fantasy

The Hike by Drew Magary

I don’t even know where to start. Alright, well I kinda do – one day Ben decides to go for a walk. He’s a family man, out-of-town for a business meeting and staying in a small, sketchy motel in the woods of Pennsylvania. The lady at the desk says there isn’t a path to hike on, but there is. Ben walks for a while until all of the sudden, he sees two large men wearing the skins of rottweiler faces as masks and dragging a young girl’s body, and then he’s running, running, running until he no longer knows where he is. But it’s made very clear that he must stay on The Path – leaving the path means certain death. Staying on the path means only extremely likely death.

This book is BANANAS. So, Ben doesn’t know what the hell he’s doing, what’s real or not real. It seems unreal that there could be an enormous cricket taking up an entire room in an otherwise abandoned house, or that his crush from his college years is in a tent with life-saving supplies, or that a foul-mouthed crab would be his best and only assistant on this weird journey – but it feels real, and Ben quickly learns that his only hope of getting back home to his family is following this damn path through to the end. This story has a very video-game feel to it, with the mostly one-way adventure and successive obstacles to overcome. It also had a bit of a Wizard of Oz feel – some of the horrors that Ben faces seem to come from his own subconscious, but this definitely isn’t a dream.

I think I enjoyed this book for the absolutely bonkers ride that it is, and I read it entirely in one day, but I’m not sure if it’s a book that will be on a favorites list or anything. I still love the author’s first book, The Postmortal, and The Hike can’t even really compare to that. Still, this was a fun, bizarre read so if that’s the kind of thing you’re in the mood for, then this is the book for you.

 

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Heroine Complex by Sarah Kuhn

Received an e-ARC from the Berkeley Publishing Group/DAW via NetGalley. All the gushing in this review is my own and it is WELL-DESERVED.

Okay, I’m going to paste the summary from Amazon here because it does a good job and then I get can get to the really fun stuff.

Evie Tanaka is the put-upon personal assistant to Aveda Jupiter, her childhood best friend and San Francisco’s most beloved superheroine. She’s great at her job—blending into the background, handling her boss’s epic diva tantrums, and getting demon blood out of leather pants. Unfortunately, she’s not nearly as together when it comes to running her own life, standing up for herself, or raising her tempestuous teenage sister, Bea.

But everything changes when Evie’s forced to pose as her glamorous boss for one night, and her darkest secret comes out: she has powers, too. Now it’s up to her to contend with murderous cupcakes, nosy gossip bloggers, and supernatural karaoke battles—all while juggling unexpected romance and Aveda’s increasingly outrageous demands. And when a larger threat emerges, Evie must finally take charge and become a superheroine in her own right…or see her city fall to a full-on demonic invasion.

This is an awesome fantasy superhero novel. While Aveda can be an outlandishly self-absorbed character, Evie is so real, flaws and all. She has a tight lid on her emotions and stress, which means she can perfectly handle Aveda’s moods and ridiculousness. But when she has to temporarily step into Aveda’s shoes, the lid on her emotions loosens and her character grows into this wonderfully fun, assertive woman and I love it.

There are other people that work at Aveda’s superhero headquarters and I liked them all. There’s Lucy, the gay woman in charge of fighting, training, and weapons who is always trying to get under Evie’s tough exterior and get encourage her to go out and get laid. There’s Bea, Evie’s little sister, who is constantly dodging school and getting into trouble. Nate is the beefy scientist who works in the lab studying the demon portals, who is always irritating Evie with his reliance on data and reason instead of instinct and guesswork. And lastly there’s Scott, the longtime friend of Evie who can do some spellwork and prefers to generally stay far away from Aveda and her tantrums. It’s such a fabulous cast of characters who work so well together and all play a crucial part in the story.

Two things really put this book over the top for me, so that it’s so much more than just a fun fantasy novel. So much of the core is about Evie and Aveda’s friendship and Evie’s role as caretaker and sister to Bea. There’s a spotlight on female friendships and it’s a beautiful thing, and something I deeply appreciated. The second thing is how Evie’s relationship status changes. I don’t want to call it a romance arc, because it didn’t feel that way. She slowly becomes attracted to a guy and has some awesome sexy times. She makes her desires and preferences for a purely sexual relationship known, and even though it’s adorable when it grows into something more I loved that she was so clear in her standards. She didn’t fall headfirst into a relationship in which the parameters were set by the man. Their sparkling chemistry made me grin, but it never overshadows the entirety and focus of the novel – which is of course bad-ass ladies fighting demons and saving the world.

Heroine Complex is full of fun, feminist superhero action. It comes out on July 5th, and I already have my own copy pre-ordered.  I can’t recommend it highly enough.

