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Reviews Written by
Jessica Strider (Toronto, Canada)
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Afterparty
Afterparty
by Daryl Gregory
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 19.44
32 used & new from CDN$ 15.70

4.0 out of 5 stars Very interesting characters make this a quirky read, Aug. 26 2014
This review is from: Afterparty (Hardcover)
Pros: complicated & diverse characters, interesting plot

Cons: some far fetched action

Several years ago Lyda was part of a scientific company looking for a drug to cure schizophrenia. But on the night of their success, the team was drugged, and the resultant overdose left one of them dead and the others seeing god. Now in a mental hospital for delusions, Lyda encounters a young woman who’s symptoms resemble those of the drug her team created, NME 110, numenous. In order to stop the drug from spreading in this new world where designer drugs can be printed onto paper and drug parties are de rigueur, Lyda gets herself released to hunt down the remaining members of the team and find out who’s behind it.

Be prepared to reread sections of this book in order to figure out what’s going on. The author cleverly leaves out information that forces you - when you finally realize what’s missing - to reevaluate what’s happening. The first one of these comes at the end of chapter one.

One aspect of the plot was easy to figure out, but other aspects kept me guessing until the very end.

I loved the diversity of the characters and how they each deal with their own… issues. Most of the main characters have a mental problem of some sort, and these get exacerbated by the use - and abuse - of drugs. Lyda, a middle aged black lesbian, is the point of view character for the majority of the book, and has a guardian angel thanks to NME 110. As an atheist and scientist she knows the angel is part of her own psyche, but has to constantly remind herself that it’s not real. Ollie is an ex-intelligence officer, whose abuse of drugs made her paranoid. To counter those effects she must stay on different drugs, ones that dull her senses making it difficult for her to see as well as think analytically. I loved Sasha as a character who overcomes the challenges she faces - both physical and mental - using technology.

With the exception of Sasha, who only comes in towards the end, and perhaps Dr. Gloria, the characters weren’t particularly likeable. They were people dealing with difficult circumstances in realistic ways. Lyda is often angry and demanding, not willing to listen to her conscience if it gets in the way of what she feels she needs to do. At the same time, I didn’t dislike anyone, though Rovil is a bit irritating in how much of a pushover he is when faced with Lyda’s demands.

While I enjoyed watching Lyda get around her medical implant and deal with the Millies, I didn’t believe how things worked out with her getting into the US. It seemed far fetched and over the top. Though, I’m left wondering if Lyda was meant to be an unreliable narrator, and if so, whether her version of events is wilder than what actually happened.

This is an interesting book that looks into drug use, mental disorders, extreme belief systems and more.

Ancient Christian Magic: Coptic Texts of Ritual Power
Ancient Christian Magic: Coptic Texts of Ritual Power
by Marvin W. Meyer
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 38.02
16 used & new from CDN$ 38.02

4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting look into a forgotten aspect of the past, Aug. 15 2014
Pros: good introductions to each section, lots of explanatory notes, variety of texts

Cons: only has a few pictures in instances when illustrations are present in the text

Ritual has long been a part of spiritual practices, Christian or otherwise. These texts, written in the Coptic language of Egypt (invented as a way of transliterating Egyptian heiroglyphs using Greek letters), shows how Christianity amalgamated older traditions of using words as protection against the evils of the world. The texts presented in this book mix Egyptian gods and Christian stories to create amulets, love spells, curses and more.

There’s a fantastic mix of texts presented here, many for the first time in English. There are extensive end notes, though a casual reader will get enough information from the introductions to the individual texts - which are, in some cases, longer than the texts themselves.

It’s interesting seeing the variety of names of power called upon for the different purposes: Mary, Christ, archangels, Biblical figures, ancient gods and more.

My only complaint with the book is that some of the manuscripts included diagrams. In a few cases the translator copied the picture, but in many more cases only a notation stating there was a diagram is included. Actual photographs of some of these manuscript pages would have been welcome to get a feel for how the text and diagrams worked together and to see the original images.

