The Golden Spider by Anne Renwick

The Golden SpiderThe Golden Spider

by Anne Renwick
Series: The Elemental Web Chronicles, Book One

Kindle Edition, 484 pg.
Anne Renwick, 2016

Read: October 26 – 27, 2016


Wow. Next time some author describes their book as a “Romance,” I really need to ask some follow-up questions before I say yes. Technically, Renwick said “Steampunk Romance,” and I figured it’d be something like The Parasol Protectorate or The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences. And it was. But with a whole lot more time on the love story — and a whole lot more description of what a couple of consenting adults consented to.

The central technology — the titular Golden Spider, is just great. One of the niftiest pieces of Steampunk tech that I’ve run across. I have no idea where Renwick is going with it, but I’m pretty sure she’s going somewhere based on the title of the series. Other than that — and a couple of other examples of medical technology — the technology and whatnot are pretty standard-issue Steampunk. Oh, and there are krakens everywhere — I liked that.

Medical student and borderline-scandalous daughter of a member of the gentry, Amanda, is being blackmailed by her father into marriage — he’ll let her go to school as long as she gets married. Her prospects aren’t that bright (if you ignore those who wouldn’t let her study/practice medicine). Lord Sebastian is one of her professors, as well as a leading medical researcher — and a secret agent for the queen — he’s a busy guy. They’re both incredibly attracted to each other, but squabble almost instantaneously and continually. Is it a law that every Steampunk romance start with two people being attracted to each other and sniping constantly while denying said attraction?

Anyway, this one plays out just as you’d expect — but maybe a little faster.

The adventure/mystery is pretty fun, but the solution is pretty obvious, and the rest is pretty predictable. But the characters’ interaction makes up for most of the predictability. In addition to Amanda and Sebastian, we have another prospective suitor or three for Amanda, Sebastian’s much more interesting and/or obvious action hero partner, Amanda’s family, and another scientist or two. None of these characters are great, but Renwick uses them well, and the result is fast-paced and entertaining.

Again, this is a romance, so certain things are going to be accentuated. One of those things, it seems, is sex. There was a lot more of it than I was prepared for (but, I want to stress, that’s on me) — and unlike the last few books I’ve complained about with excessive bedroom activities, Renwick’s scenes are worth reading — well, okay, skimming. I’m not sure why she didn’t think her characters deserved a little more privacy, but what’re you going to do?

I had a heckuva good time reading this — and I expect the same would be true of fans of Gail Carriger, Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris, Kady Cross, or a handful of other authors I can’t think of at the moment. Renwick drinks from the same wells as the above — but she’s her own author, don’t expect a carbon copy. If you can handle Steamy Steampunk, give this one a shot.

Disclaimer: I received this book from the author in exchange for this post — you have my thanks, Ms. Renwick.

—–

3.5 Stars

The Ghost Rebellion by Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris

The Ghost RebellionThe Ghost Rebellion

by Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris
Series: Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences, #5

eARC/Kindle Edition/Trade Paperback, 268 pg.
Imagine That! Studios, 2016

Read: June 3 – 7, 2016

A little house cleaning first. For the 4 of you who read that bit, you’ll notice the part where I describe what format I read is a little more crowded than usual. When I was sent the eARC, I asked when they’d like me to post this, and was told somewhere around the 10th to be close to the release date, so I glanced at it, but didn’t start reading. Then the Kickstarter copy of the ebook came out before I could start it, and then the (very nice!) paperback arrived in time for me to read the last 80 pages or so. So, yeah, it’s not my normal M.O.

But who cares about that, really? Let’s get on with the book…

“Well then,” Wellington began, “the House of Usher is apparently supplying rebels with inferior, supernatural technology, India is on the brink of war with Mother England, all while a madman possessing the ability to turn ordinary people into ten feet monsters is on the loose.”

Eliza bobbed her head, her lips bent in a smirk. “Just another day at the Ministry.”

“Shall I go put the kettle on?”

“Please.”

Just in case you thought things were going to settle down for the Ministry following the events around the Diamond Jubilee, well, forget it. The Agency is recruiting and training new members, reassigning others, and sending their experienced agents all over to help get things back under control
The somewhat unlikely pairing of Agent Bruce Campbell (and seriously, what a great character/tribute) and Brandon Hill is turning out to be a great combination (even if Hill spent too much time with Kellogg and his kooky health theories last time he was in the States). The two go off to Russia in search of an artifact needed by the Ministry, and find themselves in the middle of something big. Potentially very big. Thankfully, there’s plenty of vodka on hand to help.

