alternate history

Winterwood: Pirates, Magic, and Shapeshifters Oh My!

25489511Winterwood by Jacey Bedford
DAW: February 2nd, 2016
Genre: Historical Fantasy
Source: Free from publisher

I’d go there again!
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This book has so many of the elements I love in a good fantasy: pirates, fae, magic, a wolf shapeshifter, a heroine who disguises herself as a man, adventure, romance, an alternative historical setting… really, this book is just my thing.

Rossalinde (Ross) Tremayne, is introduced as she works her way to her mother’s house, where her parent lays dying. Ross and her mother have had a difficult relationship for as long as Ross can remember, and she goes reluctantly. When she arrives, she discovers that her mother sent for Ross to trick her into taking up their family’s heritage – a curse in the shape of a magical winterwood box. If Ross were to take up her destiny, she would restore balance to the world and in the process, drastically alter England., (more…)

Feminism vs. Time Travel in ‘Weighing Shadows’

weighing shadows Weighing Shadows by Lisa Goldstein
Night Shade Books: November 3rd, 2015 (Science Fiction)

Review copy provided by the publisher via Edelweiss

Outstanding Adventure!
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Fellow Book Adventurers, the only thing I did not like about this book was that there wasn’t enough of it.

I’d read Goldstein before – The Red Magician, which I reviewed a year ago, opened my eyes to Jewish magic, set in the Holocaust. With Weighing Shadows now behind me, I am determined to catch up on everything she’s written.

Ann Decker, our heroine, is a loner. A foster child with a difficult past, she employs her hacking skills at a small computer maintenance shop, fixing customers’ computer problems. Until the day she is followed home by a strange woman, who, even more strangely, offers her a job. Intrigued, Ann goes through the interview process and accepts the job – even though she is not told what the job is until after she accepts . (Demonstrating a surprising lack in survival skills here, but we can ignore that).

Turns out, this organization time travels. Purportedly to fix the past so in the future humans don’t destroy the world. So, as you might expect, she’s really excited about going on her first assignment, to ancient Crete. Society is matriarchal, with a queen who takes a consort for seven years (the Minos), before sacrificing him to the goddess, Kore. Unfortunately for Ann’s time-traveling team, things go wrong. Before she can blink, they’ve been arrested on suspicion of treason. On the trip, Ann encounters another time-traveler, one who warns her that the Company is not at all benign.

(more…)

The Paper Masque: Flimsy and Unconvincing

paper masqueThe Paper Masque by Jessica Dall
5 Prince Publishing: December 4th, 2014 (Romance)*

False Start 
No suitcases

The Paper Masque takes place in a world very like the early 20th century in England, except that the structure of the monarchy is very different, and history has been slightly altered. In this world, Elsie Wembley is a privileged, spoiled, but compassionate princess. Her days consist of social appearances and public relations responsibilities, while her nights are filled with glamorous and decadent parties, and a number of bed partners.

As a character, I did not find her at all compelling or sympathetic. Most of the first part of the story is actually taken up with descriptions of her nightly escapades, which felt meaningless – in the sense that they meant nothing to her, and in the sense that they had little to no affect on the plot. They just seemed to take away from the plot. The experiences don’t change her in any way, none of her partners seemed to be fully characterized or have a strong role to play, and the “suitable” one who proposes seems to be nothing more than a foil for unsuitable Laurence. (more…)

“Mirror and Goliath” – Singular and Extraordinary but Disorganized

mirrorgoliathMirror and Goliath by Ishbelle Bee
Angry Robot: June 2nd, 2015 (Gaslamp / Steampunk)*

Beach Vacation
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This book is aptly titled. It borrows from the gaslamp fantasy’s Victorian setting, which borrows from the Victorians’ fascination with the dead, ghosts, seances, and Ouija boards. And yet, it is unlike any gaslamp I have read.

It begins with the heroine at the age of six. Mirror is traveling with Goliath around England in search of soothsayers, magicians, mediums, and other people who profess to have connections to the Otherworld. Mirror has a problem that they hope these people can solve. The context for their predicament is not shared until nearly halfway through the book, where it takes on a tinge of horror. (more…)

Joint Review: “The Eterna Files” Falls Flat

22238164The Eterna Files by Leanna Renee Hieber
Tor: February 3, 2014 (Steampunk)*

The view was nice, but the food was bad vintagesuitcase3vintagesuitcase3

Jaclyn’s Review

I really liked the idea behind The Eterna Files. Secret government organization in Victorian England? Yes, please! Unfortunately, this one missed the mark for me. Some of the characters were interesting, but I never felt that I spent enough time with them to truly get invested in their stories.

Harold Spire has been appointed by Queen Victoria to Special Branch Division Omega, and he’s not happy about it. Spire had been in the midst of a very difficult case and he doesn’t want to let it go unsolved to lead a secret branch of the government that’s bent on investigation the extraordinary. He does not believe in that sort of thing. Spire’s first order of business is to investigate the supposed discovery of the Eterna Compound. Apparently it grants immortality, and if the Americans have it, the British definitely want to get their hands on it. (more…)

Sword-Wielding Heroines: A Reader’s Map

It’s been a while since we’ve done a reader’s map at Spicy Nodes. Today, you can interact with a map of books (mostly fantasy) that feature women who wield swords. There’s a Celtic fantasy series, several books about mercenaries, “sword and sorcery” books, an alternate fantasy, and of course, romantic fantasies.

Click the image below to be taken to the interactive map.

Do you know of any other books with swashbuckling, bada$$ women who wield swords? Share in the comments and I’ll add them to the map!

Illusion, danger, and mystery in The Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter

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The Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter, by Rod Duncan
August 26th, 2014 – Angry Robot Books (Steampunk)*

My rating: Beach read that I might read again (3.5/4)

In this steampunk novel, Elizabeth Barnabus lives on her own in the restrictive, Calvinist-esque society of the Anglo-Scottish Republic. For propriety’s sake, and to facilitate her private eye investigations, she tells everyone she lives with her brother, a private investigator. In truth, as the daughter of one of the greatest illusionists of her time, she disguises herself as her brother as she conducts her work, when she pays her rent, and whenever he is required to assuage her neighbors’ curiosity or concern. This book encompasses one of her investigations, involving the Duke and Duchess of Bletchley, from Elizabeth’s home country – which Elizabeth fled in exile after a nobleman decided he wanted her, impoverished her family, and bought up all their debts so he could claim her as payment. The Duchess of Bletchley asks Elizabeth to find her missing brother, who escaped punishment for using forbidden (un-patented) technology. While Elizabeth agrees to take on the case, the danger that comes with it give her pause. Along the way, she falls in with circus performers, evades pursuit by the Patent Office (tasked with the regulation and prohibition of new, un-patented technologies), and disguises herself as many different characters.  (more…)

Summer Vacation Itinerary: Nine Adventures

I always wish I had more time to read in the summer, but there are so many other attractions! When I get the chance, though, I’ll be reading these:

Strange Chemistry, a YA imprint of Angry Robot Books, has been discontinued. Which is why I finally purchased actual, new, books: The Assassin’s Curse duology by Cassandra Rose Clarke, published by Strange Chemistry. I’ve heard great reviews from Jaclyn and others, so obviously I have to try it. And it wasn’t too hard to rationalize the purchase.

The Assassin's Curse (The Assassin's Curse #1)

The Pirate's Wish (The Assassin's Curse #2)

I’ve been thinking about Madeleine E. Robin‘s Sarah Tolerance series for ages, and as I haven’t read the third one, The Sleeping Partner, and I can’t find the first two at the library (another sad lack in libraryland), these are next on my to-buy-list. Sarah Tolerance is a swashbuckling, pants-wearing, crime-solving woman in a slightly altered 19th century. Think Sebastian St. Cyr, but female. With a little fantasy, a little mystery, and some serious fighting, this will make corn fields breeze by on your road trip.

The Sleeping Partner (Sarah Tolerance #3)

Alias Hook, by Lisa Jensen. Peter Pan, from Hook’s perspective. Enough said? Hook is not an evil villain, but a misguided, un-self-reflective, childish adult, who has some growing up to do. I’m reading this one now, and it’s the ultimate summer reading, with the top, adventure-story layer and the deeper, growing-up layer readers can choose to digest.

Alias Hook (more…)

Happy Fourth of July! Now, go read these…

Just three days after Canada Day (happy birthday, Canada!), its southern neighbor celebrates its own origins. Often, with barbeques, friends, family, and fireworks. I’m here to add books to your list of ways to enjoy the holiday. Most of these are historical fiction, but I’ve thrown in a graphic novel, a couple of histories, and an alternate history, too.

Into the Wilderness (Lake in the Clouds #1) Celia Garth Blindspot Jack Absolute (Jack Absolute #1) The Dreamer: The Consequence of Nathan Hale The Shadow of Albion (Carolus Rex #1) Thirteen Moons Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America The Turncoat (Renegades of the Revolution) Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation

Anthropological Science Fiction in ‘Hard to be a God’

hardtobeagodHard to be a God, by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky and translated by Olema Bormashenko
Chicago Review Press, June 1st, 2014 (Science Fiction)*

My rating: Beach vacation (but be prepared to think!) (3/5)

Written by two Russian brothers in the mid-20th century in response to political pressure on art and artistic works under Khrushchev, Hard to be a God is about one man’s struggle with the questions of how far to go to save others and live by his moral code, and if he can observe without interfering.

The main character in this novel, known mostly as Don Rumata, is a ‘historian’ who has been placed on a more primitive world to live in and observe the feudal culture that exists there. In kind of a Truman Show way, a camera placed in a gold circlet on his head reports everything he sees, his interactions, the daily life of the people. This culture that he witnesses is a mix of medieval feudalism and 20th century totalitarianism, with secret police and attacks on literate, artistic individuals – writers, poets, artists, musicians, scientists, philosophers, etc. (more…)