Guest Post by Author Brooke Johnson: More Steampunk + Giveaway

If you can’t get enough steampunk after reading today’s featured book, The Brass Giant, author Brooke Johnson has a few more series that will keep you in the steampunk mood until we can discover Petra and Emmerich’s next adventures. And this reader would also include Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles, starting with Cinder. Read my review of The Brass Giant to see why.

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Young Adult Steampunk Series You Absolutely Must Read
According to Brooke Johnson

The Leviathan Trilogy (Leviathan, Behemoth, Goliath)
          By Scott Westerfeld
leviathan trilogy by scott westerfieldWesterfeld’s Leviathan trilogy is a page-turning adventure set in an alternate timeline where science has evolved in two distinct ways: mechanical inventions and guided biological evolution, divided between the Clankers and the Darwinists, respectively. The science is at times fantastic and alien, but it is seamlessly entwined into the setting, creating this multifaceted world that almost seems like a completely different reality, not just an alteration of our own. The whole series is rife with conflict, science, and mayhem, and filled with a number of colorful characters: Deryn, the brash young airman in disguise; Alek, son of Archduke Ferdinand; and the brilliant Dr. Nora Barlow, female scientist and the granddaughter of Charles Darwin himself, easily my favorite character in the series, hands down. Nikola Tesla even makes an appearance in the third and final book of the series. It’s a must read for anyone who loves steampunk, biopunk, historical science fiction, and military-focused novels.

The Infernal Devices (Clockwork Angel, Clockwork Prince, Clockwork Princess)
          By Cassandra Clare
infernal devices by cassandra clareThe Infernal Devices trilogy falls under the gaslamp fantasy subgenre of steampunk, focusing less on the science—much of the steampunk elements are brought together with magic—and more on the paranormal Victorian setting, but it still delivers a wonderfully engaging story. The trilogy follows Tessa, a girl with the power to transform into others—a power others would kill to possess—and her time with the Shadowhunters, warriors dedicated to ridding the world of demons. There is romance aplenty as Tessa is drawn toward and torn between boorish, blue-eyed Will and fragile, silver-haired Jem, and there is plenty of teen angst to go along with the save-the-world plot. I enjoyed the series  immensely, and each book is better than the one before. Definitely recommended for anyone who is looking for something dark, romantic, tragic, and magical set in a surreal Victorian London.

The Finishing School Series (Etiquette & Espionage, Curtsies & Conspiracies, Waistcoats & Weaponry, Manners & Mutiny)
          By Gail Carriger
etiquette and espionageSophronia is a kick-ass heroine with an unfathomable sense of adventure, and I immediately fell in love with the characters and setting the moment I started reading. I mean, this is a story that takes place in a flying school for assassin ladies. What’s not to love? This series relies on an equal measure of fantastic and mechanical throughout the books, instead of heavily erring on the side of magic like many other paranormal steampunk fantasy novels. I haven’t read Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series, but Sophronia’s adventures are set in the same alternate version of Victorian England as those books. It’s extraordinarily silly and a lot of fun to read. I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to read more books with  tomboy heroines, assassins, mad scientists, unusual schools, and a lot of humor.

Brooke JohnsonAbout Brooke: Brooke is a stay-at-home mom, amateur seamstress, RPG enthusiast, and art hobbyist, in addition to all that book writing. As the jack-of-all-trades bard of the family, she adventures through life with her fiercely-bearded paladin of a husband, their daughter the sticky-fingered rogue, and their cowardly wizard of a dog, with only a sleep spell in his spellbook.
They currently reside in Northwest Arkansas, but once they earn enough loot and experience, they’ll build a proper castle somewhere and defend against all manner of dragons and goblins, and whatever else dares take them on.
For More Information
Visit Brooke at her website, or on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+


Brooke and Harper Voyage Impulse are giving away a $25 Gift Card!
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Review: The Brass Giant by Brooke Johnson

brass giant by brooke johnsonFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: ebook
Genre: steampunk
Series: Chroniker City #1
Length: 236 pages
Publisher: Harper Voyager Impulse
Date Released: May 5, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo

Sometimes, even the most unlikely person can change the world

Seventeen-year-old Petra Wade, self-taught clockwork engineer, wants nothing more than to become a certified member of the Guild, an impossible dream for a lowly shop girl. Still, she refuses to give up, tinkering with any machine she can get her hands on, in between working and babysitting her foster siblings.

When Emmerich Goss—handsome, privileged, and newly recruited into the Guild—needs help designing a new clockwork system for a top-secret automaton, it seems Petra has finally found the opportunity she’s been waiting for. But if her involvement on the project is discovered, Emmerich will be marked for treason, and a far more dire fate would await Petra.

Working together in secret, they build the clockwork giant, but as the deadline for its completion nears, Petra discovers a sinister conspiracy from within the Guild council … and their automaton is just the beginning.

My Review:

The story outline is a familiar one, but the steampunk setting changes up some of the elements in some very interesting ways.

The plot is simple – underprivileged girl with big dreams meets highly privileged guy who will help her realize her dreams, but only if she helps him with super-secret project. This is a society where no one believes that women have intelligence or capability, so no one important will suspect she is really helping him. And of course they fall in love, and get caught, not necessarily in that order, and discover that the entire enterprise is much more serious, and much, much more dangerous, than they ever imagined.

Add in one final element – that underprivileged girl is an orphan, who turns out to be the heir of someone very, very special.

The steampunk setting gives us somewhat of a time and place reference. Chroniker City is definitely in England (that turns out to be important later) and it is a university town like Oxford or Cambridge. It isn’t London, because London is referred to as the capitol far away.

As steampunk, The Brass Giant is set in a quasi-Victorian era. There is a queen on the throne, and some of the historical worthies who have their portraits in the great hall are familiar, most notably Charles Babbage, inventor of the difference engine that evolved into computers in our world.

In the late Victorian era, England was playing what has been called “The Great Game”, an undercover war of diplomacy and proxies. In the Chroniker City world, their main rival seems to be France instead of Russia. But then again, Britain and France were perpetual rivals, from the point where Henry II and his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine ruled England in 1154 until well after the end of the Napoleonic Wars of the early 1800s. This was a conflict that never seemed to end.

Petra Wade is an orphan. She works as a shop girl in a pawnshop, and has learned how to be a fantastically good practical engineer with the help of the clockmaker who co-owns the shop. More than anything else, she wants to become a Guild Engineer, but that dream is forbidden. Guild Engineers must graduate from the University, and women are allowed in neither the University nor the Guild.

But Petra wants more than her life is mapped out to be. In spite of constant humiliation, she pursues her dream, even attempting to enter the University pretending to be male. All she faces is more and more embarrassment.

Until one young Guild Engineer, Emmerich Goss, discovers her talent. He needs her help to build a giant automaton. It’s a top secret project for the Guild, and he can’t enlist the aid of anyone they might suspect. The project is so secret that it is treason for Emmerich to reveal it. So of course he does.

Petra is good at clockworks, and Emmerich has invented a remote control mechanism. Together, they create a marvel. Only to discover that someone plans to use their great invention to start a war. And that Emmerich is forced to save Petra’s life by condemning her as a traitor.

They say you always hurt the one you love. Emmerich finds that true in more ways than one.

Escape Rating B: This is fun steampunk. While there is a romance between Petra and Emmerich, it is very sweet and almost innocent for most of the book. Petra falls in love for the first time because Emmerich both shares her interests and treats her as an equal. Emmerich loves her brilliance and her dedication. They are good together.

One of the plot twists in the story is that the orphaned Petra is the daughter of the city’s founder and first engineer, Lady Adelaide Chroniker. Which both makes Petra kind of a secret princess and puts the lie to the current Guild malarkey that only men can become engineers.

The way that Petra and Emmerich find each other, and all the political secrets they get stuck dealing with, along with Petra’s lineage, reminded me more than a bit of Marissa Meyer’s Cinder. (The original version of The Brass Giant came out before Cinder was published, so this is an interesting coincidence that just shows that great plots can come out of the same seed with no knowledge of each other).

While I like Petra as the heroine a lot, she is also an example of the plucky heroine who always “knows” that she doesn’t belong in the place where tragedy has dropped her.

On that other hand, one of the characters who seemed a bit too bad to be true was her childhood friend Tolly. Although they were clearly playmates as little children, when they grew up Tolly became an overbearing bully who spouted the same filth and degradation about women as his father, and then blamed Petra for not choosing him over Emmerich. The scene where Tolly attempts to beat and rape Petra into compliance, blaming her for his thuggery, came out a bit too much like a modern-day Men’s Rights Activist. He’ll give Petra everything she ought to want if she’ll just give in, and he’ll beat her until she admits that he’s right and it’s all her fault he has to beat her.

The plot that Petra and Emmerich find themselves caught in the middle of is suitably politically underhanded. Someone wants to start a war, and is looking for plausible causes and convenient scapegoats. The way that Petra and Emmerich try to either escape the evil clutches or foil the plot has many hair-raising moments, but is ultimately unsuccessful in the main. The small victories give Petra and Emmerich (and their readers) hope for the future..

They will live to fight another day. I’m looking forward to reading their further adventures.

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***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.

Interview with Author Suzanne Selfors + Chocolate Giveaway!

By now, everyone is salivating in anticipation of today’s interview with Suzanne Selfors. Her fairy-tale romance, The Sweetest Spell, is a marvelous re-telling of King Midas, Rumpelstiltskin and The Ugly Duckling all rolled into one delicious chocolate covered treat. (See my review for details). If you want a chance to win a copy of Suzanne’s fairy tale, head on over to Book Lovers Inc, there’s a contest to win a copy of her book going on until Sept. 29.

Now if you want a chance for some delicious, delectable chocolate, to celebrate Suzanne’s book about the magic of chocolate, read on!

Marlene: Suzanne, can you please tell us a bit about yourself?

Suzanne: I’m the mother of two—my son just left for his first year of college. I started writing my first novel when I was 39. I’m the fifth generation of my family to live on my little island. I love dogs. Oh, and chocolate.

Marlene: Most of your previous books have had at least one foot in contemporary life. What inspired you to slip all the way into the fantasy genre for The Sweetest Spell?

Suzanne: Well, I also write for younger kids and those books tend to be much more fantastical in nature. This idea was bouncing around in my head, to retell the King Midas story. I toyed with the idea of using a contemporary setting, but I’ve always wanted to write a fairy tale. So I took the leap.

Marlene: Describe a typical day of writing? Are you a planner or pantser?

Suzanne: Before I start a new novel, I always know the beginning of the story and the ending. But the journey between is the adventure. For me, trying to chart the story before it’s written is a waste of time and honestly, kills the joy.

I typically write at my favorite coffeehouse where there’s just enough white noise and great music to keep me going. Plus they provide great coffee and the dark chocolate sticks. I can’t write at home. I get distracted by all the stuff that needs to be done.

Marlene: What can we expect of The Sweetest Spell?

Suzanne: An entertaining, fast-paced, romantic tale. A girl to cheer for, a boy to fall in love with. And all the fairy-tale elements we’ve come to love—a faraway kingdom, a prince, a cruel queen, a hero who must grapple with her destiny.

And some deeper meaning, too. I wanted to explore the theme of greed. What a perfect time to do this, since we are surrounded by a culture of greed. I ask the question, what would you do if you had nothing and suddenly had everything, but at great cost to those you love?

Marlene: Would you like to share your favorite scene from the book with us?

Suzanne: I love the scene where we first meet the arrogant but dashing Griffin Boar. He’s the neighbor boy who’s spent his life ignoring our hero, Emmeline Thistle. He falls off his horse because he’s staring at himself in a mirror while riding.

Marlene: Why did you pick chocolate as the precious delicacy for the book? Why not something else? (Not that chocolate isn’t precious…)

Suzanne: So as I said earlier, I wanted to retell the King Midas story. Midas was the guy who touched everything and it turned to gold. He became very rich but in the end was miserable because he couldn’t touch those he loved without killing them. I started writing but soon discovered that I felt very little passion for the story. Gold wasn’t doing it for me. I was bored.

Then one night, when my daughter and I went on a rampage, searching every inch of our house for a morsel of chocolate and finding NOTHING!, I realized, chocolate is all about desire, longing, passion. So that’s when I decided to give Emmeline the magical gift of making chocolate.

Marlene: What’s your favorite food…?

Suzanne: Well, I eat dark chocolate most every day. It’s a true addiction. And I love blueberries. I pick them in the summer and keep bags of them in the freezer.

Marlene: What was the first moment you know you wanted to write?

Suzanne: I’ve been creating stories my whole life but I didn’t attempt a novel until the morning my daughter got onto the school bus to begin first grade. It was that morning, I was 39 and facing my 40th birthday, feeling my mortality and it struck me like a lightning bolt. I need to do this thing. I need to write and try to get published.

Marlene: What book do you recommend everyone should read and why?

Suzanne: My book? Well, of course I recommend The Sweetest Spell because it will appeal to all ages.

Someone else’s book? There’s this book called A Little History of the World by E.H. Gombrich. He turns history into story. I recommend it to everyone.

Marlene: What’s next on your schedule? Do you have any upcoming projects you would like to share?

Suzanne: I’m busy, that’s for sure. In November the 3rd book in the Smells Like Dog trilogy releases. It’s called Smells Like Pirates. Then in 2013, I have two new series releasing, one for Little,Brown, the other for Harper Collins. These are all for younger readers.

Marlene: Now can you tell us 3 reasons why people should read your books?

Suzanne: First and foremost, they are fun. Entertainment is my goal. Funny and filled with hope.

Marlene: Speaking of precious substances, coffee or tea?

Suzanne: Oh, coffee. Espresso. One shot with nonfat milk. Daily.


In celebration of the magic of chocolate in The Sweetest Spell, Suzanne is giving a chocolate gift to one lucky commenter (US only). All you have to do is fill in the rafflecopter form and answer Suzanne’s question:

What’s your favorite kind of chocolate? This can be your favorite chocolate dessert, or whether you like dark chocolate or milk chocolate better.

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Review: The Sweetest Spell by Suzanne Selfors

Format read: print ARC provided by the Author
Formats available: Hardcover, ebook
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy Romance, Fairy Tale Romance
Length: 416 pages
Publisher: Walker & Company
Date Released: August 21, 2012
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository

Emmeline Thistle, a dirt-scratcher’s daughter, has escaped death twice–first, on the night she was born, and second, on the day her entire village was swept away by flood. Left with nothing and no one, Emmeline discovers her rare and mysterious ability–she can churn milk into chocolate, a delicacy more precious than gold.

Suddenly, the most unwanted girl in Anglund finds herself desired by all. But Emmeline only wants one–Owen Oak, a dairyman’s son, whose slow smiles and lingering glances once tempted her to believe she might someday be loved for herself. But others will stop at nothing to use her gift for their own gains–no matter what the cost to Emmeline.

Magic and romance entwine in this fantastical world where true love and chocolate conquer all.

I dare you not to think about The Princess Bride when you read this. I mean it. Except that the roles are reversed. Griffin Boar is Buttercup and Emmeline is Westley, and theirs is NOT a love for the ages.  The love story comes later.

It’s just that The Sweetest Spell invokes that same “fairy tale told for adults” quality, which is not a bad thing.

On the surface, the story seems simple. Emmeline was born with a “curled” foot. In a village where everyone has to work physically hard to make enough to eat, disabled babies are routinely left out to die. But the cows saved her. And cows keep saving her throughout her life.

Emmeline is destined for greater things, as is obvious to the reader. But only if she survives all the adversities that life keeps throwing at her.

It’s all a part of the greater plan to give chocolate back to the world. Oh yes, the chocolate.

Imagine a world without chocolate. It hurts, doesn’t it?

There’s the simple story, that to bring the gift of chocolate, and is it ever a gift, back to the world, Emmeline has to be put through a lot of adventures to get to the right place at the right time.

But there’s also something very sly about the fact that in order for chocolate to come back, Emmeline has to share her gift. At first, only she can make chocolate. All of her adventures occur because she is the only person in the world who has the magic. But the magic went away because it was withheld. Emmeline figures out that the only way it will stay is if she shares it as widely as possible.

Providentially for her, it’s the only way she can be free from the evil queen who wants to imprison her for life. And the only way Emmeline can free her entire people.

Escape Rating B+: The Sweetest Spell is a contemporary-written fairy-tale. Which means that it has all of our knowledge of fairy tales to draw upon as we read it. So yes, I couldn’t help but think of The Princess Bride, even though it isn’t quite that. It had that flavor, pardon the pun.

But also a touch of Rumpelstiltskin, even though Emmeline was churning cream into chocolate, rather than spinning straw into gold. Along with a tiny bit of Shrek. The capital of the kingdom sounded way too much like the Kingdom of Duloc in the first Shrek movie. Maybe that was just me, or maybe it was the sense of the brittle facade over the corruption that made me think of Lord Farquaad.

One of the things I liked was that Emmeline doesn’t wait for anyone to rescue her. She gets depressed, she cries, she gets morose. In some of the situations she ends up in, those are logical responses. But she keeps on the lookout for the next chance to rescue herself.

With a little bovine assistance.

This was originally posted at Book Lovers Inc.

***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 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.

Ebook Review Central, Hexapub, July 2012

This week on Ebook Review Central we have the multi-publisher wrap-up of July 2012. After this week, we’ll move on to the August titles for the publishers that ERC turns its eagle eye (or beady eye, take your pick) upon.

But until next week, it’s still mid-summer. I’m in Atlanta, Georgia, it IS still summer. We’re looking at the July 2012 titles from Amber Quill Press, Astraea Press, Curiosity Quills, Liquid Silver Books, and Riptide Publishing. Red Sage Publishing would normally be in that list, but they didn’t publish any new titles in July. That didn’t keep their titles from the previous months from garnering some new reviews, and the database has been updated to reflect those.

The surprising thing about this week’s featured titles is that Riptide did not run away with the reviews. They weren’t even in contention for running away with the featured list. Don’t get me wrong, they absolutely earned their first place spot on the list. Someone will need to pick me up off the floor the day Riptide doesn’t earn one place on the list, even with six publishers’ titles in contention. It’s just rare that they don’t look to take all three spots.

This week they weren’t even close to taking all three spots. First place however, was all theirs.

Cat Grant’s Doubtless, published by Riptide, absolutely ran away with first place. Any book that generates enough heat to get 21 people to post reviews (and remember that I’m talking about reviews outside of Goodreads and Amazon!) has got to be worth taking a look at. Doubtless is the followup to Grant’s May standout title, Priceless, another ERC feature, and follows the same characters. What Doubtless is not, as so many reviewers were careful to say, is a typical HEA. What it is, however, is a “compelling journey of self-awareness” as one reviewer so eloquently put it. Steve Campbell is professionally successful and personally miserable at the beginning of the book. It’s not until after his first encounter with Dylan Monroe, a confident and self-assured male escort, that Steve begins to realize that the reason he’s lonely is because he’s been looking in the wrong direction.

The second book in this week’s feature is also a sequel, and also from that same May list. Wilde’s Army by Krystal Wade is the second book in her Darkness Falls series from Curiosity Quills. The first book in this YA genre-bender (part paranormal romance, part urban fantasy) was Wilde’s Fire, and it was the absolute runaway of the May titles. It’s no surprise that so many of the readers who were caught up in the story of the girl who actually traveled to the magical world she dreamed of wanted to continue the adventure. And what an adventure it is! The adventure continues at an incredibly fast pace, and it’s even more difficult to figure out which are the good guys, and which are the bad guys. No one, and it seems like no one, can stand the suspense until book three comes out.

Imagine a world where your spine might be a precious commodity, but not necessarily the rest of you. Did a shiver just run up your…spine? That’s just a tiny hint of the action in Michael Shean’s Bone Wires, the third featured title this week, also from Curiosity Quills. Bone Wires is, dare I say it, a curious mix of Biopunk, Cyberpunk and dark science fiction with just that touch of urban fantasy. Or at least the part of urban fantasy that involves solving nasty crimes in an urban setting. It’s just that this particular setting is in the far future, and being a cop is a job that ranks somewhere below street-sweeping. Both involve taking out the trash in Shean’s not-so-brave new world. Shean’s description of a future America where police forces are operated not by the government, but by private corporations sounds, just a little too close to the possible.

So there you have it for this week, and for July 2012. One runaway feature for Riptide with Cat Grant’s Doubtless, and two solid hits for Curiosity Quills with Wilde’s Army and Bone Wires.

Ebook Review Central will be back next week with Carina Press’ August 2012 titles. It looks like I get to go back to baseball metaphors for a while. My hometown Cincinnati Reds clinched their division.


Interview with Author Irina Lopatina on Siberian Seasons

[image of Irina Lopatina]

Today’s guest on Reading Reality is Irina Lopatina. She is here to tell us a little bit about her writing life, and her life in Siberia. And, of course, to talk about her fascinating debut epic fantasy, White Raven: the Sword of Northern Ancestors.

But before you take a look at the review, let’s hear from Ms. Lopatina …

Marlene: Please tell us a little about yourself. What is life like in Siberia?

Irina: On the one hand, when living in Siberia, you are in quite civilized conditions. For example, like many others here, I grew up in a comfortable apartment house, went to kindergarten and to school, studied at the university and had interesting work. But once you move away from the town, away from usual tourist routes, you find yourself in a completely different world, in the world that existed millions of years before you and that is able to progress even if there are no humans here at all. Siberia is so majestic that it quickly corrects people’s idea about themselves as “kings of nature.”

Marlene: Could you describe a typical day of writing? Do you work from a detailed outline or do you just let the writing flow wherever it takes you?

Irina: Yes, when I work I always have a plan; it is not too detailed but supports the logic of the plot. First and foremost, this plan is made in order to “fix” the story, because if I let the writing flow freely, I will certainly confuse myself and my readers. It is sometimes difficult to control one’s own imagination. 😉

Marlene: What is your favorite scene in White Raven?

Irina: I like the moments when Vraigo wanders in the forest and communicates with evil forest creatures. For example, I like the scene with the yaga. This forest witch turned out to be an amusing character who is supposed to be extremely evil, but in fact she is not. She is a sort of old grumpy neighbor who knows everything about everybody and is sometimes even ready to play pranks, but overall, she is a pretty charming creature. There is a role of a comic old woman in the Russian theater. My yaga would succeed in such a role.

Marlene: You’ve done something unusual in White Raven, you’ve taken your fantasy characters and brought them to the modern 21st century for part of the story. What inspired you to make this twist in your epic fantasy?

[book cover for White Raven]Irina: Yes, there are quite conflicting opinions of this turn of events. However, this travel to our time is an essential and logical part of the White Raven story. It is not caused by a desire to show originality, especially because such ideas are quite widespread in literature and in cinema. One of the key questions that are raised throughout the story is that of magic. Let us suppose that there was magic in ancient times (all the legends and myths tell us about this)–– where did it disappear from our world? While in the 21st century, Vraigo finds only small remnants of this miracle, which are concentrated in certain ancient objects, places and people with special abilities. Honestly, I really wanted to think about this subject, and looking at the matter from two points of view (the ancient hero and our contemporary friend) seemed to me more complete.

Marlene: You’ve said that you tried not to follow the style of other authors, but who are your favorites?

Irina: If we talk about fantasy, I like the brothers Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, Stanislaw Lem, and Ursula Le Guin. But I don’t think it is necessary to mimic their style.

Marlene: You’ve said that you enjoy traveling. Is there any special place that you’ve always dreamed of traveling to? Why that place?

Irina: Actually, I almost never travel to any particular destination. My style of traveling is rather a journey or cruise. I want to see everything. Perhaps, ideally, I want to go on a world tour!

Marlene: What projects do you have planned for the future?

Irina: As a rule, I do not talk about my unfinished projects. It is difficult to discuss what doesn’t yet have its final form. But each of these projects has some sort of a key idea that makes its way through the texture of the story. In White Raven it was a struggle (perhaps, that is why the story turned out to be trilogy – the process of struggle is endless), but now I would really like to write about freedom.

Marlene: Where do you see yourself in five years?

Irina: As usual, at my computer. 😉

Marlene: The seasons in Siberia are extremely different from one another. Which one is your favorite?

Irina: Well, I have a rather complex attitude about seasons. I love each of them, and I always look forward to them. I look forward to the first snowfall, and then the time the snow will melt. I wait impatiently for summer, which manages to annoy me in the end. And, in fact, who will endure six months of cold winter? Or the unbearable summer heat with the very distant prospect of New Year holidays? There is a song in Russia: “I always miss something – winter, summer, autumn, spring.”

What an interesting song! But the weather sounds a lot like Anchorage, and I don’t think I ever missed those six months of winter, although some people must have. 😉

Thank you so much for being such a terrific guest!

