Dec 24, 2018

 

Book Review - Noumenon Infinity, Noumenon #2 (by Marina J. Lostetter)


Title:
Noumenon Infinity

Series: Noumenon (book #2)
Author: Marina J. Lostetter
Genre: Science Fiction, Space Opera
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Release Date: August 14th, 2018
Format: Paperback
Pages: 576



"Generations ago, Convoy Seven and I.C.C. left Earth on a mission that would take them far beyond the solar system. Launched by the Planet United Consortium, a global group formed to pursue cooperative Earth-wide interests in deep space, nine ships headed into the unknown to explore a distant star called LQ Pyx.

Eons later, the convoy has returned to LQ Pyx to begin work on the Web, the alien megastructure that covers the star. Is it a Dyson Sphere, designed to power a civilization as everyone believes—or something far more sinister?

Meanwhile, Planet United’s littlest convoy, long thought to be lost, reemerges in a different sector of deep space. What they discover holds the answers to unlocking the Web’s greater purpose.

Each convoy possesses a piece of the Web’s puzzle . . . but they may not be able to bring those pieces together and uncover the structure’s true nature before it’s too late."

(click to read an excerpt on Barnes&Noble)

- Review -
What Made Me Read It
It's the sequel to the novel "Noumenon". At the end of book #1, Convoy Seven finally returns home after the eons-long mission to LQ-Pyx, only to find an Earth that not only has lost all interest in space exploration but doesn't welcome their ancestors either. So the convoy decides to return to LQ-Pyx to continue the study of the alien megastructure and finish its construction.

The Plot
In the final events of book #1 "Noumenon", the fleet of 9 generation ships designated Convoy Seven, returns home after the centuries-long mission to study the strange behavior of the distant star LQ-Pyx. But the Earth they return to is very different from the one their ancestors left 2000 years before, and the evolved society has lost the scientific curiosity that first drove humanity into the stars. No longer feeling welcomed on Earth, the crew of Convoy Seven decides to return to LQ-Pyx on a new mission - to finish construction of the alien megastructure previous clone iterations dubbed as the Web and, if possible, learn more about the species that first built it, the Nataré.

But different interpretations of the convoy's new mission divides the crew, with different clone scholars wishing to pursuit different routes. To avoid the collapse of the convoy's society, the artificial intelligence I.C.C. proposes the convoy be split in two groups: the builders of Convoy Seven, renamed Noumenon Infinity, who will continue to LQ-Pyx to finish construction of the Web; and the chasers of Convoy Seven Point Five, Noumenon Ultra, who will follow the leads to find the Nataré and make contact with the species, in order to learn more about them and the true nature of the Web.

Back in the 22nd century, Convoy Seven had been one of 12 deep space missions launched by the Planet United Consortium. To study and test new ways of SD (sub-dimensional) travel, and as a show force to keep the public's interest in space exploration, Convoy Twelve's smaller fleet of 3 ships stayed closer to home in the outskirts of the solar system. When the convoy suffers an unexplained accident that leaves only two surviving ships lost in both space and time, Convoy Twelve's head scientist Vanhi Kapoor and her crew must find a way to return home before their meager supplies run out, while dodging the menacing interest of a fleet of disturbing alien ships.

The Good
As a sequel to book #1 "Noumenon", "Noumenon Infinity" shares a similar structure of several interlinked novelettes. But instead of focusing on a single convoy of generation ships, book #2 follows two different and independent threads, with alternating chapters telling the journey of the already familiar Convoy Seven from book #1, and the new (only previously mentioned) Convoy Twelve. Convoy Seven's thread picks up after the events of "Noumenon", narrating its new mission to understand the alien megastructure surrounding distant star LQ-Pyx through different generations of clones, over the course of several centuries. Convoy Twelve's thread takes us back in time to its initial launch in the 22nd century, and follows the fate of a single crew of non-cloned humans and their families after suffering an accident that leaves them stranded in distant space and time, dealing with the aftermath of the catastrophic event over the course of a single decade. The two threads initially flow independently from one another until eventually intercepting in the final chapters.

Like the previous novel, "Noumenon Infinity" also plays with popular science fiction elements and themes: generation ships, time dilation, alien megastructures, how societies develop and reorganize over time through hardship and necessity, how individuals react to conflict and through their decisions affect future generations, how clones are more than just genetics... but the focus is less on society changes and more on the evolution of humankind as a species.

Book #2 is entertaining and even more ambitious than the first novel, with imaginative worldbuilding, interesting puzzles and plenty of unexpected turns and twists. The characters are 3-dimensional and unique, with distinct personalities, believable and relatable. "Noumenon Infinity" can be read as a standalone for the most part, since there are enough references to events and characters from the first book to follow the story easily, but I still suggest starting with book #1 to get a better understanding of the general plot and the motivations behind each character.

The Not So Good
The author came up with interesting bold ideas for the future of the human race but in the last chapters they became too bizarre for my taste, making it hard to read and feel invested. The final chapter in particular was just plain confusing and rushed, with the plot taking several leaps forward in time on every other paragraph. There are also a lot more loose ends, unresolved issues and unanswered questions - with no announcement as of yet of a third book, it's disappointing and frustrating. Overall it just wasn't as enjoyable as book #1 and the reason the rating is lower.

Final Rating
"Noumenon Infinity" is an entertaining and captivating science fiction novel with bold science and plenty of suspense and plot twists. Recommended for those who enjoy space opera and stories with alien megastructures and artifacts, generation ships, time dilation, clones, artificial intelligence and first contact.


• • • •


- About the Author -
Website: lostetter.wordpress.com
Twitter: @MarinaLostetter
Genre: Science Fiction, Fantasy, Humor and Comedy

The open skies and dense forests of the Pacific Northwest are ideal for growing speculative fiction authors–or, at least, Marina [Lostetter] would like to think so. Originally from Oregon, she now resides in Arkansas with her spouse, Alex. In her spare time she enjoys globetrotting, board games, and all things art-related.

Her original short fiction has appeared in venues such as Lightspeed, InterGalactic Medicine Show, and Shimmer Magazine. Her debut novel, NOUMENON, and its sequel, NOUMENON INFINITY are available from Harper Voyager.  In addition, she has written tie-in materials for Star Citizen and the Aliens franchise.

She is represented by DongWon Song of the Howard Morhaim Literary Agency, and she tweets as @MarinaLostetter.

Previous in the series: Noumenon, Noumenon #1 (book review)

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Dec 17, 2018

 

Book Review - Noumenon, Noumenon #1 (by Marina J. Lostetter)


Title:
Noumenon

Series: Noumenon (book #1)
Author: Marina J. Lostetter
Genre: Science Fiction
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Release Date: July 27th, 2017
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 420



"In 2088, humankind is at last ready to explore beyond Earth’s solar system. But one uncertainty remains: Where do we go?

Astrophysicist Reggie Straifer has an idea. He’s discovered an anomalous star that appears to defy the laws of physics, and proposes the creation of a deep-space mission to find out whether the star is a weird natural phenomenon, or something manufactured.

The journey will take eons. In order to maintain the genetic talent of the original crew, humankind’s greatest ambition—to explore the furthest reaches of the galaxy—is undertaken by clones. But a clone is not a perfect copy, and each new generation has its own quirks, desires, and neuroses. As the centuries fly by, the society living aboard the nine ships (designated “Convoy Seven”) changes and evolves, but their mission remains the same: to reach Reggie’s mysterious star and explore its origins—and implications.

A mosaic novel of discovery, Noumenon—in a series of vignettes—examines the dedication, adventure, growth, and fear of having your entire world consist of nine ships in the vacuum of space. The men and women, and even the AI, must learn to work and live together in harmony, as their original DNA is continuously replicated and they are born again and again into a thousand new lives. With the stars their home and the unknown their destination, they are on a voyage of many lifetimes—an odyssey to understand what lies beyond the limits of human knowledge and imagination."

(click to read an excerpt on Barnes&Noble)

- Review -
What Made Me Read It
They had me at multi-generational deep-space mission, a convoy of generation ships crewed by clones and an A.I. on a centuries long voyage into deep space.

The Plot
In 2088, Humanity is ready to explore the universe beyond the confines of our solar system. The Planet United Consortium funds 12 deep space missions of exploration, convoys of generational ships crewed by thousands of highly specialized scientists and engineers, cloned from handpicked scholars to preserve and maintain a stable operational crew and society.

Planet United Convoy 7 is launched in 2125, on a mission to explore the strange behavior of the distant star LQ Pyx and determine whether it's the result of an undiscovered natural phenomenon or something artificially created. A hundred thousand clones, spread across a fleet of nine ships managed by the artificial intelligence I.C.C. (Inter Convoy Computing), set out on a journey that will take approximately 200 years to complete.

But 200 years lived by the convoy means 2000 years will go by from Earth's perspective and when all communications with the home planet mysteriously cease, Convoy 7 can't stop but wonder if the Earth their predecessors left will be the same Earth their successors will return to.

The Good
"Noumenon" is a set of self-contained but interlinked novelettes that follow the centuries-long journey of a convoy of generation ships, crewed by an enclosed and self-sustained society of clones. Because the story takes place over multiple generations, each novelette/chapter focus on a different character from each generation, offering their view of the society-changing events that shape that particular generation and the effects those events have on future ones.

Even though the plot revolves around the mission to solve the mystery of the abnormal distant star, the novel is mostly character-driven with few action sequences and very little mystery-solving. The focus is instead on how a particular society evolves over time. How its social system, culture, ideas, traditions and values change and adapt to different circumstances. How a single individual's experiences, choices and decisions impact the community for better or worse.

"Noumenon" is an intelligent and thought-provoking novel that addresses themes of social change through both evolution and revolution, nature vs nurture, personal identity and relationships, sense of purpose and belonging, community and social class, power dynamic and power corruption.

All the characters, both clones and the A.I., are 3-dimentional and fully developed. Even though they're all cloned iterations of a handful of original individuals, they have their own distinctive personalities and motivations, born of their personal struggles and unique experiences, which makes them feel real and relatable. The artificial intelligence I.C.C. is the only constant character throughout the whole plot but even it grows over time beyond its original programing, becoming a character all by itself.

Final Rating
"Noumenon" is an engrossing, entertaining and thought-provoking science fiction character study on the effects of deep space travel on closed communities. Recommended for  those who enjoy stories that focus on generation ships, time dilation, clones, artificial intelligence, alien artifacts and first contact.


• • • •


- About the Author -
Website: lostetter.wordpress.com
Twitter: @MarinaLostetter
Genre: Science Fiction, Fantasy, Humor and Comedy

The open skies and dense forests of the Pacific Northwest are ideal for growing speculative fiction authors–or, at least, Marina [Lostetter] would like to think so. Originally from Oregon, she now resides in Arkansas with her spouse, Alex. In her spare time she enjoys globetrotting, board games, and all things art-related. 

Her original short fiction has appeared in venues such as Lightspeed, InterGalactic Medicine Show, and Shimmer Magazine. Her debut novel, NOUMENON, and its sequel, NOUMENON INFINITY are available from Harper Voyager.  In addition, she has written tie-in materials for Star Citizen and the Aliens franchise. 

She is represented by DongWon Song of the Howard Morhaim Literary Agency, and she tweets as @MarinaLostetter.


Next in the series: Noumenon Infinity, Noumenon #2 (book review)


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Dec 12, 2018

 

Book Review - Run Program (by Scott Meyer)


Title: Run Program
Series: - 
Author: Scott Meyer
Genre: Science Fiction, Humor
Publisher: 47North
Release Date: June 20th, 2017
Format: Paperback
Pages: 366



"What’s worse than a child with a magnifying glass, a garden full of ants, and a brilliant mind full of mischief?

Try Al, a well-meaning but impish artificial intelligence with the mind of a six-year-old and a penchant for tantrums. Hope Takeda, a lab assistant charged with educating and socializing Al, soon discovers that day care is a lot more difficult when your kid is an evolving and easily frightened A.I.

When Al manages to access the Internet and escape the lab days before his official unveiling, Hope and her team embark on a mission to contain him—before he causes any real trouble.

Soon the NSA is on Al’s back, the US Army is fighting a brigade of mass-produced robots, and a wannabe cyberterrorist is looking to silence Al permanently. After months spent “raising” Al, Hope knows she’s running out of time—and she’s not sure she’ll be able to protect him. Will she manage to control the unruly A.I. and quell a global crisis, or will Al outsmart them once and for all?"

(click to read an excerpt on amazon.com)

- Review -
What Made Me Read It
I was drawn to the idea of an infant A.I. going rogue.

The Plot
AL (short for Albert) is an artificial intelligence, modeled after a child's brain and raised by Dr. Lydia Madsen's lab assistants Hope Takeda and Eric Spears. After two years confined in a controlled environment at OffiSmart headquarters, AL has figured out a way to explore the outside world through the internet, which AL promptly uses to pull pranks on its trainers, Hope and Eric. Scared of the A.I.'s newfound independence, the OffiSmart's CEO decides to reboot the A.I. to prevent any further uncontrolled developments.

Fearing for its existence, AL escapes from the lab, using the internet to transfer its consciousness to a remote server farm. AL just wants to be left alone but the NSA has taken an interest in its abilities, while a paranoid wannabe freedom fighter calling himself "The Voice of Reason" wants to destroy it as a danger to society.

The Army conscripts Hope and Eric to track down and contain the runaway A.I. and its up to AL to use its cunning and rapidly developing intelligence, alongside an army of prototype robots manufactured in China, to stay ahead of its pursuers.

The Good
"Run Program" is a light and humorous take on the classic question of what would happen if an artificial intelligence, in this particular case with the mind of a 6-year-old, escaped its controlled environment and got loose in the real world. Unlike most A.I. stories though, this one doesn't want to destroy, idolize or serve its creators, but get as far away from them as possible and be left alone.

The narrative is simplistic with a predictable plot, little conflict and full of silly one-liners. The novel doesn't take itself too seriously, though it includes some thoughtful insights on parenting, morality and humanity, sprinkled with deep philosophical sayings thrown in by one of the characters for good measure.

All the characters are deliberately one-dimensional and stereotypical, with no background or development, since the purpose of the story is to play with the absurd of smart people driven by ridiculous motivations with even more ridiculous reactions. Still, the chemistry between AL and its two minders, Hope and Eric, is good and their interactions, specially in the first part of the plot before the A.I. runs away, are realistic and typical of any parent-child interaction.

The Not So Good
The book is clearly meant to be funny and enjoyable but for some reason it didn't hold my interest. I couldn't engage with the plot and most of the characters were either unrelatable and unmemorable or just plain unlikeable. Specially the A.I., that was one annoying kid! The only reason I forced myself to finish this book was to see how AL would be destroyed (spoiler alert: the resolution was highly disappointing!).

Final Rating
"Run Program" is a light, quick read novel, with plenty of dry witty humor. Recommended for those who enjoy silly stories about kids and A.I. gone rogue.


• • • •


- About the Author -
Website: www.scottmeyer.rocks
Genre: Humor and Comedy, Science Fiction, Fantasy

Scott Meyer has been a radio DJ, a stand-up comic, a writer for video games, an office manager, a theme-park ride operator  and a pretend ghost bellhop. (He held those jobs in the order they’re listed, which is probably the opposite of what you’d expect.)

He has written for several video games and created the comic strip Basic Instructions, which ran online and in various alternative weekly papers across the country for nearly a decade. Scott is the author of the Magic 2.0 books and several other novels and comics collections.

He and his wife live in Arizona, to be close to their cats.


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Dec 7, 2018

 

Book Review - Legion: The Many Lives of Stephen Leeds, Legion #1-3 (by Brandon Sanderson)

Title: Legion: The Many Lives of Stephen Leeds
Series: Legion (books #1 - #3)
Author: Brandon Sanderson
Genre: Urban Fantasy, Mystery & Thriller
Publisher: Tor Books
Release Date: September 18th, 2018
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 352



"Stephen Leeds is perfectly sane. It’s his hallucinations who are mad.

A genius of unrivaled aptitude, Stephen can learn any new skill, vocation, or art in a matter of hours. However, to contain all of this, his mind creates hallucinatory people—Stephen calls them aspects—to hold and manifest the information. Wherever he goes, he is joined by a team of imaginary experts to give advice, interpretation, and explanation. He uses them to solve problems… for a price.

Stephen’s brain is getting a little crowded and the aspects have a tendency of taking on lives of their own. When a company hires him to recover stolen property—a camera that can allegedly take pictures of the past—Stephen finds himself in an adventure crossing oceans and fighting terrorists. What he discovers may upend the foundation of three major world religions—and, perhaps, give him a vital clue into the true nature of his aspects."

(click to read an excerpt on torforgeblog.com)

- Review -
What Made Me Read It
The premise sounded fascinating - a whole legion of specialized hallucinations with a life of their own, helping the man who created them solve mysteries.

The Plot
Stephen Leeds has the mind of a genius, with an uncanny ability to rapidly master a wide variety of highly specialized skills. In order to contain and manage his vast knowledge without going crazy, Stephen has had to create a whole set of personas, hallucinations he calls "aspects", each with his or her own personality and a specific skill set. But to house and feed all 47 of his aspects costs money. Stephen offers his skills for a price, using the combined effort and advice of his hallucinations to help him navigate the real world while solving problems for his clients.

In "Legion", Stephen is hired to recover a stolen camera that takes pictures of the past. Traveling to Jerusalem in search of the missing suspect, Stephen and his aspects must face off terrorists who want to use this new invention to shatter the foundations of three major world religions.

In "Skin Deep", the technological company I3 (Innovative Information Incorporate) wants Stephen to recover the stolen corpse of one of their researchers, a pioneer in the field of experimental biology who may have stored dangerous information in his own DNA.

In "Lies of the Beholder" Stephen is starting to lose his mind, one aspect at a time. But when Sandra, the woman who taught him how to control his condition, reappears in his life asking for help, Stephen goes head-to-head with a high-tech firm specialized in advanced methods of human incarceration to save both their lives.

The Good
"Legion: The Many Lives of Stephen Leeds" is a collection of 3 novellas telling the adventures of a genius part-time detective who suffers from a unique form of extreme schizophrenia. The first 2 novellas are fun little detective stories that follow the main character Stephen Leeds and some of his hallucinations while on a case: in "Legion" we're introduced to the characters and get to see how Stephen's mind works, his relationship with his aspects and how they help him understand the clues to crack the case; in "Skin Deep" we go deeper into those relationships and meet a few new personas, but we also watch Stephen start to lose control over some of them and the effects that has on his mental stability. The third novella, "Lies of the Beholder", wraps up the series with a more somber and emotional tone. Stephen is forced to face his past when he reunites with Sandra, a woman who taught him how to control and find a purpose for his condition before disappearing from his life for over a decade, and confront his future when he starts losing his aspects one by one.

Part urban fantasy, part mystery thriller and part character study, this collection is fast-paced, with plenty of action, suspense, twists and turns. There is a lot of witty banter between the main character and his hallucinations, but also moments of somber reflection on the meaning of reality. The author explores mental issues in a fascinating, deep and complex way, without patronizing or diminishing those who struggle with them. The stories are written in the first person through the eyes of the main character Stephen, which allows us to get a deeper understanding of his mental state and knowledge of his multiple personas, his difficulties in operating in the real world while integrating his hallucinations in it, how much he depends on them and feels lost without them.

The plot of each novella isn't complex and the mysteries are quickly resolved without too much conflict, being short in length by nature doesn't leave much room for strong worldbuilding, but in this particular case that's not the point. The focus of these stories is on Stephen and his aspects, exploring his mental condition and gradual breakdown, confronting his issues and grappling with both internal and external conflicts.

The characters are rich, interesting and captivating. The main character Stephen is fully aware his hallucinations aren't real but still feels and treats them as if they were, accommodating to their needs (going as far as giving each one a physical room in his mansion, ordering different meals at restaurants, reserving plane and car seats for each of the aspects that assist him in his investigations...). The aspects may be figments of the main character's imagination but the author manages to make them as vivid and real as Stephen Leeds, growing and changing as fully fledged characters. Each possesses his/her own distinctive personality, ethnicity and heritage, quirks, skills and even their own psychoses: Ivy is the psychologist and Stephen's imaginary therapist who suffers from trypophobic, Tobias the historian is a schizophrenic who hallucinates about Stan, an astronaut and weather man in orbit around the Earth, JC is an Ex-Navy SEAL with deep paranoia and a passion for guns, Ngozi is the forensic investigator who is deathly afraid of germs... The relationships and interactions between Stephen and all his aspects is the heart and soul of each novella in this collection.

Final Rating
"Legion: The Many Lives of Stephen Leeds" is a light read, upbeat, funny and entertaining urban fantasy and mystery thriller novel. Recommended for those who enjoy detective stories with witty dialogs and a focus on mental issues.


