


For decades, Transformers fans across the globe have marveled at the mighty clashes of Megatron and Optimus Prime, and speculated about their arrival on planet Earth. Now, in Transformers: Retribution, the prequel to the Transformers animated series, the epic odyssey of these two great warriors is finally revealed as Autobots and Decepticons battle one another . . . and the most diabolic foe they’ve ever encountered.

Aboard the Ark, Optimus Prime leads his Autobots through deep space, searching for the AllSpark so vital to their home planet, Cybertron. Megatron’s not far behind, and his Decepticons are itching for war. But a mysterious planet conceals an enemy far more cunning and powerful: the Quintessons. Masters of tyranny, technology, and twisted double crosses, the Quintessons are out to enslave both Autobots and Decepticons. Their deadly bag of tricks includes fiendish trials and a secret link all the way back to Cybertron, where Shockwave is wreaking havoc with supercomputer Vector Sigma. In the coming conflagration, Star Seekers, Wreckers, Alpha Trion, and Sharkticons all have their parts to play. For none can dodge the Quintesson juggernaut of evil, and none will escape the cataclysmic life-and-death battles that will catapult Autobots and Decepticons to Earth.

M.L. Brennan’s debut, Generation V, is the first novel about Fortitude Scott. The second book, Iron Night, was released earlier this month, and there will be at least one more book in the series after that one.


“I’m mostly human. But that leaves me a little vampire.” [pp. 15]

Fortitude Scott is a young, low level vampire nearly indistinguishable from humans: he has to drink blood every once in awhile, but he doesn’t yet have fangs, an aversion to daylight, the ability to heal, or great strength. That’s fine with him since Fort is a gentle soul who dreads the day he becomes a full-fledged vampire like his mother and two older siblings. He wonders if all the terrible things they do will continue to bother him then and finds the thought that they may not terrifying. He resists going home to feed, preferring to feel as close to human as possible.

Yet Fort needs blood and his mother does become insistent he return home eventually. When he is forced to finally visit his mother for a family dinner, she informs him that his presence will be required the following evening. At first, Fort resists, but she manages to pique his curiosity by informing him that they will be entertaining another vampire visiting from Naples, and this will give Fort a chance to see if other vampires act like his nearest relations, the only ones he’s ever known.

Unfortunately, Fort discovers their European visitor is morally reprehensible. Fort is appalled by his treatment of humans he keeps in captivity, tries to stand up to him, and fails miserably, earning himself a kitsune bodyguard courtesy of his concerned mother. When he reads that the woman the visiting vampire had with him is dead the next morning and sees an article about two young girls who went missing, he is convinced this visitor is responsible for the kidnapping—and determined to stop him even when those far more powerful than he believes it to be a fool’s errand.

Generation V is one of the best opening volumes to an urban fantasy series I’ve ever read. In fact, I thought it was a stronger start to a series than any of the first volumes in my current favorites in this speculative fiction subgenre. It’s both funny and heart-warming, and it’s an incredibly entertaining story. By the end, I was surprised by just how attached I’d become to the various characters and how much I wanted to read more about them.

It did start a bit slowly since it took some time to introduce Fort’s situation in life and the unique vampire mythology. The beginning introduces all the problems in Fort’s human life—a not-particularly-useful college degree, a terrible job at a coffee shop making equally terrible beverages, a roommate who refused to pay his share of the rent, and a girlfriend who didn’t respect him—while introducing his family and filling in some of his history. Fort’s first visit home did read a bit too neatly as an introduction to the characters and a lesson in how vampirism works in this world, but it was important to know and interesting to learn about how vampires are created. Fort himself has been kept in the dark about many of these details so I’m sure there will be more to discover in future installments, and some rather intriguing hints have been dropped about his own creation being a bit different from that of his siblings. With his calculating mother, I’m quite curious about what her motivations may have been and find it curious that each of her children seems to harbor more good qualities than the previous one.

I also liked that Generation V had some other differences from common vampire lore, like how it handled immortality. While vampires do live for a very long time, they do die eventually and they are not ageless. Fort’s mother is old and wrinkled, and his oldest sister appears middle-aged. His older brother is young and beautiful as a full-fledged vampire who isn’t too old, but it also keeps from glamorizing the life of a vampire. Fort is horrified by their coldness, and even handsome Chivalry doesn’t seem too incredibly wonderful, especially considering what he has to do to survive and the consequences for his wife.

The book moves at a decent pace, especially once Fort attempts to stand up to the foreign vampire, but the highlight for me was the various characters. Fort himself is endearing. Despite his impending vampire-hood, he’s mostly an ordinary person. He’s not yet powerful, and he’s not even particularly smart or exceptional by human standards. Yet he’s incredibly compassionate and empathetic and has a drive for justice that makes him compelling: he’s determined to do whatever he can, no matter how ill-advised, to try to help others.

The other characters grew on me quite a bit throughout the book as well as they were revealed to have more dimensions. In particular, I’m intrigued by Chivalry. He’s the first character Fort interacts with in the book, and my first impression was not a good one. He commands Fort to come home and they have a rather unpleasant interaction, but it turned out he wasn’t as bad as he initially seemed. He’s certainly not an angel by any means, but he also seems to truly have a soft spot for his brother and is the only one in his family who seems to look out for Fort. I also enjoyed the dynamic between Fort and Suzume, his kickass kitsune bodyguard. She’s a carefree spirit and very much Fort’s opposite in personality, and she was a character I became quite fond of.

Generation V is a strong start to a new series and is one of the better urban fantasy books I have read. It seems as though it’s building a foundation for later books so there is a lot of introduction and setup, but there are some hints dropped that leave the impression that there’s a lot more to unearth in later books. This promise of further exploration of the world combined with characters I loved and want to read more about makes me very eager to read the next book.

My Rating: 8/10

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

Read an Excerpt

Other Reviews of Generation V: