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Reviews Written by
Jessica Strider (Toronto, Canada)
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False Hearts: A Novel
False Hearts: A Novel
by Laura Lam
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 25.79
26 used & new from CDN$ 12.49

4.0 out of 5 stars Unique SF mystery, July 19 2016
This review is from: False Hearts: A Novel (Hardcover)
Pros: great characters, interesting mystery, unique

Cons: a little predictable

Tila and Taema are conjoined twins who grew up in Mana’s Hearth, a cult where meditation and lucid dreaming were an important part of their religious service. They escaped at 16, and were surgically separated. Ten years later, Tila arrives at Taema’s apartment, accused of murder. To clear her sister, Taema must go undercover with the San Francisco Police Department and infiltrate the Ratel, the criminal organization that’s creating a new drug that, when perfected, will allow them to watch and influence dreams.

The book starts with an acknowledgments section, which mentions some of the research the author did into conjoined twins and cults, in order to get the details right. The book is fascinating and the research shows in the conflicted feelings the twins have regarding their upbringing, their former beliefs, how they interact with each other and outsiders, etc. The protagonists are wonderfully complex and I loved learning more about them. I really liked Nazarin, Taema’s undercover partner, as well.

The story takes a number of twists and turns as the mystery unfolds. The main story is Taema going undercover, but the narrative switches to Tila writing about how they left Mana’s Hearth. I did find that as time went on a few of the twists became predictable, but I really enjoyed watching the characters reactions to the various revelations.

It did surprise me that no one considered that Taema’s scar would be on the opposite side from Tila’s when they were made to look alike. For the most part this wouldn’t be an issue, but there is one scene where that should have come up and given her identity away.

The subject matter’s pretty dark so but it’s an enjoyable book, and I whipped through it in a weekend, wanting to find out what happens next. So if you’re looking for a mystery with some unique elements, give this a try.


Song of the Deep
Song of the Deep
by Brian Hastings
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 14.79
12 used & new from CDN$ 8.24

4.0 out of 5 stars Girl uses guts and 'science' to save dad in underwater adventure., July 12 2016
This review is from: Song of the Deep (Hardcover)
Pros: great female protagonist, fast paced, variety of challenges, illustrations

Cons: too short! (though not for the intended age group), inaccurate science

When Merryn's father doesn't return from his day's fishing in a storm, she builds a submarine and goes looking for him.

This is a middle grade book, designed for ages 8-12, though it's suitable for those outside that range as well (there are a few scary bits, but nothing 6 year olds couldn't handle, and the short chapters make for good bedtime reading). While the science isn't accurate, I was impressed that the author mentioned some of the challenges of working and using a submarine (like what to do for air).

Merryn's a highly motivated character. She doubts herself a few times, wondering if her quest is futile, but forces herself to keep searching regardless. Along the way she encounters some fantastical sea creatures and faces several types of dangers. I also appreciated that there was no physical description of her.

The story's well paced, with a variety of challenges for Merryn to overcome, some using her wits and others her mechanical know how.

There's black and white artwork throughout the book, illustrating some of the wonders Merryn encounters.

This book is a tie-in to the video game of the same name, which follows Merryn's quest. The author wanted media his daughter could appreciate that focused on attributes outside of looks. And he's succeeded as far as this book is concerned.

As an adult I found the book an entertaining, quick read. I'm sure kids are going to love this.


The Waking Fire
The Waking Fire
by Anthony Ryan
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 31.69
21 used & new from CDN$ 19.04

4.0 out of 5 stars Immersive fantasy, July 5 2016
This review is from: The Waking Fire (Hardcover)
Pros: great characters, brilliant world-building, variety of action

Cons: lots of close shaves

Claydon Torcreek is a thief who gets roped into being the blue-trance communicator for the Longrifle Independent Contractor Company. The Company’s mission is to find the fabled white dragon, living in the dangerous interior.

Lizanne Lethridge is a blood-blessed covert agent of the Exceptional Initiatives Division of the Ironship Trading Syndicate. She’s sent to Morsvale to investigate the former owner of a box that held a device that might aid in Clay’s company’s mission.

Corrick Hilemore is the new Second Lieutenant of the IPV Viable Opportunity. Their ship is trying out a new engine that allows for faster travel, as it takes out a pirate ship.

Meanwhile, the drakes that have been bled for their magical blood for decades, have started acting in strange ways despite their reduced numbers, attacking cities, leaving their hunting grounds, and working together in ways they never have before.

There’s a lot going on in this book. There’s some political intrigue, spy work, sea battles, steampunk style inventing, dragons, dragon blood magic… Told from three POV characters, the book jumps around enough that you’re always on your toes, wondering what will happen next.