I would advise reading up on the ancient Egyptian religious practices or the Book of Coming Forth by Day (now known as the Book of the Dead) before reading this though, as you’ll get a better idea of how much of the Coptic Christian tradition was borrowed from what came before it.

If you’re interested in magic and ritual practices, and how they developed, this is an interesting book.

A Barricade in Hell
A Barricade in Hell
by Jaime Lee Moyer
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 18.80
35 used & new from CDN$ 12.37

5.0 out of 5 stars A Great Murder Mystery With Ghosts, Aug. 5 2014
This review is from: A Barricade in Hell (Hardcover)
Pros: interesting characters, interesting setting, intricate plot

Cons:

It’s 1917 and though San Francisco’s far from the war in Europe, the war’s affects are felt there. Delia’s become Isadora’s apprentice in dealing with ghosts in order to help with her ‘gift’ of seeing them. But her schooling’s tried by the ghost of a young girl that has started haunting her, which doesn’t seem bound by the normal rules and can’t be banished. Meanwhile, Captain Gabe Ryan and his partner Jack Fitzgerald start investigating a murder that appears to have an occult connection.

This is a murder mystery with ghosts. It’s twist is that the culprit’s discovered fairly early but proving a case against the person, that would hold up in court, proves to be very difficult. The viewpoints alternate between Delia and Gabe, focusing on the troublesome ghosts on the one hand and the murder case on the other. There are a good number of twists and turns and you don’t know who will survive ‘till the end.

I loved all of the characters. They’re well written, with backgrounds that are painful in different ways, making them feel like real people. The protagonists all have understandable motivations for their actions, and while the antagonists’ reasons for doing things aren’t as well defined - until the end - they don’t feel like cookie cutter villains at any point.

You get to see a bit of chinatown and some of the racism the inhabitants there faced. Those scenes were handled carefully and considerately.

It’s the second book in the series, but the books are written episodically, so you can easily pick this up without reading Delia’s Shadow. If you like ghosts and mysteries and good writing, you’ll love this series.

The Lost Girl
The Lost Girl
by Sangu Mandanna
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 14.59
31 used & new from CDN$ 2.16

4.0 out of 5 stars Very Interesting Story, July 28 2014
This review is from: The Lost Girl (Hardcover)
Pros: brilliant characterization, thought provoking premise, heart-wrenching circumstances

Cons: ending didn’t quite work for me

Amarra is an echo, woven by the Loom as a replacement in the event that her original dies. She lives according to a series of rules, which require her to learn her original’s life, wearing the same clothes, reading the same books and having similar experiences. In some countries, including India where her original lives, her existence is illegal. When her original does die, Amarra has to subvert her natural rebellion and give up her chosen name of Eva, and try to be a good echo for once, lest her familiars - Amarra’s parents - decide to end her existence.

This book’s biggest strength is with character development. Amarra/Eva feels so real. I loved that you get to see numerous points of view on how people feel regarding her status as an echo. You see her original’s anger at having to share her life with this copy, the echo’s frustration of having nothing of her own, the familiars’ hopes and despairs over whether the real Amarra’s soul has or hasn’t transferred to her ‘spare’ body, and more. Eva feels horrible lying to people who love Amarra and who deserve to know their friend has died, even as she knows that if they learn the truth, her life will be forfeit.

The story brings up numerous questions, from whether the echoes are human with souls, to what extent a creator has the right to control their creations (the author compares weaving echoes with Frankenstein making his creature), etc. There’s difficult morality here, with characters all reacting to the situation in realistic - if not always honourable - ways.

When things start to go bad they go really, really bad. This is NOT a good public transit read. It would however, make for a fantastic book club book. There’s a lot of discussion potential here.

On the negative side, it surprised me that her guardians, while making sure she wore the same clothes and ate similar foods, etc. as her original wouldn’t make sure Eva’s language choice is also similar. She grows up in England and once she gets to India she has to consciously remember to refer to things the Indian way, so calling television ‘TV’ rather then ‘telly’. Her linguistic choices causes problems and really should have been a consideration in her upbringing.

I also had some issues with the ending. I didn’t quite believe things would go the way they did.

