One Boy’s Unusual Search for Himself: 100 SIDEWAYS MILES by Andrew Smith – Review

100 Sideways Miles 3D

100 Sideways Miles by Andrew Smith
Genre: Young adult contemporary
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Release date: September 2 2014
Source: eARC from publisher via Edelweiss
Pages: 288

four and a half

The nitty-gritty: An unusual but fascinating main character, a unique and touching friendship, and a journey of self-discovery that completely immerses the reader.

How can I ever describe the wordless universe I enter at times like these, and do it on paper, using words?

There’s one for the books.

I know this: First, I smelled flowers. Cade and Julia drifted toward me, down the trash-strewn and swirling corridor, followed by two shadow puppets. Maybe they were just the shadows of my own scattered atoms. The flower smell got thicker, almost sickening. I looked up and saw the outline of a horse lying on its side, suspended in the mesh net of chain-link overhead.

Here I come, Caballito!

This was my first Andrew Smith book. I have his other books, Winger and Grasshopper Jungle, on my reading list, but I just haven’t had time to read them. You can bet I’ll be finding time now, though, after reading 100 Sideways Miles.  Many of you may be looking at the odd cover and wondering what the heck this book is about. And I can tell you the horse on the cover does play a big part in the story, but not in the way you might think. Smith not only immerses us in the mind of a seventeen-year-old boy, but a seventeen-year-old boy with some very heavy baggage. The story is told in first person from Finn’s rambling and desperate point of view, and covers several months near the end of the school year and into the following summer.

Finn Easton is an epileptic, and has occasional seizures, after a freak accident killed his mother and landed him in the hospital with a broken back. Finn has all the problems of a normal teenaged boy: trying to find a girlfriend, wanting to get rid of his virginity (but not really), and trying to figure out what he’s going to do after high school. But he also has another problem: his father is a famous writer, having written a popular science fiction story called The Lazarus Door which describes a boy named Finn, with an odd scar on his back, who is a human-devouring alien. Finn feels trapped in the version of himself that his father has created, and therefore feels as if he doesn’t have an identity of his own. Even his own scars from back surgery look exactly like the scars on book-Finn’s back.

Near the end of the school year, Finn meets the lovely and mysterious Julia, and suddenly his life seems to have new meaning. But as Finn and Julia grow closer, Finn’s seizures start to happen more frequently, and an upcoming trip to a college in Oklahoma means he will soon need to make some choices about his future. But can Finn truly choose his own path when he’s still living under the shadow of his father’s book?

100 Sideways Miles was not at all what I was expecting, and that is a very good thing! Although there isn’t much of a plot, it doesn’t really matter, because what’s important here are the characters. The story centers around Finn, his best friend Cade, and Julia, the new girl in town. Finn is a dreamy sort of boy who lives much of his life in his own head, making excuses for his annoying and unlikable friend Cade and describing the passage of time in distances—based on the theory that the earth moves twenty miles per second, which becomes an equation for everything he does. Finn’s thoughts are all over the place, which may bother some readers. He jumps from subject to subject, often without any transitions, which made for some jarring sections. He also tends to repeat himself, which I found annoying at first. He talks about his “heterochromatic eyes” (two different colors) over and over, for example. But soon I realized it was just the way his character thinks, and this repetition didn’t bother me much after that.

Cade Hernandez is nearly the complete opposite of Finn, although oddly enough, they look as if they could be brothers. Cade is a character than many readers will hate. He’s extremely rude when he wants to be, he has no filter at all, and he embarrasses people whenever he opens his mouth. But despite all that, his peers seem to look up to him, and I was touched by what a loyal friend he is to Finn.

Julia was a quirky character in her own right, but she almost felt like background noise to me, in some ways. She seems to develop the beginnings of a deep relationship with Finn, but she never lost her unattainability, and felt more like a dream than a real character.

Finn has a dog named Laika, named after the famous dog who went to space in the Sputnik 2, but I spent most of the book feeling sorry for poor Laika. I was worried at first that Finn was going to mistreat his dog, at which point I would have thrown my Kindle across the room and called it quits. But luckily I never had to do that, although Finn isn’t very nice to Laika (he calls her stupid and keeps her in a crate at night), you can tell he really loves her.

There are some spectacularly funny scenes between Cade and Finn involving condoms, as Finn worries about whether or not Julia will want to have sex with him, and much of the humor comes from teenage hi-jinks, as the boys discuss girls, sex and erections. But there is also an air of sadness to the story, with its abandoned prison, dry lake, and William Mulholland’s famously failed dam, which reminded me of my own childhood growing up in the Mojave desert.

In the end, I was rooting for Finn to become the person he wanted to be, not the made-up version that his father created. Smith’s characters are definitely going to stick with me for a long time, particularly Finn, whose sideways view of the world gave me lots to think about.

Big thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy. The above quote was taken from an uncorrected proof, and may differ in the final version of the book.

You can find 100 Sideways Miles here:

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What’s On My Plate – September 2014

On My Plate

The year is slipping away from us! I can’t believe it’s already September. Although in my neck of the woods, September is typically one of the hottest months of the year, I’m looking forward to the weather changing soon, I hope:-) On my plate this month I have a few leftover books from August that I wasn’t able to get to, and some new ones as well. A pretty full plate, as usual! Here’s what I plan on reading this month:

For review from Edelweiss/NetGalley:

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. I’ve heard some buzz about this book, although I’ve yet to read any blog reviews. Anyone out there read this yet?

Jackaby by William Ritter. I’ve read a few rave reviews, and I’m really looking forward to this “Sherlock Holmes meets Doctor Who.”

Color Song by Victoria Strauss. I read Victoria’s first book in her series, and this is described as a “companion” novel. Victoria brings the historical world of art alive in her books, and I can’t wait to read this!

Tabula Rasa by Kristen Lippert-Martin. This one has some mixed reviews on Goodreads, but the story sure sounds exciting. I’m going to give it a try.

Winterspell by Claire Legrand. I’ve been looking forward to this Nutcracker retelling, and even though I’ve seen a few not-so-positive reviews, I’m still interested…

For review from publishers:

The Shotgun Arcana by R.S. Belcher. I really enjoyed Belcher’s first book in the series, The Six-Gun Tarot, and I can’t wait to read this one!

Falling Sky by Rajan Khanna. This very slim book from Pyr sounds really good. It’s steampunk, but you can’t really tell from the cover. Interesting…

The Iron Trial by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare. This is middle grade, which I don’t normally review here, but I’m so curious about the Harry Potter similarities that I just need to see for myself what’s up with this one!

If I have time, ARCs from Comic Con:

The Clockwork Dagger by Beth Cato. Super excited to read this steampunk start to a series. Plus, I want that woman’s jacket sooo bad! (I know I can’t have it, but seriously, isn’t it cool?)

Brood by Chase Novak. I stalked the Hachette booth at Comic Con until this book popped up for grabs. I loved the first book in the series!

The Midnight Queen by Sylvia Izzo Hunter. I’ve heard some good things about this one, although there are quite a range of reviews on Goodreads.

Maplecroft by Cherie Priest. Oh yeah, I will be reading this one, even if I have to bump a review book. One of my most anticipated books from Comic Con!

Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes. I have yet to read a book by Beukes, let’s hope this is my first!

Right, I know. Way too many books to read in a month, at least for me. But a girl can dream, right? As far as blog tours go, I do have one coming up this month:

Blog Tours:

The Mirror Empire

I’m pretty excited to be on the blog tour for The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley. I’m actually still reading this, but I’ll have my review up before my tour stop. Stop back here on September 11th for a guest post with Kameron. And I’m sure there will be a giveaway, Angry Robot is usually very generous:-)

Giveaways:

Book review giveaway button 2014 copy

And per usual, I will be giving away one of the books I reviewed in August, and let me tell you, I read some pretty damn amazing books last month! The giveaway starts on the 15th. Don’t forget to come back and enter!

So that’s my crazy reading month. Let me know what you’re up to in September!

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“It’s Not Just a Job. It’s the Rest of Your Life.” HORRORSTOR by Grady Hendrix – Review

 

Horrorstor

Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix
Genre: Adult horror
Publisher: Quirk Books
Release date: September 23 2014
Source: Purchased at Comic Con
Pages: 243

four and a half

The nitty-gritty: A clever and wry look at the big-box retail business, an unexpectedly graphic horror story, all wrapped up in a truly brilliant book design.

FRÅNJK: Dining is not about the table and chairs. It’s about the conversations and companions that you invite into your home, making memories that will sparkle tonight and last forever. FRÅNJK is the frame—your life is the picture.

(available in Night Birch and Beaver Oak)

I was very excited to find this book at the Quirk booth at San Diego Comic Con in July, especially since it’s not out until later this month. I happy purchased a copy, thinking I’d eventually get around to reading it. But I found myself in a frustrating reading slump this past week, while trying to get through the massive page count of The Mirror Empire, so rather than continue to struggle, I decided it was time for something fun and light (which by the way, are two words that cannot be applied to The Mirror Empire!) I rarely do that—stop reading a book in the middle—because what usually happens is that I never go back to it. (Although I will be finishing it this weekend.)

But I’m so glad I picked up Horrorstör, Grady Hendrix’s first traditionally published novel (I believe). It was just what I needed to clear my head, and I was pleasantly surprised by just how good this was. As you might be able to tell from the cover, Horrorstör is a spoof on IKEA, and takes place in a big-box store called Orsk, which claims to have “below-IKEA prices.” Now, like many people, I have a long and complicated relationship with IKEA. My house is only five minutes away from an IKEA. At one point, it was furnished entirely with their build-it-yourself furniture, and it’s only been in the past few years, as my kids have grown out of their destructive phase, that my husband and I have spent real money on real furniture, although I’ll admit I do still have a few IKEA pieces scattered here and there. (Oh hell, I’m working at an IKEA desk, for crying out loud!)

I say “complicated relationship” because as anyone who has ever attempted to assemble a piece of IKEA furniture knows, it’s not as easy as they make it seem. What the author has done with his book is taken the idea of retail marketing, blown it out of proportion, and turned it into a top-notch horror story. It’s such a brilliant idea, I don’t know why it hasn’t been done before. And serious kudos to the design team at Quirk Books! The book not only looks like an IKEA catalog and follows a similar format, but it’s the same trim size as well. Fake ads for Orsk products begin each chapter, and the highlighted item actually plays a part in the story. (Brilliant!) But as the story progresses, these ads begin to turn sinister, and the reader can’t help but start to feel uncomfortable when faced with something like this:

Horrorstor inside

But this isn’t just a gimmick: there is an actual story in Horrorstör. Amy is a disgruntled employee at Orsk who wants a transfer to another store. Her boss, overachiever Basil the deputy store manager, has it in for her and is always trying to tell her how to be better at her just-above-minimum-wage job. After some very disturbing vandalism is discovered on a Brooka sofa one morning before the store opens, Basil decides to take control of the situation and recruit Amy and model employee Ruth Anne to work a night shift with him in order to catch the culprit in the act. Offering them “double overtime,” Amy quickly agrees, knowing the extra money is just what she needs in order to pay her rent.

The evening starts innocently enough, as the three take turns patrolling the vast showroom floor of Orsk, but things soon turn weird. Amy and Ruth Anne stumble upon two fellow co-workers named Trinity and Matt (making out in a Müskk bed) who have broken into the store. Trinity is certain that Orsk is haunted, and she and Matt are determined to start their own cable ghost-hunting show by catching some real paranormal activity on film.

As the night wears on, strange things begin to happen. Amy discovers some odd graffiti in the women’s room, graffiti that wasn’t there only minutes earlier. Matt’s camera suddenly shows a different part of the store than the one he’s pointing the camera at. And they discover a homeless man who’s been camping out in Orsk and who turns out to be a catalyst for much of the horror that follows. When Trinity decides to hold a séance to call forth the spirits, things quickly begin to go downhill, and they begin to wonder if they’ll even survive until dawn.