The world-building is excellent. There’s real history here. There are several countries with different ways of doing things, past rebellions, corporate greed. Different people from different lands interact in different ways (sometimes as part of the same crew, sometimes as infiltrators).

The characters all felt like real people with real hopes and goals. I enjoyed spending time with all thee POV characters, learning more about them and seeing how they react in different circumstances. Their supporting casts were all really interesting too.

This is partly explained by the end of the book, but there are a LOT of close shaves for the various groups. Enough that it started to feel really manufactured and repetitive. There was a reason for that, but it doesn’t prevent some scenes from feeling a bit fake.

The economics around blood-magic was well done, though it started to drive me nuts hearing how depleted their stores of product were becoming and how expensive it was to buy, and then seeing so much wasted blood as more and more drakes get killed. The magic itself was cool, with each type of drake having a different property. I especially liked that there were limitations on the magic and that there were actual consequences for using it extensively.

At the back of the book is a list of dramatis personae, which I would have referred to a few times had I known it was there. There’s a large cast, and on the ship especially I had to remind myself who was who.

This is an excellent book with a lot going for it. It you love immersive fantasy, pick this up.


The Invisible Library
The Invisible Library
by Genevieve Cogman
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 17.77
25 used & new from CDN$ 8.77

4.0 out of 5 stars Fun romp with a great mystery, June 14 2016
This review is from: The Invisible Library (Paperback)
Pros: wonderful concept, interesting world, fun characters

Cons: minor quibbles

Irene works for the Invisible Library, an edifice that stands outside of time and space, with access to numerous worlds, each with different levels of chaos and order, magic and technology. Librarians enter theses different worlds and secure unique volumes of fiction in order to advance knowledge and prevent loss. Irene and her new trainee, Kai, are sent to London in a magic-dominant alternate with a high chaos infestation to retrieve a particular Grimm manuscript.

When they arrive, they find the manuscript has been stolen, and numerous interested parties are looking for it.

While you don’t learn as much about the library in this book as I’d have liked, you do get some idea of how it and the librarians work. The magic surrounding the Language is pretty cool. The idea that words have power and names show truth is an old one, and used to advantage here. I really liked the idea that there are factions in the library, and you can’t always be sure you’re being told everything you need to know before a mission.

The world they’re sent to has an interesting mix of fae, vampires, and zeppelins. I liked how magic effects how technology works, so that different worlds are forced to evolve in different ways.

The plot is pretty straight forward, with several mysteries introduced and events propelling the characters from one event to the next. There’s enough downtime to get to know Irene and Kai a bit. You don’t learn much backstory for them, the book stays pretty centered on the immediacy of the action.

I did find the antagonist a bit on the talkative side in a Bond villain kind of way. I also thought Irene gets a bit too lucky with regards to leads on the case and the experimental use of the language. Minor quibbles, though.

On the whole this was a fun romp with a great mystery that will keep you guessing about who you can trust and why everyone wants this book.


Spells of Blood and Kin: A Dark Fantasy
Spells of Blood and Kin: A Dark Fantasy
by Claire Humphrey
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 26.38
19 used & new from CDN$ 19.41

4.0 out of 5 stars Unique urban fantasy, June 14 2016
Pros: introverted protagonist, man vs himself plot, awkward situational and dry humour, minor romance elements

Cons: I wondered where Maksim got his money

The death of Lissa Nevsky’s grandmother affects her life in numerous ways. She has to take up her duties as a kodun’ia, a Russian witch, and her stepsister, whom she barely knows and who knows nothing of witchcraft, shows up unexpectedly to help out. The death also affects Maksim Volkov, a member of the kin who’s had his violent nature tamed with a spell. When the spell breaks he inadvertently infects a young man with his condition. Now Maksim needs Lissa’s help getting his violent nature back under control. He also needs to find the newly made kin, before he kills someone with his enhanced strength and increasingly violent restlessness.

It’s not common to find books that revolve around people dealing with their own problems, and their consequences - rather than outside physical foes - so I found this book rather refreshing. Similarly, it’s nice to see an urban fantasy novel that doesn’t rely on the female protagonist physically fighting the bad guys. And while there is fighting in the book - it’s mostly mutual, as a way of holding the violence of the kin in check (and done amongst themselves, since they can handle each other’s enhanced abilities).

