Zeroboxer by Fonda Lee

Curious about Zeroboxer after reading  Fonda Lee's guest post over at Fantasy Cafe for their Women in SF&F Month, I dove right into this debut not realizing I would be thrown into the world of Carr Luka, a young rising star in the futuristic weightless combat sport known as zeroboxing. Which is really just UFC fighters in space! Well, color me happy! Being a MMA fan myself (who isn't these days, really?) and with a sister who competes in the sport, I had no trouble diving right into this charged story.

Instead of the UFC's Octagon, these fighters (can I just call them MMA fighters? they definitely aren't just boxers) go head-to-head in the Cube, a zero gravity, clear cube-shaped arena - each looking for a win by TKO or submission. And Carr Luka DOMINATES! He's a likable guy (none of that typical alphahole fighter stuff, thank goodness) who is conflicted on a variety of levels with his involvement in the sport, but you just know any time he steps into the Cube it's gonna be intense. The descriptions of his fightes and the dynamics between the individual fighters were nuanced and highly entertaining. There is even an obvious nod to the UFC's Dana White in the form of Bax Gant, the media-hungry Martian(!!) co-owner of the ZGFA.

Despite some mild pacing problems, I was 100% behind Carr Luka's meteoric rise to stardom as a zeroboxer. The fighter's mentality was spot-on and the Martian-Earth politics terribly fascinating. This reader will absolutely be on the watch for more by Fonda Lee. Genetic engineering, submission fighting, and futurist politics, oh my!

Dark Horse by Michelle Diener

I'm a bit of a glutton when it comes to Sci-Fi. Dangle the possibility of a well-written space opera in front of me and I'm going to bite every. single. time. I do claim a handful of favorites (Linnea Sinclair, Ann Aguirre, Tanya Huff) but new discoveries are too few and far between for my personal liking (or reading habits). A while back I put Michelle Diener's DARK HORSE on my WL after reading a recommendation for it at a sci-fi blog that of course I can't remember the name of now. After waiting patiently, it finally went on sale and I snapped it up and settled in with moderately high hopes. Reader, I am happy to report I was totally blown away by this uniquely crafted story!

Rose McKenzie is going to get off this spaceship if it kills her. After being unceremoniously picked up from earth by some particularly nasty aliens (aliens!) and experimented upon, she and fellow prisoner Sazo have bided their time until they finally can take control and flee in a smaller vessel. Her 'rescue' arrives in the form of Captain Dav Jallan and his crew of Grih explorers who are understandably wary of Rose and her many contradictions. But Sazo has definite plans for their previous captors and Rose finds herself caught in the middle of a inter-species conflict where her loyalty is torn between her future and the good of all.

Witty, fast paced and utterly dynamic in scope, DARK HORSE was a brilliant read start to finish. Many other winning qualities aside, the characters of Rose and Sazo were complete standouts. Too often in my travels as a sci-fi reader, the human, thrust into an alien society, is naive or at a distinct cultural disadvantage, making her easy prey. Not so with Rose. Due to Sazo's foresight and Rose's natural intelligence, she is right there along with everyone else -- if not two steps ahead. She is loyal and cunning (but without malice) and endearingly brave. But neither is she a warrior; which makes it that much more satisfying to see her outmaneuver these more 'advanced' races. And Sazo is just as multi-faceted; his whirlwind development throughout the book is nothing short of genius.

Here's one of my favorite bits where Rose is trying to explain how she is able to figure out advanced alien technology so quickly (with the added bonus of trying to describe what a book is):

"That your familiarity is because your people have imagined a higher level of advancement, but haven't yet achieved it. Is this true?"

Rose nodded. "We've thought up lots of interesting things. Some of them we may turn into reality, others won't ever see the light of day."

"But how do you disseminate the ideas?"

"Written comms, visual comms."

"But if it isn't reality, what visual comms do you record? How can you record something that is imaginary?"

"People pretend it isn't imaginary, and act the story out. It's a sought-after job on my planet."

Kila made a note, but she seemed completely stunned. "And the written comms?"

"You write something that is like a report, only it's about something that hasn't happened yet."

"A lie?"

"No. A lie is a deliberate falsification. A story openly declares itself as imaginary."

"And why would people spend time reading something that is untrue?"

"Because it's fun. Exciting. When it isn't real, you can enjoy it because people aren't really getting hurt, aren't really in danger, aren't really at rock bottom. If the story writer is good, they'll make you think it is real, even as you know, at the back of your mind, that it isn't."

Exciting indeed. Bring on DARK DEEDS, Ms. Diener. I'm properly hooked.

2015 Best Of

Welcome 2016!! 
I am in serious shock that we've already jumped headlong into a new year. And while I have consistently neglected this blog, I thought I'd do a wrap-up post for 2015. Mostly because I discovered some truly amazing books that I've been dying to gush about. Also, because I'm OCD and like my year all nice and tallied up. 

In 2015 I read a respectable 141 books. And while I continually bemoan ebooks, 53 of those were digital - which goes to show how my reading trends are headed. The rest either came from the library or my personal stash. 

And here goes my best of's for 2015:

Best OzYA:
Every Breath, Every Word by Ellie Marney
I'm pretty sure Maggie got me curious about this series on IG and I'll be forever grateful. What if Sherlock Holmes was a brilliant Aussie teenager named Mycroft who runs a criminology blog, and Watson a girl named Rachel Watts, recently moved from the country, who befriends Mycroft at school? In the hands of Ellie Marney, you get MAGIC. I'm still a mess over it all frankly.

*I'd add Every Move to the list too but seeing as I don't live in Aussie-land, I haven't read it yet. YET.

Best Brilliant Spy series: 
The Lion Hunters series by Elizabeth E. Wein
As my trusted blogger-friend Chachic affectionately calls him 'Gen-in-Africa,' Telemakos is a force to be reckoned with. His wiliness and loyalty hooked me in The Sunbird but the entire series left me utterly wrecked as it explored politics, family and even the legend of King Arthur. Please, PLEASE EWein! Write more Telemakos!!

Best YA Fantasy Caper:
Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

So so soooo good. Featuring Kaz's brilliantly led band of motley outlaws (some even with magical powers) pulling off an unforgettable heist. Lots of unexpected twists and CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT like they just don't make anymore. Plus, it comes in one of the prettiest packages you'll ever find. 

Best YA Mystery:
Trouble is a Friend of Mine by Stephanie Tromly

Yet another unexpectedly good YA debut about a socially misfit yet utterly brilliant teenage Sherlock-type and his unsuspecting straitlaced side kick who get caught up in goofy yet terrifying real life sleuthing. So terribly witty and hmmm...I'm sensing a pattern here.

Best THE FEELS!! Contemporary YA:
I'll Meet You There by Heather Demetrios

I'm not ashamed to admitting that I gulped this one down in one go. Josh and Skylar's dreams of escaping small town CA each take very different forms yet together their rough edges make sense of all the unexplainable tragedies that life manages to throw their way. Their story hit me in all the tenderest spots in the best possible way.

Best I am a Woman, Hear me ROAR! book:
Girl Before a Mirror by Liza Palmer

I don't know how Liza Palmer manages to get better with each new offering but she does. She puts pen to paper to every single reason why women read and what it means to be an unashamed part of a community. There was so much power in her words that I went around for days afterwards with the words 'Just BE' rolling around in my head.

Best Middle Grade you're gonna need a tissue book:
Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate

I don't normally go for MG books, but Katherine Applegate is a known quantity with her stellar The One and Only Ivan and after hearing so much about Crenshaw (a little boy facing homelessness and hunger joined by his imaginary GIANT cat) I just couldn't resist. It was profound without becoming overly heavy, but just don't forget the kleenex.

Best "I'm Going to Have to Science the Sh*t of This" book:
The Martian by Andy Weir

Another category of book I don't usually pick up but the premise (and reviews) made me change my mind: an astronaut stranded on Mars with only his formidable brain and wicked sense of humor to help him survive. Surprisingly, the copious math didn't bother me and I was holding my breath along with everyone else to see how he'd make it back home. And I'm happy to report that the movie was just as fabulous as the book. Which wasn't hurt at all by a shirtless Matt Damon.

Best Unexpected May/December Romance:
What I Did for a Duke by Julie Anne Long

NOT a book I would have normally picked up but it wound up stealing my heart nonetheless. SO MANY tropes that I thought I would hate it (the cover! the title! the revenge plot!...) but in actuality it was so very wonderful. Witty, honest, and just all around lovely. Also, the hero may have resembled Richard Armitage in a cravat just a titch...


Honorable Mention goes to a series recommend by the delightful YAckers who pushed me towards Arrows of the Queen by Mercedes Lackey which I read start-to-finish while on the plane to Switzerland this summer. Unfortunately, said binge reading released a flood of big, ugly tears (why did no one warn me?!) which caused the COMPLETE STRANGER sitting next to me to shove handfuls of those tiny papery napkins at me in alarm. Good times.

So apparently I either enjoy a certain type of book - quirky Sherlock-esque mysteries with twists and unexpected developments or the publishing industry is trending in that direction heavily. Hmmm. Whichever it is, I'll take it because they were all just fantastic. 

How about you? What books made your best of list for the year?

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews

The Fault in Our Stars, it ain't.

The premise of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is this: Greg and his friend (we'll just call him a friend), Earl, make these terrible homemade movies. And then Greg gets roped into hanging out with Rachel, who has leukemia, because he can, inexplicably, make her laugh. Shenanigans ensue, oftentimes unplanned and life-ending-ly embarrassing (Heh. Terrible pun there).

This book is bananas in the best possible way. Hilarious and irreverent and just so exactly what high school is like. I never understood those kids who say they loved high school. It is just the. worst.

Case in point, here's one of my favorite totally random, ridiculous scenes taken from dinner one night starring Greg's all too-real family. By the way, Gretchen is 14, which will explain a lot:

Meanwhile, at home, Gretchen was going through this phase where she could not make it through an entire meal if Dad was at the table. This was in part because Dad was going through a phase of his own wherein he couldn't stop pretending to be a cannibal. If we were eating anything with chicken in it, he would pat his stomach and announce, "Huma-a-a-a-an flesh. TASTE LIKE CHICKEN." This caused Gretchen to burst into tears and stomp out of the dining room. Things only got worse when Grace started doing it, too, which was insane, because a six-year-old pretending to be a cannibal is one of the greatest things there is.

I have no idea WHY this is even in the book but it is AWESOME and gives you a pretty good idea of Greg's warped sense of humor.

Although how in heavens name they made this into a movie (especially with that little paragraph about THAT EXACT possibility in the epilogue) without it turning into a majorly R rated film due to constant profanity, I'm not sure. Cause you know, teenage boys don't always talk like roses (especially Earl). But I really want to see it.

Best of 2014

Happy New Years friends!

2014 was an awfully grand year -- it brought me a lovely baby girl which might be the reason I managed to only read 108 books. Despite that number being on the smallish side, I feel like I was a lot more selective about the books I chose and really discovered some winners. I also did quite a bit of rereading old favorites (Melina Marchetta) and binge reading on particular favorite authors.

Due to my complete neglect of this bloggy, I thought I give a quick recap of my favorites of 2014. 

Best Series Finale (sort of)
Magic Breaks by Ilona Andrews
I say sort of because while it is book seven and technically the resolution to the series, Ilona Andrews still has yet another three Kate books yet to come. Huzzah! Books from this series continue to top my yearly best of lists and it's no surprise. Magic Breaks nicely wrapped up Kate's first encounter with her god-like father Roland in a totally unexpected and ultimately satisfying way. Keep the good stuff coming.

Best Short Story Collection
Shifting Shadows by Patricia Briggs
Patricia Briggs never disappoints and Shifting Shadows was a perfect chance to get inside of the heads of many of my favorite supporting characters since the series is usually told from Mercy's or Charles and Anna's POV. Some, like Warren, I knew I'd love their story hands-down but Ben's tale totally blindsided me. That one made my little geeky heart light.

Best Space Opera
Fortune's Pawn by Rachel Bach
2014 was the year of the Sci-Fi novel for me. It all started with this book as a  recommendation from Ilona Andrews. Devi is the best of kind of brash, in-your-face fighter who would never apologize for being anything other than who she is. A bit fanatical about her guns and specialized armor, Devi has this profound sense of loyalty and honor that belies her first impression as a brainless fighter. She's quick and clever and never afraid of taking charge. And I love her to pieces.

Best New (to me) Author Discovery
The Truth of Valor by Tanya Huff (Confederation series)
Coming hot off my Fortune's Pawn hangover, I once again have to thank Ilona Andrews for pointing me in the direction of this outstanding series about a group of space Marines led by the indomitable Staff Sargent Torin Kerr. Danger, wit, fuzzy space reporters, and a tough-as-nails female military lead. Just. Read it.

Best High Fantasy
The Hero of Ages by Brandon Sanderson
Wrapping up the Mistborn series, Vin and Elend get their final battle and boy, was it EPIC. I only have to conclude that anything Brandon Sanderson writes is solid gold.

Best I-had-no-idea-I-would-love-this-book-so-much Book
The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
A story about a dog and his race-car driver owner? Not something I would normally read, but then again Enzo is not your normal dog. Make sure you have the tissues handy though.

Best Witty Romance
Nearly a Lady by Alissa Johnson
Cute and funny love story with an adorable hero whose self-depreciating humor won me over faster than you can say 'Regency.'

Best YA & Best Cover
Jackaby by William Ritter
That silhouette! Gah! Such an atmospheric cover and the insides happily match. It's an unusual mix of a genius detective a la Sherlock set in turn of the century America populated by paranormal creatures hiding in plain sight. Good things indeed.

Biggest Author Binge
Susanna Kearsley and Mary Stewart
I had been trying to parse out Susanna Kearsley's books for just the right time, but wound up blowing through every single title in her backlist in a matter of weeks after baby #3 was born. After that, I then proceeded to devour all the Mary Stewarts' I hadn't read to date and wound up with a severe book hangover that proved murderously hard to beat. I did manage to save two single Mary Stewarts' to read at a future date because I just can't imagine not having another of her books to read for the very first time. Such are the problems in my little world.

And that, dear reader friends, is my 2014 in books. What titles caught you this year?

Guest Post: Amour et Florand

Grab your dark chocolate and join me at Chachic's Book Nook today! I've donned my smarty pants glasses for the occasion and will be dishing on all things romance and Paris (le sigh) as part of her fantastic Amour et Florand series. à bientôt!

Fortune's Pawn by Rachel Bach

Devi Morris is one ambitious mercenary. Having reached the highest rank possible in the elite fighting squadron the Blackbirds (unless she wants a cushy desk job that is, which she doesn't), Devi has set her sights on becoming one of the toughest armored fighters in all of Paradox: one of the famed Devastators. Which is why despite warnings of certain doom she decides to follow a lead and signs on with the trader ship the Glorious Fool. A ship that has a reputation for turning out Devastators after just one year of service -- at least the ones that make it out alive. But for Devi, this fast-track to her ultimate goal could prove deadly if she isn't careful. Lucky for her she's never been one to shy away from a long shot.

Ever since I became hooked on space operas (I'm looking at you Linnea Sinclair and Ann Aguirre), I have been utterly disappointed by the serious lack of quality books in this particular genre. Many, many thanks to one of my favorite authors Ilona Andrews for bringing Fortune's Pawn to my attention. If I didn't already love them for Kate Daniels, I would for this book alone. I cannot even begin to gush how incredible Fortune's Pawn is. It's stellar. Out of this world. Annnnd I'm gonna stop now. Just know, it's fantastic. Devi is the best of kind of brash, in-your-face fighter who would never apologize for being anything other than who and what she is. Although she is a bit fanatical about her guns and specialized armor, Devi has this profound sense of loyalty and honor that belies her first impression as a brainless fighter. She's quick and clever and never afraid of taking charge. And I love her to pieces.

Once aboard the Fool, Devi comes face to face with a perfectly eccentric and unique group of otherworldly crew mates: there's a giant bird-like creature who serves as navigator, a ship's doctor whose species who tends to look upon humans more as snacks than as patients, and a handsome cook who is decidedly good with more than just a saucepan to name a few. It's this supporting cast who add layers of humor and intrigue to an already brilliant story which makes Devi's journey so much more enjoyable.

The action is non-stop and I was constantly on the edge of my seat at whatever new catastrophe Devi had flung herself headlong into. Throw in some space travel and nightmare inducing aliens and I was hooked good. Happily, Devi has just barely begun unraveling all the mysteries surrounding her new captain and crew mates. Just please, someone get me Honor's Knight pronto! I have to know how Devi gets herself out of her latest fix like, now.

Series reading order:
~ Fortune's Pawn
~ Honor's Knight
~ Heaven's Queen

Because Everyone Likes a Second Opinion:
The Book Smugglers review
Cuddlebuggery review
Fantasy Book Critic review
Impressions... review

The Firebird by Susanna Kearsley

Susanna Kearsley is a recent discovery for me and I have been slowly going through all of her backlist and simply adoring each new story. So it was with extreme joy that I began Kearsley's latest, The Firebird. Adding to my excitement was the fact that it was to be a continuation of the characters from not just one book - but two (The Winter Sea & The Shadowy Horses)! I just love it when authors overlap stories that are not originally connected.

Here's the synopsis (via Goodreads):
Nicola Marter was born with a gift. When she touches an object, she sometimes glimpses those who have owned it before. When a woman arrives with a small wooden carving at the gallery Nicola works at, she can see the object’s history and knows that it was named after the Firebird—the mythical creature from an old Russian fable.

Compelled to know more, Nicola follows a young girl named Anna into the past who leads her on a quest through the glittering backdrops of the Jacobites and Russian courts, unearthing a tale of love, courage, and redemption.
The Firebird had all the potential for a book that I would absolutely love:

2. an art historian heroine
3. one handsome Scotts hero

Not to mention one of the *best* opening chapters I have EVER read. Seriously, it was perfect. Read it here and see if you can resist the rest.

I am sorry to report that somehow all that fabulous potential just didn't connect for me in the end. Although I did LOVE Anna and her travels from Scotland to France to Russia; the historical background on St. Petersburg, usually distilled with such care and detail by Kearsley, seemed more like an info dump in this book. And while the relationship between Nicola and Rob was sweet, it just didn't have the same snap and sizzle that I've enjoyed in Kearsley's previous books. Thankfully, we are given a lovely conclusion to Anna's story but I really wanted more time with Rob and Nicola -- if only to clear things up between Nicola and her grumpy grandfather. If Ms. Kearsley wants to go back and do his story, I'd read that in a flash. In short, I just wanted more from Nicola. It was like this fascinating character was dangled before me but only part of my questions were answered in the end.

series reading order:
~ The Shadowy Horses(loosely connected)

because everyone likes a second opinion:
Between the Covers review