Friday, August 18, 2017

Harry Potter Themed Store in Toronto, The Inventor's Secret, the Conjurer's Riddle and the Turncoat's Gambit by Andrea Cremer, and Wasteland King by Lilith Saintcrow

This wonderful looking bookstores gives me yet another reason to put a visit to Toronto, Canada on my bucket list!

Harry Potter-Themed Store Opens in Toronto

Curiosa: Purveyors of Extraordinary Things
store that's supposed to make you feel like you've landed in Diagon
Alley," has opened in Toronto
blogTO reported. In addition to Potter-related merchandise, the shop
sells games, books, toys and home goods that are unrelated to the boy

"We've tried to create a really immersive retail experience," said
Stephen Sauer, co-owner of the business with his wife Heather, who also
owns the Paper Place. "We wanted to create a space that was really fun
and magical and you really had to be there in person.... We really just
wanted to bring a bit of magic into people's lives."

Curiosa is also "only about a 15 minute walk from Toronto's Harry
Potter-themed bar, the Lockhart,"
blogTO noted.
The Inventor's Secret, The Conjurer's Riddle and The Turncoat's Gambit by Andrea Cremer are a YA steampunk fantasy series that should be the top choice of book lovers of any age seeking a ripping good read. Once begun, I literally could not put the first book, Inventor's Secret, down. Lacy and lovely prose flowed like the best Earl Grey tea down a swift sluice of a plot that kept me guessing right to the last page. Though she seems terribly naive for a 17 year old woman of that era, I still fell in love with Charlotte, the intrepid protagonist in these tales. Jack, the rogue she loves, comes off as more than a bit of a jerk at times, but their romance takes its time, and by the end, we know that all will be well with these two, and with Jack's half sister Linnet and her handsome pirate boyfriend. Here's the blurbs:
New from Andrea Cremer, the New York Times bestselling author of the Nightshade novels, comes an action-packed alternate-history steampunk adventure.
In this world, sixteen-year-old Charlotte and her fellow refugees have scraped out an existence on the edge of Britain’s industrial empire. Though they live by the skin of their teeth, they have their health (at least when they can find enough food and avoid the Imperial Labor Gatherers) and each other. When a new exile with no memory of his escape  or even his own name seeks shelter in their camp he brings new dangers with him and secrets about the terrible future that awaits all those who have struggled has to live free of the bonds of the empire’s Machineworks.
The Inventor’s Secret is the first book of a YA steampunk series set in an alternate nineteenth-century North America where the Revolutionary War never took place and the British Empire has expanded into a global juggernaut propelled by marvelous and horrible machinery. Perfect for fans of Libba Bray's The Diviners, Cassandra Clare's Clockwork Angel, Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan and Phillip Reeve's Mortal Engines.
The Conjurer's Riddle :
The Revolution is beginning–and Charlotte may be on the wrong side.
In this sequel to The Inventor's Secret, Charlotte and her companions escape the British Empire, but they haven't left danger behind. In fact, if they go against the revolutionaries, they face even greater peril. 
Charlotte leads her group of exiles west, plunging into a wild world of shady merchants and surly rivermen on the way to New Orleans. But as Charlotte learns more about the revolution she has championed, she wonders if she's on the right side after all. Charlotte and her friends get to know the mystical New Orleans bayou and deep into the shadowy tunnels below the city–the den of criminals, assassins and pirates–Charlotte must decide if the revolution's goals justify their means, or if some things, like the lives of her friends, are too sacred to sacrifice.
This alternate-history adventure series asks the questions: What would have happened if America had lost the Revolutionary War? And what would people be willing to do to finally taste freedom?
The Turncoat's Gambit:
From the bestselling author of Nightshade, this is the action-packed final chapter of The Inventor's Secret trilogy
Charlotte has spent her whole life fighting the British Empire, following in the footsteps of her parents and their group of rebels. But when her reunion with her mother laid bare horrible truths about the rebellion, Charlotte knew she had to escape. Now she is on the run, with no idea who the enemy is--or which of her compatriots is truly on her side.
In this action-packed conclusion to the Inventor's Secret trilogy, full of swashbuckling pirates and young ladies who can hold their own against them, Charlotte will need to fight for her life and for her beliefs -- whatever they might be.

Grave, the clockwork boy who causes both sides to go crazy trying to find out the secret to his super strong immortal body, so they can use him as a weapon and make more soldiers based on his design, is something of a mcguffin here, as while he's protective of Charlotte, he allows himself to be captured and vivisected to keep her safe, when in reality she has to keep him safe from both sides and rescue him at the end and allow him to make his own choices about his future. The only other character who seemed a bit out of place to me was Charlotte's mother, who allows her husband to be locked up in a horrible prison called The Crucible, dying of Tuberculosis, and doesn't bother to try and rescue him. That made her seem like a cruel and cold person, but once Charlotte rescues him, suddenly all is forgiven and he's going to be fine. That was just a bit too pat for me. But other than those minor qualms, I loved this series, which had wonderful characters like Pip and Scoff and Birch, all young inventors and makers with strong senses of adventure and whose loyalty and courage were evident in every chapter. I'd give this series an A, and recommend it to anyone who liked Lilith Saintcrow's Bannon and Clare, or Cassandra Clare's Mortal Instruments series, or Devon Monk's House Immortal series, or Maria V Snyder's Poison Study series. 

Wasteland King by Lilith Saintcrow is the third book in her "Gallow and Ragged" series of urban fantasies that are gritty and almost too horror focused for my tastes.Still, I found Robin Ragged to be a compelling character, though why both Gallow and Alstair are so madly in love with her remains a mystery. Here's the blurb:
The thrilling conclusion to New York Times bestselling author Lilith Saintcrow's dark fantasy series where the faery world inhabits diners, dive bars and trailer parks.
The plague has broken loose, the Wild Hunt is riding, and the balance of power in the sidhe realms is still shifting. The Unseelie King has a grudge against Jeremiah Gallow, but it will have to wait. For he needs Gallow's services for a very delicate mission -- and the prize for success is survival itself.
In order to save both Robin Ragged and himself, Gallow will have to do the unspeakable...Publisher's Weekly: aintcrow brings her Gallow and Ragged trilogy to a close with a lovingly written but choppy conclusion. The Summer Queen and the lord of the Unseelie, Unwinter, seem determined to go to war, and signs of the sidhe plague are still evident. Jeremiah Gallow, Summer's former armormaster, and Robin Ragged, along with her hound, Pepperbuckle, are caught in the middle, and they've been tasked by Unwinter with two separate, but very difficult missions. The Sluagh, an army of the undead, has been unleashed, and Gallow and his unlikely allies will need every tool at their disposal to survive. Saintcrow's gift for lyrical writing is on full display and her highly stylized prose is frequently stunning, probing the dark, damp corners of California's urban landscapes, often finding beauty where, at first glance, there seems to be only squalor. Unfortunately, the narrative reads more like a series of vignettes than a fully cohesive whole, but fans will likely be satisfied with a poignant ending that has its eye firmly on the light at the end of the tunnel, placing hope within reach of even the most desperate and downtrodden.
I agree with Publisher's Weekly that these three books are written more as a series of vignettes or scenes from a play than a novel, and the prose is antiquated and formal in an almost Shakespearian fashion. While that seems appropriate for the Fae, the switch back and forth between regular English and old English can give readers whiplash. And, as I've said before, the focus on the pain, abuse, squalor and death of the downtrodden, poor and unsavory criminal elements of California made me feel as if I were reading horror fiction, which I'm not a fan of. The way that Saintcrow made these scenes of mortals at their worst relevant to the story was to show how their encounters with the Fae changed the mortal's fate for better or worse, depending on how the mortal treated the Fae that they encountered. So when a truck driver gives one of the Fae (or half fae) a ride, he wins the lottery and is able to settle into retirement with a lovely young waitress. Those who do not treat the half Fae or Fae with deference and respect end up dead, or lost and forgotten,'never to be seen or heard from again.' Having read my share of fairy tales and legends, seeing the Fae portrayed as cruel and capricious wasn't so much surprising as it was intriguing. Their survival dependent on grubby humans living in substandard conditions was reminiscent of Neil Gaiman's American Gods and Anansi Boys, where old gods are having to slum it just to survive. And though I can't say I appreciated all the urban blight and ugliness that Saintcrow brought to bear in these novels, I admire her ability to wield language like a weapon and create compelling characters in the midst of chaos. A well deserved A, with a recommendation to those who like the more subtle horrors of Gaiman and his graphic novels mixed with Fae magic and excellent storytelling.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Brick and Mortar Books in Redmond, 15 Coolest Bookstores, In This Grave Hour by Jacqueline Winspear, The Library of Light and Shadow by MJ Rose and Trailer Park Fae/Roadside Magic by Lilith Saintcrow

It has always been a dream of mine to own a bookstore and tea shop, and I am always happy to hear of people who were able to fulfill their own bookstore dreams, especially when it is in the King County area, where I live and work. 

Redmond's Brick & Mortar Books Owners 'Living Their Dream'

"I think half the people I know have had that dream," Dan Ullom told the
Seattle Times in a profile
of the recently opened Brick & Mortar Books in Redmond, Wash., which he owns with his parents
John Ullom. The question ("Haven't you always dreamed of owning an
independent bookstore?") is a familiar one, as is Ullom's goal to help
Brick & Mortar "become what the best bookstores are: a hub for its

The Ulloms "know that it's no easy trick to sustain a business like
theirs, when they can't offer the discounts available from online
booksellers. Instead, they offer a personal touch," the Times wrote.
"They're listening to what their customers want--Tina noted that they
have greatly expanded their selection of greeting cards, after learning
that no other Redmond Town Center store sells them--and are heartened by
recent reports that show a rise in independent bookstores nationwide.
The anecdotal evidence is encouraging."

"Hundreds of people have walked in the door, saying 'Thank you for being
here,' " Tina Ullom said, adding that her bookselling peers have also
been an inspiration. At a recent Pacific Northwest Booksellers
Association meeting, "everyone said, 'I wake up in the morning and I'm
happy to go to work. I love what I do.' "
"You can feel that good vibe at their store," the Times wrote.

Very interesting list, and I've visited several of these places. Bookstores and libraries are the hub of every community.

'The 15 Coolest Bookstores in America'

"Sometimes the best way to understand a town is to visit its best
bookstores," MSN wrote in showcasing its picks for "the 15 coolest
bookstores in America
Noting that bookshops "are communal places that offer ideas in a
tangible form and a venue for sharing a love of literature," MSN
observed: "They add substance to shopping districts and reflect the
literary passions and history of their communities, making each one
unique and worth exploring even while on a tight vacation schedule."
In This Grave Hour by Jacqueline Winspear is her 14th Maisie Dobbs mystery, and one of her most succulent novels to date. This story catches Maisie on the cusp of World War II, in 1939, when the world held it's collective breath. Here's the blurb:
Sunday September 3rd 1939.  At the moment Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain broadcasts to the nation Britain’s declaration of war with Germany, a senior Secret Service agent breaks into Maisie Dobbs' flat to await her return. Dr. Francesca Thomas has an urgent assignment for Maisie: to find the killer of a man who escaped occupied Belgium as a boy, some twenty-three years earlier during the Great War.
In a London shadowed by barrage balloons, bomb shelters and the threat of invasion, within days another former Belgian refugee is found murdered.  And as Maisie delves deeper into the killings of the dispossessed from the “last war," a new kind of refugee — an evacuee from London — appears in Maisie's life. The little girl billeted at Maisie’s home in Kent does not, or cannot, speak, and the authorities do not know who the child belongs to or who might have put her on the “Operation Pied Piper” evacuee train.  They know only that her name is Anna.
As Maisie’s search for the killer escalates, the country braces for what is to come.  Britain is approaching its gravest hour — and Maisie could be nearing a crossroads of her own. Kirkus Reviews: As World War II dawns for Britain, investigator Maisie Dobbs takes on a case involving murdered Belgian refugees with shadowy ties to the Great War. Back in England after her undercover mission in Germany (Journey to Munich, 2016, etc.), Maisie re-establishes herself as private investigator extraordinaire just as Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain announces that England is once again at war on Sept. 3, 1939. Conflict, of the armed or emotional variety, is nothing new to Maisie: she's been suffering nobly for the entirety of Winspear's series, since the death of her husband and her subsequent miscarriage. So when Dr. Francesca Thomas, a Belgian national who once fought with the resistance group La Dame Blanche and trained Maisie in all things spy, comes inquiring about a new murder investigation, Maisie's interest is piqued. Fellow Belgian Frederick Addens, who came to London as a teenager during WWI and later married an Englishwoman, was shot to death outside his engineering post at St. Pancras station, but Dr. Thomas doesn't buy the cops' explanation that theft motivated the murder. Maisie starts digging, uncovering a trail of mysterious figures with questionable alliances, several of whom don't survive her investigation. Also occupying her time is the plight of 5-year-old Anna, a refugee who's been evacuated to Maisie's family home in Kent but seems to have no family of her own, sending up not only Maisie's detecting red flags, but her long-dormant maternal ones as well. Winspear teeters on the brink of stating the emotionally obvious at times but largely pulls back and weaves a convincing historical drama together with a rocky journey for her heroine.
Interesting as the primary whodunnit was, I found myself more drawn to the mystery of the little girl Anna, who she was and what would happen to her after the mystery was solved. Unfortunately, the author leaves us somewhat up in the air about Anna's fate, as she's residing with Maisie's father and stepmother, and they're hoping to find some family members or someone to adopt her, though that seems impossible during wartime. Also I was not happy about the way Maisie was shamed into detaching from Anna, by being told that Anna could not and should not replace her lost husband and baby. I mean why not? Why would it be such a bad thing for Maisie and her family to take on this wee orphan and raise her with love and care? I honestly think it would be healing for both of them. And why also Maisie is dragged into signing up for the ambulance corps with her snooty wealthy friend Priscilla is beyond me. Priscilla is way too flighty to be much good in a crisis, and with her eldest going off to war, I can only imagine her heartbreak and breakdown when, or if, he comes back broken or not at all. So the ending wasn't really satisfying, but the main part of the book was engrossing, with well written prose and a somewhat odd plot. I'd give it a B+, and recommend it to anyone who has read all the other Maisie mysteries.
The Library of Light and Shadow by MJ Rose is the 3rd book in her "daughters of La Lune" series, and it's so lush and gorgeous that I never wanted it to end. Since there is one more daughter who hasn't had her story told yet, I can only assume that the next book will be the last in the series, though I can always hope that Rose will find another French family to focus her magical gaze upon. Here's the blurb:
In this riveting and richly drawn novel from “one of the master storytellers of historical fiction” (New York Times bestselling author Beatriz Williams), a talented young artist flees New York for the South of France after one of her scandalous drawings reveals a dark secret—and triggers a terrible tragedy.
In the wake of a dark and brutal World War, the glitz and glamour of 1925 Manhattan shine like a beacon for the high society set, desperate to keep their gaze firmly fixed to the future. But Delphine Duplessi sees more than most. At a time in her career when she could easily be unknown and penniless, like so many of her classmates from L’École des Beaux Arts, in America she has gained notoriety for her stunning “shadow portraits” that frequently expose her subjects’ most scandalous secrets. Most nights Delphine doesn’t mind that her gift has become mere entertainment—a party trick—for the fashionable crowd.
Then, on a snowy night in February, in a penthouse high above Fifth Avenue, Delphine’s mystical talent leads to a tragedy between two brothers. Devastated and disconsolate, Delphine renounces her gift and returns to her old life in the south of France where Picasso, Matisse, and the Fitzgeralds are summering. There, Delphine is thrust into recapturing the past. First by her charismatic twin brother and business manager Sebastian who attempts to cajole her back to work and into co-dependence, then by the world famous opera singer Emma Calvé, who is obsessed with the writings of the fourteenth-century alchemist Nicolas Flamel. And finally by her ex-lover Mathieu, who is determined to lure her back into his arms, unaware of the danger that led Delphine to flee Paris for New York five years before.
Trapped in an ancient chateau where hidden knowledge lurks in the shadows, Delphine questions everything and everyone she loves the most—her art, her magick, her family, and Mathieu—in an effort to accept them as the gifts they are. Only there can she shed her fear of loving and living with her eyes wide open.
I could certainly identify with Delphine in having a brother who used her for his own gain, and who is jealous of her talent, as I had a brother who, though he had far more gifts than I did, was jealous of what I did lay claim to, and therefore had no qualms about trying to destroy me emotionally. I should mention, before I forget, that there are 3 other paranormal/historical romance/adventure books that are linked to this series by MJ Rose, and reading them adds background density to the "Daughters" series. Anyway, I loved the mystery of trying to find the book, and Delphine's ability to draw the deepest secrets while blindfolded, and I loved her interactions with her mother and Mathieu, the love of her life. While we aren't allowed to know if Delphine and Mathieu fall prey to the family curse in the end, we do find out what happened to the book by Nicholas Flamel, and we discover how horrible Sebastian, Delphine's twin, really is, as he tries to kill her after using her for money to pay off gambling debts. I wished he had drowned and died, but Rose allows him to live and manipulate everyone again, so we can only surmise how Delphine will deal with him when she gets back to the chateau. Nevertheless, I found the delicious prose and beautifully complex plot to be riveting, and I couldn't put this book down. A solid A, with a recommendation to anyone who loves paranormal/historical romance with dashes of mystery and adventure in their novels.
Trailer Park Fae and Roadside Magic by Lilith Saintcrow were both books that I read about on a book website dedicated to fantasy and science fiction genres. Because I'd read Saintcrow's Bannon and Clare series, her Jill Kismet series and her Dante Valentine series, I hoped that this would be an equally exciting read, with less bloodshed.  Unfortunately, the bloodshed seems to be inevitable in Saintcrow's work, but these two novels differed from her other works in the nearly Elizabethan prose style that she chose to use to tell her tale. Here's the blurbs:  
New York Times bestselling author Lilith Saintcrow returns to dark fantasy with a new series where the faery world inhabits diners, dive bars and trailer parks.
Jeremiah Gallow is just another construction worker, and that's the way he likes it. He's left his past behind, but some things cannot be erased. Like the tattoos on his arms that transform into a weapon, or that he was once closer to the Queen of Summer than any half-human should be.