Lissa is an introvert with minimal social skills. Her stepsister, Stella, is an extrovert who’s more into feminine things. The two clash in a number of ways. I loved Lissa as a character. She has a lot of the same quirks - and therefore problems - that I have. She’s awkward when a guy flirts with her. She’s uncomfortable with attention. She has trouble trusting others and telling them truths she’d rather keep to herself. I found myself laughing out loud a few times, just because I sympathized so much with her situation. Other times I laughed because Stella made pointed observations that were just the right kind of dry for my sense of humour.

Maksim’s got some issues, which makes him interesting, though he doesn’t do much in the book beyond trying to hold his demons at bay. Gus, another kin, has an interesting past and I found her snark fun to read. Nick was a little annoying, but he’s got the excuse that his body is changing without his knowledge, making him edgy and violent and kind of a jerk.

I liked that the kin are portrayed as the truth behind myths of vampires and werewolves. There’s just enough Russian mythology mentioned to whet the appetite, but not enough to quench it. Similarly the magic Lissa performs is interesting to read about, but sounds kind of tedious to perform.

There’s a hint of romance, but it’s a minor point and not between the character’s you’d expect.

I did find myself wondering how Maksim has so much money. Yes, he owns a gym and trains fighters, but he always seems to have ready cash to hand out to Gus. And while I’m sure being a soldier paid something, I’m not sure it accounts for the amount of cash he has in flashback scenes. It’s possible he saves well and his poor living conditions imply that he doesn’t spend much on food, housing or clothing, so maybe it’s a matter of priorities and good budgeting.

Along the same lines, while Lissa works at a printing shop, it’s only mentioned a few times and she seems to have no problem staying up until 3 am and/or sleeping in late a lot. Though, she is in her early 20s, which might account for her ability to go without proper sleep, I was starting to wonder if she was missing shifts.

If you’re looking for an urban fantasy that does some new and interesting things, this is a quick, fun read.


The Conjurers: A Gritty Fantasy of Witches and Wizards
The Conjurers: A Gritty Fantasy of Witches and Wizards
Price: CDN$ 4.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable read, June 1 2016
Pros: interesting characters, simple but effective plot, great climax, standalone

Cons: journal entries too narrative

Every few hundred years a child is born with immeasurable power and the ability to use it without teaching or artifice. A group of sorcerers discover that a boy in Ireland is the one they’ve been seeking. They head to the island to capture him and steal his power for themselves.

There are two alternating storylines: Eamon and his family who are fleeing a bandit attack on their village only to run into wolves on the road, and Teresa, a Genoese nobleman’s daughter, whose brother has apprenticed with a well known alchemist and sorcerer in the city. You learn a lot about these characters as well as the dangers they face (including the various sorcerers hunting them).

I really liked the maestro’s introduction in Genoa. I loved how you learn about him from various sources before finally meeting the man. It built tension and expectation. All of the villains are suitably evil, but not in an artificial way. Sairshee for example, wants to go further in her apprenticeship but is afraid of the horrific consequences of failing the spell she needs to cast in order to progress. She’s portrayed as self-assured, but also recognizes that a lot of her security and power is due to the backing of the king. The sorcerers are all ruthless, and delightfully - and terrifyingly - so.

The chapters are all short, helping to create a tense book whose pages turn quickly, rushing you towards the end. The plot isn’t that complex, but it’s executed well, and leaves you guessing in a few places. While it’s a standalone novel, it does have sequel potential.

While set in the real world, the book doesn’t touch on any historic events, though the black death and hanseatic league are mentioned. Though the author doesn’t go into the magic in much detail, it seems to be based on circle magic found in actual grimoires (like the Key of Solomon). And as the real world magic it’s portraying, there’s a mix of scientific exploration and blood.

There’s a section of the book that’s supposed to be the diary entries of a teenage boy, but are written in a narrative style that didn’t feel authentic as journal entries. It’s unfortunate, because while the segments get a lot of detail across, the immediacy of journal entries could have added a bit more punch to those sections had the author focused less on descriptive detail and more on the events that happened (so, instead of describing the rooms and whatnot, the teen’s interest in the lodestone could have been played up more, and his hopes/fears for what’s happening).

I really enjoyed this book. It was cool watching the different teens deal with their individual challenges, learning on the fly and doing their best to stay alive despite some pretty harsh obstacles. The antagonists get pretty brutal at times, leading to a pulse pounding climax.


Every Heart a Doorway
Every Heart a Doorway
by Seanan McGuire
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 17.17
30 used & new from CDN$ 12.58

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating premise, May 24 2016
This review is from: Every Heart a Doorway (Hardcover)
Pros: brilliant characters, great premise

Cons: underdeveloped, mystery’s fairly easy to solve

Seventeen year old Nancy is starting at a new boarding school. But this isn’t just any school, it’s a school for kids who have found doorways to other worlds, kids who can’t forget their experiences and adventures and who want to return to their real homes in those worlds. And one of them is willing to kill to find their doorway.