Things aren’t going swimmingly for the House of Usher and Jeckyll at the moment, either — there’s some internal shakeups/restructuring with the House which should prove to be important for the Ministry. And Jeckyll’s, well, he’s not taking the loss of his royal patient (and everything else that happened in the last book) too well.

Sophia del Morte, of course, makes her presence known as only she can. When she’s not trying to kill Books and Braun, she’s really one of their most reliable allies. This time she has a vital piece of intelligence or two, that’ll not only impact this book, but (I wager) the next. Also, she brings all the right sorts of weapons to every occasion . . .

Meanwhile, while the Ministry rebuilds, Agents Books and Braun are off trying to take care of Jekyll’s remaining and scattered associates. This brings them to India, where they encounter an old friend, an old acquaintance and some ghosts — literal and figurative. Before they know it, they find themselves in the middle of struggles between the British army and assorted groups of Indian rebels wanting to be rid of said Army (and the rest of the government). The links between Jeckyll and this conflict are surprising, and may put a strain on our protagonists’ relationships with various entities.

One thing that isn’t strained, is the relationship between Books and Braun — their young love is still going strong, and is a pleasure to read. Well, okay, there’s one little strain — Wellington Books himself. We’ve seen hints — signs — of what Usher and his father had done to Wellington, but now we see more than just signs — we see almost the full-fledged results of what they did. These results are both frightening and astonishing (which is pretty much what Eliza and Wellington felt).

I bet I’ve somehow neglected to talk about the chapter titles in any of the previous novels — shame on me. And if I have mentioned them, they need to be mentioned again. They’re easily something overlooked as one reads — because, really, who cares? — these are not to be missed. Witty, understated and full of Steampunk sensibilities. I don’t know if I’ve ever wondered about this before with any book, but I do wonder how much time they spend crafting these. My guess is that it’s harder than it looks.

I enjoyed the new characters (Bruce’s new pal in particular), and getting to see a couple of old ones in new ways. And it’s always fun to see Eliza, Wellington, Bruce, Brandon and Sophia. I just had such a good time with this. In many ways, this book was just setting the table for the next, and final, installment in the series. But the character development, revelations, and overall entertainment value of the book kept this from just being a way to move pieces around. There was real excitement, good character moments (even from an Usher member or two), and a whole lotta fun, with an ending that leaves you really wanting the next installment.. I really can’t wait to see what the authors have in store for us next — it’ll be great.

Disclaimer: I received an eARC copy from the authors in exchange for an honest review. Also, I backed the Kickstarter for this book. Also, I liked every other book in this series, so I wasn’t exactly an objective reader going in. Not that I ever am.

—–

4 Stars

The Best Novels I Read in 2015

Before we get to The Best of, if you’re really curious, here’s a list of every book I read in 2015.

This list was harder to put together than last year’s — you think this’d be easy, look at the 5-star ratings, pick 10. But while I stand by my initial ratings, there are some in the 5-Star group that aren’t as good as some of the 4 and 4½ books, although for whatever reason, I ranked them higher (entertainment value, sentimental value…liked the ending better…etc.). Anyway, I came up with a list I think I can live with.

Last year, I did a Runners-Up list, too. There are too many to bother with this year. Which is a good thing — a lotta good books last year. I also did a worst of 2014, which I didn’t do to be mean last year — but for some reason feels mean this year, so I’ll skip that, too.

(in alphabetical order by author)

Thank You, GoodnightThank You, Goodnight

by Andy Abramowitz

My Review
Rock ‘n Roll, Love, Inevitable Maturing, and that certain feeling you get while doing something with your friends.
4 1/2 Stars

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's SorryMy Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry

by Fredrik Backman, translated by Henning Koch
My Review
Part tribute to J. K. Rowling, part coming-of-age (even if that age is early teen), part love letter to the Ideal of Grandmothers. This’ll get ya in the cockles of the heart.
4 Stars

Long Black CurlLong Black Curl

by Alex Bledsoe
My Review
Bledsoe took his perfect little world, and shined a spotlight on its dark underbelly, somehow making the community even more appealing. Stronger, although more fragile than before.
5 Stars

The Aeronaut’s WindlassThe Aeronaut’s Windlass

by Jim Butcher
My Review
Assuming the next volumes are as good, if not better, this is the beginning of Butcher’s best series to date. It could also be the a promise that he can’t deliver on. I’m betting on the former.
4 1/2 Stars

A Key, an Egg, an Unfortunate Remark A Key, an Egg, an Unfortunate Remark

by Harry Connolly
My Review
One of the few really unique Urban Fantasies out there. Every other new UF can sort-of be compared to another/several others — but not this one.
4 1/2 Stars

The Way Into DarknessThe Way Into Darkness

by Harry Connolly
I set this one (and the two earlier novels in the trilogy) aside to give myself time to think about them before blogging about them. I never got back to it. A working title for this series was “Epic Fantasy with No Dull Parts” (or something like that) — he pulled it off, staying true to the conventions of the genre while turning them on their head. A great conclusion to a great trilogy.
5 Stars

The DrafterThe Drafter

by Kim Harrison
My Review
Harrison did everything she needed to do here after bringing her 13 novel series to a close. She wrote something that should appeal to her long time fans, but didn’t try to reduplicate her success. A brand-new hero, a brand-new world, with brand-new powers (and problems!). This one rattled me, kept me guessing, and kept me on the edge of my seat.
5 Stars

Last WordsLast Words

by Michael Koryta
My Review
Thoughtful, suspenseful, claustrophobic. A great introduction to a character I hope to see featured in several novels in the future.
4 1/2 Stars

A Red-Rose ChainA Red-Rose Chain

by Seanan McGuire
My Review
McGuire — much like Toby Daye — doesn’t rest on her laurels, but keeps pushing the series forward in directions no one would’ve guessed.
4 1/2 Stars

UprootedUprooted

by Naomi Novik
My Review
This take on a traditional tale just blew my mind — the perfect bit of storytelling.
5 Stars

The Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher

The Aeronaut’s WindlassThe Aeronaut’s Windlass

by Jim Butcher
Series: The Cinder Spires, #1

Hardcover, 630 pg.
Roc, 2015

Read: September 30 – October 7, 2015

Frequently, it’s really hard for me to talk about a new Jim Butcher book without it just being, Aaaaaah! Fanboy! Gush, gush, squee! Drool! Squee! and More Squee!, and I really wanted to do more with this book, so I wanted a little distance. Alas, I’m still not going to be able to do much more than that — I think it’ll take another entry or two in this series for me to start to evaluate it well. But, I’d best get something up, so I’ll try to rein in the fanboy.

Let’s start off with the genre — it’s marketed as Steampunk. What a dreadful idea. This is only sort of Steampunk. It’s more of a Fantasy with elements inspired by Steampunk. I’ve seen some fans — and perhaps Butcher himself — say that it should be considered “Steam Opera.” That’s not bad. (I saw one online advertisement calling it “Urban Fantasy,” I trust whoever wrote/approved that advertisement was chastised soundly).

I don’t know how to describe the world or the plot without taking a few large paragraphs, and probably not doing a good job of it. Butcher’s website says:

It’s jam-packed with airships, crazy sorcerers, privateers, warrior monks, and intelligent cats. An ancient evil has reawakened, and the entire world is plunged into a sinister mist, filled with terrible creatures.

Which is pretty close, but there are more details given, too. If you’re curious, go check it out. For me? I didn’t really care — the words “New”, “Butcher” and “Series” were enough to get me to click “Buy.”

Okay, so plot and world are out. What about characters? I liked Grimm — a.k.a. the guy on the cover — (and maybe a couple of others in his crew) from the get-go. They just clicked for me — they’re the heroic type, misunderstood, but classic heroes, and I’m a sucker for them. The Spirearch, too — his type is another gimme. But the others, Gwen, Briget, etc. took a while for me to warm to — but when I did, I fell hard for them. I could actually sense it happening — even with the stupid cat, for crying out loud! (not that the cat is stupid, but that’s petty much my opinion of the species)

One character in particular that I’d want to talk about (I think in future books, I might have to just devote a post to character studies) is Folly. I’ve seen plenty of comparisons of Folly to Rothfuss’ Auri — all of which are valid, but she should also be seen as a take on Luna Lovegood, some sort of combination of the two. Still, whoever you want to compare her to, she’s a fun character that I can’t wait to see grow and develop. And when she does that thing with the Predator? Wow, I tell you what…

Of course there is the hook at the end of every chapter, Butcher’s skilled at using them to propel you on to the next chapter. But, at the same time, I had a compulsion to put down the book at the end of each chapter. I’m not sure why, maybe to think about it, to take it all in — oddly, it was really easy to put the book down at the end of each chapter. Until the last 150 pages or so, and then I couldn’t move fast enough.

As interesting as the novel was once things got moving, he shifted into another gear when he got to the climactic battle scene — or several battle scenes that you can’t imagine keep going on. Yet they do keep going on and they keep getting more and more interesting and heroic. You see heroics from everyone, not just the central characters. Then he followed that up with an epilogue of sorts, full of so many warm moments, followed by some grim realities, and then truly chilling closing paragraph or two. Butcher at his best.

I want to give this 5 stars, but something’s holding me back…so 4.5 it is. Gush, gush, gush. Squee, squee, squee. Bring on the next!!

—–

4 1/2 Stars

Unseemly Science by Rod Duncan

Unseemly ScienceUnseemly Science

by Rod Duncan
Series: Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire, #2

Mass Market Paperback, 368 pg.
Angry Robot Books, 2015
Read: November 28 – 30, 2015


So in The Bullet Catcher’s Daughter, Duncan created this nice little world and set up what could’ve been a pretty long running series of adventures for Elizabeth Barnabus and her alter-ego/brother Edwin. Naturally, in the sequel, he pretty much destroys all of that. Sure, it would be possible to get back to something akin to the status quo, but it’d be tricky, and he’s clearly not going for that.

As clever and skillful as Elizabeth demonstrated herself to be, there’s always someone better. And when a few of those people are working together? It’s not going to go easy for you. She’s got quite the powers arrayed against her — she’s about to be deported back to the Kingdom, along with dozens of other refugees. When she’s safely back on the other side of the border, there are sure to be representatives of the Duke that’s been hunting for her waiting.

Elizabeth’s mentee, Julia, continues her education — emboldened and possibly more headstrong thanks to her recent adventures, yet still naive and idealistic. it’s her support for a charity that drives Elizabeth in this novel (well, other than the above). John Tinker, naturally, shows up and is just as simultaneously inconvenient and perfectly helpful as he was before. I’d like to learn a little more about the America he comes from.

On the run for her life, chased by the government, bounty hunters, and investigating an odd crime (ice shortages — no, really) — things start to get strange. Strange followed by disturbing. This culminated in an action sequence I (literally) could not turn pages fast enough through. Which was followed by a denouement that in retrospect I think I should’ve expected, but took me by surprise.

I’m not ready to leave this world, and am so glad to see that The Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire duology has been upgraded to a trilogy, although I haven’t the foggiest idea how Duncan is going to achieve any kind of closure in one more book. But I’m looking forward to finding out how he pulls it off.

—–

3.5 Stars

Blameless by Gail Carriger

BlamelessBlameless

by Gail Carriger
Series: The Parasol Protectorate, #3

Mass Market Paperback, 355 pg.
Orbit, 2010
Read: November 12 – 14, 2015

… a pitcher of some dark liquid that smelled like heaven. Floote poured a portion for her into his cup

Alexia took a tentative sip and was quite overwhelmed by an acute sense of betrayal. It was absolutely
vole tasting, a mixture of quinine and burnt dandelion leaves.

“That, I am to assume, is the infamous coffee?”

Madame Lefoux nodded, pouring herself a splash and then adding a good deal of honey and milk. Alexia could not believe a whole hive of honey capable of rescuing the foul drink. Imagine preferring that to tea!

It’s just a couple of weeks since the surprising twist at the end of Changeless, and Alexia is just beginning to see just how bad the fallout is going to be for her. Almost friendless, encouraged (strongly) to leave her family home, jobless, husbandless — she’s reeling. Then the vampires start to try to kill her. Which is a little more than anyone should be asked to take. So Alexia, Madame Lefoux and Floote take off for Italy to see if the Templars can shed some light on Alexia’s current predicament.

Big mistake. But you can discover that on your own.

Here in book 3, there’s not much to say — I seriously just love the way that Carriger writes, it’s just delicious. I enjoy the characters, the world, the conflict — and this is really just more of the same delightful prose that Carriger’s already given us. Beyond that? A few semi-baked thoughts is all you get out of me here:

  • I enjoyed the narration, the dialogue, and so on. Ivy writing a letter just might be better than Ivy talking — her malapropisms are too much fun. It was nice to see a responsible streak in her, nevertheless.
  • Floote’s hiding more than we previously thought, I hope something makes him crack.
  • The effects of garlic on vampires, and basil on werewolves in this world gave me a good chuckle.
  • At the end of the day, Professor Lyall shines brightest here — it’s been clear all along that he’s powerful, capable, and resourceful — but he really gets to strut his stuff here, while Lord Maccon is licking his wounds and drowning his sorrows. That was fun to see.
  • In between the assassination attempts, the bullets, the supernatural goings-on, and everything else, there were a couple of really sweet moments. Making everything just a little more human.

If you enjoyed the first two volumes of this series, I bet you’ll enjoy this one. If you haven’t enjoyed those — why are you reading this? This particular Book 3 is not a jumping on point — go back to Soulless and start from there. You’ll be glad you did.

—–

3 Stars

Changeless by Gail Carriger

ChangelessChangeless

by Gail Carriger
Series: The Parasol Protectorate, #2

Mass Market Paperback, 374 pg.
Orbit, 2010
Read: September 16 – 17, 2015
I had two options to start this post with:

Ivy waved the wet handkerchief, as much as to say, words cannot possibly articulate my profound distress. Then, because Ivy never settled for meaningful gestures when verbal embellishments could compound the effect, she said, “Words cannot possibly articulate my profound distress.”

or

“I did so want to see the Highlands,” said Miss Hisselpenny. As though there would be some sort of line, drawn on the ground, that indicated transition from one part of Scotland to the next. Miss Hisselpenny had already commented that Scotland looked a lot like England, in a tone of voice that suggested this a grave error on the landscape’s part.

As long as Carriger gives me a paragraph or two like that every dozen pages or so, I’m in. She’s just so fun to read. Even when not picking on poor Ivy Hisselpenny.

Almost every review I’ve read for this book has included/started with this warning, and I might as well follow along — DO NOT read anything, including the back cover copy, about the third volume in this series — Blameless — until you’ve read the last page of this book. Even if you’ve not read any of the first book, and are just considering the series. Don’t. Just don’t.

That public service out of the way, let’s focus on this one: Alexia and Conall have been married for a few months now, and things are going pretty well, settling into a pattern, if nothing else. Then a couple of unusual things happen — a good number of werewolf regiments are recalled from India to have a short leave before being redeployed to Africa. Around the same time, a good number of the supernatural set in London is suddenly, briefly, and inexplicably normal.

Naturally, this gets the attention of Queen Victoria and her soulless advisor — as well as Alexia’s werewolf husband and his agency, her vampire friend and his entourage — and well, pretty much everyone. How did this happen? What made it stop? Some want to be able to duplicate the effect and make it widespread and permanent. Others want to make sure it never happens again.

The investigation takes Alexia, her annoying sister, her flighty friend Miss Hisselpenny, and a new French acquaintance (with a reckless proclivity for wearing pants of all things) to Scotland. Where the run into Conall on a similar mission. Seeing Conall in his native land guarantees that we get a good chunk of his backstory, what led him to London and to a new pack. Surprisingly enough, Alexia learns more about her father than she ever expected to on this trip, too.

Honestly, the solution to the central problem of the novel was pretty easy and obvious — but the explanation of it was pretty out of left field (but makes so much sense). This is clearly not one of those books that you read for the head-scratching mystery, but for the delightful way that the narrative gets you to the solution.

The steampunk element is much stronger in this book (to my recollection, anyway) and the mix of Steampunk and Urban Fantasy elements is just great — I could read these by the handful. Speaking of the UF, authors like Patricia Briggs and Carrie Vaughn have tried to explain just how traumatic the change from human to werewolf can be, I’m not sure they’ve ever been as effective as Carriger was here (while being perfectly charming):

The change comprised a good deal of biological rearranging. This, like rearranging ones parlor furniture for a party, involve the transition from tidy to very messy to tidy once more. And, as with any redecoration, there was a moment in the middle where it seemed impossible that everything could possibly go back together harmoniously. In the case of werewolves, this moment involved hair retreating to become fur, bones fracturing and mending into new configurations, and flesh and muscles sliding about on top of or underneath the two.

The ending was a bit too soap opera-y for my tastes. The explanation for __________ is pretty self-evident, especially given the central question that these people had spent the last 350 pages or so dealing with. But I get that it fits in with some of the genres that Carriger is drawing from, and if she hadn’t done something like that, it’d have been easier for things to get duller or predictable. So I can put up with all the sands through the hour-glass and whatnot.

An okay story, told in a charmingly witty manner, with characters that are just fun to read. Sure, they obsess a bit too much over hats, fashion, and the rest, but okay. As I said, I’m not crazy about the way that it ended, but it definitely gives the series some place to go from here that’s not just a repeat of the last books. Changeless is a fun way to spend some time, which is one of the best reasons to pick up a book. Recommended.

—–

3.5 Stars