Now the half-sidhe all in Summer once feared is dragged back into the world of enchantment, danger, and fickle fae - by a woman who looks uncannily like his dead wife. Her name is Robin, and her secrets are more than enough to get them both killed. A plague has come, the fullborn-fae are dying, and the dark answer to Summer's Court is breaking loose.
Be afraid, for Unwinter is riding...
Roadside Magic:
Robin Ragged has revenge to wreak and redemption to steal. As for Jeremy Gallow, the poison in his wound is slowly killing him, while old friends turn traitor and long-lost enemies return to haunt him.
In the dive bars and trailer parks, the sidhe are hunting. War looms, and on a rooftop in the heart of the city, the most dangerous sidhe of all is given new life. He has only one thought, this new hunter: Where is the Ragged?

While I understand why Saintcrow used Shakespearean prose to tell much of her tale (these are, after all, fae who have graced his plays, including Robin Goodfellow, also known as Puck, playing the father to the heroine Robin Ragged), I still found it annoying that the formal prose was mixed with the 'vulgar' tongue of English and slang, so that in the dirty streets and the dwarvish underground lairs, it seemed somehow defamed and diluted, which might have been intentional. The plots of both novels are as swift as the lightfeet of the fae who inhabit the pages, and the stories themselves of heartbreak and abuse, love and loss are fascinating stuff. That said, I was surprised at the nearly cartoonish evil of the Queen of Summer (who is basically Queen Mab or Titania, head of the seelie fae) and of Puck, who has been portrayed as mischievous and manipulative, to be sure, but never purely malevolent. Why he would seek to harm his child is never quite clear, and why the men/half fae around her, including Gallow, claim to love her and yet only manage to harm her as they chase her thither and yon also doesn't make sense to me. Still, both books are page turners and deserve an A, as well as a recommendation to all who enjoy 'dark and gritty' fantasy novels with a formal twist and some interesting insights into the world of dwarves, fae and other creatures of the magic realms.

Friday, August 04, 2017

Dietland Comes to TV, Obit for Sam Shepard, The Bear and the Nighingale by Katherine Arden, Empress of a Thousand Skies by Rhonda Belleza and Faith of the Fallen by Terry Goodkind

I remember reading Dietland, and I hope that some of the themes of fat and feminism come through in this production. I have to wait until next year to see it, but I am looking forward to it, especially in light of my own struggles with weight and self acceptance.

TV:  Dietland

AMC has made "a straight-to-series order" for Dietland
based on Sarai Walker's 2015 novel, Deadline reported. The 10-episode
series, a co-production of AMC Studios and Skydance Television, will
premiere in 2018. The network acquired Dietland from Marti Noxon
(UnReal) and Skydance TV last October, "putting it on a
straight-to-series track under its model that involves the opening of a
writers room and spending several months exploring a potential series
before a greenlight." Noxon, who served as a consulting producer on
AMC's hit series Mad Men, is executive producer, writer and showrunner.

"Day in and day out, we work to refine our search for unique voices and
never-before-seen worlds. It is in that context that we proudly bring
Marti Noxon back to AMC for the first time since her work on Mad Men,"
said Charlie Collier, president of AMC, SundanceTV and AMC Studios. He
added that Dietland, "populated by unforgettable characters and unique
storytelling approaches, will focus a wickedly entertaining lens on
issues as diverse and divisive as dieting, dating, beauty and the many
societal expectations that continue to dominate our culture and
consciousness. We are so proud to be working with Marti, her team and
Skydance on this topical, funny, relevant and poignant story."

I was the lead female, Halley, in Sam Shepard's play "Buried Child" back in 1983, my senior year at Clarke College (now Clarke University). My theater class went to Chicago that year to see several Broadway plays/musicals, and Buried Child was among them. The professional version was very stale and boring, and the actors seemed wooden to us in comparison to all that we felt we were bringing to our production. While that seems like the hubris of the young, I somehow think that Shepard himself would have laughed if I would have told him that, if I'd ever had the chance to meet the man. I'd say RIP, but Shepard wasn't the type of man who liked peaceful endings.