I loved the premise of this novella, that kids who went to other worlds (fairylands, underworlds, nonsense realms, etc.) would come back changed, and would want to return to those places. I also liked how their parents weren’t too happy with the changes, and how society viewed their ‘odd’ stories, assuming mental illness.

The characters were fantastic. What a fun bunch of misfits. You’re told that a particular type of person finds these doorways, and that shows in how these youths act. They tend to be older than their years, speaking with a refreshing frankness. They’re a diverse bunch with several sexualities and genders represented. Having an asexual protagonist was neat, as it’s a perspective not generally used.

While interesting, the murder mystery is fairly easy to solve. And the shortness of the book meant that things wrapped up pretty quickly.

I really enjoyed this story. It was a fast read, and while I’d have loved for it to be a full length novel, the author made some great observations about humanity.


Too Like the Lightning
Too Like the Lightning
by Ada Palmer
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 30.09
29 used & new from CDN$ 21.06

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Stick with it, it gets brilliant, May 10 2016
This review is from: Too Like the Lightning (Hardcover)
Pros: absolutely brilliant, intricate world-building, fascinating interconnected politics, reads on many levels, thought-provoking, challenges ideas of gender and sexuality, later revelations force you to reevaluate earlier scenes

Cons: opening is VERY confusing, some uncomfortable scenes, frustrating at times

Too Like the Lightning is the first book of the Terra Ignota duology. The second half, Seven Surrenders, comes out in December. The two books together are a historical account of 7 days that lead to an event that changes the world, as written by Mycroft Canner, an eye witness to many of the events, as well as instrumental to a lot of vitally important background activities. The year of interest is 2454. Though the current world doesn’t use gendered pronouns and raises all as equals, Mycroft uses antiquated words for this account. Religions shows up too, though the Church Wars have made all proselytising, churches, and cults illegal. Mycroft is a Servicer, available to anyone who needs a servant, though most often seen helping those in high offices, to atone for the crimes he committed 13 years prior. He starts his great work by explaining the meeting between the sensayer Carlysle and Bridger, a 13 year old boy, who for his own safety Mycroft has kept hidden. A boy who can perform miracles.

The book starts with a title page explaining the permissions obtained so that the book could be published, as well as the various content ratings the book received. While these names and institutions don’t mean much to the reader at the beginning, they set the tone for a book with fully immersive world-building. I spent the first half of the book trying to piece together the meanings of positions and terms, placing characters into their political groups, and feeling quite lost by the sheer mass of things that are left unexplained. While Mycroft does give occasional asides for the reader, these are asides for readers of his present, for whom the events being relayed are past, and for whom the terms that I questioned aren’t unfamiliar.

The brilliance of the book starts in the second half when the occasional philosophical asides start to be reflected in the plot through the actions of the characters. It’s here that you start to understand that the book isn’t a straight narrative, that you’re meant to examine the different layers of text and subtext in order to piece together what’s actually going on. For example, Mycroft doesn’t always gender people properly. It’s frustrating as a reader, but there is a reason for this, which comes up later in the book. Similarly, some scenes are disturbing to read, not because they’re graphic, but because they pair eroticism and terror, something most people don’t equate. This again is done for a reason that the book eventually reveals. So many later revelations make you reevaluate what you understood from the first half of the book. Sometimes more than once.

The world-building is exquisite. It’s completely alien to our current political situation, and yet is something one could imagine coming to pass given the circumstances the characters face. The politics are fascinating, with level upon level of competition and alliance.

There are a lot of characters to remember, but I didn’t have any trouble keeping them all straight. I do recommend, however, bookmarking the seven-ten list when it’s revealed, as you’ll be referring to it several times as more people are introduced and the political situations become clearer. In fact, I haven’t bookmarked and highlighted so much text since university. This is the kind of book I would have loved to have a professor explain the intricacies of, and then write an essay on.

I almost put this book down on several occasions. It can be that frustrating and confusing at times. But the pay-off when you start understanding what’s going on, with all its layers and complexity, is definitely worth the effort. I cannot wait for the next book to come out.


The Summer Dragon
The Summer Dragon
by Todd Lockwood
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 30.13
21 used & new from CDN$ 13.44

5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful debut, May 3 2016
This review is from: The Summer Dragon (Hardcover)
Pros: great characters, interesting plot, immersive storytelling

Cons:

Maia’s always wanted her own bonded dragon to raise, and this year’s larger than usual clutches have given her hope that her time has come. But a northern aerie has been decimated by the Harodh and their unnatural horrors, its qits killed or taken, and the Dragonry’s needs for new dragons to fight the menace trump a young woman’s.