~Sarah

Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige

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I feel like I’ve had my eye on this one for years. Dorothy Must Die takes the story of  The Wizard of Oz, which we all know and love, and turns it on its head. In this the girl ending up on the wrong side of the tornado is Amy, and she doesn’t recognize the Oz that she grew up seeing in movies. That’s because after the movie ends, Dorothy comes back to Oz – and she’s destroying it. It’s up to Amy to bring her down.

So the writing here wasn’t great, especially in the beginning. There was a lot of telling instead of showing. For example “And Amy just new in her gut blah blah blah”. Somewhere around the middle the author seemed to hit her stride, and it got better after that. Amy is a high school girl growing up in a trailer park in Kansas. She’s taunted at school, and her mom is neglectful. Going to Oz almost seems like a blessing, until she realizes how dangerous Dorothy has made it. You can be arrested for and punished for “Sass”. The Tin Man now has knives and needles for hands. And Dorothy is mining Oz for magic, hoarding it all to herself and killing Oz in the process. Oz is bleak.

The idea of those deemed wicked actually being the good guys is such a fun spin. Amy’s fight to save Oz kept me reading. That, and her developing crush on a boy named Nox. I almost quit Dorothy Must Die when I was about a quarter of the way in, and I’m glad that I stuck with it. I spent most of last Sunday just reading it on my couch, totally sucked in. There are sequels and prequels out, which I’m thinking I’ll read soon. I need to know what happens!

Fun fact: my sister read this with me. This is the first book we’ve ever picked out and read at the same time! How have we not done that before??

Sarah Says: 3.5 stars

Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed

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Talk about some brilliant fantasy, you guys. Throne of the Crescent Moon kind of blew me away. It’s charming, sad, and exciting, all rolled into a fantastical ball of wonder. The description from the back of the book gives you the basics:

The Crescent Moon Kingdoms, home to djenn and ghuls, holy warriors and heretics, are at the boiling point of a power struggle between the iron-fisted Khalif and the mysterious master thief known as the Falcon Prince. In the midst of this brewing rebellion a series of brutal supernatural murders strikes at the heart of the Kingdoms. But these killings are only the earliest signs of a plot for the Throne of the Crescent Moon that threatens to turn the great city of Dhamsawwaat, and the world itself, into a blood-soaked ruin.

Adoulla is a ghul-hunter, feeling his old age and ruminating on the choices he’s made in his life. He fights along side Raseed, a holy warrior, and together they hunt down and eliminate ghuls created by men of bad intentions. A series of especially gruesome murders crops up, and Adoulla knows that behind these killings is someone more powerful than he’s ever faced before.

A vivid cast of characters are created in this book – the mysterious, Robin Hood-like thief who calls himself the Falcon Prince; a fierce girl with an old, God-given power; a powerful couple who’ve dedicated their lives to assisting the poor; and the serious, efficient young warrior who accompanies Adoulla. I fell in love with these characters without even realizing it was happening. By the end I was biting my nails in worry, hoping that everyone came out of this alive. And the horrors that are happening in this book! A bit more disturbing than I was expecting, honestly, but just another thing to appreciate. I love that it took me by surprise.

Throne of the Crescent Moon is some of the best fantasy I’ve read in a long while – I don’t think I’ve been this excited since I discovered Scott Lynch’s Gentleman Bastards series in 2013. It has just the right amounts of of swash-buckling, romantic, action-packed bits with characters that make you feel the feels. There will be sequels, and Saladin Ahmed says on his blog that he’s hoping for the second book to come out in early 2016. In the mean time, I’m going to go seek out all of the short stories he’s written.

Sarah Says: 4.5 stars

Annihilation (The Southern Reach #1) by Jeff VanderMeer

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“That’s how the madness of the world tries to colonize you: from the outside in, forcing you to live in its reality.”

People have been kind of going crazy for this Southern Reach trilogy, haven’t they? Or at least it seemed that way, and I admit the pretty cover had me curious, but then I heard other bloggers and Book Riot people talking it up, and it was only $2.99 on the Kindle, and I finally gave it a go.

So. Annihilation. A group of specialists are recruited for the 12th expedition to Area X – not much detail is given about Area X, except that it has been cut off from society for a loooooong time. Multiple expeditions have been sent in, with conflicting results – some expeditions reported a perfect wilderness, some expeditions ended in mass suiciude, some ended in the complete disappearance of the members sent. Our narrator is the biologist in the 12th expedition, and she is accompanied by a psychologist, surveyor, and anthropologist. Their mission is to map the terrain, take detailed notes, and stay out of danger. We never learn their names. They go into Area X not quite knowing what to expect, but finding a massive structure never previously noted in the journals of past expeditions was a shock. Also surprising is the strange, impossible organism that seems to be growing inside of it.