Obituary Note: Sam Shepard

Sam Shepard
the celebrated playwright, actor, author, screenwriter and director,
died July 27, Broadway World reported. He was 73. Shepard is the author
of 44 plays as well as several books of short stories, essays and
memoirs. He received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1979 for his play
Buried Child. Two of his other plays, True West and Fool for Love, were
nominated for a Pulitzer. He was an Oscar nominee for his portrayal of
Chuck Yeager in The Right Stuff, and received the PEN/Laura Pels
International Foundation for Theater Award as a master American
dramatist in 2009.

Shepard's books include Motel Chronicles, Cruising Paradise, Day out of
Days, Rolling Thunder Logbook, Great Dream of Heaven and Hawk Moon.

In a 2016 New York Times q&a, Shepard was asked if he felt he had
achieved something substantial
in his career. "Yes and no," he replied. "If you include the short
stories and all the other books and you mash them up with some plays and
stuff, then, yes, I've come at least close to what I'm shooting for. In
one individual piece, I'd say no. There are certainly some plays I like
better than others, but none that measure up."

In a tribute, New Yorker magazine theater critic John Lahr wrote
"Sam Shepard arrived in New York in 1963, at the age of nineteen, and
took the city by storm. He was funny, cool, detached. He found his
groove early--a cowboy mouth with matinee-idol looks. Shepard...
had an outsider's mojo and a cagey eye for the main chance. He quickly
became part of that newest American class: the hipoisie. He wrote
screenplays for Michelangelo Antonioni and songs with Patti Smith. He
hung with Bob Dylan. To the downtown New York theatre scene, he brought
news of the West, of myth and music. He didn't conform to the manners of
the day; he'd lived a life outside the classroom and conventional
book-learning. He was rogue energy with rock riffs. In his coded stories
of family abuse and addiction, he brought to the stage a different idiom
and a druggy, surreal lens. He also had the pulse of youth culture. He
understood the despair behind the protean transformations that the
culture was undergoing--the mutations of psychic and physical shape that
were necessary for Americans to survive the oppression of a nation at
war, both at home and abroad. Martians, cowboys and Indians, and rock
legends peopled Shepard's fantasies. He put that rage and rebellion
The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden is a Russian fairy tale come to life, or at least rewritten in book form. I was expecting a beautifully rendered tale, and while this story is engrossing, there is little beauty about it. Stark, cold and brutal as the winter, Vasilisa is a powerful witch who can see and hear spirits and forest/water sprites and household elves and communicate with them from an early age. Unfortunately, her father remarries an insane young woman who can also see these spirits, but because she's religious, she considers them demons and is afraid of them. When a handsome priest comes to their village and resolves to rid it of demons and anyone who believes in them, things get ugly, and Vasilisa is caught in a terrible situation. Even though she's still a teenager, her father insists on marrying her off, and her hated stepmother can't wait to be rid of her, because the priest has come to fancy her, and stepmother is jealous, in addition to being crazy. Here is the blurb:
At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn’t mind—she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil.
After Vasilisa’s mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa’s new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows.
And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa’s stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent.
As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed—this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse’s most frightening tales. School Library Journal: Reading Arden's debut novel is like listening to an entrancing tale spun out over nights in the best oral tradition. This mesmerizing fantasy takes place in medieval Russia, at a time when women had but two choices in life: serve their appointed husband by bearing his children and taking care of his household, or serve God in a convent. Vasilisa Petrovna refuses to do either. She has been a wild thing since birth, escaping her household duties to run free in the forest and conversing with spirits only she can see. But Vasilisa's behavior is taken in stride until a charismatic priest comes to her father's village, convincing his patronage that their custom of leaving offerings to curry favor from the spirits is sacrilege. Vasilisa knows that if this practice is stopped, the spirits will grow weak and be unable to defend the village when evil comes knocking. When first crops and then villagers begin to die, Vasilisa's unladylike behavior and refusal to follow the priest's teachings mark her as a witch in the villagers' eyes. But she is not the one who is bargaining with the devil. Vasilisa is a strong female protagonist whom teen girls will want to emulate. She knows her own mind and heart and refuses to succumb to societal expectations, and her beauty stems from self-confidence rather than physical appearance. Arden's lyrical writing will draw teens in and refuse to let them go. A spellbinding story that will linger with most readers far beyond the final page.
Though I didn't find the prose lyrical, per se, I did enjoy the myths and legends of the Russian medieval era, and it was heartening to read of a young woman who refuses to allow anyone to change her into a meek little brood mare who would have a strong chance of dying in childbirth, like her mother. She's confident enough to face down what others fear, and she makes her family accept that she will live her life on her own terms. Feminism is pretty rare in YA fiction, but it's seamlessly woven in here. That said, the plot was something of a labyrinth, and the horrific side of the legends was emphasized, so that there were a number of frightening things that happened in each chapter. Hence, this book might be a bit much for those under the age of 12, unless they're fairly mature and inured to death and mayhem. Still, I'd give the book a B+, and recommend it to those who are interested in the myths, legends and fairy tales of Russia.

Empress of a Thousand Skies by Rhonda Belleza is a YA science fiction novel that I've had on my wish list for awhile now. Though it sounded like your basic "princess on the lamb, hiding from the evil forces set out to destroy her line and take the throne" YA dystopian fantasy, moving the whole scenario to space and other planets really intrigued me as an SF/F fan of over 50 years.What I was not expecting, and was delighted by, was the multi-ethnic struggle that was brought into the story by Aly, a Wraetan character who must deal with not only prejudice against his skin color, but also against his planet's entire culture and society. Through Rhee and Aly's eyes, we get a fuller picture of this dystopian universe and all the political and scientific machinations of the Regent's government. Here's the blurb:
Rhee, also known as Crown Princess Rhiannon Ta’an, is the sole surviving heir to a powerful dynasty. She’ll stop at nothing to avenge her family and claim her throne.
Aly has risen above his war refugee origins to find fame as the dashing star of a DroneVision show. But when he’s falsely accused of killing Rhee, he's forced to prove his innocence to save his reputation – and his life.
With planets on the brink of war, Rhee and Aly must confront a ruthless evil that threatens the fate of the entire galaxy.

Rhoda Belleza crafts a powerful saga of vengeance, warfare, and the true meaning of legacy in this exhilarating debut, perfect for readers of Marissa Meyer's Lunar Chronicles and Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman's Illuminae Files.
VOYA: Someone is eradicating the members of the Ta’an dynasty. “Half the beings in the galaxy want you dead,” a leader warns princess Rhiannan (Rhee) Ta’an, the last surviving family member. Until the day of her coronation as empress, Rhee thinks she knows her enemy. Suddenly, everything changes. In Empress Of A Thousand Skies, Rhee has a co-protagonist although she does not know it. Alyosha (Aly) is a pilot and star of the holo-vision, reality TV show “The Revolutionary Boys.” Aly grew up a war refugee from Wraeta and has secrets to keep. Both Rhee and Aly must fight to survive assassination and defamation. The third-person narration moves between Aly and Rhee in alternating chapters. Belleza’s science fiction story grips readers not just with the distinctive characters and twisty plots, but also with cool tech. Extending today’s use of cell phones with social media, GPS, and the Internet, people in Belleza’s world who can afford it are constantly online through their “memory cubes.” Each person’s cube, embedded in their brain, makes all memories available for recall, searching, and sharing. What if the cube be hacked? Can people spy on other people’s memories—or change them? Belleza’s believable future world includes ships jetting between planets, a smart-aleck android, and a medication that changes your DNA. She incorporates diverse religious practices and varying types of species from different planets, illustrating the variety of as well as the discrimination (such as fear of Wraetans) in her vast universe. Empress Of A Thousand Skies will compel fans of series such as Marissa Meyer’s The Lunar Chronicle; Victoria Aveyard’s The Red Queen; Beth Revis’s Across the Universe; and George Lucas’s Star Wars. Belleza’s exciting novel debut will make readers desperate for the next book to complete this duology. Reviewer: Amy Cummins
Though I didn't feel that there was much of a connection to Firefly, I did notice that the book had a similar feel to Marissa Meyer's Cinder and her other books in the Lunar Chronicles, though this novel had a plot that moved at breakneck speed with engrossing and engaging prose. It was the kind of page-turner that won't let you put the book down, because there's a cliffhanger in every chapter. I liked Rhee, but I loved Aly, and SPOILER, I found it delightful that he hooks up with Rhee's sister, who doesn't know who she really is until the end of the book. Rhee reminded me of Tris from Divergent, in that she refuses to give up, despite the odds being stacked against her. I'd give this novel an A, and recommend it to anyone who liked the Divergent series or the Hunger Games. 

Faith of the Fallen by Terry Goodkind is the 6th book in his "Sword of Truth" series, which spawned a TV show that I loved called "Legend of the Seeker." I recall reading the first four books in the series clearly, but I stopped reading midway through the 5th book, and, as it was a long time ago that I read them (back when my son Nick was still in elementary school), I didn't recall why I stopped short of Faith of the Fallen. Then one of my son's co-workers, who is a huge fan of this series of fantasy books, began telling my son about them and insisting that he start reading them. Because he knows I'm a bibliophile who has read many of the fantasy or science fiction series out there, Nick came to me and asked about Wizard's First Rule and the other books in the Sword of Truth series. I was at the closing of a bookstore 4 or 5 years ago, and they happened to have 8 of the books in paperback on sale, so I snapped them up, not knowing when or if I'd get back to them, but I couldn't turn down the opportunity to get them for such a low price.  So when I met the man (who goes by the nickname "Fat Wolverine," believe it or not), after picking up Nick from work one night, I explained to him that I stopped reading the 5th book because I believe it got to be fairly boring. He responded that while it was true that there were a couple of duds in the series, the 6th book, Faith of the Fallen, was his favorite, and he recommended that I just read the last couple of chapters of book 5, and then dive into Faith of the Fallen to read about his favorite character, Nicci, who it turns out is a complete psychopath and a terribly abused and wounded person besides. Though I love Kahlin and Richard, the main characters in the books, I also found the Mord-Sith assassins somewhat interesting, if a bit grotesque in their horrible training and commitment to killing and torture. What became apparent to me, in reading Faith of the Fallen, however, was that Goodkind had an agenda in writing these novels that was overtly political in nature. Several monologues and screeds in this book sound like they're taken directly from Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, with a special emphasis on the falsehoods and fallacies of Christianity (or any organized religion, really) and the horrors of communism. Parts of the book also reminded me of Rand's "Anthem," which I read as a teenager, and The Fountainhead. In Goodkind's philosophy, religion = death, and only the individual's ability to use his talents in a capitalist society that values the talented worker over the poor and destitute, (who are labeled as disgusting, lazy thieves, murderers, rapists and general immoral scumbag parasites living off the sweat of the brow of good and decent hard working people), creates a sustainable society where things get done and people can thrive in a community. Communism creates nothing but corruption, despair and starvation and slavery.  Here's the blurb from Publisher's Weekly: Sequel to Soul of the Fire in Goodkind's popular Sword of Truth series, this extended barrage of sword-swinging fantasy pits the New World's Seeker of Truth, Richard Rahl, and his wife, Mother Confessor Kahlen Amnell, against the lethal totalitarian forces of the Imperial Order under Jangang "the Just" and his gorgeous masochistic minion Nicci, aka Death's Mistress, a dreaded Sister of the Dark. After Richard helps a desperately wounded Kahlen heal in a mountain hideaway guarded by their ill-tempered blonde bombshell bodyguard, Cara, Nicci ensorcels Kahlen and forces Richard to abandon her for inhuman bondage in the Order-dominated Old World. Kahlen defies Richard's prophecy that arms alone will never defeat the Order. She takes command of the D'Haran army, hopelessly outnumbered against Jagang's black-magicked hordes who are invading the New World. Untangling all this gives Goodkind an ample canvas for enough disemboweling, spit roasting and miscellaneous mutilating of men, women and children to out-Sade the infamous marquis. His fans--and they are legion--will revel in vicarious berserker battle scenes and agonize deliciously as Richard, reduced to slavery by Nicci, toils to establish a bastion of capitalism in the cold gray heart of the Stalinesque Old World. All the ponderous sound and fury of Goodkind's attack on socialist-style do-gooders who are destroying the world, however, founders in a welter of improbable coincidences, heavy-handed humor and a disconcerting dependence on misusing the verb "smirk." For sheer volume of its Technicolor bloodbaths and its bathetic propagandistic bombast, this installment of Goodkind's fantasy saga makes an indelible impact; anyone who yearns for Goodkind is going to be in high clover. 
I really tried to like the book, but the constant horror of battle, death and mayhem turned my stomach. I also didn't really care for Goodkind's heavy-handed screeds against communism, though I realize that (as a history major in college who studied the various ways that communism functioned in our own world) communism in it's purest form doesn't really exist outside of a convent, and has only brought pain and death to the people in the countries where it's practiced, such as China and Russia, the former USSR. There was also a pervasive thread of sexism in this book, in which the women were seen to need protection, and their highest goal was marriage and children, though both Kahlin and Cara the Mord-Sith lead lives outside of that paradigm.  Also, there are no fat people in Goodkind's world, nor are there people of color or disabled people, but then, there is also no compassion for the disabled or the elderly who can no longer care for themselves. Unless you are a skinny old wizard or witch with powers to help you with battles and soforth, I gather you die in a ditch somewhere, because unless  you can work, you are no longer valuable as a member of society. I found Goodkind's prose to be sometimes simplistic and sometimes rife with hyperbole, and his plot comes to a screeching halt every time he has Richard drone on about the wonders of individualism. That said, the book was engrossing, though I felt it needed a good editor to trim at least 200 pages of redundancy from it. I'd give it a B-, and only recommend it to rabid Goodkind fans, who are doubtless boys/men.