After a series of civil wars in the mid twenty-first century, the newly formed United Provinces uses virtual reality games to rehabilitate young people with genetic predispositions to violence. Implanted with a cerebrum chip that erases all memory, they are bought by gamers who then control them in violent survival games based on the immediate aftermath of the civil wars.
Claudia is a leader of a small clan in one of the games, the Aftermath, where bloody fights to the death are the norm. Survivors scavenge for food and try to avoid cannibals roaming the ruins of Nashville. After being hit in the head, Claudia’s chip malfunctions and she begins having thoughts and feelings that are not part of her programming. As her self awareness grows, she realizes she is a pawn in a deadly game. She also finds she has the ability to read her gamer’s thoughts and perceive what she’s doing. After discovering an exit portal, she sets out to escape while her gamer is away from the controls.
Why I picked it up: Last year I read a thriller, The Game by Anders de la Motte. This title had a similar plot.
Why I finished it: Declan and Claudia become exceptionally bizarre allies. (He’s a young man who captures Claudia near the game’s border and works as a character monitor in the game.) They need each other to have any chance of escaping the Aftermath, yet their relationship fluctuates between an increasing attraction and deceit. Claudia’s ability to function without her gamer’s control and her developing power over her gamer are secrets she feels she cannot share. Declan, after discovering the glitch in Claudia’s chip, is unsure of how much power she has, and is reluctant to reveal his true intentions.
It's perfect for: Anna, a dystopian fanatic whose all-time favorite hero is Katniss from The Hunger Games. She will see a lot of the same grit and determination in Claudia as she fights through the differences between her thoughts and the directions from her gamer. Her growing sense of compassion for her fellow characters is compelling as she discovers that she is not a cold blooded killer, but was merely played that way.
Naomi Novik, author of the New York Times bestselling and critically acclaimed Temeraire novels, introduces a bold new world rooted in folk stories and legends, as elemental as a Grimm fairy tale.
Agnieszka loves her quiet village. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life. Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood. The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid that the Dragon will take Kasia, her dearest friend in the world. But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose.
“Bewitching.” —Gregory Maguire, bestselling author of Wicked
“Wild, thrilling, and deeply, darkly magical. An instant classic.” —Lev Grossman, bestselling author of The Magicians Trilogy
“The magic in Uprooted . . . is so vividly believable that it almost seems you could work the spells.” —Ursula K. Le Guin
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Raised by a pair of intrepid explorers, Oliver has seen much of the world and had more than his share of adventures. When his folks declare they are ready to retire to their neglected home at Deepwater Bay, he is looking forward to attending school and staying put. But as soon as his parents park the exploremobile, they notice a group of strange islands in the bay. Before anything is even unpacked, they set out in a dingy to feed their curiosity. Oliver stays behind to set up his room, knowing his parents' love of exploring can't be stopped. But after a few hours, he sees the dingy washed up on shore. Not only are his parents missing, but so are the islands they went to explore.
Why I picked it up: I totally respect Philip Reeve as an innovative writer (seriously, the man made predatory, roaming cities seem realistic). I’ve also completely fallen in love with Sarah McIntyre's art over the last year, and have been following her blog to see what sort of whimsical and wonderful things she will post next. Oliver and the Seawigs came out in England last year and the events they've been having look fun! I'm not normally a sucker for hype, but all the wig making and monkey drawing had me dying to read this book.
Why I finished it: I can't remember the last time I read a book where it was so clearly evident that the co-creators were having such a great time. Floating islands are not an entirely new idea, but I don't think I've ever seen ones where they talk, gather, and show off the flotsam they have gathered. Reeves makes me want to believe in the ridiculous, and McIntyre creates illustrations so joyous and fun that I couldn’t wait to see what happened next. Even though the interior illustrations are black, blue, and white, they paint a world so vivid and lively I want to live there. Also...as a non-skinny gal who loves to swim, I'm absolutely delighted by the chubby, eyeglass wearing mermaid named Iris. She is my sister from another clutch of eggs...or however merpeople reproduce.
Readalikes: Readers looking for more silly, illustrated fantasies with a British flavor will also like Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Skottie Young, in which another father disappears for a bit and returns with a crazy story.
New from Saga Press, an all-inclusive fantasy and science fiction imprint publishing great books across the spectrum of genre, from fantasy to science fiction, commercial to literary, speculative fiction to slipstream, urban fantasy to supernatural suspense.
Two men rebel together against tyranny—and then become rivals—in this first sweeping book of an epic fantasy series from Ken Liu, recipient of Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy awards.
Wily, charming Kuni Garu, a bandit, and stern, fearless Mata Zyndu, the son of a deposed duke, seem like polar opposites. Yet, in the uprising against the emperor, the two quickly become the best of friends after a series of adventures fighting against vast conscripted armies, silk-draped airships, and shapeshifting gods. Once the emperor has been overthrown, however, they each find themselves the leader of separate factions—two sides with very different ideas about how the world should be run and the meaning of justice.
Fans of intrigue, intimate plots, and action will find a new series to embrace in the Dandelion Dynasty.
Jennifer Strange, non-magical manager of Kazam Mystical Arts, accepts a high-paying job for the firm to retrieve a ring that does not want to be found. They manage to pry it out from among the stones and spells at the bottom of a well, but Jennifer suspects their client is up to no good and refuses to hand it over.
Meanwhile, King Snodd and his new Court Mystician, the All Powerful Blix, are plotting to end the helpful ways of Kazam and turn Blix's magical firm, iMagic, into a highly profitable business. A contest between the rival teams of wizards is announced: the first to rebuild a collapsed bridge will gain the favor of King Snodd.
Why I picked it up: I had just finished The Last Dragonslayer and thoroughly enjoyed it, so before I forgot the fun, convoluted plot I had to read this.
Why I finished it: I love the characters in these two books. Everyone is an individual, and not even the good guys are always pleasant or all that smart. The senior wizard of Kazam, Lady Mawgon, brings a haughty patrician air to everything she does, and almost never has a kind word for Jennifer. And then there's the Once Magnificent Boolean Smith, the Beastmaster in charge of everything relating to the fearsome, metal-eating quarkbeasts, who bears a deep wound from a marriage to another wizard that went terribly wrong.
Readalikes: Terry Pratchett's Discworld fans should love these books for their quick, witty, and silly humor. They particularly remind me of Pratchett’s series-within-the-series about a young witch-in-training, Tiffany Aching, the first of which is The Wee Free Men. While Tiffany is definitely a girl of considerable power and Jennifer is entirely non-magical, both girls seek to make the world a fairer and more just place for everyone.
Corporal Jacqs Glebov is a simple soldier who wants a bunk, decent food and the company of other battle-hardened men and women who understand the realities of fighting. Instead he's stuck patrolling a remote corner of the border with cadets straight out of boot camp. They don't understand him, and he sure doesn't have an ounce of respect for them.
After a field promotion, Earth sends Commander Zeke Waters to the Candiru for some practical experience in a leadership role. Instead, Zeke falls in lust with the adamantly heterosexual Jacqs. The way Jacqs fights and the way he sees the world draws Zeke closer, even if common sense tells him to walk away.
Even if they can find a way to find to reconcile their sexual differences, they are both still soldiers. The war will eventually take them away from each other unless they can find a way to escape the rules that have defined their lives.
After an aging super villain is caught using a psychic to win at roulette, he has to make amends. He owes $100 million, due in one month, or else. His friends want to help, but superheroes always defeat them. Then they come up with a plan -- to go to Spain, away from cities full of superheroes, and rob the greatest super villain who ever lived.
Originally published as Supercrooks #1 - #4.
Publisher’s Rating: Mature Content.
Why I finished it: It lives up to the back cover blurb from comicbookresources.com: “X-men meets Ocean’s Eleven.” And the way the team blackmails the world’s greatest superhero, gets him on board with their operation, and then dresses him up in a pink spandex costume for the heist is priceless.
Readalikes: Millar’s villain, The Bastard, was so vile he reminded me of the “heroes” in Garth Ennis’s The Boys, a series about a team that takes down horrifically amoral superheroes whose power has gone to their heads and the corporation behind them.
The Paper Magician Ceony graduated top of her magic class and hopes to work with metal. Instead, she is shunted off into paper magic and teamed with a young mentor, Magician Thane, who is eccentric to say the least. He maintains an illusion on the outside of his house that makes it look decrepit, since he doesn't want to be bothered. Her training is barely underway when her mentor's ex-wife rips the heart out of his chest and disappears. Ceony follows, determined to retrieve Mg. Thane's heart before his body perishes.
The Glass Magician Mg. Thane continues Ceony's training, at which she is proving quite adept. When Ceony is targeted by a gang of Excisioners for what she did to solve Mg. Thane's missing heart problem, she must learn about glass magic to stay safe. Mg. Thane gives her ever more complicated spells to work so that she will have weapons at her disposal with which to foil the pair of villains who are literally after her blood.
Why I picked it up: The book jacket talked of magic where the user is bonded to one type of material forever. Then I saw that there were Excisioners who were bonded to illegal blood magic, and whom Ceony's teacher was dedicated to battling. Sold.
Why I finished it: These books are short and action-packed, they have a forbidden, gentle romance, and the magic system’s rules are intriguing. The paper’s thickness and type can affect the magic it’s used for greatly, and water is the paper magician's greatest enemy. There are attack magics made with certain folds of paper, like exploding origami stars that can be prefolded, stored, and then used in a pinch. Ceony’s mentor has an intricate paper skeleton that acts as a servant in his house. Ceony gets scared every time she sees it, especially when it is sent to wake her up in the mornings.
It's perfect for: My niece, Lily. She is a seventh grader, and just starting to branch into fantasy reading. This would be a fairly gentle way to start, with short, quick novels, set in 1900s London that will introduce her to how magic works and its costs. Ceony has to train and start with small paper magics to keep from exhausting herself. The world is pleasant and intriguing, and the romance is fiery yet tame. (I don't want my niece getting any ideas.)
Milo, his mother, and a rag-tag group of survivors spend every day trying to escape detection by the alien ships that rule the skies. One day, while scavenging technology from a crashed ship, he blunders into things he is not supposed to see: a powerful magical talisman known as the Heart of Darkness and the Nightsiders, a group of magical creatures who seem very angry at him. Because they find they have a shared enemy, the resourceful Milo and the distrustful Nightsiders team up, both a little worried about the partnership. Milo and Evangelyne, a female Nightsider who can change into a wolf, must catch the Huntsman, a twisted, surgically altered man who has stolen the Heart of Darkness, before he can discover its powers and wipe out all magic forever.
Why I picked it up: I have read Maberry's Rot and Ruin series and am a big fan (I'm not the only one -- the series is very popular in my middle school library among zombie-loving readers). Plus, I got to meet him in Chicago at a dinner, and he is very personable. He even signed a zombie trading card for me that I have displayed in my office!
Why I finished it: The book is a very quick read. Maberry puts Milo in some situations I thought there would be no credible way out of, but then he surprised me with creative and realistic solutions (or at least as realistic as an alien invasion). An example would be when Milo and his friend were running through the woods to escape the aliens. Just when I thought they had bought the farm, they were able to reach a bolt-hole (a fortified cache of food and supplies) thanks to their knowledge of the woods and some homemade grenades. I also appreciated the variety of the Nightsiders: one makes illusions, another is a rock-boy, and there’s a fire salamander, too.
It's perfect for: Joey. It is a challenge for Joey to keep his attention on one thing at a time. This book has so much going on and at such a frantic pace -- explosions, the segmented, armored hunting-dog type aliens that Milo greatly fears, and the Nightsiders themselves -- that I bet it switches focus as much as Joey needs, and will keep him engaged throughout.
Dogstar (winged dog, master mechanic), Venus (beautiful, deadly with a sword), and Furz (pig-nosed criminal, bounty hunter) search the galaxy for the twelve gems of power on behalf of Dr. Z. The gem detector leads the team to the jewels, and bloody battles ensue on an asteroid, on an alien world, and in a dive bar. (Z claimed he was unsure of the gems’ power, but it becomes clear that he wants to use them to activate the object of his desire, a giant, eight-breasted robot.)
Why I picked it up: The cover looks cosmic, man.
Why I finished it: It reminded me of the low budget, fantasy and science fiction B-movies I watched on video in the 80s, particularly the ones where women were all falling out of their costumes like Galaxina and Sorceress. Venus does stand up for herself when she’s being ogled, but that doesn’t make her change her costume.
Readalikes: The weirdest and funniest ongoing quest in graphic novels, complete with weird creatures and well-placed expletives like this one, Joe Daly’s Dungeon Quest.
Twenty-two stories of speculative fiction, ranging from a glowing restaurant review of a vegetarian place serving one special course of meat (why is the chef in a wheelchair?) to a mashup of Frankenstein and Mark Twain’s story “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.”
Why I picked it up: One of my patrons brought this to my attention because she knew I like Ursula Le Guin, and she thought she saw some similarities.
Why I finished it: While there are a few stories similar in tone and content to Le Guin’s more anthropological tales, the range here astonished me. In one story, a fissure between an ancient past and the present allows “prefugees” to immigrate from Pompeii, say, to modern Ottawa, where a settled Roman greets them and helps them integrate into modern society. In another story, an unnamed superhero (who you’ll recognize as Superman) is old and dying. But being invincible, he cannot die, at least not until his aging wife makes a deal with his longtime nemesis. The title story takes place in a society of people who create new and utterly unique expressions daily. Everyone must meet in a public area once a day just to refresh their understanding of the one common language. After a man’s wife dies, he loses not just her but also the distinctive vocabulary and grammar they created. He must find a way to keep it alive so he can remember their life together.
Readalikes: It made me think of Ted Chiang’s short story collection Stories of Your Life and Others. Both authors have a wide-ranging curiosity and the ability to tell a tale in many different genres, although nearly all their tales can be classified as speculative fiction. This collection especially made me think of Chiang's Nebula-winning story "The Tower of Babylon,” which takes place in ancient Babylon but ends in an M.C. Escher-like twist that brings modern mathematics into the story.