This is a book that will make you think about life and its value. It will make you cry. And while the ending didn’t convince me of its reality, everything else in the book was so honest to how real people act and react in difficult circumstances. It’s a great book and worth reading.

Valour and Vanity
Valour and Vanity
by Mary Robinette Kowal
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 18.80
30 used & new from CDN$ 15.64

5.0 out of 5 stars Awesome series, July 22 2014
This review is from: Valour and Vanity (Hardcover)
Pros: gut-wrenching scenes, interesting situation, fun characters

Cons: they’re helped a surprising amount

Vincent and Jane head to Murano to try to make their verre obscurcie with a local glassmaker. But their ship is waylaid by pirates and things go downhill from there.

This is the fourth book of the Glamourist Histories, and is a great continuation. The couple fall upon bad circumstances and must work hard to regain their former standing. As with the other books there’s a personal mystery that glamour is used to solve.

There were some gut-wrenching scenes in the book as the characters deal with what’s happened.
Despite the grimness of their situation both the protagonists and some of the people they encounter have fun personalities and mostly upbeat attitudes.

I did question the intricacy of some of the plots Vincent and Jane come up with to return their property, especially considering the number of people who offer to help them.

This is a fun series and a great book.

London Belongs to the Alchemist (Class Heroes Book 4)
London Belongs to the Alchemist (Class Heroes Book 4)
Price: CDN$ 5.40

4.0 out of 5 stars Fast plot and great twists, July 15 2014
Pros: fast paced, multiple plotlines, real consequences for decisions, lots of plot twists

Cons:

For Parents: kissing, drug use (with consequences), bullying, gun violence, rioting

Sam and James are back in London returning to school for the first time since the bus bombing that gave them their powers and killed several of their classmates. They’re coerced into attending a party run by the Alchemist, who hands out a new drug called Super D and falls for Sam. Back at school the twins face bullying and their world is turned upside down when Lolly Rosewood comes calling.

This book has a bit of everything: drugs, guns, first love, grounding, bullying, and more. It stays age appropriate, though things get bloodier than I’d expected. Seeing the characters make difficult decisions and then deal with the consequences keeps things real.

Everything’s fast paced and several plotlines interweave to create a complex story where it’s hard to guess what’s going to happen next.

Lolly’s plot arc was very surprising, both in how she was treated by others and also in her personal growth by the end of the story.

This is the 4th book in the Class Heroes series, but not the last, as there are aspects of the story left open at the end of this novel.

Gemsigns
Gemsigns
by Stephanie Saulter
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 16.92
29 used & new from CDN$ 3.60

5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant and Thought-provoking, July 8 2014
This review is from: Gemsigns (Hardcover)
Pros: shows multiple viewpoints of challenging issues, thought-provoking, wide range of interesting characters

Cons: first chapter’s style didn’t work for me

It’s been a year since the Declaration that made it illegal for Gemtech companies to own their genetically modified humans went into effect. In a few days Dr. Eli Walker’s report on wether gems are fundamentally different from unmodified humans will be delivered at a European Conference.

Zavcka Klist of Bel’Natur, one of the main Gemtechs, has a plan to get the gems working again, and earning Bel’Natur more profits. Aryel Morningstar, a petit gem with a disfiguring hump, is the spokeswoman for the gems, savvy and hopeful despite the realities of the challenges ahead. Gabriel is a young boy, found by a gem in Aryel’s community, who has an unusual, and highly desirable, ability.

Tensions are high and, as the conference nears, a godgang starts attacking gems in the streets.

This is a brilliant book. It takes place over 7 days, the last 5 days preceding the conference, the conference itself and the aftermath of Eli’s report. It’s remarkable how much information and how many differing viewpoints Saulter manages to pack into those days. She deals with the necessary background information via reports and news stories, so it feels natural.

There’s a lot of politics going on in the book as various players try to influence Eli and his report. But the author makes sure the complexity of the issues being address is front and centre by showing not only the extremes of positions, but also the concerns of regular people, if mostly through mentions of what’s happening on streaming sites.

The economics of amalgamating a large group of people is also dealt with, both in terms of supporting those who are unable - or unwilling - to work and by showing the reaction of norms when gems ‘steal’ their jobs.

The issues being explored, slavery, humanity, discrimination, acceptance, as well as the gems themselves, with their engineered abilities, reminded me of Karen Sandler’s Tankborn trilogy, but the treatments and tones of the books are wildly different. While Tankborn follows two protagonists who don’t have much power to change things, Gemsigns follows those at the forefront of the politics deciding what laws will be put into affect. Gemsigns was very thought-provoking and relevant with regards to today’s politics, with its social issues (ex: do LGTBQ people deserve the same rights and privileges as their straight neighbours?).

I loved the ending and the fact that I figured out the twist a few pages before it was revealed.

The only complaint I had with the book was the style of the first chapter, which was a bit off-putting for me. After that, the book took off and never stopped.

The Tower Broken: Book Three of the Tower and Knife Trilogy
The Tower Broken: Book Three of the Tower and Knife Trilogy
by Mazarkis Williams
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 18.87
22 used & new from CDN$ 17.08

4.0 out of 5 stars Satisfying Conclusion to the Tower and Knife Trilogy, July 3 2014
Pros: lots of intrigue, complex story, satisfying series ending, great characters

Cons: climax felt rushed, Adam’s motivations at the end were puzzling

Picking up a few months after the events of The Knife Sworn, things are not well in the capital of Cerana. With General Arigu missing Sarmin doesn’t have the full confidence of his army; the High Priest of Herzu is pressuring him to make sacrifices to appease the Gods; Sarmin’s brother is still missing; Mogyrk rebels are loose in the city, setting fires and killing guards; and the Storm, a vast emptiness that swallows all in its path, is almost at the city gates.

Sarmin is forced to make difficult choices to maintain his authority while dealing with numerous threats from both within and without his Empire. A surviver of a Mogyrk pattern attack is kidnapped by Austere Adam because he’s able to read the symbols used in pattern magic. The mages find a crack growing on one of the Tower’s walls. And the Yrkmir army marches on Nooria.

As the conclusion to the Tower and Knife trilogy this book has a lot to accomplish. There are so many things going on and numerous view points to see the action from. Mazarkis does a fantastic job of keeping a coherent narrative, focusing on the essentials while ensuring a feeling of the scale of the Empire and the wide ranging consequences of everyone’s decisions. Each of the major players felt like a complete individual with their own motivations for their actions.

There’s a huge amount of building up to the climax, and the climax as a consequence felt rushed. Indeed, I wondered at one point, if maybe there was a 4th book to the series, as it didn’t seem possible to wrap everything up in time. But Mazarkis did manage to deal with all the major plot threads, and in a satisfying way.

Having said that, I found Austere Adam’s motivations in the final few chapters of the book somewhat puzzling.

There were some minor things that irritated me about the book, the occasional unnecessary repetition, characters doing something odd in one scene, but on the whole I loved this series and highly recommend it.

Deadly Curiosities
Deadly Curiosities
by Gail Z. Martin
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: CDN$ 9.49
28 used & new from CDN$ 1.57

4.0 out of 5 stars Fun series starter, June 24 2014
Pros: interesting plot, varied forms of magic, characters actually work day jobs, satisfying conclusion

Cons: characters feel like Mary Sues, middle of the book had several scenes that follow the same pattern, unnecessary repetition

Cassidy Kincaide is psychometric, able to see images of an item’s past. She inherited the estate auction and antiques shop Trifles and Folly when her uncle, who had a similar power, died a few years back. Along with the store she also inherited her uncle’s silent partner, Sorren, a vampire and member of the Alliance, an organization dedicated to keeping humans safe from dangerous magical artifacts.

When some of the safe items Cassidy sold start haunting a local BnB, she and her co-worker Teag start investigating.

The characters are really interesting, with Cassidy having contacts all over the city with connections that help with her business - both the antique store and when investigating potentially dangerous items. I really appreciated that Cassidy not only owned a store, but she and Teag actually work there. Lots of urban fantasy books mention that characters have jobs but somehow show them with lots of free time to investigate whatever the mystery is. These characters spend their days at work, sometimes it’s slow and they can research and do other things, and sometimes it’s busy and they can’t. But I appreciated the veracity of their situation, that they need money to keep the store and pay rent and so have to do most of their investigative work after hours.

Having said that, they seem remarkably lucky with their investigative work, generally learning pretty quickly what they need to from all the sites and people they visit. Now, the book explains that as due in part to Cassidy’s knowing and having a good relationship with many of the important people in town and the rest is chalked up to her and Teag’s respective magics. Still, they have an uncanny knack of reaching the right conclusion pretty quickly, which, coupled with their martial arts knowledge and ability to get out of sticky situations starts to make them feel Mary Sue-ish.

Another thing I really liked about the book was the varied forms of magic employed. Cassidy can see objects’ pasts, Teag can weave together pieces of information as well as spells, Sorren has the strength and agility of the undead. The book also introduces several other characters with their own powers, a Voodon practitioner, a Viking Seior, and a Gullah root worker. Magic takes its toll on the practitioners and isn’t an infinite pool that be used continuously when facing bad guys.

There is some repetition in how information is portrayed that irked me but probably won’t bother most readers. Something is introduced in one chapter and then expanded on in the next chapter in a way that repeats the previous information.

A more obvious issue is that several scenes in the middle of the book follow the same pattern of checking something out, getting attacked, and getting out of the situation. It happened too often in the same way that I started wondering why they didn’t anticipate the attacks more readily.

There is a highly satisfying end battle and all the plot threads tie up neatly before the book is over. Despite its flaws it’s a fun start to a new series.

Silver
Silver
by Rhiannon Held
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: CDN$ 9.49
37 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Tricky POV protagonist makes this a unique read, June 17 2014
This review is from: Silver (Mass Market Paperback)
Pros: great characterizations, tackles tricky POV

Cons: pack politics seem insane

When the Roanoke wolf pack’s enforcer, Andrew Dare, finds the lone wolf he’s been tracking in their territory, he’s horrified to discover the woman’s been tortured into madness. He vows to help her find a home and take down whoever did this to her before they can strike again.

There are a lot of characters in the book, as several packs of werewolves are mentioned, though the author focuses of a few select people from each pack. Because of all the people mentioned, however briefly, there’s a fantastic variety of temperaments and strength levels shown (ie, some women are dominant, others submissive, one man’s an alpha and a coward, another’s brave but submissive, etc). This allows each character to feel like an individual rather than an archetype in the pack hierarchy (alpha, beta, mate…).

Silver’s character is particularly interesting as she’s able to modify her pack status depending on the result she needs from those around her. But her manipulations are only possible when she’s lucid enough to use them. Which she isn’t, most of the time. The author treats her madness with care, showing that, though she’s not always aware of her surroundings, she’s still a person with her own will and the right to make decisions for herself. This is particularly important when her lucidity improves and people refuse to listen to her because all they see is the madwoman she was (and may be again). I loved that it wasn’t clear if Silver’s visions of Death were hallucinations (as Andrew believes) or a real manifestation of their religion’s embodiment of evil.

Silver’s physical disabilities, particularly her arm that no longer works, are also dealt with well. Her acceptance of her new limitations and lack of depression and self-pity are directly contrasted when another character is injured at the end of the book. She’s shown as a character with true strength, despite her limitations.

I liked that the romantic elements were understated and felt real rather than forced. The romance enters late and encounters realistic roadblocks caused by the plot and the problems the characters face.

Werewolves aren’t my favourite subjects because I find the pack politics of dominance and ‘no one matters outside our pack’ mentality insane and unsustainable. Most of the problems in the book could have been solved easier and faster had the various packs communicated what was wrong. The book therefore caused a bit of cognitive dissonance for me as I tried to wrap my head around how their system worked and railed against it’s stupidity. And I acknowledge that this is my problem not the book’s.

On the whole I enjoyed the book and am interested to see how things progress in Reflected.

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