Review: White Raven, the Sword of Northern Ancestors by Irina Lopatina

There is a fine tradition in epic fantasy of young men with wizardly mentors who go off in search of magic swords. The mentors usually die much too soon, and those swords are necessary to fight off unspeakable evil. Irina Lopatina’s debut novel, White Raven adds some wintry new elements to that fine old tradition.

And so she should be. The folk traditions that Ms. Lopatina draws her inspirations from are  not the usual Celtic flavor. Ms. Lopatina’s tales are much colder and wilder, from the seasonal swings of her native Siberia.

But the epic begins with a young prince, Vraigo, and an old wizard, Agar. Vraigo is a prince, the nephew of Vlady, Grand Duke of Areya, the great northern land. Agar’s death by magic is the first strike in a long war. Monsters have come to Areya, not in ones or twos, but great hordes of them.

There is, of course, a great sword, Urart, to fight the black monsters. Urart is a magical artifact, its power greatest against the unnatural foes. But these monster hordes have an intelligence–something is driving them. And they find a way to infiltrate the palace and steal Urart. With it, they steal any hope the humans, and other free peoples, have of defeating them.

Vraigo is a young man. He has not followed the path that his uncle expects of him. Instead of becoming a war leader, he spends his time in the forests, exploring with the druids and learning the ways of the forest creatures. He knows that the monsters are stronger than even his uncle suspects. But because he has not exactly been an obedient nephew or subject, no one is willing to listen to him.

Vraigo is also a magic user, if somewhat untutored. Magic users are not totally trusted; another strike against him. So when the great sword goes missing, Vraigo knows exactly what he must do, he must follow the trail and get it back, wherever that might lead. No matter how unfamiliar or magical a place the evil thief might have taken it.

Even if that place is as strange as 21st century Earth.

Escape Rating B: There were times when Vraigo reminded me of another young hero with a wizard mentor and a magic sword, a fellow named Arthur Pendragon, but that’s a different tradition. Also a little bit of Luke Skywalker. Which only goes to show that this hero’s journey is universal. (Even Harry Potter if you squint)

What makes White Raven stand out from the crowd is the setting and the mythology. On this side of the world we don’t see much fantasy based on Russian or Slavic myths, so the new-to-us landscape and bestiary is cool and different. Everything sparkles a bit because the world works slightly differently. Climate changes a lot.

Vraigo’s fish-out-of-water tale when he ports to 21st century Siberia makes for a fun switch on the fantasy. It also involves an entirely different set of characters in a way that will probably come up later in the series, because it seems like the author is foreshadowing that the forces behind the monsters are planning to branch out to other worlds than Vraigo’s original one. They are evil with a capital “E”.

At the same time, there are a lot of plot points going on. Vraigo’s story is a big one. Evil is on the march. Vraigo is involved with the druids, the forest people, and he is the nephew of the Grand Duke. There are political implications. Vraigo has three cousins, one of whom is the heir to the Grand Duchy, one is a magic user. And more politics. And lots of magic theory into the bargain.

Then the story moves to 21st century Earth, adding yet more complication. There was probably enough material for two whole books here. This is good epic fantasy, but perhaps it would have been that much better if it had been allowed to be a bit more epic.

The Sunday Post AKA What’s On My (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand? 8-12-12

Have blog, will travel. I’m in Pittsburgh, PA, and the HP Notebook Smart Power Adapter turns out to be both smart and pretty darn adaptable.

We’re in Pittsburgh for a family re-union (part of me wants to type family “re-onion”–layers, tears–and it’s not even my family) and I only packed half the power adapter for the laptop. These things happen in the best families.

Best Buy is everywhere. Us geeks really have taken over the world. Spare power adapters don’t actually SAY they cover a two-year old laptop. But the HP turns out to be universal. Here we are.

And is there ever a ton of stuff going on at Reading Reality! After the usual Monday Madness that is Ebook Review Central, there will be three author interviews this week. What was I thinking?

Tuesday my guest will be Jane Kindred, the author of The Fallen Queen and The Midnight Court, the first two parts of her House of Arkhangel’sk trilogy. Jane’s going to talk about angels and demons, politics and history, love and kink, and the Snow Queen. Intrigued? Stop by on Tuesday.


While this isn’t quite Russia week, my guest on Wednesday will be Irina Lopatina, who doesn’t just write about Russian folklore, she actually lives in Siberia. Really, truly. As part of a tour from TLC Books, I had the opportunity to interview her as well as review her debut fantasy, White Raven: The Sword of Northern Ancestors.


Things should warm up a bit (a lot!) on Thursday, when my guest will be Eve Langlais, for an interview and a review of her latest book, A Demon and His Witch. All of Eve’s stories are on the steamy side, but Demon is the start of Eve’s new series, Welcome to Hell, so, I expect things to be nice and toasty heading into the weekend.

As if Atlanta hasn’t been hot enough this summer!

Ebook Review Central, Amber Quill, Astraea, Curiosity Quills, Liquid Silver, Red Sage, Riptide, May 2012

This Ebook Review Central issue covers the May 2012 titles for a whole host of publishers; Amber Quill Press (all its bits), Astraea Press, Curiosity Quills, Liquid Silver Books, Red Sage Publishing and Riptide Publishing.

And another month ends. Next week, we’ll start the June coverage and begin inching up on the calendar again, but not too close.

Because of the continuing mess surrounding the “Stop the GR Bullies site” and the whole discourse about whether posting a bad review, even a snarky bad review, constitutes bullying. I’d like to point out a very professional exchange of comments between one reviewer of Rachel Van Dyken’s Upon a Midnight Dream and the author, the publisher and the publicist. The exchange occurred at Books with Benefits and concerned both the book and the cover art. While the cover art review was intentionally snarky, the book review was well-written but not a positive review of the book. However, both reviews referred to the work and not the person and the entire discussion on all sides remained totally professional and positive in tone.

(For those looking for an interesting, well-written and snarky author’s take on this mess, I recommend John Scalzi’s post, “Bad Reviews: I Can Handle Them, and So Should You“)

Back to Ebook Review Central.

The number one featured book was a complete surprise. Curiosity Quills published one title in May. And, as is usual for them, it’s a genre-bender. Part paranormal romance, part urban fantasy, and a touch of YA. And it’s book one in a series, so there will be more. I’m talking about Wilde’s Fire by Krystal Wade, the first book in her Darkness Falls series. The concept is a classic; a girl dreams of a magical world, then leads her sister and her best friend through a portal, and discovers that magical world is real. But it’s not a dream, it’s a nightmare after all. Reviewers were all over the map on Wilde’s Fire, every rating imaginable from 5/5 to DNF (way more reviews on the high side!). But so very many people read it and wrote about it, equally passionately. When 32 reviewers take the time to review something, not including reviews on Goodreads and Amazon, it’s absolutely worth taking a look at.

Featured book number two this week is from Riptide Publishing. All four of the titles Riptide published in May were from their Rentboys Collection, but the one that stood out for the reviewers was Priceless by Cat Grant. This blend of three tropes really pulled at reviewers heartstrings because of the power of the writing. Trope number one is the nerd romance. Professor Connor Morrison is so busy with both his physics professorship and the technical firm that he and his best friend are trying to get launched that he doesn’t have time for relationships. He’s too busy and too driven. Wes Martin is a student at Connor’s college. With no scholarship and no family behind him, Wes does whatever he has to do to graduate, even hooking through a website. But they keep running into each other, some of those meetings orchestrated by Connor’s business partner. Connor doesn’t have time for a relationship, and Wes doesn’t want Connor to find out that some of his johns rough him up. A lot.  A major wake-up call about what’s really important in life, and some serious rescuing made this book shine for a lot of readers.

The final book in this feature is Dirk’s Love by Marisa Chenery, published by Liquid Silver Books. Dirk’s Love is book six in the Roxie’s Protectors series, giving it that built-in audience that often has reviewers chomping at the bit for a book. Dirk is a werewolf, and this story is absolutely a paranormal romance, but with a cyber twist. Dirk has created an online matchmaking service for werewolves to find their soul mates. It turns out that his one employee is his soul mate. Looks like the service works. The only problem is that Ryann’s ex-husband has other ideas. And when Ryann discovers that Dirk is a werewolf, it takes her a while to decide that the wolf is not a monster after all.

That’s a wrap for this week’s Ebook Review Central. We’ll be back next week with the Carina Press June 2012 feature.

I have a question for you! Can you think of a great title for this multi-publisher group post? The title up there is a really long mouthful. Please help me out by posting your ideas in the comments.