Hendrix does a great job of slowly ramping up the tension, as Amy, Ruth Anne, Trinity, Basil and Matt discover that something terrible is going on in Orsk. I was expecting the story to mostly be a comedy, but there were some truly terrifying moments with plenty of graphic violence thrown in for good measure. The author’s explanation for the ghostly presence is a good one, although I did wish he’d gone into more detail about the origins of the evil (my only criticism of the book). Check out the back cover, which gives you a glimpse of the bad things to come:

Horrorstor back

As I mentioned before, the packaging design of Horrorstör is simply ingenious. Every inch of the book stays in character, and it even manages to poke fun at itself. The flap copy reads:

“A traditional haunted house story in a thoroughly contemporary setting, Horrorstör is designed to retain its luster and natural appearance for a lifetime of use. Pleasingly proportioned with generous French flaps and a softcover binding, Horrorstör delivers the psychological terror you need in the elegant package you deserve.”

Hendrix clearly has his own IKEA experiences to pull from.  At several points during the story, the characters get lost in Orsk’s maze-like floor plan, which was both funny and terrifying. This combination of horror and humor was part of what worked so well with the book.

I was a little worried about how Hendrix was going to wrap things up, but I shouldn’t have been. Although the ending was way over the top, somehow it managed to work, and even the characters, who you might expect to be cookie-cutter horror types, show some real grit and emotion at the end. After reading Horrorstör, I can tell you that I will never look at IKEA the same way again. Highly recommended!

Horrorstör is available on September 23rd! Find the book here:

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Ghosts and Gods: THE APEX BOOK OF WORLD SF 3 edited by Lavie Tidhar – Review

Apex Book of World SF 3 3D

The Apex Book of World SF 3 edited by Lavie Tidhar
Genre: Adult Science Fiction Anthology
Publisher: Apex Books
Release date: June 15 2014
Source: Finished paperback from publisher
Pages: 266

four stars

The nitty-gritty: A tasty buffet of choice stories from all over the world, some stronger than others, but all of them great examples of diversity and imagination.

Before she became a ghost, Xiao Qian tells me, she had lived a very full life. She had been married twice, gave birth to seven children, and raised them all.

And then her children got sick, one after another. In order to raise the money to pay the doctors, Xiao Qian sold herself off in pieces: teeth, eyes, breasts, heart, liver, lungs, bone marrow, and finally, her soul. Her soul was sold to Ghost Street, where it was sealed inside a female ghost’s body. Her children died anyway.

Apex Books continues to delight me with the way they stretch the boundaries of what science fiction and fantasy can be. In this collection, the third in a series, editor Lavie Tidhar has collected sixteen stories from many countries, including China, the Philippines, Malaysia, Nigeria, Greece, Mexico, Germany, France, Sweden and India. I was thrilled to discover some new favorite writers, and I intend to keep them on my radar. Some of the stories are translated into English, others are written in English, but all of them have not only an other-worldliness about them, but at the heart of each one, you’ll recognize the ups and downs of simply being human. For the most part, it was a very strong mix, and while not every story grabbed me, there were two or three that either made me cry or left me speechless.

As is my habit when I review anthologies, I would like to highlight my top five favorites. All five of these have everything I look for in a short story: lovely writing, an engaging story, characters who change and grow during the course of the tale, and emotional impact at the end. Imagine how hard it must be to achieve all these things in only a handful of pages! And yet these writers managed to do so:

A Hundred Ghosts Parade Tonight by Xia Jia. Translated from the Chinese by Ken Liu. A young boy named Ning lives in an odd family of ghosts, mechanical creatures with a human soul trapped inside them. But what happens when Ning finds out he’s not exactly who he thought he was? This heartbreaking tale had me bawling at the end.

Waiting with Mortals by Crystal Koo.

The neon in Hong Kong is like the past: an image of blurred points of light, and haste and shallow focus where the only certainty is a vivid experience eventually misremembered.

Koo’s writing is so beautiful, and this strange ghost story tells the tale of a group of ghosts who have not yet “crossed over,” but instead spend their days inhabiting the bodies of the living. Ben is a ghost who still pines for his friend J.G., a girl who is slowly losing herself by letting ghosts take over her body. A powerful and emotional story.

To Follow the Waves by Amal El-Mohtar. This author is truly metropolitan: she is a Lebanese-Canadian who lives in Glasgow, Scotland, so I’m not really sure how to categorize her story! This tale was particularly sneaky. It begins as a dreamy story about a woman who has been taught to weave dreams into stones for profit. But when she spies an intriguing and beautiful woman in a café, and begins to use her image as a catalyst for some very erotic dreams, the story suddenly turns dangerous.

Regressions by Swapna Kishore. A gorgeous story about time travel, as a group of “futurists”—women who are tasked with travelling back into India’s past and gently changing the tide of the Indian woman’s lot in life—must make sacrifices in order to improve the lives of women. I loved this story!

The City of Silence by Ma Boyong. Translated from the Chinese by Ken Liu. Just like George Orwell’s dystopian future, this 1984-esque story describes a future where the “appropriate authorities” control all language and publish a daily “List of Healthy Words” that citizens are allowed to use. When one man discovers a secret “Talking Club,” where one can speak whatever words he wants to, life becomes brighter—for a little while, at least. As with any dystopian, this is a chilling look at how dangerous government control can be.

Four other stories that nearly made this list are: Act of Faith by Fadzlishah Johanabas. A lonely man named Daud decides to teach his only companion, an android, the ways of his faith; The Foreigner by Uko Bendi Udo. A Nigerian boy seeks acceptance in a world filled with hate and mistrust. Jungle Fever by Zulaikha Nurain Mudzar. One of the few horror stories in the bunch, a girl contracts a nasty scratch while in the jungle, a scratch that changes her life forever. And Dancing on the Red Planet by Berit Ellingsen. An international group of astronauts, about to set foot on Mars for the first time, decide to make that special moment memorable.

So do yourself a favor and check out this anthology. I guarantee it will make you look at the world a little differently. Big thanks to Apex Books for providing a review copy.

You can find the book here:

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Waiting on Wednesday (114): THE MECHANICAL by Ian Tregillis

WOW 2014 copy

Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Breaking the Spine, and is a fun way to share upcoming books that we’re “waiting” on with other bloggers and readers. Here’s my pick this week:

MGear-2

The Mechanical (The Alchemy Wars #1) by Ian Tregillis. Releases in March 2015 from Orbit. I’ve never read Tregillis before, although this isn’t his first book. But I really love this cover, which is what drew me in, and the story of a “mechanical man powered by alchemy” sealed the deal! Here’s the description from Goodreads:

My name is Jax.

That is the name granted to be by my human masters.

I am a clakker: a mechanical man, powered by alchemy. Armies of my kind have conquered the world – and made the Brasswork Throne the sole superpower.

I am a faithful servant. I am the ultimate fighting machine. I am endowed with great strength and boundless stamina.

But I am beholden to the wishes of my human masters.

I am a slave. But I shall be free.

goodreads-badge-add-plus

Have you read Ian Tregillis’ other books? Let me know what you’re waiting on this week!

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Tammy’s Top Ten Books I Want to Read, But Don’t Own (Yet!)

Top Ten Tuesday new 7-14 copy

Welcome to Top Ten Tuesday! I thought this would be a fun and easy topic, especially since there are always books I want to read, and many that I still don’t own, due to a lack on my part of book shopping. (It’s amazing to me that when you finally have extra money to spend, you never actually have the time to spend it!) These books are in order of my excitement level, so here we go:

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie. This book just won the Hugo Award, so of course I need to read it! Plus the sequel is coming out very soon. Even more reason to buy this now!

Generation V by M.L. Brennan. Here’s another book with a sequel on the horizon, and I haven’t even started the series yet. Many of my blogger buddies love these books, and I completely trust their judgement:-)

Doctor Sleep by Stephen King. I call myself King’s biggest fan (but don’t all Stephen King fans call themselves that??), and I haven’t even purchased this one yet. For shame!

The Islands at the End of the World by Austin Aslan. I was very disappointed when I requested this from the publisher, then never heard a peep from them, but I’m still dying to read it. This book has received lots of starred reviews from the big trade reviewers, and I want to see if they’re right.

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin. This “book themed” story has Tammy written all over it! I just haven’t had time to actually buy it.

We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas. This book is going to be big, and win stuff. It’s literary fiction, which I used to read all the time before I started blogging. I really miss literary fiction, and despite the depressing story line, I can’t wait to find time for this.

The Girl from the Well by Rin Chupeco. This is another title I requested and wasn’t approved for, so I kind of forgot about it. But it’s horror, and I am always up for a good and creepy horror story, especially since it’s set in Japan.

California by Edan Lepucki. Here’s another book that I didn’t get from Edelweiss, but I’ve heard some buzz and read some positive reviews about it, and I do want to read it at some point.

Half Bad by Sally Green. OK, there is a trend developing here. I wasn’t approved for this either! BUT, despite some negative reviews, I still want to read it for myself. And the sequel is coming out soon!

American Elsewhere by Robert Jackson Bennett. And yes, here is one more book that I wasn’t approved for on Edelweiss (I have a tough time with them sometimes!). But I’ve heard great things about this author, and despite the mammoth page count of this book, I do want to get my own copy.

I’d love to know if you’ve read any of these, and would you recommend them. Let me know in the comments!

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Adventure & Airships: THE BULLET-CATCHER’S DAUGHTER by Rod Duncan

The Bullet Catcher 3D

The Bullet Catcher’s Daughter (The Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire #1) by Rod Duncan
Genre: Adult Steampunk
Publisher: Angry Robot Books
Release date: August 26 2014
Source: eARC from publisher via NetGalley
Pages: 384

four and a half

The nitty-gritty: A rollicking steampunk adventure, filled with intricate twists and turns, top-notch world building, and a heroine that quickly became one of my favorites ever.

Illusion was my inheritance, fed to me on my mother’s lap as the drowsy rocking of the caravan and the slow rhythm of iron-shod hooves lulled me. It was a ripe strawberry conjured from the air, or a silver coin caressed from my soft cheek by the touch of a loving hand.

The first great illusion given me by my father was the gift of being, when needed, my own twin brother. I learned by stages to move as he moved and to look as he looked. My voice would always be the weakest part of the illusion, but even this could be covered by misdirection. At a distance of twenty paces, under the deceiving illumination of the stage lights, my friends could not tell me from a man.

From the opening paragraph of The Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter, I was enchanted by just about everything this book has to offer. Duncan’s novel takes place in an alternate history UK that feels very much like Victorian England but with the steampunk addition of airships. Elizabeth Barnabus is the young narrator, and her voice was so clear and, frankly, feminine, that I kept having to remind myself that the author is male. I’ve run across several brilliantly written books with a male narrator written by a female author, but I think this might the best male author writing a female character that I’ve ever read. A delicious air of mystery and hijinks pervades this story, and I was immediately drawn into the unique world Duncan has created. True, there are many steampunk novels out there with airships and mechanical devices, but this book has much more, including a circus of illusion, a menacing organization called the Patent Office, and two lands divided by a hard-to-cross border.

Elizabeth, our heroine, lives in exile in the land of the Republic, an old-fashioned and oppressive place where women aren’t allowed in bars or out on the streets unchaperoned. Her true home, the Kingdom, lies just out of reach on the other side of the border. After the ruin of her family, she barely survives by eking out a living as an “intelligence gatherer,” except there’s a twist—Elizabeth makes her living at night by dressing up as a man and pretending to be her twin brother.

After the Duchess of Bletchley approaches “Mr. Barnabus” and begs him to find her missing brother, offering a king’s ransom for completing the job, Elizabeth agrees, knowing the money will get her out of debt for good. But Mr. Orville’s (the Duchess’ brother) trail proves hard to find, until Elizabeth stumbles upon Harry Timpson’s Laboratory of Arcane Wonders, a wondrous circus that just might hide clues as to his whereabouts. Elizabeth finagles herself into the ranks of the circus-folk and gets a job cleaning out the lion pens, but the mysteries keep piling up. Why is the dreaded Patent Office after Mr. Orville? Who is John Farthing and why is he following Elizabeth? And what does the mysterious contraption, a box that Mr. Orville supposedly stole, do anyway? There are dangers aplenty, as well as adventure, all wrapped up in a lively narrative that whisks the reader along with barely time to take a breath.

I have to begin by talking about the character of Elizabeth, because she was such a bright and vivacious part of this story. Many of the other characters were strong and engaging as well, but none can compete with Elizabeth, who really steals the show. One of the ongoing and unexplained mysteries of The Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter is whether or not Elizabeth’s twin brother actually exists (and by the end of the book, I still wasn’t sure!). She has been taught by her father from a very young age the art of “becoming” a man, in dress, makeup, hair and attitude, and in this way she conceals herself and is able to move among men and conduct her intelligence gathering. Duncan’s descriptions of how quickly she can change into her brother, and back again, were fascinating. Elizabeth is never without her battered old case that hides the clothing and wigs necessary for her illusion.

But disguising herself as a man isn’t without its challenges. Elizabeth’s friend Julia, who believes there are actually two siblings, begins to fall for the brother (awkward!). And throughout the story, not everyone is fooled by the disguise. Eventually Elizabeth’s dual life becomes rather complicated, and you can imagine the hilarity that ensues.

The details of Elizabeth’s backstory and the reason she now lives in the Republic are slowly doled out over the course of the book. Duncan does a great job of avoiding “info dump” by letting the story unfold in its own way and allowing the reader to fill in the blanks.

Part of the plot revolves around the circus that Elizabeth briefly joins, but this is by no means a “circus story.”  However, she meets several colorful and endearing characters while working there, most notably a young boy named Tinker who melted my heart, who also used to live in the Kingdom, and a fortune-teller named Tania who seems to know exactly what Elizabeth is up to.

The steampunk elements were so interesting, and Duncan goes into detailed description at one point about exactly how an airship runs. In fact, there were so many interesting touches that remind you this world is very unfamiliar. Details like the avian post (birds that deliver letters) and the hub ship that Elizabeth lives on (an old boat no longer in use) and even a strange holiday called Ned Ludd Day (which explains the meaning of the word “Luddite”) were so charming. Even though at its heart this story is what I would call a “caper” and is filled with chase scenes and misdirection, it’s also an alternate history story that is rich with colorful details.

The author includes a glossary called The Bullet Catcher’s Handbook at the end of the book, which explains some of the unfamiliar terms used in the story (including  “bullet catcher”) which I found very useful. He also begins each chapter with short excerpts from the handbook, like this pithy statement:

“Lying is an art form. It becomes sin only if the deception is discovered.”

By the end of the story, many of the mysteries are solved. But Duncan teases us with a hint of what’s to come in the next book, which luckily for us is not that far away (January 2015!). Run, don’t walk, and pick up this wonderful adventure tale with one of the most clever and resourceful heroines you’ll ever meet.

Many thanks to Angry Robot for supplying a review copy. Above quotes were taken from an uncorrected proof, and may differ in the final version of the book.

You can find The Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter here:

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Are You Ready for BONES Season 10? How About CASTLE Season 7?

Bones Season 10

I can’t believe my beloved TV show Bones is heading into its tenth season! Now, like many long-running TV shows, it’s had its ups and downs. Bones has become increasingly message heavy in the last few seasons, much to my dismay. (Dammit, I’m watching for entertainment’s sake, not to mention getting to stare at David Boreanaz, T.J. Thyne, and John Francis Daley for an hour each week!) It feels like every episode has become a vehicle to shine a light on a cause that needs some attention—identity theft, various diseases, depression, cancer—rather than putting the focus where it needs to be: on the story and the characters. Nonetheless, I still love my Bones, since I’ve been watching it faithfully since the very beginning.

In case you’re not up to speed, last season this happened (please note: if you are squeamish, beware! Graphic depictions of dead bodies ahead! You have been warned!):

There was quite a lot of drama at the end, and I don’t want to spoil it if you’re just catching up on Season 9, but I can’t wait to see what happens next:-) The new season premieres on Thursday September 25th!

Castle Season 7And then there’s the awesome Castle, which also ended on a horrible cliff hanger! I couldn’t find an “official” promo video for Season 7, but I did find this video which isn’t bad and shows how Season 6 wrapped up:

And I wouldn’t want to leave out my “boys” from Castle: Seamus Dever, Jon Huertas, and of course, Nathan Fillion:-)

Castle Season 7 premiers on Monday, September 29th! Do you watch either (or both) of these shows? What did you think of the season cliffhangers??

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Waiting on Wednesday (113) THE HEART DOES NOT GROW BACK by Fred Venturini

WOW 2014 copy

Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Breaking the Spine, and is a fun way to share the books you’re excited about with other bloggers and readers. Click on the link to read more WoW posts and add some new reads to your TBR pile!

I can’t remember where I saw this book, but I can’t believe I haven’t heard of it before now. It sounds sooo good, and it’s got some very good reviews so far:

The Heart Does Not Grow Back

The Heart Does Not Grow Back by Fred Venturini. Releases in November from Picador. This is a superhero story, and I love that you can’t tell it’s about a superhero from the cover. I believe this originally started life as The Samaritan, but it was rewritten and repackaged with a new title. Here’s what Goodreads says:

EVERY SUPERHERO NEEDS TO START SOMEWHERE…

Dale Sampson is used to being a nonperson at his small-town Midwestern high school, picking up the scraps of his charismatic lothario of a best friend, Mack. He comforts himself with the certainty that his stellar academic record and brains will bring him the adulation that has evaded him in high school. But when an unthinkable catastrophe tears away the one girl he ever had a chance with, his life takes a bizarre turn as he discovers an inexplicable power: He can regenerate his organs and limbs.

When a chance encounter brings him face to face with a girl from his past, he decides that he must use his gift to save her from a violent husband and dismal future. His quest takes him to the glitz and greed of Hollywood, and into the crosshairs of shadowy forces bent on using and abusing his gift. Can Dale use his power to redeem himself and those he loves, or will the one thing that finally makes him special be his demise?The Heart Does Not Grow Back is a darkly comic, starkly original take on the superhero tale, introducing an exceptional new literary voice in Fred Venturini.

goodreads-badge-add-plus

As soon as I heard about this book, I frantically went looking for it on NetGalley and Edelweiss (and found it!). I was (shockingly, considering my stats on NetGalley) approved right away! So excited! This is why I love books: those times when you stumble upon something unexpected.

Let me know what you’re waiting on:-)

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Clear Your Shelf Giveaway Hop: Win a Box of Secret Books!

clear your shelf hop

Welcome to my stop on the Clear Your Shelf Giveaway Hop, hosted by Bookhounds and I Am A Reader, Not a WriterFirst off, this giveaway is for US residents only. I know I have lots of international readers, but it’s just too expensive to ship a box of books out of the country. I participated in this hop last year, which also fell right after I returned from San Diego Comic Con, and this year I will also be giving away a box of books that I picked up at SDCC. This year, however, I wanted to do something different, so the contents of this year’s box are a SURPRISE, although if you are really on the ball, you will probably recognize some of the teaser photos that I’ll share with you.

Here are a few clues about the contents of this box:

1. There are nine books in the box.

2. Of the nine, two are adult books and the other seven are young adult.

3. Seven of the books are ARCs, and two are finished copies.

4. Of the ARCs, two were published in July, one will be published in August, two will be published in September, and two will be published in October.

5. Two of the books are mysteries, six are fantasy and/or dystopian, and one is urban fantasy.

 6. One of the books is slightly controversial, and was written by a very controversial author.

Warning: Secret box of books may contain Comic Con swag! Enter at your own risk:-)

And now for a glimpse at the books:

Obviously, some of these photo clues may be easy to guess, but I’m sure I’m going to stump someone, right? If you live in the US and you’re interested in winning this box of books, simply click on the Rafflecopter button below:

Raffle buttonAnd don’t forget to follow the rest of the Hop here. Good luck!

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