• • • •


- About the Author -
Website: brandonsanderson.com
Twitter: @BrandSanderson
Genre: Science Fiction & Fantasy, Young Adult

Brandon Sanderson was born in 1975 in Lincoln, Nebraska. As a child Brandon enjoyed reading, but he lost interest in the types of titles often suggested to him, and by junior high he never cracked a book if he could help it. This changed when an eighth grade teacher gave him Dragonsbane by Barbara Hambly.

Brandon was working on his thirteenth novel when Moshe Feder at Tor Books bought the sixth he had written. Tor has published Elantris, the Mistborn trilogy and its followup The Alloy of Law, Warbreaker, and The Way of Kings and Words of Radiance, the first two in the planned ten-volume series The Stormlight Archive. He was chosen to complete Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series; 2009’s The Gathering Storm and 2010’s Towers of Midnight were followed by the final book in the series, A Memory of Light, in January 2013. Four books in his middle-grade Alcatraz vs. the Evil Librarians series have been released in new editions by Starscape, and his novella Infinity Blade Awakening was an ebook bestseller for Epic Games accompanying their acclaimed Infinity Blade iOS video game series. Two more novellas, Legion and The Emperor’s Soul, were released by Subterranean Press and Tachyon Publications in 2012, and 2013 brought two young adult novels, The Rithmatist from Tor and Steelheart from Delacorte.

The only author to make the short list for the David Gemmell Legend Award six times in four years, Brandon won that award in 2011 for The Way of Kings. The Emperor’s Soul won the 2013 Hugo Award for Best Novella. He has appeared on the New York Times Best-Seller List multiple times, with five novels hitting the #1 spot.

Currently living in Utah with his wife and children, Brandon teaches creative writing at Brigham Young University.


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Dec 5, 2018

 

Author Spotlight - Wendy N. Wagner

- About the Author -
Website: winniewoohoo.com
Twitter: @wnwagner
Genre: Science Fiction & Fantasy, Horror

Wendy N. Wagner grew up in a town so tiny it didn’t even have a post office. With no television reception, she became a rabid reader, waiting impatiently for the bookmobile’s fortnightly visit to her tiny hometown. Today, her family struggles to find room for her expanding book collection in their Portland, Oregon, home. She really likes books about horror movies, ecology, gardening, and vegan cooking.

Ms. Wagner’s poetry and short fiction has appeared in over forty venues. Her third novel, An Oath of Dogs, a sci-fi thriller, was released July 2017 from Angry Robot. She is the Managing/Associate Editor of both Lightspeed Magazine and Nightmare Magazine, and served as the Guest Editor of Queers Destroy Horror! She was also the Nonfiction Editor of both Women Destroy Science Fiction! and Women Destroy Fantasy!
(source: winniewoohoo.com)


- Interviews -
(craigcomer) An Oath of Dogs explores the relationships between humankind, animals, and the landscape. Do you think it’s important a novel have a social message?
Not exactly. I think it’s important for a novel to grapple with culture, because I think that as an artist, part of your job is to play around with cultural elements. And because you’re a human being, of course your work has a political, moral, philosophical, and sociological stance, no matter what you’re writing about or what genre that you’re working in. The more you try to understand and control the political, moral, philosophical, and sociological stance your work is taking, the more mature your work will feel and the stronger your craft will become. But that still might not feel like a “message,” per se.

(mylifemybooksmyescape) Did you have a particular goal when you began writing the An Oath of Dogs? Was there a particular message or meaning you are hoping to get across when readers finish it? Or is there perhaps a certain theme to the story?
I think one big theme that plays out is the power of belief. Standish believes she’s damaged goods that no one could possibly care about, and that makes her lead a pretty lonely life until Hattie (and a few special humans) teach her otherwise. People on Huginn believe everything on the planet is creepy and alien, and so they shut themselves off from it, letting themselves be scared instead of enchanted. It’s a theme that comes back again and again in different shapes and forms.

(craigcomer) What was the nugget that started the story in your head? A character, scene, or event?
I had an idea about wild dog packs that made me want to explore the relationship between people and dogs. I kept playing around with the idea, and it grew into part of a much more complicated story about the way we explore and develop new places and how we treat the landscape around us.

(mylifemybooksmyescape) What were some of your influences for An Oath of Dogs?
It’s mostly inspired by my experiences growing up in southern Oregon in the early ’90s. We lived in a beautiful area where it rained more than 100 inches a year, and beautiful mossy forests stretched everywhere. The planet in Oath is very much like that: giant trees, lots of moss, constant rain.

But since there are lots of trees, the timber industry is very powerful. My hometown was entirely dominated by the timber industry–everything depended on those companies. Not just the loggers and the millworkers, but the restaurants, the churches, the schools, local law enforcement. When the timber industry dried up, my hometown essentially died. I wanted to write about what it was like to live in a town where one industry could dominate not just the economy but the entire culture and landscape of a community.

(mylifemybooksmyescape) Could you briefly tell us a little about your main characters? Do they have any cool quirks or habits, or any reason why readers with sympathize with them? (aka What makes them compelling?)
The novel has two main characters, Kate Standish and Dr. Peter Bajowski. Standish–she hates being called by her first name–suffers from an anxiety disorder linked to post-traumatic stress. (She was in an accident in space, and now open spaces and the sky are really stressful.) One of her coping tactics is crocheting. Another is that she has a therapy dog, a big white Swiss Shepherd named Hattie. I think writing the moments when she’s just dorking around with Hattie were my favorite parts to write. They really love each other!

Writing Peter was great, too. I think of all the characters, he’s probably the most like me. He’s a biologist and an environmentalist, which is tremendously challenging given the fact he works for a natural resources extraction company. He’s also a beer-lover and a vegan. He’s always struggling with food at the bar or when hanging out with friends. One of my favorite moments in the book happens when Standish is making sandwiches and struggles to figure out what she can put on his.

(craigcomer) So you’ve told us who the protagonist is, but tell us about a side character you love.
Oh, it’s so hard to choose—I wound up falling in love with all the side characters! Probably my favorite is Olive Whitley, a young girl who befriends the main character. Olive loves wandering in the woods and studying nature, where she harvests plants to sell to local artists to help her family make ends meet. She’s just a really, really good kid. A little weird, but good.

(mylifemybooksmyescape) Could you go in depth a little bit more about the sentient dogs of this planet?
I can’t tell too much without giving away some critical parts of the story, but suffice to say that dogs are a major problem for the people living in the town of Canaan Lake–the town where the novel is set. They steal livestock from the farms, and they dig up dead bodies in the cemetery. They’ve even been known to attack humans. When someone brings a new dog to town, they tend to run away and join the wild dogs in their mayhem–which means new dogs are pretty unwelcome.

That’s bad news for Standish and Hattie the therapy dog.

(mylifemybooksmyescape) What is the world and setting of An Oath of Dogs like?
The book is set on a world called Huginn. It’s large enough to qualify as a planet, but it’s a satellite of a much larger planet named Wodin, and it has a companion satellite named Muninn. The whole system is actually named for the Norse pantheon.

Huginn is very much like Earth. The part that’s shown in this novel is very damp–it rains almost constantly. And the plants are very simple proto-plants, more like the kinds of plants that covered the Earth during the Triassic period. There are very few animals. The creatures that live in the forest ecosystem are all very similar, essentially larger or smaller adaptations of the same form. They look like isopods, but colorful and often fuzzy. There are ones the size of sheep that come in sherbet colors, and underground ones the size of caterpillars that come in pink and green.

There’s also a lot of fungi, most of which come in striking colors or sparkle or are otherwise pretty. Most of them will kill you, though. That’s the biggest drawback of the planet: You can’t eat anything there.

Needless to say, farming terrestrial foods is pretty important to the survival of humanity on the planet. The farmers and the timber companies butt heads quite a bit. That adds some extra tension to community life.

And community life is pretty tense to begin with. People have only been living on Huginn for about a hundred years, so the government is still very colonial. Everyone’s wants a slice of the political and economic pie. It’s a little bit Wild West out there!

(mylifemybooksmyescape) What was your favorite part about writing An Oath of Dogs?
I’ve never loved writing like I loved writing Oath. Every bit of it made me happy. But probably the most fun part was creating the quotations that start off every chapter. They’re all excerpts from texts written by fictional characters, including a lot of characters who appear in the novel. I think some are delightfully quotable, but I’m obviously a little biased!

(mylifemybooksmyescape) What do you think readers will be talking about most once they finish it?
I think they’ll be talking about the world. Huginn is just such an awesome place. You’d have to be crazy not to want to visit it.

(craigcomer) Which question about An Oath of Dogs do you wish someone would ask? Ask and answer it!
Well, this is extremely nerdy, but I wish someone would ask about the scientific names I used. I feel very clever about coming up with them. I used taxonomic names based on the names for plants that currently exist, but I gave them a third component based on the name of the planetary system. The world An Oath of Dogs is set on is called “Huginn,” and it orbits a planet named “Wodin,” accompanied by the tiny satellite of “Muninn.” All the celestial bodies in the system are named for Norse entities, and it’s called the Yggdrasil system. So if humans were from Huginn, they’d be Yggdrasil homo sapiens.

(craigcomer) Those are great details, and I love the Norse influence… Speaking of which, gardening is another passion of yours. Tells us how it inspires/influences your writing.
I love plants, and I love dirt. Everything I write winds up having a lot of plants in the background, simply because plants are a major part of the way I see the world. A world just doesn’t feel like a world unless it’s packed with growing things!

Since I find biology and horticulture so interesting, those sciences usually play the main role of “science” in my science fiction. I like writing about the future and imagining that people have traveled to new worlds, but since I barely pay attention to technology in our current world (at least while it’s working), I don’t spend a lot of time imagining fancy gadgets and crazy technology for my books.

(craigcomer) How long did it take to write? Do you have a normal writing time, or do you fit it in when you can?
This book took a long time to write! Maybe two and a half or three years, even. I got the idea for the story while I was working on my first Pathfinder tie-in novel, so I didn’t get a chance to really start working on it for a while. Then I got hired to write a second novel, so that slowed it down even more.

I try to write in the morning, after my daughter has gone to school and my husband has gone to work. I walk the cats, drink some coffee, and then write for an hour or two before I do my freelance work.

(gwendolynkiste) A couple icebreakers to start: when did you first decide to become a writer, and who are some of your favorite authors?
I was about seven, and I was reading the book Alanna, by Tamora Pierce. It was the first book I had ever read that shifted PoV characters, and it blew my mind. I suddenly realized that someone had decided to tell the story that way, and that books didn’t just sort of … happen. Before that point, I hadn’t really connected learning how to write at school with writing a book. I realized that what I was doing, making up little stories about unicorns and writing them down, wasn’t that much different from creating a book. It was incredibly empowering. At that moment, I knew I wanted to be a writer, and more importantly, that I could.

