THE GRACEKEEPERS by Kirsty Logan

Yesterday, my latest review for Strange Horizons was published as part of their ‘Our Queer Planet’ summer special, highlighting international, queer, and fantastic writing. The novel I reviewed: The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan from Crown Publishers.

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“…Expanded from a component in Logan’s collection The Rental Heart and Other Fairytales (2014), her debut novel contains a minimal, slow-building plot. But it is full of sensual prose that overlays a core of rich characters, a corporeal yet deeply intellectual feminism, and an overarching theme of transcendence….” Read the entire review on Skiffy & Fanty here.

Disclaimer: I received a free advanced reading copy of this novel from the publisher through the Crown Blogging for Books program in exchange for an honest review.

THE WORLD BEFORE US, by Aislinn Hunter

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The World Before Us
By Aislinn Hunter
Hogarth – 31st March 2015
ISBN 9780553418521 – 432 Pages – Hardcover
Source: Blogging For Books


My latest review is up today on Strange Horizons, a great weekly SFF eZine. Hunter’s The World Before Us is a literary novel with dabs of historical and fantasy genres, written in a voice that I really enjoyed.
“…Within the corridors of a small, present-day London museum that is dying from lack of funds, thirty-four-year-old archivist Jane Standen seeks solace in a final research project. She is investigating the mysterious disappearance from a Victorian-era mental institution, Whitmore, of a woman known to history only as “N.” Though records mention the woman in a mere passing whisper, Jane feels compelled to uncover the truth of N’s identity and ultimate fate…”

Disclaimer: I received a free advanced reading copy of this from the publisher via Blogging For Books in exchange for an honest review.

Bad Things in Threes, Thanksgiving, and a New Season to Come

I apologize for too long a period of inactivity here, particular to publishers who made their books available, but I haven’t gotten reviews up as of yet. They are coming.

They say bad things happen in threes. My mother passed away several months back and since then two additional family deaths came, all as I have been writing scientific manuscripts, completing research, starting the search process for a faculty position, and all sorts of other stuff.

But Thanksgiving is now upon us here in the US and I’m looking forward to the start of a new season and soon a new year. I wanted to take the opportunity to say a broad thank you to followers, to the many publishers and authors who have made their work available, and to the connections to material provided by Goodreads, NetGalley, Edelweiss, and Blogging for Books.

By year’s end I’ll have read a little over 200 books, many of those ARCs or newly published works, and in early January I plan on posting my favorite picks from the year.

Reading is far quicker and easier than writing. I’ve managed to keep up on the pile of reading, but have gotten quite backlogged in reviews, which I hope to clear/catch up on in the next weeks. Here is a list of reviews to come from my completed reading. Perhaps to whet your appetite, but also for my own organization!

– The Blood of Angels, by Johanna Sinisalo (to be featured on Skiffy & Fanty)
– Of Bone and Thunder
, by Chris Evans
Cheese and Microbes, Edited by Catherine Donnelly (to be featured on Small Things Considered)
– Solaris Rising 3, Edited by Ian Whates (may be featured on Skiffy & Fanty?)
– The Zone of Interest, by Martin Amis
– California, by Edan Lepucki
– 300,000,000, by Blake Butler
– The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror, 2014, Edited by Paula Guran
– Black Swan, White Raven, Edited by Ellen Datlow
– Mr. Wicker, by Maria Alexander
– Confronting Contagion: Our Evolving Understanding of Disease, by Melvin Santer (to be featured on Small Things Considered)
Last Train to Babylon, by Charlee Fam
Gifts for the One Who Comes After, by Helen Marshall
Fire in the Blood (Forgotten Realms), by Erin M. Evans
Crude Carrier, by Rex Burns
They Do the Same Things Different There, by Robert Shearman
The Fifth Vertex, by Kevin Hoffmann
The Genome, by Sergei Lukyanenko (to be featured on Skiffy & Fanty)
– The Galaxy Game, by Karen Lord
Africa39: New Writing from Africa South of the Sahara, Edited by Ellah Wakatama Allfrey
Near Enemy, by Adam Sternbergh

Phew, well I guess I better get writing. Stay tuned for this all and more still to come from current/future reads. Thank you again, everyone.

Shovel Ready, by Adam Sternbergh

Shovel Ready, by Adam Sternbergh
Publisher: Crown Publishing
ISBN: 0385348991
256 pages, hardcover
Published 14th January 2014
Source: Blogging for Books
(Crown Publishing Group)

I had wanted to review this novel closer to its initial release, but my reading queue was just too full at the time and the opportunity unfortunately had passed. I was happy then to learn about Crown Publishing Group’s Blogging for Books program and request this for my inaugural selection. The plot description seemed like something that would be right up my alley, a genre mashup between the gritty, hard-boiled, noir thrillers you might expect to find in the Hard Case Crime lineup and a dystopian, post-apocalyptic sci-fi setting. Count me in for the fun.

And I wasn’t disappointed. I cracked this open not long after it arrived and finished it within a couple of sittings over the course of the day. If I were able I probably would have just torn through it in one, and would have had just as much fun savoring it. During the opening section of the novel I wondered why it had the sci-fi setting to it, the story could have just as easily existed in a present reality. Thankfully my worry dissipated as the novel continued and the science fiction element became integrated seamlessly into the plot beyond the post apocalyptic setting.

Shovel Ready is set in a near future New York City that has been decimated by a terrorist dirty bomb detonated in Time Square. This event, in conjunction with smaller coordinated bombings and follow-ups has a greater psychological and economic effect on the city in aftermath than the actual physical destruction it causes. New York becomes fragmented between a wealthy upper-class able to hire security and care in high-rise apartments, permitting their retreat into virtual reality utopias, and a lower class seeking to survive in the lawless rubble below. If they choose to stay.

As in Delaney’s Dhalgren, the New York City of Sternbergh’s Shovel Ready is an isolated zone of chaotic culture, an apocalyptic blip within an America that otherwise may be completely ‘normal’. The people who have chosen to stay in New York have nothing else, are committed to its condition and either the opportunities or curses it provides. The novel thus fits into a fascinating area of apocalyptic literature where the disaster and subsequent conditions are relatively localized.

Within this environment is the protagonist and narrator of the novel, Spademan, a former city garbage collector who lost his wife in the initial dirty bomb-related attacks, and who now survives as being a dispassionate hitman operating under a strict professional code. Despite wanting to keep a professional distance from his clients and targets, Spademan finds that his latest client is a powerfully famous religious leader (cultish one may say) involved with providing the hopeless ‘heaven on Earth’ through virtual reality tech. More problematic, the target given to Spademan turns out to be his client’s own rebellious daughter, and she may not fit into Spademan’s code.

Spademan is a fantastic character, worthy to fill the pages of any pulp or ‘serious/literary’ crime novel. Sternbergh does a fabulous job introducing the reader to the flawed and vulnerable character, establishing the rules of his hitman profession, and slowly divulging the details of his past that have led him to his current employment.

Mixed into the great hard-boiled protagonist creation Sternbergh includes many noir hallmarks, from shady thugs, double-crosses, big bad crime leader villains, and a femme fatale. Spademan’s initial target, who becomes an asset he desires to protect fits the femme fatale mold generally well. On a surface level she seems painted the weak female needing a strong male figure (a rather awful misogyny of course on its own), but in reality she is in greater control, and more capable, than one may think, and from the start Spademan learns that she can pack a deadly bite.

In some way these noir aspects of Shovel Ready make it familiar and expected. This could have led it being a decent, slightly above-average hard crime story. The setting and the use of the virtual reality technology as an integral element to the plot make this rise above to something even better. While becoming relevant to the plot, the technology is also used as commentary for class division in this post-apocalyptic New York. While this ‘have vs have not’ kind of message is nothing new or handled rather superficially here, it is refreshing to see it in the kind of entertaining quick read here that could easily still be an enjoyable novel without its inclusion.

By putting the sci-fi aspect in with a dash of blatant social commentary, Sternbergh manages to give a little weight to Shovel Ready without stifling the pure entertaining joys of the thriller. This is a mashup that will certainly appeal to almost all crime/hitman-type story lovers and as a mashup to certain speculative fiction fans. Though I probably shouldn’t encourage more series out there, Spademan and his gritty environment could easily expand into further works, and I’d pick up one of them without hesitation. On the other hand, this makes me curious to see how far Sternbergh’s talents extend.

Four and a Half Stars out of Five

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this from Crown Publishing via their Blogging for Books program in exchange for an honest review.

More info from the publisher

Author bio from the publisher