The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 1-18-15

Sunday Post

It’s mid-January, and the weather in Atlanta is beautiful. So of course we’re planning a trip to someplace cold and possibly snowy. There are perfectly valid reasons why the American Library Association tends to hold its conference at what feels like the wrong time of year (Las Vegas at the end of June for example) and there are even more logical reasons why the conference returns to Chicago on a regular basis, but I ask you, who schedules a conference in late January in Chicago? I didn’t know we were the American Masochists Association, but it always feels that way at Midwinter.

dreaming-of-books-2015At least the days are getting a bit longer again. But there is still plenty of time for reading!

Current Giveaways:

$10 Gift Card in the Dreaming of Books Giveaway Hop
$25 Gift Card + a copy of City of Liars and Thieves by Eve Karlin
$25 Gift Card + a copy of Maxwell Street Blues by Marc Krulewitch


station eleven by emily st john mandelBlog Recap:

A- Review: After the War is Over by Jennifer Robson
B+ Review: Luminous by Corrina Lawson
B+ Review: Windy City Blues by Marc Krulewitch + Giveaway
A Review: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Dreaming of Books Giveaway Hop
B Review: City of Liars and Thieves by Eve Karlin + Giveaway
Stacking the Shelves (118)


through the static by jeanette greyComing Next Week:

Ryder: American Treasure by Nick Pengelley (blog tour review)
Romantic Road by Blair McDowell (review)
Through the Static by Jeanette Grey (blog tour review)
The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey (review)
Phoenix Legacy by Corrina Lawson (review)

Review: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

station eleven by emily st john mandelFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genre: dystopian fiction
Length: 333 pages
Publisher: Knopf
Date Released: September 9, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

One snowy night Arthur Leander, a famous actor, has a heart attack onstage during a production of King Lear. Jeevan Chaudhary, a paparazzo-turned-EMT, is in the audience and leaps to his aid. A child actress named Kirsten Raymonde watches in horror as Jeevan performs CPR, pumping Arthur’s chest as the curtain drops, but Arthur is dead. That same night, as Jeevan walks home from the theater, a terrible flu begins to spread. Hospitals are flooded and Jeevan and his brother barricade themselves inside an apartment, watching out the window as cars clog the highways, gunshots ring out, and life disintegrates around them.

Fifteen years later, Kirsten is an actress with the Traveling Symphony. Together, this small troupe moves between the settlements of an altered world, performing Shakespeare and music for scattered communities of survivors. Written on their caravan, and tattooed on Kirsten’s arm is a line from Star Trek: “Because survival is insufficient.” But when they arrive in St. Deborah by the Water, they encounter a violent prophet who digs graves for anyone who dares to leave.

Spanning decades, moving back and forth in time, and vividly depicting life before and after the pandemic, this suspenseful, elegiac novel is rife with beauty. As Arthur falls in and out of love, as Jeevan watches the newscasters say their final good-byes, and as Kirsten finds herself caught in the crosshairs of the prophet, we see the strange twists of fate that connect them all. A novel of art, memory, and ambition, Station Eleven tells a story about the relationships that sustain us, the ephemeral nature of fame, and the beauty of the world as we know it.

My Review:

If you enjoy post-apocalyptic stories that focus more on continuing a life that celebrates what is best in us despite conditions that travel well past hell in the handbasket, Station Eleven is utterly marvelous.

If you prefer the violent aspects of surviving in a world gone mad, try Dies the Fire by S.M. Stirling instead.

The apocalyptic event that creates the world of Station Eleven feels all too real, all too plausible. In 1918, the influenza pandemic killed 3-5% of the world population. The event was slightly less than a century ago, and some of the same factors apply in Station Eleven, especially the ones where governments underestimated the infection rate and communicability of the disease. Or simply chose not to communicate the communicability of the disease.

Another frame of reference is the Black Death in the 1300s. 30-60% of the population of Europe was killed, and it took 150 years for the continent to recover. The combination of these two real-life historical examples bear strange fruit in Station Eleven.

More than 90% of the world’s population is wiped out in less than a month by a particularly virulent strain of swine flu. The disease strikes so quickly and in such large numbers that the world healthcare system is overwhelmed instantly. And it also gains a foothold because the country of origin downplays the seriousness of the epidemic. It spreads before anyone has a chance to find a cure, and then everyone who is either not resistant or not isolated dies in days.

Station Eleven is about how the world tries to right itself, and how much we take for granted that can be gone in an instant. With 90% of the world’s population dead, there is no one to maintain all the hallmarks of civilization that we use without a thought. No electricity, no grocery stores, no internet, no police or fire services. No national government because there is no communication infrastructure.

But it isn’t back to the Stone Age, because all the adults remember the world before. Even in a fight for bare survival, people remember how things used to be. As time goes on, the people who remember are the ones who have the most difficult time adjusting, because now they know just how marvelous the world was, and they mourn for it, or want it back.

The story begins with an event that feels like the death of patient zero, even though it isn’t. But Arthur Leander’s death on stage in King Lear occurs just as the first cases are dying in New York. For the group of people who witness his last performance, it becomes their touchstone for the day the universe changed.

Everything from that point forward is reckoned in B.D. (before disaster) or A.D. (after disaster). No other time frame matters.

“Because survival is insufficient” is a quote from the Star Trek Voyager episode Survival Instinct. It is also painted on the canvas of the Traveling Symphony, a group of actors and musicians who travel around the Great Lakes performing classic works of music and Shakespeare in the small villages and hamlets that have survived the epidemic.

Kirsten Raimonde is one of the actors in the Traveling Symphony. She was also a child actress on stage when Arthur Leander fell, and she is one of the links between the pre-apocalyptic past and the dystopian present.

She and her traveling company tour a circuit of towns around the Great Lakes that, through trial and deadly error, they have determined to be a safe route. That route is disrupted when they return to St. Deborah by the Water to discover that it has been taken over by a cult leader who symbolically, or realistically, buries anyone who does not go along with his beliefs.

He is also the only other person in the changed world to have read an extremely limited run graphic novel that Arthur Leander gave to Kirsten just before the world ended. While Kirsten tries to resolve that puzzle, she and her friends also must journey to a Museum of life before the fall in order to find missing members of their crew who may be dead, or may just have fled the cult.

The cult, the symphony, and everyone’s memories of the late Arthur Leander travel back and forth through time and across a desolate Midwestern landscape to reach one isolated place that ties them all back together again.

Escape Rating A: Station Eleven is all about the journey. Both the literal journey that Kirsten and company take to find their missing crew, and the journey that humanity is taking from our world of overabundance to their world of scarcity. It is a journey that reveals the preciousness of human connection over all the technological distractions of contemporary life.

Using Arthur Leander’s coincidental death provides a mechanism for viewing the world as it was before, and the world as it is after. We see his life move from purpose to pointlessness to death. We also see the destruction through the eyes of the people who surrounded him in those last moments – his best friend, his child co-star, and the paramedic who tried to save him. Each of them takes a completely different journey to that point 15 years A.D. where they all meet again, along with his ex-wife and her son.

They each survive in different but quite possible ways. All equally traumatic and life changing as the universe changes. There is a world after, but the journey to get their is fraught with pain, and sorrow, and occasional sparks of joy.

Station Eleven has been lauded as literary fiction, but the story it tells is firmly within the post-apocalyptic genre of speculative/science fiction. Because it is set 15 years later, we get to see the story of how people survived, and not just the violence of the immediate collapse. It makes this a hopeful and sometimes lyrical tale, one well worth reading.

Because survival alone IS insufficient. To make us human, we must find ways to do and be more. And that is the story of Station Eleven.

p.s. Get your flu shot. It may not help but it can’t hurt.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 1-11-15

Sunday Post

It’s Sunday and it’s freezing – do you know how your pipes are doing? We’ve lived in both Anchorage and Chicago, so it is always amusing to hear people get freaked when the temperature just drops into the 20s for a day or two someplace that normally has much better weather in the winter. (The first time I heard a freeze warning in Florida I had to pull my car over, I was laughing so hard).

But isn’t all this cold weather a perfect time to curl up with a good cat and a great book? Or the other way around, just ask the cat.

Current Giveaways:

$25 Gift Card + a copy of The Yankee Club by Michael Murphy

dirty deeds by rhys fordBlog Recap:

B Review: The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore
B+ Review: All that Glitters by Michael Murphy + Giveaway
A Review: Dirty Deeds by Rhys Ford
A Review: Digging for Richard III by Mike Pitts
B+ Review: Down and Dirty by Rhys Ford
Stacking the Shelves (117)



dreaming-of-books-2015Coming Next Week:

After the War is Over by Jennifer Robson (blog tour review)
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (review)
Windy City Blues by Marc Krulewitch (blog tour review
The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell (review)
Dreaming of Books Giveaway Hop
City of Liars and Thieves by Eve Karlin (blog tour review)

Guest Post by Author Sonya Clark + Giveaway

Today I would like to welcome back Sonya Clark, who recently published the third entry in the Magic Born series, Firewall (reviewed here). If you like dystopian fiction with a romantic and scientific twist, the Magic Born series, starting with Trancehack (reviewed here), is absolutely awesome.

Silver Wheels and spoilers
by Sonya Clark

firewall by sonya clarkIt’s really hard to talk about some of my favorite things about Firewall without giving away spoilers, but I’m going to try. In Trancehack, the first Magic Born book, witch Calla Vesper is shown stealing a little WI-FI from an arcade. She uses it to trancehack, a type of magic that uses astral projection to enter cyberspace. In the next book, Witchlight, I introduced a new game popular at the arcade, called Silver Wheels. In Firewall, the creator of the game is introduced as a secondary character.

Here’s a little about the game itself: Silver Wheels is set in a futuristic oppressive dystopian world. The name comes from the main character of the game, an anonymous champion of hacktivists and free-information advocates. Silver Wheels is seen in gameplay speeding around on a super-fast motorcycle, wearing a mirrorball helmet. As tensions rise in New Corinth and protests become a weekly event, the character of Silver Wheels becomes a symbol to the Normals who want the Magic Laws that take their magic-capable children away from them. And the witches trapped inside the zone known as FreakTown are happy to spell random objects to turn into witchlight versions of Silver Wheels, to be tossed into the streets during the protests.

trancehack by sonya clarkNow for a little about Silver Wheels, the character: By the time Firewall starts, fugitive witch Tuyet Caron, who works for the Magic Born underground, has been in contact with the game’s creator for some time. She refers to him as Silver Wheels. He also helps the underground, working within cyberspace to find information, monitor Normal communications, facilitate Magic Born communications between zones, and anything else he can do. And he does it from within cyberspace because that’s where he exists. Silver Wheels is a witch who has permanently trancehacked.

I’d love to talk about the reasons for this, but it’s a spoiler. His real identity is confirmed in my favorite scene in the book, which I can’t post as an excerpt because it’s a spoiler. Darn spoilers! It’s frustrating to not be able to talk about certain aspects of a book because of spoilers, but worth it in the long run so that readers make those discoveries on their own.

About Sonya Clark
Sonya Clark grew up a military brat and now lives in Tennessee with her husband and daughter. She writes urban fantasy and paranormal romance with a heavy helping of magic and lots of music for inspiration.

To learn more about Sonya, visit her website.


Sonya is giving away an ebook copy of the winner’s choice of any book in the Magic Born series! To enter, use the Rafflecopter below:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Review: Firewall by Sonya Clark

firewall by sonya clarkFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genre: paranormal romance
Series: Magic Born, #3
Length: 207 pages
Publisher: Carina Press
Date Released: December 1, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo

She was the only Magic Born to ever escape the Rangers. Now there’s a ten-million-dollar bounty for her return.

Trancehacker Tuyet Caron could have left New Corinth for good, but instead uses her magic and risks her life on a daily basis to help the Magic Born. She’s been careful to avoid capture, but a careless glance at a video camera brings her face to face with the Ranger who let her go.

Captain Dale Hayes let Tuyet walk away once, but he won’t make that mistake again. When faced with the ultimate choice, however, he chooses her with barely a thought. But that also means siding with the Magic Born and becoming a fugitive in the eyes of the law.

Tuyet and Dale plan to flee, but are caught in a deadly riot that kills innocent people. Outraged, the pair vows to bring an end to the Magic Laws, regardless of what that means for their own safety.

My Review:

trancehack by sonya clarkI have to say that I have loved every book in Sonya Clark’s Magic Born series so far (start with Trancehack, reviewed here), and Firewall is no exception. The worldbuilding in this series is chilling, scary and consistently awesome.

I read Firewall just as the deliberations from the grand jury in Ferguson were being announced, and the parallels between the society in the book and the actions of the elected officials in Ferguson was frighteningly close.

When the powers that be are unhappy that news of their abuses has gotten out of their tight cordon of control, they blame social media. This was true in the speech, and is also true in the book.

It gave me goosebumps, and it made me think. And shiver.

witchlight by sonya clarkFirewall is the final book in Sonya Clark’s Magic Born series. This is a near-futuristic dystopian world where the U.S. has made itself into a dysfunctioning, economically depressed dystopia by locking all of those born with magic into ghettos and taking away their citizenship and rights. Because anyone can have a magic born child whether they themselves are magic born or not, children are taken away from their parents in infancy, as soon as the DNA test is administered.

Needless to say, the birthrate is dropping like a rock, because no one who wants a child wants to face the possibility that the child will be taken away.

By the time of Firewall, things have reached a tipping point. The restrictions on the magic born are increasing, and the total lockdown of magic born ghettos has plunged nearby neighborhoods into economic depression. Since no one initially wanted to live near a Freaktown, those nearby neighborhoods weren’t in good shape to begin with.

Lots of people are more and more sympathetic to magic born. The younger generation is much more tolerant than their elders. And the elders want to hang onto power at all costs.

Forces collide with violence. The government wants to bring in one of the few magic users they trained who escaped their clutches. After her, they send her former partner, the agent who probably let her escape. The agent who certainly has continued to love her in the three years since she left.

Tuyet Caron feels responsible for the new repressive laws against the magic born. As a conductor on the Underground Railroad, she facilitated the escape of a woman and her magic born lover. Unfortunately for everyone, that woman was the wife of a prominent anti-magic politician, who is more than willing to use his professional clout to avenge a person wrong.

As the crackdown deepens, the violence escalates, and encompasses more people, including non-magic born. Into this volatile mix, Tuyets old partner Lee Hayes comes to either take her in, or help her escape again.

Their old enemy is right behind him.

But the climax of the story concerns the effects of the total information blackout on everything wrong in the flashpoint city of New Corinth. All info, including social media, is blocked by a firewall of tech and magic, maintained by a news corporation that wants to continue its monopoly on secret magic use.

Breaking that firewall, no matter what the cost, is crucial to bringing down the magic laws. Everybody pays dearly to make things right.

Escape Rating A+: While the love story between Hayes and Caron is sweetly done (three years of repression makes for a lot of sparkage!) I felt like the real depth in this story was the way that people came together to make sure the word got out.

Everyone in New Corinth knows that things are bad there, but because all true information from the ghettos is instantly repressed, no one on the outside knows about the police atrocities. And yes, there are definitely atrocities, including shooting unarmed civilians as they flee the violence, and otherwise deliberately sabotaging escape routes so that innocents are trapped in the kill zone, if not killed outright.

It’s brutality on a massive scale, but too many people who would be righteously opposed are kept completely in the dark and fed propaganda. It’s obscene in its way, and all too easy to believe.

They can’t beat the police – it’s not possible and it isn’t what they need. What they need, what the whole country needs, is for the truth to get out so that the situation can be repaired. Not just that the magic born can become citizens again, but that the U.S. can recover economically. The cost for disenfranchising and entire population is frighteningly clear.

It is possible to substitute the current treatment of any repressed group and come to the same sad conclusion about the potential future. That’s what made this book, and this series, so incredible for me. It was awesomely entertaining, and it made me think seriously at the same time.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: The Forever Man by Pierre Ouellette + Giveaway

forever man by pierre ouelletteFormat read: ebook provided by NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genre: Science fiction; thriller
Length: 316 pages
Publisher: Alibi
Date Released: July 8, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo

Portland, Oregon, was once a beacon of promise and prosperity. Now it’s the epicenter of a world gone wrong, its streets overrun by victims and hustlers, drifters and gangsters. Lowly contract cop Lane Anslow struggles to keep afloat—and to watch out for his brilliant but bipolar brother, Johnny, a medical researcher. Lane soon discovers that Johnny is part of an experiment veiled in extraordinary secrecy. But he has no idea who’s behind it, how astronomical the stakes are, or how many lives might be destroyed to make it a reality.

Now Johnny’s gone missing. To find him, Lane follows a twisting trail into a billionaire’s hilltop urban fortress, a politician’s inner circle, a prison set in an aircraft graveyard, and a highly guarded community where people appear to be half their biological age. Hunted by dueling enemies, Lane meets a beautiful and enigmatic woman at the center of a vast web of political and criminal intrigue. And behind it all is a sinister, desperate race to claim the biggest scientific prize of all: eternal life.

My Review:

The Forever Man combines two well-used science fiction plots into a single story that never quite jelled for me. The individual parts were both potentially interesting, but the whole doesn’t do either one of them justice.

The story takes place in a near-future dystopia. A future so near that the protagonist still remembers the pre-rotten past, meaning now. It’s a future where the 1% has retreated into their gated communities as the rest of us barely get by. The social contract has completely broken down, everything is privatized, and both pensions and social security for the middle class are ideals that have long since died.

In the history of this future, a terrorist attack in the American Heartland killed off the last of the constitutional protections against very nearly everything. Think the Patriot Act on steroids and with clones, and you’ll get some idea of the background.

Part of this background is that police services have been privatized and have turned into contract services. Only the rich can afford to have crimes against them even investigated, and the cops who do the investigations are effectively mercenaries.

Our protagonist is a contract cop in a degraded version of Portland, Oregon who has just lost his contract because at 45, he’s just not as fast as he used to be. There are no jobs, and unemployment and homelessness are widespread.

Of course, as an ex-cop, Lane Anslow can contract himself out to one of the gangs that have taken over most of the city. And he might have to, just to keep himself off the streets.

But it all goes pear-shaped (even more than it is already) when his scientist brother disappears in the middle of a giant plot to allow one extremely old and incredibly rich man to live forever. At any cost.

Escape Rating C+: The near-future scenario is not merely frightening, but all too plausible. I would have loved to have seen a story that addressed the way that the country had gone to hell in a handcart, how it got there, and the way that one person (or a group) was trying to survive or make things better.

However, what we have is the conspiracy plot about a rich man who has bought a scientific method of immortality, and the ways he protects himself and pays off his enemies in order to achieve his goals. His ruthlessness and extreme inhumanity made Zed seem a bit of a caricature. The plots and cover-ups that he creates to maintain his secret could take place in our current world; the dystopia wasn’t needed.

Lane doesn’t start out looking for the immortality plot, he begins by hunting for his brilliant but feckless brother. He’s also a bit one-dimensional, the mostly straight cop who will do anything or investigate anywhere to save a doomed loved one. But I didn’t feel for him; he seemed like a device rather than a fully-fleshed out character.

The story explores lots of cool ideas, not just the dystopia, but also the way that society has and mostly hasn’t, coped with the problem. The political machinations were particularly fascinating. I just wish it had tied together a bit more.


Pierre is giving away a copy of The Forever Man and a $25 giftcard to the ebook retailer of your choice. To enter, use the Rafflecopter below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews.
***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Guest Post by Author Sonya Clark + Giveaway

witchlight by sonya clarkMy special guest today is Sonya Clark, author of the absolutely marvelous Trancehack (reviewed here) and today’s review book Witchlight. I fell in love with the world of the Magic Born that Sonya introduced in Trancehack, so I was over the moon when she agreed to let us in on a few of the secrets behind her world creation. (I wouldn’t want to live on either side of her dystopia, but the way she put it together is awesome).

I can’t wait for book 3 (I’m so glad there is one!!!) In the meantime, this should help tide me over. A bit.

Behind the Magic Born World
by Sonya Clark

The world-building for the Magic Born series is drawn from a lot of different inspirations and ideas. The backstory includes a bit of alternate history: in the early aught’s, hacktivists discover documents proving that the US and other governments know about the existence of magic and use witchcraft in secret. (Remember all the Wikileaks document dumps of several years ago? Yeah, that.) The revelation is shocking the world over, but in some countries the fear of magic and witches leads to violence. The US government passes the Magic Laws which essentially strip the Magic Born of all rights of citizenship and forces them to live in urban reservations. This calms the fearful Normal populace and stops the bloodshed, for the most part.

trancehack by sonya clarkBut it comes at a price: infants undergo DNA testing, and if found to have magic in the blood, they are sent to live in the zones. This begins a breakdown in families that threatens the underpinnings of society. By the time the series starts, single-child families are the norm and many of the younger generation don’t want to have children at all. Hearkening back to our Civil War history, there is a new underground railroad. This time, it helps both Magic Born and Normals who want to flee the oppressive laws and find refuge in more open countries.

In this alternate history backstory, the US is not the only country to react this way, but it is one of few. Most of the world adapts to having magic out in the open. Eventually, economic sanctions are put in place against those nations that deny witches human rights. By the time the series starts, those sanctions have been in place so long that the economy is in pretty much permanent recession, with no hope of improving.

What did I base this on? A number of things. I read about Native American reservations and South African apartheid. I also drew a little from personal experience. My father is retired military and we lived in Frankfurt, Germany when the Berlin Wall fell. After the borders opened, East Germans became a regular sight in Frankfurt. You could easily tell them apart from their West German counterparts. East Germany and the other Soviet Bloc nations had been living under horrible repression and incredibly restricted economic conditions. Several decades of that took a huge toll, but that kind of authoritarianism proved ultimately unsustainable. Seeing East Germans discover life in the open, free West made for some lasting memories. So did seeing the result of placing ideology above reality, choosing fear instead of facing change.

There’s not a literal version of the Berlin Wall in Witchlight, but this is definitely the book where life gets tougher for the Magic Born. I don’t want to give away too much spoilery information, but I will say this: it is a romance novel, and it is the middle book of a dystopian trilogy. Make of that what you will. 🙂

About Sonya Clark
Sonya Clark grew up a military brat and now lives in Tennessee with her husband and daughter. She writes urban fantasy and paranormal romance with a heavy helping of magic and lot of music for inspiration. Learn more at and sign up for her new releases announcement list at Find her on TwitterFacebook, and Pinterest.


Sonya is kindly giving away a digital copy of Witchlight. To enter, use the Rafflecopter below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Review: Witchlight by Sonya Clark

witchlight by sonya clarkFormat read: ebook provided by the author
Formats available: ebook
Genre: Paranormal romance
Series: Magic Born, #2
Length: 213 pages
Publisher: Carina Press
Date Released: June 30, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo

In 2066, the Magic Born are segregated in urban reservations. The laws do not protect them, or their allies.

Councilwoman Elizabeth Marsden is a powerful player in New Corinth politics, but a closely guarded secret could destroy her life—she’s a hidden Magic Born. Her family has gone to great lengths to erase all her magic-related records, until a trancehacking outlaw discovers the last remaining one…

Vadim Bazarov smuggles Magic Borns through the underground railroad and threatens to reveal Elizabeth’s secret unless she helps him access blank ID cards. Elizabeth wants to hate him for having a stranglehold on her life, but can’t help being attracted to someone so sure of who and what he is.

Vadim initially sees her as a political ice queen, but is intrigued by her suppressed magical abilities. He trains Elizabeth to use her magic, and before long finds himself falling for her. But their newfound love may be shortlived; an anti-magic ordinance forces one of them to make a choice that will change both their lives for good.

My Review:

The best news I had all day was when the author of Witchlight told me she’s finishing the next book in this series. Absolutely the best!

trancehack by sonya clarkWitchlight is the second book in Sonya Clark’s totally awesome Magic Born series, after the marvelous Trancehack (grade A review here). The Magic Born series is science fiction romance gold of the dystopian variety, with an extra dose of awesome because the dystopia is completely human-created and utterly avoidable.

It’s all created by stupid people doing stupid things. If any of the socio-political-economic threads read like a commentary on current practices in the U.S., I would be willing to bet it’s intended. It follows too closely on some trends not to be deliberate.

In this world, it’s been 50 years since the Magic Laws went into effect in the U.S. and the consequences have been devastating; for the magic born, for the general population, and for the U.S. economy.

Anyone born with magic in their DNA is taken from their parents and shoved into a magic-users’ ghetto. Magic-born are licensed and restricted and face extreme prejudice in every aspect of their lives.

Magic-born children of normals are taken away from their parents in infancy and dumped into orphanages in the zone. Anyone can have a magic-born child, so many prospective parents have refused to have children to keep from facing the prospect of losing them.

But the rich are always different; there’s a black market for fake test results. Councilwoman Elizabeth Marsden is the grown-up proof of the use of those tests. Her parents paid for her results to be faked, because she is definitely a magic-user, something that magic-born are not supposed to be.

Then again, magic-born aren’t citizens. They aren’t even treated as people by the government that locks them up at birth.

The times, however, are changing. The number of magic-born is increasing in the general population. That makes the non-magic-born in power very nervous, because they know that their days are numbered. Especially as more and more so-called normals are sympathetic to the magic born, or even worse, are entranced by their magic.

Elizabeth is caught in the cross-fire when the repressive old guard begins fighting their long rearguard campaign of more suppression and more anti-magic-born propaganda.

First, her secret is discovered by the unofficial leader of the Magic-Born underground in her town. Vadim Bazaroz hunts down Elizabeth with the intent of blackmailing her for her cooperation in stealing fake papers for magic users traveling the Underground Railroad to Canada and Mexico.

He finds himself teaching her the magic that her parents made her suppress. Even worse for Vadim, as the smuggler and borderline addict who keeps the magic zone half livable between bribes and escapes, he finds himself drawn to this strong and fragile woman who hurts herself rather than acknowledge what she is.

When the evil powers-that-be attempt to blackmail her into backing their continued suppression, he helps her fight back in every way possible. Not just because she asks, not even because it’s the right thing to do, but because he’s become more addicted to having her in his life than any drug he ever tried.

Escape Rating A+: Witchlight is the middle book in a trilogy. Conditions for the magic-born get very dark at the end, which means that there will hopefully be light at the end of the next tunnel.

There is both a happy and an unhappy ending at the same time. The romance comes to a heartbreaking HEA, but the world it happens in is going to hell in a handcart on the fast track. It made complete sense that things worked this way, but I want book 3 (currently titled Firewall) NOW.

Elizabeth (Lizzie) and Vadim are a fascinating couple to feature in a romance, because neither of them is terribly sympathetic at the beginning. Lizzie is an upper-crust ice princess, and Vadim fully admits that he is a very bad man.

Except that he’s the bad man running the Underground Railroad. The more of him that is revealed, the more we see that he does very bad things for very good reasons. But he’s definitely of the “ends justify the means” school of thought and action.

His initial plan is to blackmail Lizzie to get her on board with saving their people. It’s the wrong thing to do for some very right reasons. Also, she gets the upper hand and subverts the blackmail into a business deal. She has things that she wants, too. The things that Lizzie wants include Vadim, but not just him. In order to make some peace with herself she has to deal with her magic, and not just suppress it.

I find the social, political, economic underpinnings of this world utterly fascinating. It’s not just that the author does a terrific job of portraying “Freaktown” and how it works internally, but that we are also able to see the terrible consequences of the magic-born suppression. The political actions all make a certain kind of bad sense. Those in power want to keep their power, and their power is based on fear of the magic-born. As that fear reduces, the old guard lashes out and tries to maintain their hold through fear-mongering and complete separation of the magic born from the general populace. They want to turn the magic-born into “the other” and then demonize them. The powers that be have also created a police state that suppresses non-magic born as well. They are ugly and brutal and just plain wrong. They are also fighting a rearguard action against the tide of history.

They didn’t have to be anywhere near that stupid, but then, the ones afraid of losing their unjust power often are.

As I said, I want Firewall NOW. The overall story arc is building towards an explosive (probably including actual explosions) climax. I can’t wait!

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

queen of the tearling by erika johansenFormat read: ebook provided by Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genre: fantasy, dystopian
Series: Queen of the Tearling #1
Length: 448 pages
Publisher: Harper
Date Released: July 8, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

On her nineteenth birthday, Princess Kelsea Raleigh Glynn, raised in exile, sets out on a perilous journey back to the castle of her birth to ascend her rightful throne. Plain and serious, a girl who loves books and learning, Kelsea bears little resemblance to her mother, the vain and frivolous Queen Elyssa. But though she may be inexperienced and sheltered, Kelsea is not defenseless: Around her neck hangs the Tearling sapphire, a jewel of immense magical power; and accompanying her is the Queen’s Guard, a cadre of brave knights led by the enigmatic and dedicated Lazarus. Kelsea will need them all to survive a cabal of enemies who will use every weapon—from crimson-caped assassins to the darkest blood magic—to prevent her from wearing the crown.

Despite her royal blood, Kelsea feels like nothing so much as an insecure girl, a child called upon to lead a people and a kingdom about which she knows almost nothing. But what she discovers in the capital will change everything, confronting her with horrors she never imagined. An act of singular daring will throw Kelsea’s kingdom into tumult, unleashing the vengeance of the tyrannical ruler of neighboring Mortmesne: the Red Queen, a sorceress possessed of the darkest magic. Now Kelsea will begin to discover whom among the servants, aristocracy, and her own guard she can trust.

But the quest to save her kingdom and meet her destiny has only just begun—a wondrous journey of self-discovery and a trial by fire that will make her a legend…if she can survive.

My Review:

I don’t often carry books with me when I go out to dinner, but this is one I just couldn’t put down, all 450 pages worth. It also helped that I just saw The Hunger Games movie, so I got where the references were coming from, even though I only saw a teensy bit of resemblance.

The Queen of the Tearling is in the absolutely classic fantasy mold of young person discovers/inherits their throne and powers, and then must figure out a way to be a good ruler with not much training and nearly every hand against them.

It’s a damn good formula when it works, and in The Queen of the Tearling, it definitely worked.

Kelsea Raleigh has been raised in obscurity, not to say anonymity, out in the woods. She wasn’t quite raised by wolves, but rather by an ex-guard and a teacher. Although they’ve prepared her as well as they could, they were forbidden from teaching Kelsea anything about recent history, such as the reign of her late mother Queen Elyssa, and anything that has happened under her uncle’s regency while she was in hiding.

Carlin and Barty hid one hell of a lot of crap. Kelsea’s kingdom, the Tear, exists under the yoke of the Red Queen of Mortmesne, the country next door. And there are lots of people in the nobility who want things to stay just the way they are, because they make money and/or get privilege from the current nasty state of affairs.

Kelsea’s uncle the regent is one of those people. He wants Kelsea dead before she reaches her throne.

How bad are things? The late and not terribly lamented signed a treaty with Mortmesne granting them a title of 3000 slaves every year. There is a lot of money in that slave trade on both sides of the border.

Kelsea, after a life-threatening heart-pounding journey from her cottage to the capitol to take up her throne, disbands the slave-tithe immediately upon arrival and in a flourish of fire. From that moment on, anyone who had any involvement is out to kill her, and the Red Queen mobilizes her army.

Kelsea, mobilizes her people’s hearts and minds, an infinitely stronger force.

Escape Rating A+: The description doesn’t do this one justice. It is simply awesome, and sticks with you long after you’re done.

Kelsea is a fish-out-of-water type of heroine. It’s not that she hasn’t been educated, because she certainly has, but her knowledge is book learning rather than experience, and it can be hard to translate one to another, especially if you’re only 19 and have been isolated all of your life.

The Tear Kingdom is an absolute mess. It seems like all the officials are corrupt, and the people have given up hope of things ever getting better. There’s a saying that “the fish rots from the head down” and in Tear, the Regent couldn’t be any rottener. Elyssa was just weak and stupid, but the Regent is weak, venal, stupid and bought and paid for by the Red Queen.

The contrast between the extreme poverty of the population, and the bizarre excesses of the nobility is one of the places where the descriptions of the Hunger Games universe apply. (Of course, this could also be said for pre-revolutionary France, including the extreme hairstyles).

The tribute of slaves is also a similar point, but it is different in Queen of the Tearling. Not just because thousands of slaves are taken as war repayments, but because the slave tribute is designed to take from every age group, including children and babies. Also because the fate of the slaves is completely shrouded.

Kelsea is the point of view character, and the one that the reader needs to sympathize with if they’re going to enjoy the story. This is Kelsea’s journey from obscurity to living in a fishbowl, from childhood to adulthood, from innocence to knowledge. She makes mistakes along the way, but her heart is always in the right place. She wants to do the right thing, and not just in a fairy tale way. She knows that some things are just too far to be allowed, but that there can be mercy.

She’s conflicted because she recognizes that the right thing can have dire consequences, and still must be done anyway. She’s learning.

The book ends on an upnote, but one that clearly marks the beginning of the conflict between Kelsea and the Red Queen. I want the next book. I want to see how the war goes, with all the starting handicaps faced by the Tearling.

I also want to see more about how this world came about. It is definitely a future version of our world, but it is on Earth. It’s a new continent that rose up out of the sea. But how and when, and why did everyone leave Old America and Old Europe?

Last, there is an enigma character. At first the Fetch seems like a version of Robin Hood, robbing from the rich and living as an exile until the True Monarch arises. But from hints at the end, he is something far older, and possibly not completely human.

This story must continue!

This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews.
***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: Cress by Marissa Meyer

cress by marissa meyerFormat read: print book borrowed from the Library
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genre: young adult science fiction
Series: The Lunar Chronicles #3
Length: 550 pages
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Date Released: February 4, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

In this third book in the Lunar Chronicles, Cinder and Captain Thorne are fugitives on the run, now with Scarlet and Wolf in tow. Together, they’re plotting to overthrow Queen Levana and her army.

Their best hope lies with Cress, a girl imprisoned on a satellite since childhood who’s only ever had her netscreens as company. All that screen time has made Cress an excellent hacker. Unfortunately, she’s just received orders from Levana to track down Cinder and her handsome accomplice.

When a daring rescue of Cress goes awry, the group is separated. Cress finally has her freedom, but it comes at a high price. Meanwhile, Queen Levana will let nothing prevent her marriage to Emperor Kai. Cress, Scarlet, and Cinder may not have signed up to save the world, but they may be the only hope the world has.

My Review:

The Lunar Chronicles are marvelous and suspenseful fractured fairy tales; taking the stories that we all know and love and transporting them into a brave new future with considerably altered versions of the heroines (and heroes).

Scarlet by Marissa MeyerCinder was, of course, all about Cinderella, complete with wicked stepmother and footwear difficulties. Scarlet’s version of Little Red Riding Hoodie was considerably more kick-ass than the original (see review). But Cress takes Rapunzel to new heights–her tower is a satellite orbiting the Earth! She’s so lonely that she programmed a younger version of herself into her computer systems as a companion.

Cress’ purpose on that satellite is both deadly and heartbreaking. It’s Cress’ programming skills that keep the Earthen governments from detecting Lunar ships in orbit. It’s Cress’ hacking skills that let her read the camera feeds from surveillance on all the Earthen officials.

And it’s Cress who was so desperate for approval from her keeper that she allowed the infiltration of Earth by Lunar special operatives who murdered 16,000 people, all to show that the Lunars were unstoppable.

But Cress has been left alone for much too long with only the entertainment and news feeds from Earth to keep her amused, or perhaps that to help her keep her hold on her sanity. She has come to identify with the Earthens, and to see Linh Cinder and her crew of misfits as the only hope for preventing Lunar Queen Levana’s terrifying reign.

And she’s fallen in love with the daring Captain involved in Cinder’s rescue, even though Cress and Carswell Thorne have never met. So Cress uses her programming skills to contact Cinder, to aid and abet Cinder’s continued evasion of the security forces, and to arrange for her own, much needed, rescue.

The rescue turns into a SNAFU of epic proportions. Cress’ evil keeper swoops in at the last moment, and everything goes to hell in a handcart. When the dust settles, Thorne and Cress are left on Cress’ satellite in a dying orbit, Wolf is seriously wounded, and Scarlet is captured. Only Cinder remains relatively unscathed, but it becomes her energy-sapping task to keep Wolf from going on a killing rampage at the loss of his alpha Scarlet.

Cinder still has to stop the wedding of Queen Levana to the unwilling Emperor Kai before she is crowned Empress, while the security forces of every Earthen military and all of Luna are out to find her.

First she rescues Thorne and Cress, then she musters all her available allies for one last chance to save the Emperor, knowing that she will start a war. Leaving Scarlet in the clutches of the Lunars to face a fate that might be much, much worse than death.
As the clock ticks down to doomsday, Cinder takes up the mantle of leadership that she was born to wear.

cinder by marissa meyerEscape Rating B+: While this is Cress’ story, the arc of The Lunar Chronicles series means that it is always Cinder’s story, no matter what else is going on. Cinder has grown a lot from the young, scared, insecure cyborg mechanic we met in Cinder (reviewed here).

It feels important that Cinder is planning to rescue her prince, and not the other way around. This is a story where the females don’t just have agency, but are generally stronger than the males. Cinder rescues Kai, Scarlet is Wolf’s alpha, and Cress, in spite of her awkwardness, is a gutsier person than Thorne.

Not many people would have kept any semblance of sanity under the conditions that were forced on Cress. She managed to keep herself together, and shake off the Stockholm Syndrome of bonding with her jailor and only contact. Her social awkwardness can be overcome, but integrity is forever.

As the story is told, the perspective frequently jumps from one part of the scattered crew to another, from Cinder to Cress to Scarlet and back again. The narrative switches can feel a bit disruptive during the sections where they are all far apart. As the action coalesces into the final plan, the fast changes add to the breathlessness of anticipation.

Poor Scarlet’s fate is still up in the air (or on Luna) but we know where the rest of the crew of leading, even if we have no idea how they’ll make it. We’re left on pins and needles waiting for the final installment, Winter.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.