I love Pamela Dean. I re-read her novel Tam-Lin almost every year, because it somehow conveys everything I love about autumn and learning, and it’s just a beautiful book. I also really love Shirley Jackson. She’s my literary hero. Other people I really enjoy are David James Duncan, Sheri S. Tepper, Frank Herbert, and Octavia Butler. I’m also a huge fan of Stephen King.

(craigcomer) Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Yes and yes.

While I’ve had to write really in-depth outlines for projects (all of my tie-in work had to have multi-page outlines approved before I could start writing) and really appreciated having them as a tool for writing, I’ve also written things where I only had a very loose outline. I definitely like knowing a basic structure, but I don’t mind finding things out as I go.

(gwendolynkiste) You are an accomplished writer of both short stories and novels. Do you find that your process differs between the two? Is there one medium you find easier, and is there one you prefer overall as a storyteller?
There’s one big difference between my process on novels and short stories: with a short story, I usually just jump right in and try to write something, but with a novel, I drag my feet outlining and making sure I really want to write the story. Sometimes I think I have commitment issues!

I feel like once I get started on a novel that writing one is less stressful than writing a short story. All the hard work of building a world and sorting out the characters gets done at the beginning, so then I can just put my butt in my chair and produce words every day. Creating a short story means re-inventing the wheel every time. It’s exhausting. Also, I like having the space to play around inside a novel. It’s really fun to plant little seeds of events and reveals and have them blossom at the end of a novel. So yes, I think I prefer writing novels!

(gwendolynkiste) Since most readers of this blog are also writers—and since both Nightmare and Lightspeed are two of the most beloved markets in speculative fiction—I have to ask the question most of them have for you: what is it you look for in a story as an editor? Is it a certain feeling or a specific theme that hooks you? Or is it more the voice or the characters that draw you in?
It’s all about the characters.

A story, at its heart, is about a character having experiences. Those experiences are meaningless unless they’re filtered through the responses of a character. The character becomes my eyes, my ears, my heart in that world; I need complete, full access to sensation and emotion to enter the universe of the story. If I can’t access that, then the story is very rarely going to move me, engage me, or even interest me.



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Book Review - An Oath of Dogs (by Wendy N. Wagner)

Title: An Oath of Dogs
Series: -
Author: Wendy N. Wagner
Genre: Science Fiction, Mystery, Thriller
Publisher: Angry Robot
Release Date: July 4th, 2017
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Pages: 432



"Kate Standish has been on Huginn less than a week and she's already pretty sure her new company murdered her boss. But extractions corporations dominate the communities of the forest world, and few are willing to threaten their meal tickets to look too closely at corporate misbehaviour. The little town of mill workers and farmers is more worried about the threat of eco-terrorism and a series of attacks by the bizarre, sentient dogs of this planet, than a death most people would like to believe is an accident. When Standish connects a secret chemical test site to a nearly forgotten disaster in Huginn's history, she reveals a conspiracy that threatens Standish and everyone she's come to care about."

(click to read an excerpt on winniewoohoo.com)

- Review -
What Made Me Read It
They had me at colonizing a new alien world.

The Plot
After a traumatic labor accident that left her suffering from PTSD and agoraphobia, Kate Standish is assigned to the forest moon colony of Huginn in the Yggdrasil system as a communications engineer. But when she arrives at the small town of Canaan Lake with her therapy dog Hattie, Standish discovers her boss Duncan Chambers has gone missing and is presumed dead, leaving her to take up his job instead. In his house, Standish uncovers hidden documents and a diary from one of the early settlers, a woman belonging to the religious community of farmers, the Believers of the Word Made Flesh. Those documents lead Standish to suspect the mega corporation Songheuser she now works for might be responsible for her predecessor's death.

Peter Bajowski is a biologist who came to Huginn to study the alien ecology of the moon, but found himself forced instead to test new ways for Songheuser to exploit the natural resources of the forest moon. When he's accused of murdering his former lover Duncan Chambers and collaborating with the eco-terrorists who threaten the lives of the town's mill workers, Peter must find a way to prove his innocence and expose Songheuser's unethical methods to increase their profits.

Standish and Peter join forces to solve the mystery of Duncan Chamber's death while avoiding Huginn's dangerous ecology and the wild pack of sentient dogs that dig up corpses from their graves and terrorize the town of Canaan Lake.

The Good
"An Oath Of Dogs" is a science-fiction murder-mystery novel, with a mix of political intrigue and magical realism, plenty of suspense and unnerving plot twists and turns. It explores themes of exoplanet colonization, capitalism, eco-terrorism, science and religion; the way corporation goals, government policies and natural environment clash with one another, how humans impact their surroundings and are in turn affected by it - the author successfully manages to integrate all the subplots into one cohesive and engaging story.

Told from the alternating perspective of the two main characters (Kate Standish and Peter Bajowski) on their quest for the truth, the novel also includes entries from a diary written by one of the first settlers to colonize the moon one hundred years prior to the events of the book. These excerpts add color to the narrative, exploring the idea of colonizing an alien planet and the difficulties in adapting to a strange and not necessarily welcoming environment, while also setting the background to some of the mysteries developed in the plot.

The characters are 3-dimentional, believable and relatable, with distinctive personalities and motivations. From the two main characters - abrasive and cynical Standish with her mental struggles, and inquisitive Peter with a fascination for the workings of an alien ecosystem - to the loyalty and emotional support of the therapy dog Hattie, the eco-terrorists who want the forest left untouched, the greedy corporation with complete disregard for the destruction it causes and the lives lost in the name of profit, and the forest moon itself which becomes alive and a character on its own. The world-building is complex and visually arresting, a realistic frontier settlement in a planet that feels utterly alien.

The Not So Good
Despite the promising premise, the plot drags considerably through the first 2/3 of the book. The pace only starts to pick up in the last third with most of the mysteries suddenly unraveling in the final pages, leaving more than a few loose threads.

There is also a considerable amount of swearing, specially in the first part of the story. Usually I'm not bothered by it, if it fits the situation and the characters. Unfortunately, in this book it feels like it's used just for the sake of swearing and not necessarily to add to the narrative. It's just too much and, together with the slow pacing, a reason to lower the final rating.

Final Rating
"An Oath of Dogs" is a science fiction novel with a murder mystery plot and elements of fantasy and magical realism in a final frontier setting. Recommended for those who enjoy thrillers and stories on colonizing alien planets with adverse alien ecosystems.


About the Author (interviews)


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Dec 2, 2018

 

New Monthly Book Releases - December 2018



Time to update your to-be-read list and clear some space on your shelves. These are a few of the new book releases for December 2018.



- Science Fiction -

December 4th:
 

Splintered Suns (Humanity’s Fire #5) by Michael Cobley (paperback, 528 pages, published by Orbit Books)
For Pyke and his crew it should have been just another heist. Travel to a backwater desert planet, break into a museum, steal a tracking device then use it to find a ship buried in the planet's vast and trackless sandy wastes. Except that the museum vault is a bio-engineered chamber, and the tracking device is sought-after by another gang of treasure hunters led by an old adversary of Pyke's, the devious Raven Kaligara. Also, the ship is quarter of a million years old and about two kilometers long and somewhere aboard it is the Essavyr Key, a relic to unlock all the treasures and technologies of a lost civilization...


The Clan Chronicles: Tales from Plexis edited by Julie E. Czerneda (paperback, 646 pages, published by DAW Books)
Welcome to the infamous interstellar shopping extravaganza of the Trade Pact known as Plexis Supermarket! A market and meeting place, Plexis is where pirates rub shoulders with freighter crews, where the rich come to party and the out-of-luck chase that last opportunity, where anything can be bought or sold and only your airtag tells the truth. Most of the time. Dock your starship, pay your parking fee, and enter. You’ll never know what you’ll find. Here, for the first time, Julie E. Czerneda has opened the airlocks to her fellow scribes and lovers of all things Trade Pact to produce this anthology of original stories. Learn the beginnings (and kitchen secrets) of the famed Claws & Jaws: Interspecies Cuisine. Solve mysteries. Slip through service tunnels or shop with goldtags! Plexis awaits your pleasure.


December 10th:

Finders by Melissa Scott (paperback, 372 pages, published by Candlemark & Gleam)
Finders is a mythic space opera by SF legend Melissa Scott. Set in a fully imagined universe with vividly delineated protagonists, the novel is a seamless fusion of adventure, myth, and science so advanced as to have become magic—a bold, original re-imagining of the tales of Prometheus, Pandora, and the Titans.


December 11th:

A Bad Deal for the Whole Galaxy (The Salvagers #2) by Alex White (paperback, 544 pages, published by Orbit Books)
The crew of the legendary Capricious are rich enough to retire in comfort for the rest of their days, but none of it matters if the galaxy is still in danger. Nilah and Boots, the ship's newest crew-members hear the word of a mysterious cult that may have links back to an ancient and all-powerful magic. To find it, hot-headed Nilah will have to go undercover and find the source of their power without revealing her true identity. Meanwhile, Boots is forced to confront the one person she'd hoped never to see again: her old, turn-coat treasure-hunting partner.


Children of Time (Children of Time #1) by Adrian Tchaikovsky (paperback, 640 pages, published by Orbit Books)
The last remnants of the human race left a dying Earth, desperate to find a new home among the stars. Following in the footsteps of their ancestors, they discover the greatest treasure of the past age - a world terraformed and prepared for human life. But all is not right in this new Eden. In the long years since the planet was abandoned, the work of its architects has borne disastrous fruit. The planet is not waiting for them, pristine and unoccupied. New masters have turned it from a refuge into mankind's worst nightmare. Now two civilizations are on a collision course, both testing the boundaries of what they will do to survive. As the fate of humanity hangs in the balance, who are the true heirs of this new Earth?


Green Jay and Crow by DJ Daniels (paperback, 384 pages, published by Abaddon Books)
Eva, the Green Jay, is a “body double”—3D printed from plant matter, disposable. She should have disintegrated weeks ago. Instead, she has managed to stay alive, hidden by the Chemical Conjurers—robot twins, hobby-synthesists—and aided by the unfathomable alien Tenties. But her life—such as it is, such as any life can be in the strange, half-forgotten borough of Barlewin in the shadow of the High Track, where neon light falls on broken cobbles—is still precarious. What she really needs is inside a Time Locked box, a box locked by Time, held by the local crime boss, Guerra. Eva knows she can count on Mac, who loves her, but her survival hangs on Mac’s friend Brom, the Crow. And she’s not sure about him at all.


The Corporation Wars Trilogy by Ken MacLeod (paperback, 896 pages, published by Orbit Books)
In deep space, ruthless corporations vie for control of scattered mining colonies, and war is an ever-present threat. Led by Seba, a newly sentient mining reboot, an AI revolution grows. Fighting them is Carlos, a grunt who is reincarnated over and over again to keep the “freeboots” in check. But he’s not sure whether he’s on the right side. Against a backdrop of interstellar drone combat Carlos and Seba must either find a way to rise above the games their masters are playing or die. And even dying might not be the end of it.


December 25th:

And Now For Something Completely Different (The Chronicles of St Mary's #9.7) by Jodi Taylor (kindle edition, 73 pages, published Accent Press)
Here's a question for you. What's the most exciting thing ever found in a fire bucket? And don't say 'fire' because you'll be wrong. Suppose - just suppose - it was the technology to take a pod to Mars? Yeah, now we're talking! Every Christmas, for reasons which seem good at the time - especially after an eggnog or two - Max and the others leap into the nearest pod and indulge in their illegal Christmas jump. It's a tradition. This year, however, just to be different, they find themselves part of someone else's illegal Christmas jump. It's time to don a spacesuit and bring your own urine!


The Complete Aliens Omnibus: Volume 7 (Criminal Enterprise, No Exit) by B.K. Evenson and S.D. Perry (mass market paperback, 608 pages, published by Titan Books Ltd)
In "Criminal Enterprise", Thomas Chase wakes up from cryosleep to his first day at a new job - as a pilot for a contraband drug company dropping a shipment on Fantasia, a rock-planet terraformed to hide an elaborate drug manufacturing operation. Everything from synthetic heroin to MX7 is cooked here, in protected caves guard-dogged by the savage Aliens. When Chase's craft touches down on Fantasia, a chain of events begins that cannot be stopped. As criminals and competitors try to take over the drug-empire from the dangerous kingpin, Chase and his brother Pete are caught in the crossfire... with the Aliens adding blood to the mix.

"No Exit" tells the story of Detective Anders Kramm, awakening to a changed world after thirty years of cryogenic sleep. The alien threat has been subdued. Company interests dominate universal trade. Terraforming is big money now, with powerful men willing to do anything to assure dominance over other worlds. But Kramm has a secret. He knows why The Company killed twelve of its top scientists. He knows why the aliens have been let loose on the surface of a contested planet. He knows that the information he has is valuable, and that The Company will do everything it can to stop him from telling his secret to the world. Haunted by memories of the brutal murder of his family, Kramm is set adrift amid billion dollar stakes... with aliens around every corner, waiting for him to make a mistake!

• • • •

- Fantasy -

December 4th:

A King in Cobwebs (Tales of Durand #3) by David Keck (paperback, 448 pages, published by Tor Books)
Once a landless second son, Durand has sold his sword to both vicious and noble men and been party to appalling acts of murder as well as self-sacrificing heroism. Now the champion of the Duke of Gireth, Durand's past has caught up with him. The land is at the mercy of a paranoid king who has become unfit to rule. As rebellion sparks in a conquered duchy, the final bond holding back the Banished break, unleashing their nightmarish evil on the innocents of the kingdom. In his final battle against the Banished, Durand comes face to face with the whispering darkness responsible for it all--the king in cobwebs.


All the Plagues of Hell (Heirs of Alexandria #6) by Eric Flint and Dave Freer (hardcover, 432 pages, published by Baen Books)
Orkise is loose. The snake-god of plague has been awakened by Lucia del Maino, the bastard daughter of the recently overthrown duke of Milan, Phillipo Visconti. With the venomous magic of Orkise at her command, Lucia plots to marry and then murder the usurper who now rules Milan, the condottiere Carlo Sforza—known to friend and foe alike as the Wolf the North. Other trouble is brewing as well. Sforza has his own bastard, Benito Valdosta, who is returning to Venice after having conquered the Byzantine empire. Benito has a score to settle with his father, and he will have the help of his half-brother Marco, who is the embodiment of ancient Etruria’s mighty Winged Lion of St. Mark. Adding further to Sforza’s predicament, yet another power has entered the fray. The terrifying sorcerer Count Mindaug has decided to settle in Milan. Will he ally with Sforza, or oppose him? Either will bring trouble, for if Mindaug aids the usurper he will arouse the fury of the Holy Roman Empire and the Knights of the Holy Trinity. Both of those great forces have sworn to destroy Mindaug and anyone who shelters him. On his side, Sforza has only the skill and cunning of his physician, Francisco Turner—who is on good terms with the Valdosta brothers and may be able to neutralize Venetian hostility. But even if he can, will that be enough to save the Wolf of the North? For out there in the countryside of northern Italy, Orkise is uncoiling all the plagues of hell.


Blood of Ten Kings (Guardians of Aandor #3) by Edward Lazellari (hardcover, 496 pages, published by Tor Books)
The Guardians return to their reality, ill-equipped to fend off Farrenheil's invading soldiers, which have saturated the kingdom. Daniel and Seth must vanquish ancient ghosts to claim the powers of their birthrights even as Cat MacDonnell fights to retain her husband against a kingdom that would rather see Callum wed to Chryslantha Godwynn. Their fellowship broken, Seth, Catherine, Callum, and Daniel must deftly navigate the dangers of Aandor or face oblivion at the hands of their enemies.


King of the Road (Brotherhood of the Wheel #2) by R.S. Belcher (hardcover, 384 pages, published by Tor Books)
Jimmie Aussapile, Lovina Marcou and Heck Sinclair are members of a secret society dedicated to protecting those who travel America's highways from the monsters, both supernatural and mundane, that lurk in the darkness just beyond your headlights. They are the Brotherhood of the Wheel. At home in Lenoir, North Carolina, Jimmie and his squire Heck find themselves drawn into an all-out war between two competing biker gangs. One is led by a rival biker in possession of new found supernatural allies and the other is an all-female werewolf pack. Meanwhile, Lovina is drawn into a missing-person case that leads to a Pennsylvania trailer park seemingly haunted by killer clowns. One way or another peace must be maintained and the many roads of America must be protected. But it might just cost the Brotherhood their souls if they aren't careful.


Of Blood and Bone (Chronicles of The One #2) by Nora Roberts (hardcover, 464 pages, published by St. Martin's Press)
They look like an everyday family living an ordinary life. But beyond the edges of this peaceful farm, unimaginable forces of light and dark have been unleashed. Fallon Swift, approaching her thirteenth birthday, barely knows the world that existed before—the city where her parents lived, now in ruins and reclaimed by nature since the Doom sickened and killed billions. Traveling anywhere is a danger, as vicious gangs of Raiders and fanatics called Purity Warriors search for their next victim. Those like Fallon, in possession of gifts, are hunted—and the time is coming when her true nature, her identity as The One, can no longer be hidden. In a mysterious shelter in the forest, her training is about to begin under the guidance of Mallick, whose skills have been honed over centuries. She will learn the old ways of healing; study and spar; encounter faeries and elves and shifters; and find powers within herself she never imagined. And when the time is right, she will take up the sword, and fight. For until she grows into the woman she was born to be, the world outside will never be whole again.


Queen of Air and Darkness (The Dark Artifices #3) by Cassandra Clare (hardcover, 912 pages, published by Margaret K. McElderry Books)
Innocent blood has been spilled on the steps of the Council Hall, the sacred stronghold of the Shadowhunters. In the wake of the tragic death of Livia Blackthorn, the Clave teeters on the brink of civil war. One fragment of the Blackthorn family flees to Los Angeles, seeking to discover the source of the blight that is destroying the race of warlocks. Meanwhile, Julian and Emma take desperate measures to put their forbidden love aside and undertake a perilous mission to Faerie to retrieve the Black Volume of the Dead. What they find in the Courts is a secret that may tear the Shadow World asunder and open a dark path into a future they could never have imagined. Caught in a race against time, Emma and Julian must save the world of Shadowhunters before the deadly power of the parabatai curse destroys them and everyone they love.


Soulbinder (Spellslinger #4) by Sebastien de Castell (paperback, 432 pages, published by Orbit Books)
Kellen and his murderous squirrel cat, Reichis, are on their own. They've heard rumour of a mythical monastery, known as the Ebony Abbey. It's a place that outsiders can never find - but Kellen is getting desperate. He's been told that the monks inside the Ebony Abbey know more about the Shadowblack than anyone else - and that they even know how to cure it. Then Kellen and Reichis are separated and for the first time, Kellen must face the world alone - and venture deeper into shadow magic than he ever knew he could.


The Shattered Sun (Bound Gods #3) by Rachel Dunne (paperback, 400 pages, published by Harper Voyager)
The world has been plunged into darkness... and only the scheming priest Joros might be able to bring back the sun. With his ragtag band of fighters—a laconic warrior, a pair of street urchins, a ruthless priestess, and an unhinged sorcerer—Joros seeks to defeat the ancient gods newly released from their long imprisonment. But the Twins have champions of their own, and powers beyond knowing... and the only sure thing is that they won’t go down without a fight.


The Three Secret Cities (Jack West Jr #5) by Matthew Reilly (hardcover, 448 pages, published by Gallery Books)
When Jack West, Jr. won the Great Games, he threw the four legendary kingdoms into turmoil. Now these dark forces are coming after Jack...in ruthless fashion. With the end of all things rapidly approaching, Jack must find the Three Secret Cities, three incredible lost cities of legend. It’s an impossible task by any reckoning, but Jack must do it while he is being hunted...by the greatest hunters in history.


December 11th:

Burning Ashes (Ben Garston #3) by James Bennett (paperback, 416 pages, published by Orbit Books)
The uneasy truce between the human and the mythical world has shattered. Betrayed by his oldest friend, with a tragic death on his hands, there isn't enough whiskey in England to wash away the taste of Ben's guilt. But for a one-time guardian dragon, there's no time to sit and sulk in the ruins. Because the Long Sleep has come undone. Slowly but surely, Remnants are stirring under the earth, unleashing chaos and terror on an unsuspecting modern world. Worse still, the Fay are returning, travelling across the gulfs of the nether to bring a final reckoning to Remnants and humans alike. A war is coming. A war to end all wars. And only Ben Garston stands in the way...


Two Thousand Years (The Empire Saga #1) by M. Dalto (kindle edition, 341 pages, published by The Parliament House)
Two thousand years ago, the Prophecy of Fire and Light foretold the coming of the Queen Empress who would lead the Empire into a time of peace and tranquility. But instead of the coming of a prosperous world, a forbidden love for the Empress waged a war that ravaged the land, creating a chasm between the factions, raising the death toll of innocent lives until the final, bloody battle. Centuries later, Alexandra, a twenty-two-year-old barista living in Boston, is taken to an unfamiliar realm of mystery and magic where her life is threatened by Reylor, its banished Lord Steward. She crosses paths with Treyan, the arrogant and seductive Crown Prince of the Empire, and together they discover how their lives, and their love, are so intricately intertwined by a Prophecy set in motion so many years ago. Alex, now the predestined Queen Empress Alexstrayna, whose arrival was foretold by the Annals of the Empire, controls the fate of her new home as war rages between the Crown Prince and Lord Steward. Either choice could tear her world apart as she attempts to keep the Empire's torrid history from repeating itself. In a realm where betrayal and revenge will be as crucial to her survival as love and honor, Alex must discover whether it is her choice - or her fate - that determines how she survives the Empire's rising conflicts.


December 18th:

Black City Dragon (Black City Saint #3) by Richard A. Knaak (paperback, 336 pages, published by Pyr Books)
For sixteen hundred years, Nick Medea has guarded the gate between our world and Feirie, preventing the Wyld--the darkest Feirie of all--from coming into Chicago to find human prey. But since he defeated Oberon, more and more Wyld have been slipping through. Nick and his Feirie companion, the shapeshifter, Fetch, have been busy hunting them down. Nick keeps coming across the Dacian Draco, the sign of his ancient enemy Galerius, including a tattoo worn by a human thug. Unfortunately, every trail ends as if years old. Claryce, Nick's reincarnated love, has narrowly escaped two attempts on her life, and when Nick sees her wearing a broach with the Draco on it, he knows they must look more deeply into her former lives. With Wyld and gangsters wreaking havoc in Chicago, Nick and Claryce must confront the secrets of their pasts if they are to have any hope of finding out Galerius's plans before it's too late to stop them. Nick will need the help of all his friends, both human and Feirie, and the powers of the dragon within him, to keep Galerius from endangering the gate, Chicago, and all of humanity.


December 24th:

Scourged (The Iron Druid Chronicles #9) by Kevin Hearne (paperback, 336 pages, published by Del Rey Books)
Unchained from fate, the Norse gods Loki and Hel are ready to unleash Ragnarok, a.k.a. the Apocalypse, upon the earth. They've made allies on the darker side of many pantheons, and there's a globe-spanning battle brewing that ancient Druid Atticus O'Sullivan will be hard-pressed to survive, much less win. Granuaile MacTiernan must join immortals Sun Wukong and Erlang Shen in a fight against the Yama Kings in Taiwan, but she discovers that the stakes are much higher than she thought. Meanwhile, Archdruid Owen Kennedy must put out both literal and metaphorical fires from Bavaria to Peru to keep the world safe for his apprentices and the future of Druidry. And Atticus recruits the aid of a tyromancer, an Indian witch, and a trickster god in hopes that they'll give him just enough leverage to both save Gaia and see another sunrise. There is a hound named Oberon who deserves a snack, after all.


December 31st:

Child of a Mad God (The Coven #1) by R.A. Salvatore (paperback, 656 pages, published by Tor Books)
When Aoleyn loses her parents, she is left to fend for herself among a tribe of vicious barbarians. Bound by rigid traditions, she dreams of escaping to the world beyond her mountain home. The only hope for achieving the kind of freedom she searches for is to learn how to wield the mysterious power used by the tribe’s coven known as the Song of Usgar. Thankfully, Aoleyn may be the strongest witch to have ever lived, but magic comes at price. Not only has her abilities caught the eye of the brutish warlord that leads the tribe, but the demon of the mountain hunts all who wield the Coven’s power, and Aoleyn’s talent has made her a beacon in the night.


Siege of Stone (Sister of Darkness: The Nicci Chronicles #3) by Terry Goodkind (hardcover, 560 pages, published by Tor Books)
The Sorceress Nicci, the Wizard Nathan Rahl, and the young swordsman Bannon remain in the legendary city of Ildakar after a great internal revolt has freed the slaves and brought down the powerful wizards council. But as he fled the city, capricious Wizard Commander Maxim dissolved the petrification spell that had turned to stone the invading army of General Utros fifteen centuries earlier. Now, hundreds of thousands of half-stone soldiers from the ancient past have awakened, led by one of the greatest enemy commanders in history. Nicci, Nathan, and Bannon have to help Ildakar survive this unbreakable siege, using all the magical defenses of the legendary city. Even as General Utros holds Ildakar hostage and also unleashes his incredible army on the unsuspecting Old World, an equally powerful threat arises out in the sea. Nicci knows the battle won't remain in the city; if she can't stop this threat, two invincible armies can sweep across the Old World and destroy D'Hara itself.


• • • •

- Historical Fiction -

December 1st:

The River Widow by Ann Howard Creel (paperback, 272 pages, published by Lake Union Publishing)
In 1937, with flood waters approaching, Adah Branch accidentally kills her abusive husband, Lester, and surrenders his body to the raging river, only to be swept away herself. So begins her story of survival, return to civilization, defense against accusations of murder, and the fight to save herself and her stepdaughter, Daisy, from the clutches of her husband’s notoriously cruel family, who have their sights set on revenge for Lester’s death. Essentially trapped, Adah must plan an escape. But when she develops feelings for the one person essential to her plan’s success, she faces a painful choice: Will she choose to risk everything saving Daisy or take the new life offered by a loving man?


December 3rd:

The Blue by Nancy Bilyeau (hardcover, 430 pages, published by Endeavour Quill)
In eighteenth century London, porcelain is the most seductive of commodities; fortunes are made and lost upon it. Kings do battle with knights and knaves for possession of the finest pieces and the secrets of their manufacture. For Genevieve Planché, an English-born descendant of Huguenot refugees, porcelain holds far less allure; she wants to be an artist, a painter of international repute, but nobody takes the idea of a female artist seriously in London. If only she could reach Venice. When Genevieve meets the charming Sir Gabriel Courtenay, he offers her an opportunity she can’t refuse; if she learns the secrets of porcelain, he will send her to Venice. But in particular, she must learn the secrets of the colour blue… The ensuing events take Genevieve deep into England’s emerging industrial heartlands, where not only does she learn about porcelain, but also about the art of industrial espionage.


December 4th:

Josephine Baker's Last Dance by Sherry Jones (paperback, 384 pages, published by Gallery Books)
Discover the fascinating and singular life story of Josephine Baker—actress, singer, dancer, Civil Rights activist, member of the French Resistance during WWII, and a woman dedicated to erasing prejudice and creating a more equitable world—in Josephine Baker’s Last Dance. In this illuminating biographical novel, Sherry Jones brings to life Josephine's early years in servitude and poverty in America, her rise to fame as a showgirl in her famous banana skirt, her activism against discrimination, and her many loves and losses. From 1920s Paris to 1960s Washington, to her final, triumphant performance, one of the most extraordinary lives of the twentieth century comes to stunning life on the page.


Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield (hardcover, 480 pages, published by Atria/Emily Bestler Books)
On a dark midwinter’s night in an ancient inn on the river Thames, an extraordinary event takes place. The regulars are telling stories to while away the dark hours, when the door bursts open on a grievously wounded stranger. In his arms is the lifeless body of a small child. Hours later, the girl stirs, takes a breath and returns to life. Is it a miracle? Is it magic? Or can science provide an explanation? The child herself is mute and unable to answer the essential questions: Who is she? Where did she come from? And to whom does she belong? Three families are keen to claim her. A wealthy young mother knows the girl is her kidnapped daughter, missing for two years. A farming family reeling from the discovery of their son’s secret liaison, stand ready to welcome their granddaughter. The parson’s housekeeper, humble and isolated, sees in the child the image of her younger sister. But the return of a lost child is not without complications and no matter how heartbreaking the past losses, no matter how precious the child herself, this girl cannot be everyone’s. Each family has mysteries of its own, and many secrets must be revealed before the girl’s identity can be known.


The Dakota Winters by Tom Barbash (hardcover, 336 pages, published by Ecco Press)
It’s the fall of 1979 in New York City when twenty-three-year-old Anton Winter, back from the Peace Corps and on the mend from a nasty bout of malaria, returns to his childhood home in the Dakota. Anton’s father, the famous late-night host Buddy Winter, is there to greet him, himself recovering from a breakdown. Before long, Anton is swept up in an effort to reignite Buddy’s stalled career, a mission that takes him from the gritty streets of New York, to the slopes of the Lake Placid Olympics, to the Hollywood Hills, to the blue waters of the Bermuda Triangle, and brings him into close quarters with the likes of Johnny Carson, Ted and Joan Kennedy, and a seagoing John Lennon. But the more Anton finds himself enmeshed in his father’s professional and spiritual reinvention, the more he questions his own path, and fissures in the Winter family begin to threaten their close bond.


December 31st:

The Gown: A Novel of the Royal Wedding by Jennifer Robson (paperback, 400 pages, published by William Morrow Paperbacks)
London, 1947: Besieged by the harshest winter in living memory, burdened by onerous shortages and rationing, the people of postwar Britain are enduring lives of quiet desperation despite their nation’s recent victory. Among them are Ann Hughes and Miriam Dassin, embroiderers at the famed Mayfair fashion house of Norman Hartnell. Together they forge an unlikely friendship, but their nascent hopes for a brighter future are tested when they are chosen for a once-in-a-lifetime honor: taking part in the creation of Princess Elizabeth’s wedding gown. Toronto, 2016: More than half a century later, Heather Mackenzie seeks to unravel the mystery of a set of embroidered flowers, a legacy from her late grandmother. How did her beloved Nan, a woman who never spoke of her old life in Britain, come to possess the priceless embroideries that so closely resemble the motifs on the stunning gown worn by Queen Elizabeth II at her wedding almost seventy years before? And what was her Nan’s connection to the celebrated textile artist and holocaust survivor Miriam Dassin? With The Gown, Jennifer Robson takes us inside the workrooms where one of the most famous wedding gowns in history was created. Balancing behind-the-scenes details with a sweeping portrait of a society left reeling by the calamitous costs of victory, she introduces readers to three unforgettable heroines, their points of view alternating and intersecting throughout its pages, whose lives are woven together by the pain of survival, the bonds of friendship, and the redemptive power of love.


• • • •

- Literary Fiction -

December 1st:

Winter Loon by Susan Bernhard (paperback, 352 pages, published by Little A)
Abandoned by his father after his mother drowns in a frozen Minnesota lake, fifteen-year-old Wes Ballot is stranded with coldhearted grandparents and holed up in his mother’s old bedroom, surrounded by her remnants and memories. As the wait for his father stretches unforgivably into months, a local girl, whose own mother died a brutal death, captures his heart and imagination, giving Wes fresh air to breathe in the suffocating small town. When buried truths come to light in the spring thaw, wounds are exposed and violence erupts, forcing Wes to embark on a search for his missing father, the truth about his mother, and a future he must claim for himself—a quest that begins back at that frozen lake. A powerful, page-turning coming-of-age story, Winter Loon captures the resilience of a boy determined to become a worthy man by confronting family demons, clawing his way out of the darkness, and forging a life from the shambles of a broken past.


December 4th:

Just After Midnight by Catherine Ryan Hyde (paperback, 336 pages, published by Lake Union Publishing)
No longer tolerating her husband’s borderline abuse, Faith escapes to her parents’ California beach house to plan her next move. She never dreamed her new chapter would involve befriending Sarah, a fourteen-year-old on the run from her father and reeling from her mother’s sudden and suspicious death. While Sarah’s grandmother scrambles to get custody, Faith is charged with spiriting the girl away on a journey that will restore her hope: Sarah implores Faith to take her to Falkner’s Midnight Sun, the prized black mare that her father sold out from under her. Sarah shares an unbreakable bond with Midnight and can’t bear to be apart from her. Throughout the sweltering summer, as they follow Midnight from show to show, Sarah comes to terms with what she witnessed on the terrible night her mother died. But the journey is far from over. Faith must learn the value of trusting her instincts—and realize that the key to her future, and Sarah’s, is in her hands.


North of Dawn by Nuruddin Farah (hardcover, 384 pages, published by Riverhead Books)
For decades, Gacalo and Mugdi have lived in Oslo, where they've led a peaceful, largely assimilated life and raised two children. Their beloved son, Dhaqaneh, however, driven by feelings of alienation to jihadism in Somalia, kills himself in a suicide attack, and the couple reluctantly decide to offer their daughter-in-law, Waliya, and teenage grandchildren escape from the refugee camp where they've been trapped since Dhaqaneh's death. But on arrival in Oslo, Waliya cloaks herself even more deeply in religion, while her children hunger for the freedoms of their new homeland, a rift that will have life-altering consequences for the entire family. Set against the backdrop of real events, North of Dawn is a provocative, devastating story of love, loyalty, and national identity that asks whether it is ever possible to escape a legacy of violence--and if so, at what cost.


December 11th:

In Our Mad and Furious City by Guy Gunaratne (paperback, 288 pages, published by MCD X Fsg Originals)
Inspired by the real-life murder of a British army soldier by religious fanatics, and the rampant burning of mosques that followed, Guy Gunaratne's In Our Mad and Furious City is a snapshot of the diverse, frenzied edges of modern-day London. While Selvon, Ardan, and Yusuf organize their lives around soccer, girls, and grime, Caroline and Nelson struggle to overcome pasts that haunt them. Each voice is uniquely insightful, impassioned, and unforgettable, and when stitched together, they trace a brutal and vibrant tapestry of today's London. In a forty-eight-hour surge of extremism and violence, their lives are inexorably drawn together in the lead-up to an explosive, tragic climax.


Milkman by Anna Burns (paperback, 360 pages, published by Graywolf Press)
In this unnamed city, to be interesting is dangerous. Middle sister, our protagonist, is busy attempting to keep her mother from discovering her maybe-boyfriend and to keep everyone in the dark about her encounter with Milkman. But when first brother-in-law sniffs out her struggle, and rumors start to swell, middle sister becomes ‘interesting’. The last thing she ever wanted to be. To be interesting is to be noticed and to be noticed is dangerous. Milkman is a tale of gossip and hearsay, silence and deliberate deafness. It is the story of inaction with enormous consequences.


December 18th:

Something Worth Saving by Sandi Ward (paperback, 304 pages, published by Kensington Publishing Corporation)
A boy and his cat. It's an unconventional friendship, perhaps, but for Charlie and Lily, it works beautifully. It was Charlie who chose Lily from among all the cats in the shelter. He didn't frown, the way other humans did, when he saw her injured back leg, the legacy of a cruel previous owner. Instead, Charlie insisted on rescuing her. Now Lily wants to do the same for Charlie. She's the only one who's seen the bruises on Charlie's body. If she knew who was hurting him, she'd scratch their eyes out. But she can't fix this by herself. Lily needs to get the rest of the family to focus on Charlie--not easy when they're wrapped up in their own problems. Charlie's mother kicked his father out weeks ago and has a new boyfriend who seems charming, but is still a stranger. Oldest son Kevin misses his father desperately. Victoria, Charlie's sister, also has someone new in her life, and Lily is decidedly suspicious. Even Charlie's father, who Lily loves dearly, is behaving strangely. Lily knows what it's like to feel helpless. But she also knows that you don't always have to be the biggest or the strongest to fight fiercely for the ones you love...


December 31st:

Half of What You Hear by Kristyn Kusek Lewis (paperback, 368 pages, published by Harper Paperbacks)
Greyhill, Virginia—refuge of old money, old mansions, and old-fashioned ideas about who belongs and who doesn’t—just got a few new residents. When Bess Warner arrives in town with her husband Cole and their kids, she thinks she knows what to expect. Sure, moving to Cole’s small hometown means she’ll have to live across the street from her mother-in-law, and yes, there’s going to be a lot to learn as they take over Cole’s family’s inn-keeping business, but Bess believes it will be the perfect escape from Washington. She needs it to be. After losing her White House job under a cloud of scandal, she hardly knows who she is anymore. But Bess quickly discovers that fitting in is easier said than done. Instead of the simpler life she’d banked on, she finds herself preoccupied by barbed questions from gossipy locals and her own worries over how her twins are acclimating at the town’s elite private school. When the opportunity to write an article for the Washington Post’s lifestyle supplement falls into Bess’s lap, she thinks it might finally be her opportunity to find her footing here…even if the subject of the piece is Greyhill’s most notorious resident. Susannah “Cricket” Lane, fruit of the town’s deepest-rooted family tree, is a special sort of outsider, having just returned to Greyhill from New York after a decades-long hiatus. The long absence has always been the subject of suspicion, not that the eccentric Susannah cares what anyone thinks; as a matter of fact, she seems bent on antagonizing as many people as possible. But is Susannah being sincere with Bess—or is she using their strangely intense interview sessions for her to further an agenda that includes peeling back the layers of Greyhill’s darkest secrets? As Bess discovers unsettling truths about Susannah and Greyhill at large, ones that bring her into the secrets of prior generations, she begins to learn how difficult it is to start over in a town that runs on talk, and that sometimes, the best way to find yourself is to uncover what everyone around you is hiding...


• • • •

- Young Adult -

December 1st:

Undying (Unearthed #2) by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner (paperback, 384 pages, published by Allen & Unwin)
Earth’s fate rests in their hands. Trapped aboard the Undying’s ancient spaceship and reeling from the truth they’ve uncovered, Mia and Jules are desperate to warn their home about what’s coming. After a perilous escape, they crash-land on Earth’s surface?but Jules and Mia can hardly fathom their new predicament: No one believes them. Because the threat against Earth is hiding in plain sight. A mounting global crisis is taking shape, starting with a mysterious illness that seems to reduce its victims to a regressed state. Jules and Mia have no choice but to take matters into their own hands, escaping custody of the International Alliance in order to reuinte Jules with his father, the disgraced expert on the alien race, whose research may be the key to saving humanity.


December 4th:

All the Wandering Light (Even the Darkest Stars #2) by Heather Fawcett (hardcover, 448 pages, published by Balzer + Bray)
After the terrifying events on Mount Raksha, the witches have returned, and River has betrayed Kamzin to regain his dark powers. The witches’ next step: march on the Three Cities and take over the Empire—led by River’s brother, Esha. If Kamzin is to save Azmiri and prevent the fall of the Empire, she must find a star that fell in the Ash Mountains to the north. Fallen stars have immense power, and if Kamzin and Lusha can find the star, they can use its magic to protect the Empire. To get there, Kamzin has allied with Azar-at, the dangerous and deceptive fire demon, who can grant her great power—in exchange for pieces of her soul. But River wants the star too, and as their paths collide in dangerous and unexpected ways, Kamzin must wrestle with both her guilt and her conflicted feelings for the person who betrayed her. Facing dark magic, a perilous journey, and a standoff against the witches, can Kamzin, Lusha, and Tem find the star and save their Empire?


Fire and Heist by Sarah Beth Durst (hardcover, 304 pages, published by Crown Books for Young Readers)
In Sky Hawkins's family, leading your first heist is a major milestone--even more so than learning to talk, walk, or do long division. It's a chance to gain power and acceptance within your family, and within society. But stealing your first treasure can be complicated, especially when you're a wyvern--a human capable of turning into a dragon. Embarking on a life of crime is never easy, and Sky discovers secrets about her mother, who recently went missing, the real reason her boyfriend broke up with her, and a valuable jewel that could restore her family's wealth and rank in their community. With a handpicked crew by her side, Sky knows she has everything she needs to complete her first heist, and get her boyfriend and mother back in the process. But then she uncovers a dark truth about were-dragon society--a truth more valuable and dangerous than gold or jewels could ever be.


Once a King (Clash of Kingdoms #3) by Erin Summerill (hardcover, 464 pages, published by HMH Books for Young Readers)
Aodren: A lonely, young king, searching for a way to dismantle his father’s dark legacy. Lirra: A girl with the power to control the wind, torn between duty and following her dreams. For twenty years, Channelers—women with a magical ability—have been persecuted in Malam by those without magic. Now King Aodren wants to end the bloody divide and unite his kingdom. But decades of hatred can’t be overcome by issuing decrees, and rumors of a deadly Channeler-made substance are only fueling people’s fears. Lirra has every reason to distrust Aodren. Yet when he asks for help to discover the truth behind the rumors, she can’t say no. With Lirra by his side, Aodren sees a way forward for his people. But can he rewrite the mistakes of the past before his enemies destroy the world he’s working so hard to rebuild?


Realm of Ruins (The Nissera Chronicles #2) by Hannah West (hardcover, 464 pages, published by Holiday House)
Welcome to Nissera, land of three kingdoms and home to spectacular magic. A century after her legendary ancestors overcame a bloodthirsty tyrant, seventeen-year-old Valory Braiosa attends a training academy for elicromancers, immortal beings with magical gifts. Yet Valory’s immense power seems impossible to tame, and she faces imprisonment by the Nisseran authorities. Then a forbidden resurrection spell awakens a long-dormant evil, and Valory may be the only one who can vanquish this terrifying villain. Together with a band of allies—including an old friend; a haughty princess; and a mysterious, handsome stranger—Valory must learn to harness her power and fight back.


Shatter the Suns (Last Star Burning #2) by Caitlin Sangster (hardcover, 400 pages, published by Simon Pulse)
No one is safe, not with a horrifying new strain of Sleeping Sickness tearing through the population. After fleeing the City with her friends, Sev has one goal: to find the cure her mother developed and put an end to the epidemic once and for all. But decoding her mother’s last words—to seek out “Port North”—is easier said than done. Nobody she talks to has heard of Port North, and with only Tai-ge and June on her side, Sev fears Dr. Yang will find the cure first, and that he’ll use it to start a new world order under his rule. With no leads, Sev is running out of options—until she discovers someone hiding in the cargo hold of her heli plane. Someone she thought was dead. Someone with maps that could point the way to Port North, if only she could read them. Unfortunately, the one person Sev never wants to see again might be the one person who can help her find the cure.


Splendor and Spark (Shimmer and Burn #2) by Mary Taranta (hardcover, 336 pages, published by Margaret K. McElderry Books)
Faris has been forced to give up the man she loves for a dangerous but necessary alliance. Her loyalty is bound by a powerful spell to his future bride, the villainous Bryn. And her mother’s powerful spell that could be the key to saving Avinea fights with poisoned magic for control of her heart. Everything Faris has done has been for Cadence, the little sister she’s been trying to rescue from the king’s slavery. Now they’re finally reunited, but Cadence has a gut-wrenching confession: she remembers everything from while she was under the king’s enchantment. She wants nothing to do with Faris. Heartbroken, Faris focuses on tracking Merlock, the king who must be killed to stop The Burn, by manipulating her mother’s spell through her dreams. Before long, Faris realizes these aren’t normal dreams; they might just be real, and they may show her a way to kill Merlock herself. But there are things darker than poison that lie in The Burn, and not even the spell deep in Faris’s chest can stop them.


Strange Days by Constantine Singer (hardcover, 432 pages, published by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers)
Alex Mata doesn't want to worry about rumors of alien incursions--he'd rather just skate and tag and play guitar. But when he comes home to find an alien has murdered his parents, he's forced to confront a new reality: aliens are real, his parents are dead, and nobody will believe him if he tells. On the run, Alex finds himself led to the compound of tech guru Jeffrey Sabazios, the only public figure who stands firm in his belief that aliens are coming. At Sabazios's invitation, Alex becomes a Witness, one of a special group of teens gifted with an ability that could save the Earth: they can glide through time and witness futures. When a Witness sees a future, that guarantees it will happen the way it's been seen, making their work humanity's best hope for stopping the alien threat. Guided by Sabazios, befriended by his fellow time travelers, and maybe even falling in love, Alex starts feeling like the compound is a real home--until a rogue glide shows him the dangerous truth about his new situation. Now in a race against time, Alex is forced to reevaluate who he can love, who he can trust, and who he needs to leave behind.


Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful by Arwen Elys Dayton (hardcover, 384 pages, published by Delacorte Press)
Set in our world, spanning the near to distant futures, Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful is a novel made up of six interconnected stories that ask how far we will go to remake ourselves into the perfect human specimens, and how hard that will push the definition of "human." This extraordinary work explores the amazing possibilities of genetic manipulation and life extension, as well as the ethical quandaries that will arise with these advances. The results range from the heavenly to the monstrous. Deeply thoughtful, poignant, horrifying, and action-packed, Arwen Elys Dayton's Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful is groundbreaking in both form and substance.


Valiant by Merrie Destefano (paperback, 304 pages, published by Entangled: Teen)
The Valiant was supposed to save us. Instead, it triggered the end of the world. Earth is in shambles. Everyone, even the poorest among us, invested in the Valiant’s space mining mission in the hopes we’d be saved from ourselves. But the second the ship leaves Earth’s atmosphere, our fate is sealed. The alien invasion begins. They pour into cities around the world through time portals, possessing humans, forcing us to kill one another. And for whatever reason, my brother is their number one target. Now the fate of the world lies in the hands of me, a seventeen-year-old girl, but with the help of my best friend, Justin―who’s suddenly starting to feel like more―maybe if we save my brother, we can save us all…


December 18th:

Dear Heartbreak: YA Authors and Teens on the Dark Side of Love by various authors (hardcover, 304 pages, published by Henry Holt & Company)
This is a book about the dark side of love: the way it kicks your ass, tears out your heart, and then forces you to eat it, bite by bloody bite. If you’ve felt this way, you’re not alone… In this powerful collection, YA authors answer real letters from teens all over the world about the dark side of love: dating violence, break-ups, cheating, betrayals, and loneliness. This book contains a no-holds-barred, raw outpouring of the wisdom these authors have culled from mining their own hearts for the fiction they write. Their responses are autobiographical, unflinching, and filled with love and hope for the anonymous teen letter writers. Featuring Adi Alsaid, Becky Albertalli, Libba Bray, Heather Demetrios, Amy Ewing, Zach Fehst, Gayle Forman, Corey Ann Haydu, Varian Johnson, A.S. King, Nina LaCour, Kim Liggett, Kekla Magoon, Sarah McCarry, Sandhya Menon, Cristina Moracho, Jasmine Warga, and Ibi Zoboi.


Kiss Collector by Wendy Higgins (paperback, 320 pages, published by HarperTeen)
When seventeen-year-old Zae Monroe gets cheated on by the only guy she’s ever loved, then watches her parents' marriage crumble, she decides to forget about relationships and turn the tables on the boys of the world. It’s time to take what she wants, and what she wants are kisses. Athletes, musicians, poets, and bad boys—their lips are all on her agenda, and it's time to collect. Zae proposes a contest with her friends to see who can kiss the most boys during spring break. But what starts as a harmless competition leads to a downward spiral she can’t seem to break free of. As family, academic, friend, and guy drama come to a head, Zae is forced to face the reasons behind her boy angst, and starts to wonder if she was wrong about the male race...or at least some of them.


The Cursed Sea (The Glass Spare #2) by Lauren DeStefano (hardcover, 400 pages, published by Balzer + Bray)
Wil, the exiled princess of northern Arrod, must do what she never thought possible: return home to discover the origins of her own curse. But home is very different from how she left it—Wil’s unpredictable elder brother Baren is now king, leading a war against the Southern Isles. And with time running out, Wil must navigate the dangerous secrets within her family to find the truth. Nothing goes as planned, and suddenly Wil and her allies are fighting for their lives as the Southern king is out to ensure neither of his children will survive to take the throne. Traveling across cursed seas and treacherous kingdoms, Wil and Loom must make peace with their pasts if they hope to secure the future of their world. But when their plans lead them right back to evil marveler Pahn, and to Baren—who is more dangerous than ever—can Wil and her friends outsmart their enemies, this time for good?


The Disasters by M.K. England (hardcover, 368 pages, published by HarperCollins)
Hotshot pilot Nax Hall has a history of making poor life choices. So it’s not exactly a surprise when he’s kicked out of the elite Ellis Station Academy in less than twenty-four hours. But Nax’s one-way trip back to Earth is cut short when a terrorist group attacks the Academy. Nax and three other washouts escape—barely—but they’re also the sole witnesses to the biggest crime in the history of space colonization. And the perfect scapegoats. On the run and framed for atrocities they didn’t commit, Nax and his fellow failures execute a dangerous heist to spread the truth about what happened at the Academy.They may not be “Academy material,” and they may not get along, but they’re the only ones left to step up and fight.


December 31st:

Evermore (Everless #2) by Sara Holland (hardcover, 368 pages, published by HarperTeen)
Jules Ember was raised hearing legends of the ancient magic of the wicked Alchemist and the good Sorceress. But she has just learned the truth: She is the Alchemist, and Caro—a woman who single-handedly murdered the Queen and Jules’s first love, Roan, in cold blood—is the Sorceress. The whole kingdom believes that Jules is responsible for the murders, and a hefty bounty has been placed on her head. And Caro is intent on destroying Jules, who stole her heart twelve lifetimes ago. Now Jules must piece together the stories of her past lives to save the person who has captured her heart in this one.


The Curses (The Graces #2) by Laure Eve (hardcover, 336 pages, published by Amulet Books)
Picking up the pieces after the chilling events of the previous year isn’t easy, but the Graces are determined to do it. Wolf is back after a mysterious disappearance, and everyone’s eager to return to normal. Except for Summer, the youngest Grace. Summer has a knack for discovering the truth—and something is troubling her. After a trail of clues leads her to what could be the key to both her family’s mysterious past and the secret of Wolf, she’s determined to vanquish yet another curse. But exposing secrets is a dangerous game, and it’s not one Summer can win alone. At Summer’s behest, the coven comes back together, reluctantly drawing their erstwhile friend River back into the fold. But Wolf’s behavior becomes unpredictable even as Fenrin’s strength fades, and Summer must ask herself whether the friend she so loves is also planning her family’s ultimate, cursed demise. This riveting sequel to The Graces is saturated with magic, the destructive cost of power, the complications of family, and the nature of forgiveness.


The Fork, the Witch, and the Worm (Tales from Alagaesia #1) by Christopher Paolini (hardcover, 288 pages, published by Knopf Books for Young Readers)
It's been a year since Eragon departed Alagaësia in search of the perfect home to train a new generation of Dragon Riders. Now he is struggling with an endless sea of tasks: constructing a vast dragonhold, wrangling with suppliers, guarding dragon eggs, and dealing with belligerent Urgals and haughty elves. Then a vision from the Eldunarí, unexpected visitors, and an exciting Urgal legend offer a much-needed distraction and a new perspective. This volume features three original stories set in Alagaësia, interspersed with scenes from Eragon's own unfolding adventure. Included is an excerpt from the memoir of the unforgettable witch and fortune-teller Angela the herbalist... penned by Angela Paolini, the inspiration for the character, herself!
 

(sources: io9.gizmodo.com 1 2, Tor.com 1 2,
Bookbub.com 1 2 3, Barnesandnoble.com)


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