The appearance of the fabled Summer Dragon, witnessed by Maia and her brother, puts them at the center of a power struggle between their aerie, the Dragonry, and the Temple. Because Maia’s getting her dragon this year, one way or another.

With the exception of two prequel scenes, the novel’s told from Maia’s point of view. Maia’s a fascinating character. She wants a lot from life but she’s willing to put the work and effort into earning things for herself. She courageous in the face of horrors, and determined to do what’s right. She’s a character who speaks her mind and tells truths the adults around her are too tactful, or scared, to say.

There are a fair number of twists to the plot, especially towards the end of the book. The pacing is great, with some time to get to know the principle characters followed by several tense chapters, then some down time to learn about new characters before things get tense and dangerous again.

The storytelling is descriptive enough to draw a picture of the location and action, but not so detailed so as to bog down the narrative. When the action is on, reading this is more like watching a film, incredibly immersive.

I loved learning about dragon raising and riding. Lockwood introduced the necessary terms along with their meanings so there’s no sense of feeling lost, unaware of what’s going on. There’s also no unnecessary exposition. We learn with Maia and the qits.

The focus of the book is on a fairly small area. There’s a map that shows the wider world, and a few times events happening elsewhere are recounted. People and dragons with various colourations are mentioned, along with which geographic area they come from. The religion is cribbed from aspects of Christianity, though it’s not a direct representation.

There’s an overwhelming sense of hope in this book - that hard work, courage, and determination can overcome all obstacles. This made it feel like the fantasy novels that came out in the 80s, rather than the grim dark currently popular. It’s got a freshness to it that I enjoyed. Having said that, there are some very dark moments and I could not believe some of the revelations.

Todd Lockwood is one of the best fantasy artists ever, so it should come as no surprise that he’s drawn his own cover, map, aerie schematic, and section illustrations. The interior artwork is all black and white sketches, but they are gorgeous.

The only negative I found, is that while I got to know the protagonists really well, I didn’t feel much connection to the supporting cast. One character in particular I would have liked to know more about, and events with them during the climax didn’t hit me with the emotional punch they might have, had that connection been deeper.

I’ve long admired Lockwood’s artwork and now I admire his impressive writing skills too. This is a fantastic debut, one that’s perfect as an introduction to the genre as well as for long time dragon lovers.


Regeneration ((R)evolution)
Regeneration ((R)evolution)
Offered by Hachette Book Group Digital, Inc.
Price: CDN$ 10.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Great ending to a fantastic trilogy, May 3 2016
Pros: great characters, excellent world-building, interesting plot

Cons:

Thames Tidal Power, a co-operative made up mostly of gillungs, is set to start operations when a series of minor accidents occurs. The new company’s quantum-battery technology is poised to upend the energy market, and other powerful players aren’t too happy about that. There’s an election coming soon and the possibility of a new gem positive political party entering the race would split the United People’s Party vote, giving the historically anti-gem Traditional Democratic party a better chance of winning. As political and economic turmoil increases, Zavcka Klist is released from maximum security prison to house arrest. And she’s looking for the ‘daughter’ she lost eight years ago.

This book picks up the story of Gabriel, Gaela, Bal, Aryel, Mikal, Callan, Rhys, etc eight years after the events of Binary. The focus this time is on Gabriel and Mikal’s families. Gabriel now works on managing the socialstream commentary around Thames Tidal Power when he isn’t taking university classes. Along with his parents, he’s very concerned with keeping his adopted sister Eve off the streams in order to keep her safe.

Councillor Mikal Varsi, still an independent candidate, is being courted by both political parties as well as the potential third party. While the UPP and the new gem party make sense, he’s unsure why the Trads would consider approaching someone very much the opposite of what they stand for.

Mikal’s wife is now a Detective Superintendent, and keeping a close eye on the investigation into the accidents at the new power station.

It’s cool seeing how everyone’s grown, and also to see how time and change don’t necessarily remove the barriers and hatreds of ignorance, fear, and bigotry.

The story’s quite interesting and flowed nicely. There were a good number of unexpected twists, and while one aspect of the ending was fairly obvious, there were others that were not. I was particularly impressed with the last chapter that really rapped up the trilogy well.

While it’s possible to read this book without the others, the author assumes a familiarity with the characters, so backstory is left unexplained. This makes a few of the relationships harder to grasp if you don’t know them already. The ending is also somewhat dependant on knowing who Zavcka is and what she’s done in the past.

This is a brilliant series, highly recommended.


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