Cinder by Marissa Meyer

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Cinder by Marissa MeyerCinder (Lunar Chronicles #1) by Marissa Meyer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars!

If you like Science Fiction and classic fairy tales, read this book!

Cinder is one of the most interesting characters I’ve read in a while. Unlike her fairy tale counterpart (Cinderella), Cinder is smart, brave, not helpless, and lots of common sense.  I liked her immediately.  Cinder also has a fantastic voice that drew me in and kept me wanting to know what would happen to her.

Set on Earth in the post-WWIV future, the story takes place in New Beijing, the plague-ridden capital of the new Eastern Commonwealth.  Make no mistake, this isn’t another futuristic dystopian fantasy; this story is pure Science Fiction where cyborgs, androids and netlinks abound!

While there are places the writing could have gone much deeper into world-building: fleshing out the intricacies of this new futuristic society, its complicated politics, its culture, etc., I for one appreciated Ms. Meyer’s light touch.  Even so, there’s plenty of world-building here to set the appropriate tone for a story that has real emotional power.

Initially, I simply enjoyed the clever ways Cinder mirrors the classic elements of the original Cinderella fairy tale (no spoilers), but the deeper I got into the story, the more I appreciated how much work went in to crafting this unique retelling.  Although the novel uses the well-known Cinderella tale to organize the high-level plot structure, the story that unfolds from there is nothing like what you might expect and still manages to hold some delightful surprises!

I read a lot in the young adult space and I’m always on the lookout for a well written story I’d feel comfortable in recommending to my 14-year-old daughter, who loves both classic literature and classic fairy tales.  Cinder is one book recommendation I’d happily pass along.

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Across the Universe by Beth Revis

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Across the Universe by Beth RevisAcross the Universe by Beth Revis

My rating: 5 of 5 stars!

A delightful surprise!

This book was not at all what I was expecting. The story is a compelling blend of science fiction, mystery, love, secrets, intrigue and more all unfolding within a society specifically engineered for life on a generation ship – Godspeed. Thoughtful and exciting, parts of the story will keep you guessing until the very end!

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Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal

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Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal

My rating: 4 of 5 stars!

Shades of Milk and Honey is a beautiful, skillfully crafted Regency era romance written in the style of Jane Austen . . . with magic.

In Mary Robinette Kowal’s Regency era England young ladies of quality learn the subtle art of Glamour (magic) alongside other fine arts such as painting and playing the piano forte. Unlike typical magical adventure tales where the magic itself becomes a tool for power and influence, Shades of Milk and Honey is a classic period Romance, balancing passion and propriety while delicately weaving Glamour by threads and folds into the fabric of daily life. Here, magic is a synonymous with refined society, not with power and domination.

Shades of Milk and Honey is a delightful read, full of descriptive settings, elegant formal language and an ample amount of swooning. Kowal takes great care to establish a truly period piece, authentically rendering her characters and their sensibilities and even going so far as using period spelling in her prose.

In true Regency style, Kowal’s characters keep most of their true feelings and desires hidden from one another. Thus, while her characters strive to maintain propriety, seeking to express their better natures, the reader is free to enjoy all the rising dramatic tension resulting from their continually unresolved internal and external struggles. Thankfully, Kowal doesn’t weaken her story by appealing to modern sensibilities. There are no easy, emotionally cathartic shortcuts here. But fear not! Passion and Glamour do ultimately collide in an exciting climax and an emotionally satisfying dénouement; an ending I suspect Jane Austen herself would be proud of.

I’ve already read and enjoyed many of Mary Robinette Kowal’s short stories. Now, after reading Shades of Milk and Honey (her debut novel), I can’t wait to see what she’ll draw next from the ether of her imagination.

(At the time of this review Shades of Milk and Honey has been nominated for a RT Bookreview Reviewer’s Choice Award for Best Fantasy Novel.)

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The Black Prism (Lightbringer #1) by Brent Weeks

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The Black Prism by Brent Weeks The Black Prism by Brent Weeks

My rating: 5 of 5 stars!

I gave this book a try based on a Goodreads recommendation (Thanks Mary!) and I am SO glad I did.  The world-building is amazing!  The magic system is painstakingly constructed so it’s both logical and consistent.  The plot is layered and gripping and the characters are beautifully drawn.  Each character is complicated and flawed in their own way, and despite some of their individual victories we still see them struggling with uncertainty and self-doubt.  I also love that the story doesn’t hold back when it comes to the complications of loyalty and trust among characters that keep cropping up, which is another key element that keeps the story racing along!  I enjoyed this one so much, as soon as I finished it I immediately went back and started it again.

I’ve already added Brent Weeks’  Night Angel Trilogy (and I don’t even like Ninjas) to my mental “must-read” list while I wait for the second installment of the Lightbringer trilogy.  It’s going to be a very difficult wait.

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Short Fiction Review – First Flight by Mary Robinette Kowal

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First Flight by Mary Robinette KowalFirst Flight by Mary Robinette Kowal

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve always loved well-crafted, consistent time travel stories when the author successfully establishes a clear vision of how time travel works in their story and then tells a compelling tale which doesn’t betray it. First Flight is an enjoyable read both because it’s well-written, and because it quite pleasantly sidesteps the stereotypical “little old lady” archetype by featuring a strong and capable elderly woman as its main character – a depiction we would all be enriched by seeing more of from other writers.

“First Flight” is a 2010 Locus Award Finalist.

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Boneshaker (The Clockwork Century #1) by Cherie Priest

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Boneshaker by Cherie Priest Boneshaker by Cherie Priest

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

At its heart, Boneshaker, set in 1880, is the story of Briar Wilkes and her son, Ezekiel, estranged from society and from one another by the mysterious and fateful actions of Briar’s husband (Zeke’s father), Leviticus Blue, and Zeke’s desperate attempt to rewrite history to try and clear his father’s name (along with the threat of zombies thrown in for good measure).

As genre goes, Boneshaker falls under the growing genre of steampunkBoneshaker was my first real experience with steampunk; it was definitely a worthwhile introduction.  What makes Boneshaker unique within that genre (zombie infestation aside) is that it’s set in North America rather than the traditional Victorian setting of London, England.  The zombie aspect provides an element of danger and even a touch of horror, but never pushes the horror envelope very far, lacking the overly-gratuitous descriptions of zombie carnage that might turn off slightly more sensitive readers, like me.

Ms. Priest takes nice advantage of the classic scary movie technique where moviegoers can more often hear the monster, without actually seeing it.  Throughout the story, thundering hoards of zombies (“rotters”) can been heard shambling with hunting intent behind closed doors, in outer hallways, on upper floors and outside just beyond the range visibility thanks to the fog of Blight gas filling the streets of downtown Seattle.

It’s clear from reading Boneshaker that Ms. Priest has done her homework on Seattle history. However, unlike some stories where the author’s research ends up written into the story as lots of unnecessary, albeit sometimes interesting, descriptive information, Ms. Priest uses a light touch so the story flows quite naturally without giving the impression she’s trying hard to squeeze in her research so it doesn’t go to waste.  Additionally, Ms. Priest has intentionally crafted her setting as an *alternate* history, taking liberties where necessary to tell the story she wants to tell the way she wants to tell it.  The result is that the story’s history comes off quite believably (again, zombie infestation aside) although I’d be curious to know what Seattle area readers might have to say after reading it.

In addition to its two main characters, Briar and Ezekiel, Boneshaker hosts a number of memorable characters (both likeable and unlikeable) which further bring the story to life; although it hardly seems appropriate to refer to them as secondary both because they are complexly written and because they are so essential to the integrity of the story.  By the end I found myself caring as much about what happens to each of them as I did about Briar and Zeke.

I definitely have Boneshaker on my list of books to read again.

NOTE: At the time of this review Boneshaker has been nominated for a Hugo Award.

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