Annihilation was a short read (I believe it’s a little more than 200 pages in print form), and an interesting one. At first, the number of mysteries and unanswered questions was a little frustrating, but as the book progresses I was more interested in just finding out WHY. The biologist is an odd narrator – she’s a woman I can kind of sympathize with, but she’s also an unreliable narrator, which makes for an fun dynamic. There’s a fun literary element to one of the surprises in the book, that I only mention because I know fellow book bloggers enjoy books that are about books and writing. While reading, I wasn’t sure if this was going to be a series that I want to continue on with, but by the end I had already created BookSliced alerts for the next two books. The second book, Authority, apparently takes places in the government office that manages these Area X expeditions, and I REALLY want to get that side of it.

So yeah, worth the try. I’m hoping the next two books are equally good, and I’m sure I’ll fly through them.

 

Sarah Says: 3.5 stars

Horrorstor by Grady Hendrix

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I’ve never been to an Ikea. I always kind of wanted to go to one, if they ever expanded and came to my area. But now… I don’t know.

Horrostor is a fun, gimmicky horror-esque novel. Basically, employees work in this Ikea-like store called Orsk somewhere in Ohio and they start noticing damage occurring overnight while the store is closed- broken dishes, knocked over furniture, defiled sofas, etc. The store manager selects two other people to pull an overnight shift with him in order to catch the vandals. But the vandals might not be human. Dun dun DUNNNNNNN.

As far as Halloween-reading goes, this was a good pick. It’s quick, it’s entertaining, and it’s creepy as all hell. The actual book is laid out kind of like a store catalog, which is just fun and quirky. I mean, I don’t really have anything to other than that it was a fun read, so if you’re still looking for a Halloween book to fit in this week – here you go.

 

 

Also, I pictured Basil, the store manager, as Moss from The I.T. Crowd. I don’t know why, but it possibly made it even more fun. I like Moss.

 

Sarah Says: 3.5 stars

Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor

Who Fears Death

 

Well this was one of the most interesting books I’ve read in a while.

Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor is about a young girl named Onyesonwu, which means (you guessed it) “who fears death?”. Onye is the product of the horrible rape of her mother, committed by a Nuru man who just assisted in wiping out her entire village. She becomes pregnant and gives birth to Onye, who is automatically feared and hated as child conceived in violence. As Onye gets older she starts showing signs of mysterious and powerful magic, which enables her to learn that someone even more powerful wants her dead. Onye sets off on a mission to learn more about herself and her powers and to finally confront the person that wants to kill her.

This is one of those books that I knew I was going to enjoy (and have no trouble finishing) while I was still in first 30 pages or so. Okorafor is a talented writer, and she completely sucked me in by starting with the narration of a passionate young girl, and immediately progressing to the absolutely terrifying story of how she was conceived. I’m not going to lie – the content in this book is disturbing, but that’s exactly the point. It’s a book about pointless hatred and prejudice, and one woman’s journey to overcome it. And I definitely enjoyed the scathing passages about how females were treated and perceived. Onye is a fantastic character. She’s fiery and indignant and all of the things I like to see in characters, especially those of the magical variety.

I don’t want to spoil too much – this is one of those books best read kind of blind, so you can experience each “oh shit” moment as they come. My only reservation about this story is that it felt a little Biblical at times. That didn’t necessarily retract from my appreciation, it was just something that was kind of always in the back of my mind.

Give it a whirl. It would make a great pick for #Diversiverse, which starts in just a couple days. Still time to sign up! I might grab another of Nnedi Okorafor’s books to read as a #Diversiverse pick myself…

 

Sarah Says: 4 stars

Rat Queens by Kurtis J. Wiebe and Roc Upchurch (#1-7)

RAT QUEENS

 

YOU GUYS. RAT QUEENS. It’s a fantasy comic series (published by Image Comics) about four ladies-for-hire: an adorable tiny thief named Betty, the Viking-like warrior Violet, the foul-tempered elven mage Hannah, and human cleric Dee. The Rat Queens go off on these quests, which tend to include a lot of swearing, fighting, drugs, and sex. WHAT IS NOT TO LOVE ABOUT THAT? The series starts off with them trying to find out who is sending assassins after all of the mercenary groups in their home town of Palisade.

Rat Queens is SO FUN. There is nothing like seeing a bunch of great women beating the shit out of trolls. There are personal back stories, assassins, complicated relationships, big plots against the citizens of Palisade – but amid all that is a group of friends who care about each other, and who remember to enjoy the little things like drinking all night, delicious food, and maybe doing some shrooms on the way to their next bout of ass-kicking. While all that stuff is wildly entertaining, I keep reading because I want to see the story lines develop – are Betty and Faeyri going to be become a steady thing? Why did Dee leave her home? What’s Violet’s beef with her brother? Are Hannah and the handsome Sawyer going to work through their issues?

This comic hits that perfect spot in which both the art AND the writing are fantastic. Roc Upchurch does an amazing job with the art – it’s clear and beautiful and the coloring… it’s all just fantastic. If my friends and I ever decided to have our gaming characters drawn out, I would desperately want Upchurch to be the one to do it. The writer, Kurtis Wiebe, has said that this series is like his love letter to D&D-style gaming and fantasy, and he definitely hit his mark there. And besides the delightful fantasy, adventuring aspect – it’s snarky! And full of wit. Humor is the easiest way to my heart. My favorite books (and comics, it turns out) are the ones that make me laugh. I hope this series never ends. I just want to hug it. But I won’t, because that would wrinkle the comics, but still.

 

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Everyone should start reading Rat Queens so that we can chat about how awesome it is, okay? The first five issues are already out in one trade volume, so get on that. As for me, I am counting the days until issue # 8 comes out.

 

Sarah Says: 5 stars for an ongoing favorite

 

Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb

Assassin's Apprentice

It’s been so long since I wrote a review… do I even remember how?

Anyways, I finally read Assassin’s Apprentice! Thanks to Jenn and Riv for suggesting Robin Hobb to me over and over again until I finally listened. Assassin’s Apprentice is the first book in the Farseer trilogy, which also ties into some other trilogies she’s written, which is very cool and excites me because that means I can revisit this world and some of these characters plenty of times.

So, one day a 6 year-old boy is dropped off on the royal doorstep, by someone who says he is the bastard child of the noble Prince Chivalry. He’s given into the care of his dad’s stableman, Burrich, who raises him the best he knows how and tries to shield him from the cruelty the royal family has towards him. The only one who recognizes him is King Shrewd, who has young Fitz secretly trained as an assassin and in the magic Skill for his own use. The coasts of the kingdom are under attack by savage raiders, and Fitz is finally old enough to embark on his first mission. And while some are hoping for his downfall, he might be exactly what the kingdom needs to survive.

Alright, so this book took me about 10 days to read, but that’s my fault because of being so busy at work. I was ALWAYS looking forward to picking this book back up. Somehow, Fitz is a really relatable and likable character. I mean, people are so cold towards him that it’s easy to feel bad for him. And Burrich definitely believes in tough love, and the within the first 70 pages or so I had already teared up a bit for poor Fitz. But he rarely plays the victim, and that’s why I liked him so much. He’s kind so other people, and has a thirst for knowledge and mischief that I really enjoyed.

I don’t want to go too much into the more fantastical elements of the story because I think they’re best discovered by the reader, but Fitz has some very cool talents. And the raiders that are attacking the kingdom’s coasts use some sort of mysterious magic that absolutely destroys people, and I think it was all very interesting and unique without being overdone.

I already went out and bought the sequel, Royal Assassin. I’m really looking forward to seeing more of Fitz’s adventures, and to seeing some of the other characters I grew to like – the Fool, Prince Verity, and Kettricken among others.

Sarah Says: 4 stars

The Blue Blazes by Chuck Wendig

The Blue Blazes book review

 

I feel bad saying this… but I was disappointed by The Blue Blazes.

My experience with Chuck Wendig so far has been mostly positive – I follow him on Twitter, and I read and enjoyed Mockingbird, which is the second Miriam Black novel but I accidentally read it first. When I heard that Wendig had a new-ish book out about a big hulking tough guy named Mookie, I got really excited. Maybe I got too excited, and that’s why I was let down.

Mookie is a giant bad-ass guy, working for NYC’s supernatural drug lords. (The drug is Blue, a powder harvested from the veins of NYC’s underworld that gives users the ability to see the paranormal world hiding in plain sight, along with some extra perks.) He’s basically the guy they use to get shit taken care of. Well one day his job kind of goes to hell when he finds out that The Boss is sick and that his daughter is fighting to bring him and his whole organization down so she can rule the drug game.  

Soooo… yeah. I don’t really want to go into detail too much, because it’s a really different, quirky, urban fantasy world that Wendig has created here and it has a lot of potential. The idea of these supernatural drugs growing underground where creepy goblins and creatures lurk is really cool. While the middle kind of dragged, the last 100 pages or so of the book were really fast-paced and intense. I think that my disappointment comes from lack of strong characterization.

I liked Mookie, in general – he’s tough, angry, likes to fight people with a giant cleaver – that’s my kind of antihero. But he’s pretty bland, otherwise. He really likes meat, he’s extremely loyal to his job with the Organization, and he has a conscience, but that’s about it. I feel like I never really got to know him. The other main character was his daughter, Nora, and I really didn’t like her. Her daddy issues were more annoying than anything and I didn’t find her interesting or worthy of sympathy.

There were a few other secondary characters, some of whom I liked and would like to see again, should there be a sequel. If there is a sequel… I think I’d read it. But only in the hope that the characters of Mookie and Nora will grow and evolve a little more in a second novel.

 

Sarah Says: 3 stars