the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘paranormal

Masks and Shadows, by Stephanie Burgis

published April 2016

where I got it: received review copy from the publisher

 

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I’ve been reading a lot of “thinky” books lately,  books that whether or not they were meant to drill into my brain and set the neurons a light all over the place, that is exactly what they did.   I was looking for something lighter, an easy read.

 

Stephanie Burgis’s Masks and Shadows has been sitting in my ARC pile for over a year. It received a lot of attention when it came out last year, and garnered many positive reviews. The cover art is super pretty!  The concept of the book sounds right up my alley – historical fiction with lots of romance, intrigue, and magic! But it never quite got my attention enough to pick it up.  I like political intrigue, and I usually enjoy historical fiction / historical fantasy.  I’ve been known to enjoy stories with some romantic subplots. And I was in the market for a lighter read. So I picked it up. If the author’s name rings a bell, it’s because she is famous for the mid-grade fantasy series Kat, Incorrigible.

 

The year is 1779, the location is the opulent Esterhaza Palace in Hungary. As you do when you’re a royal who just built your own version of Versailles, Prince Nikolaus Esterhazy hosts nobles and royals for months at a time, including a famous castrato singer, Carlo Morelli.  The Prince’s mistress, Sophia, has invited her recently widowed sister Charlotte von Steinbeck to stay at the palace as well.  In the first handful of chapters, we are very quickly introduced to a very large cast of characters – Charlotte and her spoiled sister Sophie; Charlotte’s young and naive maid Anna; Carlo Morelli the famous singer;  Herr Hadyn the famous composer;  Franz,  a singer in the Prince’s opera troupe; the rest of the singers in the troupe, van Born the alchemist;  Mr. Guersney, who claims to be an English writer; and Friedrich von Hollner, Sophie’s long suffering husband.  It was a lot to keep track of, to the point of distraction.

 

The plot settles into and handful of intertwined plots including the widowed Charlotte and Carlo having immediate romantic chemistry between each other,  Franz and Friedrich getting involved in some kind of mysterious political maneuvering, Sophie being needy and petty to the point of ridiculousness, Charlotte’s maid Anna becoming a singer with the Prince’s opera company,  demonstrations of the paranormal at the palace, and Morelli’s inward depression and being a plaything of the nobles.

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I’ve been on a short stuff kick lately. Short stories, short novels, novellas.  There’s just something about knowing I can get through an entire story with a beginning, middle, and end in a weekend.  It’s not that I’m not reading fatty mcfat doorstopper novels, but these days they don’t hold as much allure  (except this one, of course).

 

Anyhoo, I recently zipped through these new novellas from Tim Powers and K.J. Parker. They were so quick to read in fact, that I was able to read them twice!  Downfall of the Gods by Parker came out from Subterranean Press in late March, and Down and Out in Purgatory will be available in late June from Subterranean Press.  If you’re a fan of either of these authors, watch for these titles!

Downfall_of_the_Gods_by_K_J_Parker

 

Let’s start with the Parker, because of the two, it was my favorite.  Imagine a parallel ancient Rome or Greece, where a pantheon of gods keeps the sun crossing the sky, keeps the crops growing, and occasionally visits Earth in human form for entertainment.  What I most enjoyed about this story is that it’s from a Goddess’s point of view, and how the myths and what the humans believe the immortals do isn’t exactly the truth. The Greek mythology I grew up learning humanizes, but still idealizes Gods and Goddesses.  The Goddess at the center of Downfall of the Gods has her own family issues, the aunts and uncles who hate her, the stupid things she says to her parents. She gets in trouble for forgetting things, she gets “grounded”, she’s bored out of her mind.  I loved her as a character, even if she was a bit of an emo teenager.

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She writes space opera, she writes fantasy, she writes young adult and even paranormal mystery. Even better, she’s a fellow mid-westerner. In the last year or so, Sarah Zettel has quickly become one of my favorite science fiction writers. Her space opera is phenomenal, with characters that leap off the page and show you they are real people with real challenges. I don’t envy any of her characters, but I feel like I can relate to them. I’ve recently enjoyed Zettel’s Fool’s War and Bitter Angels (written as C.L. Anderson), and her new paranormal Vampire Chef series is getting rave reviews as well. I was beyond thrilled when Sarah agreed to do an interview on my blog.

So let’s get to the fun stuff, the interview!

L.R.R.: Your debut novel, Reclamation, won a Locus award for best first novel in 1996, and more recently Bitter Angels (2010) won the Philip K Dick award for best paperback original novel. Between 1996 and now, how have you seen the writing industry change? As a writer have you felt pressured to change with it?

S.Z.: The big change, of course, has been e-books. There’s now, unquestionably an audience for e-books, and a whole infrastructure to bring readers what they want. That’s opened up a lot of new avenues for writers and publishers to get their work to those readers. Is there pressure to change and adapt? Always. But that can be a good thing. I’m been part of a professional writer’s co-operative (Book View Cafe) where we as authors got together to help each other get our backlists out in e-book form. It’s been a lot of work, but a tremendous experience.

L.R.R.: There’s been a lot of attention, recently, on strong female lead characters in Speculative fiction, something you’ve been doing for years. Can you speak to any barriers you’ve experienced (or broken!), being a woman who writes speculative fiction with strong female characters?

S.Z.: When my 2nd novel Fool’s War came out, I had so many women come up to me and say “Thank you!” for writing protagonist who is a married woman. I think traditional literary science fiction is perceived as a male-oriented genre, and men are perceived as not being interested in reading about women or “women’s issues” read: relationships. There has always, always been SF by strong women, about strong women. Ursula K. Le Guin, Vonda McIntyre, Julie Cznerda, Octavia Butler, are just a few of the authors. But that’s not the perception of the genre, and so they don’t get talked about a whole lot. However, what has happened and what’s been interested is how speculative fiction that features strong women and relationships moved beyond the SF genre. It’s on the romance shelves, on the mainstream shelves, on the manga shelves, and, hurray, hurray, on the Young Adult shelves.

 

L.R.R.: One of the many things I loved about Fool’s War is that one of the two main characters is a devout Muslim woman. I don’t claim to be well read, but come on, how often do you run into science fiction that stars a Muslim woman? When you were working on that novel, how did her character come to be, and what type of research did you do get all those cultural details just right?

S.Z.: Fool’s War came from a short story I wrote for Analog Science Fiction & Fact called “Fool’s Errand.” I wrote that story during the first Gulf War. At that time, some, well, idiots, beat up a Sikh man because they couldn’t tell the difference between a Muslim and a Sikh. And this wasn’t a lone incident. I was angry, but what could I do to help combat the prejudice? It occured to me I could show competent, strong Islamic characters in the future, and so I made the ship’s engineer a Muslim woman. When I started out on Fool’s War, I realized it made sense for the person who maintained the ship to also be the person who owned the ship, so Al Shei became one of the major protagonists.

L.R.R.: You write in multiple genres – science fiction, fantasy, historical fiction, and more urban fantasy (American Fairy trilogy) and paranormal mystery (Vampire Chef series). Does it ever get confusing to be working on different projects in different genres at the same time? Are different genres more fun to write in than others?

S.Z.: Actually, I find writing in mulitple genres not only helps keep me fresh, it keeps me learning. Each genre has a different focus and a different set of expectations, and each focus teaches you something new about the craft of writing. All genres are fun. I will say that of them all, science fiction is probably the most work, because of the nature and the level of the world building you have to do to create a solid, complete SF story.

L.R.R.: Speaking of The American Fairy Trilogy, can you tell us a little about the first book in the series, Dust Girl, which is scheduled to hit bookstore shelves this summer?

S.Z.: June 26, to be exact (VBG). Sure. It’s my first Young Adult series, and I’m very excited about it. It’s about a girl named Callie who lives in the heart of Kansas during the Dust Bowl. Callie’s father disappeared before she was born, and she always suspected he was African American. He was. It turns out he’s also a fairy prince. Callie’s inherited his magic, and a world of trouble as a result, especially when the fairies come calling to her dust bowl home.

L.R.R.: Do you have any plans to be at any upcoming conventions (WorldCon perhaps?) or bookstore signings? Where and how can your fans connect with you?

S.Z.: I am going to be at McLean & Eakin in Petosky Michigan on July 13. I’ll also be at Nicola’s Books in Ann Arbor July 25. I’m not going to make WorldCon this year, but I will be at BoucherCon in Cinncinati, OH.

L.R.R.:  Hear that midwesterners?  I don’t know about you, but I’m planning a field trip to Ann Arbor!  Thank you so much Sarah, for spending some time on this blog.  I’ve enjoyed everything of yours that I’ve read, and I can’t wait to read more!

Moon Over Soho (Peter Grant, book 2) by Ben Aaronovich

Published 2011

Where I got it: purchased new

Why I read it: Loved the first book in the series, Midnight Riot

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Picking up shortly after the events of Midnight Riot (Rivers of London if you’re in the UK),  Moon over Soho opens with Thomas Nightingale being on medical leave, Leslie May literally afraid to show her face, and PC Peter Grant investigating dead bodies. Grant gets called in by the Murder Team when something strange is going on. For example, when the dead guy hasn’t got a face anymore, or other body parts are missing, or was burned to a crisp. If it’s strange enough that the regular cops don’t want to deal with it, they call in Grant and Nightingale, because you see, these guys do magic.

If you haven’t read the first book in the series, Midnight Riot, you really aught to. This is a tight knit series, and if you pick this book up on a lark, I’ll bet you’ll feel a little lost. Besides, Midnight Riot has the freakiest most disturbing Punch and Judy puppet show on the planet. Good stuff, funny, fast paced, scary as hell. go read it. Then read this one.

Moon over Soho starts out with a simple murder. As much as Peter hopes the jazz musician died of a simple heart attack, it’s never that simple, and Aaronovich doesn’t leave guns on the table to not be used later.  Peter immediately picks up vestigia, or magical residue on the body, and this body is screaming a famous jazz tune. It’s not long before another body shows up, this one horribly and disgustingly disfigured. The vestigia and circumstances are too similar to ignore, and this is where the policing part comes in. You’d think Peter interviewing people, and putting puzzle pieces together would get boring, but it doesn’t.  He’s sarcastic and distractable, and life doesn’t stop just because you’re investigating a string of supernatural murders that appear to be caused by jazz vampires.

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m The Bible Repairman and other stories, by Tim Powers

Published in 2011 by Tachyon Publications

where I got it: purchased new

why I read it: if Tim Powers wrote it, I want to read it.

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Tim Powers has long been a favorite speculative fiction writer of mine.  I describe him as a spec fic writer and not a “SF” writer because most of his books take place in the past. For decades, he’s been writing alternate history with a paranormal twist.  Ghosts, voodoo, body switching, trapped souls, ancient demons, and mythological creatures abound. He’s writing what might have happened, what could have happened, what no one will ever tell you happened because no one would ever believe it.  But if it comes from Powers, I’m happy to believe every word.

I’ve read a handful of his novels over the years, my long time favorites being Last Call, The Anubis Gates and On Stranger Tides.  I’m sure I knew he’d written some short fiction, but I’d never come across any of it. When I saw a copy of his collection of short works The Bible Repairman,  it was a no brainer to buy it.  With 6 short stories (two of them really novellas) on the nature of souls and ghosts and things man perhaps was not meant to know, and a little blurb closing out each where he talks about how the story came into being, The Bible Repairman and other stories is a must have for any Powers fan.

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I used to read a LOT of Charlie Stross. Accelerando was a game changer for me, Glasshouse knocked my socks off, and I raved about plenty others. Then I got into Stross’s Merchant Princes series. That particular series didn’t do much for me, and I experienced major Stross burnout.

The Jennifer Morgue is the first Charlie Stross book I’ve read in about five years, and I’d forgotten how much fun Stross is. After laughing my head off a handful of times, at the humor and the pure quantity of ideas crammed into each sentence, something started to dawn on me: I think this might not be the first book in a series. And Yup, Jennifer Morgue is the sequel to Stross’s The Atrocity Archives, which I haven’t read. I had a choice to make. I could put down the fabulous Jennifer Morgue halfway through, track down a copy of Atrocity Archives, and hope to come back to Jennifer Morgue at a later date, or I could say the hell with order, and keep reading. I chose to keep reading. Sure, there were inside jokes I didn’t get, but with the help of some flashbacks and explanations, I didn’t feel lost at all.

Bob Howard is an agent with The Laundry, a secret British agency that deals with matters of the paranormal, specifically secret agreements between humans and Lovecraftian horrors, where we agree to leave them alone, and they agree (we think) to allow us to live. Those who bump back indeed. The Laundry is armed with all sorts of semi-magical and James Bond-esque gizmos. As much as Howard wishes for an Astin Martin, they give him a tricked out smart car.

Bad guy computer mogul Billington is trying to summon something unspeakable from the watery depths of the Caribbean, and his viper of a wife, Eileen, has a best selling cosmetics company thanks to a little virgin blood. Laundry agent Bob Howard has been tasked with finding out what Billington is up to, and stopping it. To complete his mission, Howard has to team up with a Black Chamber (the American version of The Laundry) Assassin named Ramona Random. Ramona isn’t what she appears to be, and doesn’t work for the Black Chamber by choice. Howard and Random become destiny entangled to allow a telepathic link. What one hears, feels, sees, and thinks, so does the other. But Ramona is a succubi, she feeds on men’s passions, and what she feels and experiences, so does Bob. How in the world is Bob going to explain this to his girlfrield, who also works for The Laundry? And if they don’t get unentangled in about a half a million seconds, the connection could become permanant. Read the rest of this entry »


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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.