Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish with the aim of sharing Top Ten lists of our favorites – mostly book related.


This week’s topic: ten scary books, favorite horror novels, non-scary books to get you in the Halloween/fall mood, bookish halloween costumes, scariest covers), scary books on my TBR, etc.

With Halloween rapidly approaching, this meme was too intriguing to ignore, and I believe no one would better represent the genre than the true master, the king – in fact and in name – of horror: Stephen King.

The multi-faceted declinations of horror in his novels have fed our nightmares for the past few decades – and let’s face it, we love being scared this way!  So here is my personal top ten of his books:

10 Christine – A car with a personality, and a malicious one to boot. It’s enough to make you seriously think about public transport for the rest of your life. This story starts with a young man’s obsession with one such car, and progresses from there to its chilling evolution.

9 Firestarter – Mental powers are scary enough, especially when they can be so disruptive: here Mr. King showed us what could happen to a young girl capable of lighting fires with her mind, once her world has been destroyed and she’s on the run from those who would use her ruthlessly.

8 Carrie – Everyone indulged in some innocent pranks during their times school, and I’d like to think no one was ever as cruel as the other kids were to Carrie. But if they did, they should read this book and think – long and hard – about retribution…

7 The Dead Zone – What if one went into a coma as a consequence of a terrible accident, and woke up able to see other people’s past and future? And what if they could see – truly see – the evil that lurks into their minds?  It’s just as frightening a possibility as it is intriguing…

6 Pet Sematary – Losing one’s beloved pet must be a harrowing experience, or so I’ve been told by people who had this happen to them. But would having them back really be a good thing? Especially if the same “miracle” that brought them back can be applied to people…

5 Mysery – Nothing supernatural in this story, but it’s more than enough to terrify you: imagine being at the mercy of someone who claims to be your staunchest admirer and wants something from you, or worse, feels you owe them something.  Sometimes a real-world setting can hold more horror than a fantastic one.

4 The Shining – The idea of haunted houses (or hotels as is the case here) can give you shivers, but when they are located on an isolated mountain, during winters, and the ghosts that dwell there can take possession of an already disturbed mind, you have a recipe for unspeakable horror.  One of Stephen King’s most haunting stories.

3 It – This is one of King’s books I found more disturbing, and I mean this in a very positive way: a group of people reunites after a long time to battle once again the monster who preyed on kids luring them into the depths of the city’s sewers. After reading this story, I’ve never looked at a storm drain in the sam way…

2 Salem’s Lot – my very first vampire book, the one that set my standards for the genre.  A small town is being slowly overtaken by the undead, and only a writer, returning home after a long absence, can convince his fellow citizens to fight the monsters.  The scene that burned itself in my mind is the one of the young boy, transformed into a vampire, who knocks on a friend’s window at night begging to be let in.

1 The Stand – I consider this King’s masterpiece: on the wake of a global pandemic that has decimated the world’s population, an ancient evil tries to establish its rule over the survivors while the “forces of good”, gathering around the mysterious Mother Abigail, prepare for the battle against the darkness.  As involving as this battle is, I find the first part more involving: the slow, deliberate pace of the end of the world as we know it remains, in my opinion, the best description of an apocalypse in the making I’ve read until now.

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Review: ONCE BROKEN FAITH, by Seanan McGuire (October Daye #10)

15748538Ten books and still going strong: not many series can make this claim, no matter the genre, and yet Seanan McGuire’s October Daye appears immune from the danger of “wash, rinse, repeat” that can affect other book cycles.  I guess it mostly depends on the eclectic nature of the author’s writing, able to speak with many different voices in a wide range of stories, where the only common factor is given by strong, believable and easy-to-care-for main characters.

Toby is indeed the quintessence of such characters: her drive comes from the understanding and acceptance of her assets and faults, and the ability to use them all for the solution of the problem at hand; and also from the strength she can draw from the diverse and multi-faceted family she has built around herself over time.

This new story starts with one of those family moments that look even more precious because we readers know all too well they are not going to last long: Toby is hosting a slumber party for the younger folks, and there is a great deal of goofing around and delightful silliness that help us reacquaint ourselves with the characters and their background – that is, until reality intrudes once more in the form of the convocation for a conclave that will rule on the new-found cure for elf shot and the possibility to use it on the victims.

Fae politics – or maybe just politics, and diplomacy – are not something Toby is comfortable with, but in this case she is very passionate about alchemist Walther’s discovery, because of the dual nature of elf shot: as a way to circumvent Oberon’s prohibition about Fae killing other Fae, since it puts them to sleep for a hundred years and therefore effectively removes them from the scene, elf shot has been the established way of life for a long time, and of course the undying and unchangeable Fae don’t respond easily to anything that alters the status quo; but the downside of it is that elf shot kills changelings.

This is the point where the “changeling problem”, to quote an equally cruel designation, comes to the fore once again, to the annoyance and dismay of those Fae who would prefer to keep ignoring it: the range of reactions goes from appalling to dumbfounding, with the former belonging to those who don’t care at all about changelings, since they are placed too low on the scale to even deserve consideration, and the latter to those who do care but believe that a cure would engender a careless use of elf shot, once it was deprived of its threatening quality.

Most of all the assembled Fae are concerned about change, about the subversion of an established modus vivendi that has served them for so long that they have forgotten how to desire something different, or even think about it. In the variegated responses to the availability of the cure there is a common factor, the fear of moving in a different direction, of walking another path and therefore challenging all that has been the accepted norm until that moment.  The best summary of this attitude is given by the Luidaeg, whose comments in the course of this novel are both enlightening and delightfully amusing:

The idea that Faerie should always be a twisted mirror of the human medieval age is proof that sometimes people don’t like change.  […] Anyone who says the past was perfect is a liar and wasn’t there. Everything that thinks can aspire, and everything that aspires wants something better than what they’ve left behind.

The Fae, faced with the prospect of being deprived of what has been their weapon of choice, balk at the very idea of losing it, of losing the only offensive method allowed to them: for this reason I saw the whole question as an interesting parallel to the ongoing debate about the procurement and use of personal weapons that has occupied so much space in recent news, and still does.  As usual, McGuire lays the problem before her readers’ eyes and lets them see all aspects of the issue, and draw their own conclusions, without unnecessary and lengthy sermons: Professor Tolkien would say that she uses applicability rather than imposing allegory, and as such I commend her choice, her way of making us think without appearing to do so.

This being an October Daye story, however, means that debate and discussion take second place to a series of assaults – some of them ending in murder – that occur when the conclave is in recess and that show the use of a peculiar, unheard-of kind of magic, one that leaves no traces of its user, therefore rendering Toby’s investigation so much more difficult.  We see her struggle with the scant evidence she can gather, and yet this only manages to increase her determination to find the perpetrators, all the while juggling her obligations as a hero of the realm and as the protector of the people she calls family.

The threat keeps circling closer and closer to Toby and her own, like a blood-hungry shark, and when it strikes at the very heart of what she holds dear we are forced to witness one of the more soul-shattering moments of the whole series, not just because of the traumatic scene deploying before our eyes but because of the possible consequences that will come from it.  This might very well be the most difficult choice that Toby has to make in the long, painful string of harrowing choices lined up in her past, because it might put her in the position of having to give up the last shreds of her humanity to keep hold of what she has gained until now.  I know it makes little sense if you have not read the book, but I want to avoid any spoiler for those who are still making their way through the series: suffice it to say that, as always, Toby’s road is not only liberally doused in blood, but also in agonizing loss.  That whatever she chooses, there will always be a price to be paid, and that price will entail heartbreak, no matter what direction she takes.

That’s the main reason I like her so much as a character, that no matter how much she breaks – physically and metaphorically – she always finds the way to pick up the pieces and move forward. Not shrugging off the hurts and losses, but embracing them as part of what she is and what she will become: this, more than anything else, is what makes her real, convincing and always a joy to behold, even in the direst of circumstances.

There is much to be still explored in this world, and with these characters, and if the few hints that have been tossed around about what’s to come are any indication, we are in for some very interesting times.  I can hardly wait.

My Rating:


Teaser Tuesday is an intriguing meme started by Miz B over at Books and a Beat.

All you have to do is:

• Grab your current read

• Open to a random page

• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page

• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)

• Share the title & author, too, so that other Teaser Tuesday participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

Teaser Tuesday

The name of George R.R. Martin is more frequently tied to his Song of Ice and Fire saga, a tale often filled with violence, cruelty and ruthless political intrigue, but a different GRR Martin can be found in his shorter works: a writer capable of subtle lyricism and poetical descriptions.

One of the best examples is THE GLASS FLOWER, a story included in the first volume of his DreamSongs, a collection of his tales ranging his entire writing career.  This story is a favorite of mine, full of mystery and strangeness.

Once, when I was just a girl in the first flush of my true youth, a young boy gave me a glass flower as a token of his love.  […]  My flower has a long and delicate stem, curved and graceful, all of fine thin glass, and from that frail support the bloom explodes, as large as my fist, impossibly exact. Every detail is there, caught, frozen in crystal for eternity: petals large and small crowding each other, bursting from the center of the blossom in a slow transparent riot, surrounded by a crown of six wide drooping leaves, each with its tracery of vein intact, each unique.

If you want to experience the full beauty of this story, I also recommend the audio version read by Australian actress Claudia Black: HERE is the first segment of the audio file, just to give you a sample of great writing and amazing acting.  Enjoy!

Review: NICE DRAGONS FINISH LAST, by Rachel Aaron (Heartstrikers #1)

20426102I became aware of this series when reading the review for the third volume over at THE BIBLIOSANCTUM, and was immediately intrigued: titles like this one, or One Good Dragon Deserves Another and No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished are an implicit promise of humor mixed with the usual elements of the genre, and some light fun is always welcome between heavier reads.  Moreover, if dragons are fascinating creatures, dragons who can take human form at will can be even more so.

Julius Heartstriker is an unusual dragon: unlike his brethren, he doesn’t enjoy typical draconic pastimes as domination, manipulation and the hoarding of riches, and prefers to keep himself apart from his large family, holing up in his room playing online games.  Tired of this state of affairs, his mother Bethesda decides to put him in a “swim or sink” situation and after sealing Julius in human form, she kicks him out of the house with only the clothes on his back, and drops him in Detroit, where he will have to show some dragon-like initiative and strength: failure to do so will result in his death – probably at the hands, or rather jaws, of Mommy dearest.    The city is, however, forbidden to dragons after the release of magic effected by Algonquin, the Lady of the Lake, and it’s a dangerous place for anyone, either on the upper levels where the more affluent live, or in the ruins of the old town, where the dispossessed and the shadier characters dwell.

To prove himself to his mother and the rest of the family, Julius will have to fulfill what looks like a simple task: retrieve the fugitive member of another dragon family and bring her back into the fold. The assignment proves however far less easy than predicted, due to some convoluted dragon politics and the added trouble brought on by Marci Novalli, a human mage with whom Julian strikes a business deal and who quickly becomes his partner and ally.

Nice Dragons Finish Last is a fast, entertaining story that manages to mix successfully the typical elements of Urban Fantasy with a good dose of tongue-in-cheek humor that seems to enjoy poking some fun at the genre’s main tropes: this is particularly evident in the character of Marci who is a very skilled mage, quite versed in her craft but at the same time possessed of a MacGyver-like approach to magic that will more often than not bring a smile on your face rather than an awed expression. Yet, at the very same time, there is an earnestness in her, coupled with the tragic circumstances that brought her to the DFZ (Detroit Free Zone), that makes you also take her very seriously, just as Julius does, understanding – after a relatively short acquaintance – that he can rely on her to carry them both forward through the dangers they face.

Labeling Julius as a wimp would be quite appropriate, even by less exacting human standards: if on one hand I could understand his unwillingness, as a smaller-bodied dragon, to engage in the more physical activities of his large family, on the other I found his choice of becoming a couch potato did little to endear him to me, at least in the beginning.   If Bethesda and her daughter Chelsie, the family’s executioner, appear quite ruthless and bloody minded, to the point that her treatment of Julian sounds altogether cruel, it becomes quickly clear that being an active part of a dragon family does not necessarily entail bloodshed and mayhem, and that one might find his or her own niche in some equally profitable activity that does not necessarily require physical violence, but rather shrewdness and business acumen.  Yet Julius has chosen to hide himself in his room, preferring to avoid and be avoided, in what looks like a flight from responsibility – any kind of responsibility.  So, after a while, one feels that maybe he did need to be shaken up and away from his complacent isolation, and Bethesda’s actions appear almost justified.  Almost…

It will be only through his association with Marci and his growing fondness for the beleaguered human mage, that Julian will find his spine and the courage to stand up for what he believes in, and to finally tap his… inner dragon, but it will be a long and difficult journey, one that will take the two of them – at times helped by a couple of Julian’s more lenient brothers – through cat-infested, haunted mansions, Detroit’s sewer system plagued by scores of huge lampreys, and other less-than-savory places.

I have to admit that after a while I could not avoid the comparison with another Urban Fantasy series, one I enjoyed very much: M.L. Brennan’s Generation V, nor could I shake the impression that I might have enjoyed this one much more if I had not read the other prior to discovering this.  In both cases we have a matriarch running a supernatural family, whose youngest child is reluctant to assume the role and duties that come with the territory. Here, like in Generation V, there are older brothers ready to help the younger sibling along – at least up to a point – and an older sister who is the family’s henchwoman and who can inspire abject terror at the merest mention of her name. And again, partnering up with someone from the outside (be it the mage Marci or the shape-shifting Suzume), makes all the difference for the main character who can finally overcome some of his liabilities and start to come into his own.

The tone is however quite different here, the balance between humor and drama leaning more toward the former, the dragons’ dynamics and peculiarities lending a unique flavor to a story that is both entertaining and intriguing, and lays the basis for promising future developments.  As the beginning of a new series, Nice Dragons Finish Last is quite successful in introducing its readers to a peculiar world, giving just enough hints to pique their curiosity and make them want more.   I, for one, will certainly want to know what’s in store for newly-awakened Julius and his journey toward becoming a full-fledged Heartstriker dragon.

My Rating:



This GoodReads group proposes a weekly meme whose aim is to give a list of Top Five… anything, as long as they are book related.  This week’s theme is:


Those books that have nothing to do with the story, or the cover model doesn’t look anything like the actual main character, or it’s a really cheesy cover for a great read!

To say the truth, none of the covers of the books I’ve read in the past few years were really misleading: when I went to check on my GoodReads library, I could not find any that would fit this week’s theme.  So I decided to do a little search for the covers of pulp magazines from a few decades back and there I found exactly what I was looking for.

In those times, garish covers were the accepted norm: monsters from outer space, outlandish aliens and extra-terrestrial landscapes, spaceships of every size and shape – you name it, they had it.

There was one common factor though: the women depicted on those covers were all scantily clad, exotic-looking and either terrorized victims of some evil-doer or being rescued by the muscled hero. And probably had nothing to do with the stories listed in the magazine.   Here are the Top Five that came out of my search:

01In the first one, we see the lady on the cover being pursued by some bad guy and/or alien (he’s bald, and back then most aliens were bald…): they must be hovering in space, and both of their heads are enclosed by a bubble helmet, but while the man is wearing a space suit, the woman sports something close to a bathing suit, with a very, very deep neckline.  In vacuum…

In the second cover, our designated victim is stalked by a spidery-looking2 alien and looking suitably frightened – but no fear! The hero is just around the corner, ready to save her!  And once again, the man is in full EVA suit, while the woman wears a golden bikini. With matching shoes.  After all, you can’t give up on fashion, even in the direst of circumstances!

Third cover – more of the same, with a slight variation: the woman is unconscious, probably terrified by the big-toothed, long-nailed (and bald!!) monster in the background.  Thankfully the hero is carrying her away to safety.  As if we could ever doubt it!

With cover nr. 4 there is a change: in this case the lady is armed and deadly –4 in the picture she seems to have just stunned or killed the “big bad alien” (he’s green AND bald, to offer some variety, no doubt).  The woman’s weapon is still smoking (do energy weapons smoke at all?) and she looks quite resolute – yes, in her space bathing suit, complete with bubble helmet and spiked epaulettes. Oh, and gloves…

5And finally, at nr. 5, another ass-kicking lady, swinging an axe against a many-tentacled monster, while the guy in the background seems to have some trouble defending himself.  The woman is wearing a full-body suit this time, but it seems painted on her, and the conical cups for the breasts look decidedly uncomfortable!

What’s worse, is that there are still some genres where covers with scantily clad people appear in absurd poses: that’s the reason why writers like John Scalzi and Jim C. Hines decided, some time ago, to poke some fun at those covers, while supporting a charitable foundation.  As a “bonus” for this week’s theme, here are both the original cover and the… portrayal by Scalzi (on the right) and Hines (on the left), but you can find more by following the links in this IO9 article. Have fun!

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Review: THE PEAKS OF AUTUMN by Ashley Capes (Book of Never #4)

31822092I received this book from the author, in exchange for an honest review.

Never’s adventurous quest in search of his lost heritage, and the answers to the many questions plaguing him about his nature and past, goes on.  Together with faithful Luis, the former treasure hunter, and Tsolde, a young woman who joined the company in the previous installment of the series, he continues in his perilous journey across a world that seems to reserve the most incredible – and sometimes frightening – surprises just for him, as if the rest of humanity were blissfully unaware of the weirdness that lives just outside of their collective sight.

With this new segment in Never’s series I felt more clearly than before the videogame-like quality of this story: although I’m no gamer, I am aware of the structure of role-playing quests, so that each new encounter, each new danger that the group faces does indeed feel like a new level in a game, with the stakes being raised after every successful accomplishment, and new skills being called into play.  This impression is strengthened by the narrative structure, by the box-within-a-box sequence of episodes where the solution to the riddle does not bring success, but rather a new – and more difficult – challenge to overcome.

As I said before, this can be both compelling and frustrating, because the intelligence Never so painfully gathers seems to lead him nowhere, except toward new tasks and new trials.  The narrative structure does not help in defeating the aggravation either, because the serialized form of this novel subjects the reader to longish waits between installments, that always end in a more or less harrowing cliffhanger.  After the end of this fourth chapter in The Book of Never, I reached the conclusion that the author does indeed enjoy torturing his readers…  🙂

If, until now, the characters have not enjoyed a thorough characterization, since the story is more plot-driven than character-oriented, in The Peaks of Autumn I saw something change in Never, and in a major way: his companions become something more precious for him than simple travel mates, and Never feels the huge burden of responsibility for their fate. This looks like a mixed blessing, because until recently Never was used to fend for himself alone, and to hell with the consequences, but now he’s been entrusted with the lives of two people, two persons he cares about quite deeply, and this seems to somehow weaken him, making him more vulnerable. Yet, at the same time, this new-found awareness makes him more human and approachable, and at the same time gives a new, interesting layer to his personality.

Finally, I would like to spend a few words for the cover: I’ve been enthusiastic about every cover for this serialized novel, but this new one surpasses all the preceding ones, both in subject and in color choice: it’s very dramatic and eye-catching, and it complements very well the book’s contents.  If it’s true that you should never judge a book by its cover, it’s also true that a good cover can be a powerful enticement….

The Peaks of Autumn will reach the shelves today, so I’m more than happy to celebrate its arrival, looking forward to knowing more about Never and his companions in the future installments of the story.

My Rating:


Teaser Tuesday is an intriguing meme started by Miz B over at Books and a Beat.

All you have to do is:

• Grab your current read

• Open to a random page

• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page

• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)

• Share the title & author, too, so that other Teaser Tuesday participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

Teaser Tuesday

For this Teaser Tuesday I’m going to do something a little different: to celebrate the 10th book in Seanan McGuire’s October Daye series – ONCE BROKEN FAITH – I will indeed quote two sentences, but from two recurring characters, the sea witch Luidaeg and the King of cats Tybalt – both of them huge favorites with the readers.

Double the quotes, double the fun!  🙂

The Luidaeg:

A Fetch shows up now, all these people lose their shit. Never invite a death omen to a murder party. 

You have to take care of yourself. Replacing you would take a long time, and frankly, I don’t want to go to the trouble.


Tybalt raised an eyebrow. “Am I nothing but a taxi service to you?”

“No,” I said. “Danny, who actually has his license, is a taxi service. You’re more like a transporter from Star Trek. Me and you to beam up, Scotty.”

He looked at me blankly. Karen covered her mouth with one hand. Quentin started to snicker.

“Sometimes I wonder if you’ve ever actually encountered the English language,” Tybalt said […]

[…] “Tybalt?”

“How finely you pack an entire request into a single word of two syllables. Would that my name were shorter, that I might encourage you to even greater acts of brevity.”

Review: VICK’S VULTURES, by Scott Warren

31019075I received this book from Parvus Press, in exchange for an honest review.

Just a few days ago I was reading a fellow blogger’s reasons for not accepting submissions from indie authors any longer, and I could sympathize with those reasons: more often than not, the writing and editing quality of these books is not exactly stellar, or the premise and promise of the stories don’t hold up against closer scrutiny. And that not even taking into account personal reading preferences and biases.  My own experience is that only one book in ten doesn’t end in the DNF pile, if I’m lucky, so I appreciate why some would choose to concentrate on more tested and tried offerings – I’ve held that thought myself several times, especially after a particularly disheartening encounter.

Then I “meet” books like this one, and I understand the reason why I have not given up yet: because otherwise I would miss out on exciting discoveries.  Vick’s Vultures is precisely the example of the kind of potential that could get lost in the huge crowd of emerging authors struggling for recognition, if it couldn’t get under a helpful spotlight: it’s a good, solid, entertaining story, and even if it’s not a world-changing reading experience, it’s an enormously enjoyable book, and sometimes that’s all we look for.

The best feature of Vick’s Vultures is its premise: once humanity ventures beyond the Solar System it discovers that the Galaxy is peopled by a great number of alien races, all of them far more advanced and far more belligerent and dangerous than Earthers. Starting out with such a handicap, humanity chooses to keep a low profile, forging alliances with lesser civilizations, while trying to acquire technological improvements in the most unobtrusive way.  This is the origin of the privateers, to all intents and purposes scavenger crews who gather scraps of alien tech in the wake of the endless conflicts between the major races: retro-engineering this alien technology, Earth is able to further its own advancement while staying out of sight of the big guys – and out of harm’s way – as much as possible.

The Condor, under the command of Captain Victoria Marin, is one of these privateers: as the novel opens, Vick is worried by the lack of valuable finds that has plagued her crew in recent times – she needs a sizable profit, something truly outstanding, to keep her ship afloat both financially and morale-wise.  Fate brings the Condor across the wreck of a Malagath ship, drifting in space after a battle with their arch-enemies the Dirregaunt: the salvaged materials alone could be a dream come true for Vick and her people, but the real bonus comes with the Malagath survivors she finds on board, because one of them is First Prince Tavram, the heir to the throne. Taking him home will be a great coup, and coupled with what the Condor will bring back in alien tech, it will mean a great deal for the Vultures and their captain’ future as privateers.

Trouble is, the Dirregaunt – in accordance with their wolf-like appearance and predatory nature – are not ready to give up on their quarry, and this starts a dangerous hunt for the prince and the ship that rescued him, a hide-and-seek chase through interstellar space that will take its toll on the already stressed Condor and its crew, pitting Captain Marin’s willpower and cunning against that of a very determined, very savage enemy.

This premise results in a fast-paced, at times breathless story that makes for a compelling reading while laying the background for the author’s vision of the future, one that is quite believable in its lack of glamorous technological advancement for Earth, whose people try to carve their own niche in the grander scheme of things, despite the obvious disadvantages they started out with.  You will not find exotic and hard-to-believe (or comprehend…) technobabble here: Earth ships all but forge on through makeshift repairs, inventive use of purloined technology and a good dose of human stubborn resourcefulness, which make it quite easy to root for the characters.

Captain Marin is a good example of this: a strong, determined woman who cares deeply about her ship and crew – and shows it through action rather than words, which is a very welcome change. A woman who has learned the hard way how to survive in the doubly hostile milieu of space, where environment and people lie in wait for that single moment of distraction which will mean one’s death.  Vick knows what she wants, and knows how to take it, be it precious salvage, a tactical opportunity or a moment of passion to make her forget the heavy demands of her position.  As far as female characters go in this genre, she’s sound and believable, and does not need to be beautiful and alluring, or dark and tormented (or one of the possible permutations…) to stand out: she’s a capable, reliable professional, and she has charisma – it’s more than enough.

This novel is not immune from a few problems, however, but they are indeed minor and do not detract from the overall experience of the book: the background information, for example, is pared down to the essentials but at times it intrudes on the narrative flow in such a way as to prove mildly distracting. While I understand the need to flesh out the author’s vision and to offer useful details on this imagined future, there are times when the didactic nature of this information feels a little too much – at least for me. Then there is the characterization, that is not explored in great depth, although the adventurous nature of the story requires a tighter focus on action, rather than introspection. And again there is a thread about two Earth marines playing infiltrators where the suspension of disbelief is stretched somewhat thinly.  Still, these are considerations that did not spoil my enjoyment of the story or took me out of the narrative “bubble”, and are quite superseded by some intriguing, unusual details that make a difference: for example the fact that the few colonies Earth managed to establish are largely ignored by alien expansion because the oxygen atmosphere humans need is not in great demand with other species.  It’s a small thing, but to me it speaks of an active imagination capable of intriguing lateral thinking.

Vick’s Vultures will be available from October 4th: if you feel the need for an engaging, adventure-filled story and the beginning to what could turn out to be a good series, you need look no further.

My Rating:

Review: LOOKING THROUGH LACE, by Ruth Nestvold (and Teaser Tuesday)

Teaser Tuesday #13

This week I’ve decided to mix one of my usual TEASER TUESDAY posts with a brief review of this novella, that I received through Instafreebie in exchange for an honest review.  Teaser Tuesday is an intriguing meme started by Miz B over at Books and a Beat.

Teaser Tuesday

All you have to do is:

• Grab your current read

• Open to a random page

• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page

• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)

• Share the title & author, too, so that other Teaser Tuesday participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

11213638I was curious about this story because I am familiar with the author’s name, but had never read anything by her: now that I have I will certainly add some more of her books to my reading queue.

Antonia (Toni) Donato is a young xenolinguist who is enrolled for a tour on the planet Christmas – so called because of the inverted Christmas tree shape of its main continent – to study the humanoid natives’ languages, especially the women’s, who seem to possess one all of their own, not spoken with and by the men.   Her initial excitement about the project, one that could launch her career out of obscurity, is marred by the project manager’s dismissive attitude toward her skills, one that quickly transforms into open obstruction once Toni is able to reach some small breakthrough in the puzzle of the women’s language.

I’ve always been fascinated by stories dealing with first contact with alien cultures, and this one – even though the ‘aliens’ are quite human-like – is made doubly interesting by the strong link between language and customs, and the questions about the origins of both.

What Toni discovers will turn all the previous findings – and her own assumptions – on their head and lead to a conclusion I found both bittersweet and highly satisfying.  Ruth Nestvold is indeed a writer I must keep on my radar.

The lace mentioned in the title plays an important role in the economy of the story, and so I have chosen a quote that showcases it while offering a clue to the interpretation of the title itself:

Our ways differ so much, when you say one thing, I understand another. We can’t help but see each other through the patterns we know from the cultures we grew up with. Like looking through lace — the view isn’t clear, the patterns get in the way.

Fascinating, indeed.

Review: THE DRAGON’S PATH, by Daniel Abraham (The Dagger and the Coin #1)

8752885This book has been sitting on my virtual shelf for quite some time now: I did start reading it, a while back, but it was not the right moment for it – it does happen sometimes, when I realize that a book has the potential to be a good one for me, but I’m not in the right frame of mind to appreciate it as it deserves. So I set it aside, and in the interim read Daniel Abraham’s Long Price Quartet – which I loved – and as time went by, the author managed to publish all five books in this series: on hindsight, that was quite fortunate, because I will not have to wait for the other four volumes to be published. After a somewhat slow start, this story and these characters took hold of my imagination, and I’m certain I will need to follow the rest of their journey as soon as possible. Knowing I can is indeed a great relief…

The Dragon’s Path’s world-building is deceptively standard for the genre, following a number of characters moving across the kingdom of Antea, where political unrest is brewing toward war. Young Cithrin bel Sarcour, an orphan and ward of the Medean Bank, is tasked with the job of taking the bank’s funds out of the city of Vanai before the unavoidable invasion by a conquering army. Cithrin joins a caravan escorted by Captain Marcus Wester, a war hero with a painful past, his Tralgu lieutenant Yardem Hane, and a group of traveling performers enrolled to act as guards. On the eve of Vanai’s conquest, Geder Palliako, son of a minor noble and the butt of cruel jokes by his comrades, tries to fit the soldier’s mold while dreaming a life of scholarly pursuits. And Dawson Kalliam, shrewd politician close to Antea’s ruler and staunch believer of the “old ways”, navigates the court’s many intrigues while pursuing his own goals.

The world itself dimly remembers its past, an age in which dragons ruled and men – all thirteen different species of them – were their servants. The only legacy left by these mythical rulers are the roads, covered in enduring material, that link the cities of men and on which travelers and armies move. On the surface, this would not look so different from many other similar backgrounds, with a medieval-like society, a few hints of magic, and the required components of war and intrigue; some of the characters might appear as tropes, especially the world-weary former soldier and the young orphan on a quest. And yet, as the story unfolds, we discover that there is more here that meets the eye.

For starters, the ancient history that’s mentioned in passing offers an intriguing glimpse into a past that is as fascinating as it is nebulous, and the many different species of men – some of them quite exotic-looking – represent another point of interest, though hardly explored. With five books in this saga, it’s possible that more will be explained in the next installments and that the few peeks offered to the readers might get expanded later: at this point, more would have been a distraction and it would have overburdened the narrative flow – at least in my opinion. More importantly, one of the novel’s focal points is on economics and business, prime motivators in any society – real or fictional – and the space that these elements are given here shows how they are just as important as an army’s might or the influence of powerful men. This is a new and very welcome twist in the story, one that is developed in an easy-to-understand and intriguing way, adding to the many facets of this novel.

What truly drives The Dragon’s Path forward, however, are the characters: if Marcus Wester is a little standardized for the genre – former soldier who turned mercenary after a bloody betrayal that cost his wife and daughter their lives – he grew on me as the story unfolded, and I enjoyed his exchanges with his wingman Yardem, whose subdued humor is always delightful, and his complicated relationship with young Cithrin. Dawson Kalliam does not possess any of the characteristics that would endear him to me – he’s “old guard” to the bone, and something of a martinet – but his adversaries are such that I ended up rooting for him anyway, hoping his plans would succeed. Dawson’s most intriguing feature comes from his wife Clara, the real “power behind the throne” and a woman so subtly powerful, clever and manipulative that I hope there will be more about her in the following books. Master Kit, the leader of the acting troupe, is an interesting character as well, and there is just that hint of mystery about him that makes him worth keeping one’s eye on.

Cithrin bel Sarcour and Geder Palliako are the two figures that drew most of my attention, though. On the surface, Cithrin looks like the proverbial girl on a quest, the kind that will lead her on a journey of discovery and growth, but there is much more to her than that. Forced to assume the enormous responsibility of smuggling the Medean Bank’s riches out of doomed Vanai, she at first struggles with this burden and the need to keep a low profile, all the while trying to survive outside of the sheltered world where she grew up. But once she can do away with the cover-up, she starts to come into her own, showing her skills as a banker and revealing her determination to forge a path for herself through those skills: the fact that the road is far from easy and that she moves along it through trial and error – sometimes with painful results – only adds to the depths of this character that shows a great deal of promise for the future.

As for Geder… Well, I’m very ambivalent toward him, and I say that as a compliment toward the complexity of his character: when we first meet him, he looks like what we would nowadays call a “nerd” – not very physically-inclined, more interested in “speculative essays” than in the rules of war, he’s the target of his comrades’ jokes and cruel hazing. There is enough, in Geder’s psychological makeup, to make us root for him, especially when he manages to find some sort of courage once he’s in the midst of his first real battle, but when a series of circumstances raises him from obscurity and derision toward a brilliant political career, something in him changes, and not for the best. Underestimated and reviled up to that point, Geder finds himself invested with unlooked-for power, while at the same time realizing that everyone sees him as a joke even though they are forced to bow to his commands: something does snap at that point, and he makes a decision that left me stunned for its unthinking ferociousness, so that I started to wonder about Geder’s true nature, whether I had totally misread him, because the act seemed so contrary to his personality as shown until then.

As a long-time Babylon5 fan, the step toward a comparison with Londo Mollari was a very short one for me: in both cases we deal with people who are looking for redress, Geder for himself and Londo for his people, and when they are in the position to do so they take a path toward darkness, more or less aware of the price they will ultimately have to pay for it, but willing to do it, despite the doubts and nightmares that plague them. From the point of Geder’s meeting with the mysterious priest Basrahip, servant of the goddess of truth, the similarity has become foremost in my mind, and I can’t shake the feeling that Basrahip could be Geder’s Mr. Morden…

Even though The Dragon’s Path beginning is something of a slow burn – probably the reason for my original doubts – it quickly finds its pace and evolves into a solid, promising first installment of a series I know I’m going to enjoy. Highly recommended.


My Rating: