I read a review of this book that described it as “Lord of the Rings meets Ocean’s Eleven”, and I just knew it would be love at first page. In Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson, the Final Empire has been taken over by the evil Lord Ruler and much of the population has been enslaved. The oppressed citizens of the Final Empire (known as Skaa) are forced to work in the Pits of Hathsin mining the most valuable metals in the land for the Lord Ruler’s personal treasury. No Skaa has ever escaped the Pits….until now.
Kelsier is no ordinary Skaa; he is a Mistborn, a type of Allomancer who is gifted with special powers when he ingests metals. After using his powers to escape the Pits, Kelsier vows revenge on the Lord Ruler. He begins to assemble a team of other Allomancers, which includes a young girl named Vin who is just discovering her powers as a Mistborn. Together, they devise the ultimate heist in order to remove the Lord Ruler from power and free the people of the Final Empire.
This was such a fun book to read; it is fast-paced and exciting, and the magic system is unique and fascinating. Sanderson’s impressive world building made the Final Empire really come alive. And bonus, the trilogy is already completed! As soon as you finish Mistborn you can check out copies of The Well of Ascension and The Hero of Ages right away instead of having to wait years and years for the thrilling conclusion.
The Good: What Happens in London by Julia Quinn
This is the perfect Regency romance. It’s funny (actually funny, not just peppered with lines that the characters laugh at but the reader never would), heartwarming (but not schlocky), and steamy (but not gratuitous). There’s a fussy, arrogant Russian prince, a heroine who scorns novels and reads every word of the Times, and a dashing hero who wears funny hats. It’s historically accurate (mostly), but it never gets boring by slogging through too much detail. I devoured this in just two very enjoyable sittings. (Available via WILBOR)
The Bad: A Lady Never Lies by Juliana Gray
Oh, dear. This is the kind of book that always made me hate romance novels. It’s nonsensical, it’s boring, its characters have no substance, and the romantic moments are gratuitous and badly written. Gray tries to heighten the drama by having everyone be cagey about their pasts/financial situations/parentage but honestly, it goes over like a lead balloon. Three single young women and three single young men accidentally rent the same Tuscan castle for the summer! They decide to keep both leases and stay in separate wings! They make a wager not to interact with one another to prove some bologna 21st-century-argument that the author has needlessly inserted into an allegedly historical novel! I wonder what will happen!!!???
The Awesome: Soulless by Gail Carriger
I never thought I’d like a book about vampires, werewolves, and parasols, but I was deeply mistaken. Soulless is a steampunk novel (steampunk: a sub-genre of SF in which the industrial revolution of Victorian times has gone into hyperdrive, producing steam powered dirigibles and other retro-futuristic contraptions and necessitating a lot of metal eyewear with round lenses). Alexia Tarabotti is half Italian and half an orphan, hardly a favorite in London society, but her appearance and parentage aren’t her only problems: in the middle of a ball, she has just been attacked by a vampire. The encounter breaks all the rules of supernatural etiquette AND destroys her plate of treacle tart! Miss Tarabotti soon finds herself in the thick of a mystery, one with potentially deadly consequences for the supernatural vampires and werewolves she befriends and for herself. Alexia is fierce, fun, and generally unforgettable. The romance is well balanced against the world building and it makes sense for the characters, all of which are interesting, exciting, and well written. Brava, Ms. Carriger! I can’t wait to read the other four books in this series. (Available via WILBOR)
If you’ve seen Ocean’s Eleven (or virtually any other high-tech/high-energy heist film), you’re familiar with the plot of Star Wars: Scoundrels. Danny Ocean – I mean, Han Solo – enlists a crack team of a eleven people with specialized skills to steal a ridiculous amount of money. Headed up by Han, Chewbacca, and Lando Calrissian, this handful of ne’er-do-wells makes a bold attempt to steal 163 million credits in a make-or-break heist that could get Han out from under Jabba’s thumb for good. Or, it could get him (and all his accomplices) killed. There are two surprises at the end of this novel – one of them involving a whip and a gigantic boulder – and for those two alone, it’s worth reading. It’s also a lot of fun to re-enter the world of Star Wars and Han Solo: they’re enduring favorites for a reason, and this well-told, twisty tale does justice to that legacy.
Scoundrels takes place in the immediate aftermath of the destruction of the first Death Star (aka, right after A New Hope). The general public has only sketchy information about that debacle: they know that Alderaan is a cloud of space debris, and that the Death Star is now gone, but rumors of Rebel involvement are hardly realistic – surely a scrappy ill-funded few could never stand against the might of the Empire? And that, the central theme the original Star Wars is built upon, is what makes Scoundrels a success too. Surely this band of misfits can’t beat down the impossible odds against them and come away alive, let alone successful? But instead of Palpatine’s evil Empire, it’s a high-security vault owned by a powerful criminal organization. And instead of Danny Ocean, it’s Han Solo (who absolutely, positively, shot first).
At a wedding I attended recently, I ended up having a long, open-bar-fueled argument with another guest over our favorite speculative fiction books. She loves Robert Jordan; I love George R.R. Martin. I won’t bore you with the details, but I do want to emphasize how vehemently opposed our tastes were, so that when I tell you that we both adored The Left Hand of Darkness, you’ll know: wow. that must be a seriously awesome book.
And it really, really is. This is about as pure sci-fi as sci-fi can get: a tale of fiction that speculates on the future of science and how it may alter human culture. And, in this book, even human genetics.
The story takes place on the planet Gethen, mostly known as Winter, where Genly Ai has been assigned as a diplomat. His mission is to bring the people of Winter into the broader galactic civilization. His task is complicated by the alien culture and politics of this world, where the human inhabitants are genderless beings whose sexual characteristics and reproductive abilities only surface during mating seasons, when they can become either male or female (depending on their chosen partner). LeGuin is a master: this novel is excellent. It’s not about aliens, or sex, or politics, but it is about the way all of those things affect friendship, culture, and human nature. Like all great science fiction, this isn’t a work with a limited scope or audience – it’s one that uses speculation about the future to make sharp observations and thoughtful arguments about the way we live now.
If you have a passing familiarity with Star Trek, you’ve probably heard the term “redshirt” before. It refers to a random low-ranking crew member (always wearing a red shirt) who gets sent on an away mission with the main characters. The redshirt inevitably dies early in the episode. The novel Redshirts, written by prolific sci-fi author John Scalzi, lovingly pokes fun at this phenomena. Ensign Andrew Dahl is assigned to the Universal Union’s flagship, the Intrepid, and he soon starts to notice the high mortality rate on the ship’s away missions. His suspicions are raised when he notices that while the captain, the lieutenant, and the chief science officer are always on these missions and always come out alive (though often with dramatic injuries), a lower-ranking officer always seems to die pretty much as soon as the ship lands. Along with a few of his fellow new crew members, Andrew begins to investigate and is shocked to discover that things are not as they seem on the Intrepid.
Even though I felt like the book started to lose steam around halfway through, it is still funny and entertaining. If you’ve ever seen classic Star Trek episodes, you’ll enjoy all the inside jokes and the way that Scalzi parodies the series. But don’t worry, this novel is accessible even if you’ve never seen a single episode. The humor still manages to come through, and the more poignant moments (particularly in the three codas that follow the story) will still move you. If you like sci-fi, space travel, Star Trek, or humorous fiction, I’d recommend giving this fun and quick novel a chance.
A list of excellent things about World War Z:
- Author Max Brooks (progeny of Mel Brooks) uses the word “decimate” appropriately – it means to kill one out of every ten people, usually as a show of force or intimidation and it is NOT a synonym for rampant destruction. The grammar nerd in me squealed with delight when I read that!
- Interview-style storytelling means a focus on plot that’s both exciting and quick to read (Corollary: if there’s a chapter that you don’t like, it’s over quickly and the next one won’t be about the same person, the same event, or even the same country)
- Rapid pacing keeps you on the edge of your seat. I couldn’t put this down!
- Plausible and thoroughly reasoned geopolitical scenarios and global reactions to the zombie apocalypse
- It’s the zombie apocalypse. So it’s awesome.
There are only two “bad” things about it, really. First, there’s a hefty helping of military action and associated jargon; if that isn’t to your taste, be prepared to skim or skip those paragraphs. Second, the interview-style format means that there is 0 character development, so if you rely on relatable characters to draw you into a narrative, that’s not going to happen here. But these aren’t really weaknesses as much as they are features of the book – for every reader who hates those features, there’s one who finds them fascinating. If that’s you, this book is sure to please.
Haywire – Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender
After freeing a Chinese journalist held hostage, Mallory is double-crossed and left for dead by someone in her own agency. Suddenly the target of assassins who know her every move, Mallory unleashes the fury of her fighting skills to uncover the truth and turn the tables on her ruthless adversary. R
Underworld – Awakening – Kate Beckinsale, Michael Ealy
Vampire warrioress Selene escapes imprisonment to find herself in a world where humans have discovered the existence of both vampire and lycan clans, and are conducting an all-out war to eradicate both immortal species. R
The Vow – Rachel McAdams, Channing Tatum
A young couple has a car accident that puts the wife in a coma. After she wakes up with severe memory loss, her husband sets his sights on winning her heart again.PG-13
Albert Nobbs – Glenn Close, Mia Wasikowska
A woman passes as a man in order to work and survive in 19th century Ireland. Some thirty years after donning men’s clothing, she finds herself trapped in a prison of her own making.R
Grey – Lian Neeson, Dermot Mulroney
After their plane crashes into the remote Alaskan wilderness, a roughneck group of oil drillers is forced to find a way back to civilization. As Ottway leads the injured survivors through the brutal snow and ice, they are relentlessly tracked by a vicious pack of rogue wolves that will do anything to defend their territory. Adrenaline-fueled, action-packed and loaded with some of the most intense and brutally realistic attack scenes ever filmed. R
Chronicle – Dane Dehaan, Alex Russell
Seen through the lens of a troubled teen’s video camera, yet filled with eye-popping action and jaw-dropping special effects, Chronicle is as real as it gets. When three ordinary high school friends make an extraordinary discovery, they acquire amazing abilities beyond their understanding. But as their powers develop, so do their darker sides. Fun, harmless pranks soon lead to much riskier activities as the boys’ ‘gifts,’ and their lives, spin dangerously out of control! PG-13
Woman in Black – Daniel Ratcliffe, Janet McTeer
A young lawyer is ordered to travel to a remote village and sort out a recently deceased client’s papers. While he works alone in the client’s isolated house, he discovers the vengeful ghost of a scorned woman who is terrorizing the locals. This leads him on a desperate race against time when he discovers her true intent. PG-13
Red Tails – Cuba Gooding Jr., Terrence Howard.
Italy, 1944. As the war takes its toll on Allied forces in Europe, a squadron of black pilots known as the Tuskegee Airmen are finally given the chance to prove themselves in the sky, even as they battle discrimination on the ground. Featuring jaw-dropping aerial action and thrilling special effects, Red Tails is a breathtaking tribute to the unsung heroes who rose above extraordinary challenges and ultimately soared into history. PG-13
New Year’s Eve – Halle Berry, Robert DeNiro
A stellar ensemble cast celebrates love, hope, forgiveness, second chances, and fresh starts in intertwining stories told amidst the pulse and promise of New York City on the most dazzling night of the year.PG-13
We Need to Talk About Kevin – Tilda Swinton, John C. Reilly
Kevin’s mother struggles to love her strange child, despite the increasingly vicious things he says and does as he grows up. But Kevin is just getting started, and his final act will be beyond anything anyone imagined.
Demand for the library’s copies of The Hunger Games has skyrocketed since the movie came out. Don’t worry, we can put you on the reserve list, but you might have a little bit of a wait ahead of you before your copy comes in. So while you wait, here are a few similar titles you might want to try:
If you like plenty of action and powerful female characters:
Graceling by Kristin Cashore
Divergent by Veronica Roth
Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
If you’re looking for fast-paced stories about survival:
The Maze Runner by James Dashner
The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
Gone by Michael Grant
If you’re interested in a dystopian world with a government gone bad:
1984 by George Orwell
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
When She Woke by Hillary Jordan
Little Brother by Cory Doctorow
If you want something with a bit of romance:
Matched by Ally Condie
Delirium by Lauren Oliver
If you’re looking for some cool sci-fi:
Feed by M.T. Anderson
Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
submitted by Georgann
Ghost Ship, a novel of the Liaden Universe by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller
I was SO GLAD to see this new novel in the series come out! This is the third in the series-within-a-series, this one continuing the tale of Theo Waitley. Theo has grown up a lot from the student she was when we first met her, and she is still just as likeable as she was to begin with. With maturity and her First Class pilot’s jacket comes many more adventures and unexpected twists in her life.
She is learning about her father’s side of the family, and quite a family it is! (You can read all about them in the previous novels of the series. You can find more thoughts about the series in an earlier blog post.) They are thrilled to have her; she’s not quite so sure about them! She is learning about being a solo pilot who really needs backup. She is learning about a sentient ship who is claiming her as Captain. Shea hasn’t yet learned how extraordinary she is!
It is a great story, full of relationships, characters you care about, mystery and intrigue. The only bad thing about it was it was over too soon, and the next one’s not out yet!
The HMS Terror and HMS Erebus left port in England in 1845, crewed by sailors and explorers fully expecting to find the fabled Northwest Passage. They sailed west, making stops in Greenland and Baffin Bay, until they reached northern Canada. Then, somewhere around Devon Island, all trace of them was lost. The ships vanished into the pack ice; no one has ever known the truth of what became of them. In The Terror, Dan Simmons retells the factual voyage and surmises the terrifying last leg of the journey. The explorers had an experienced commander, two strong ships, the hopes of their countrymen on their shoulders, and fabulously promising food stores made possible by the recent invention of canning.
But everything went wrong almost immediately. Captain Franklin meets a grisly end early on. The ships quickly become useless when pack ice surrounds them and threatens to crush them into splinters. The grip of scurvy, starvation, and madness sink into almost all the crew. As if these natural terrors weren’t enough, a faceless, hungry, menacing terror is stalking them as they flee south across the ice.
This is a beefy book but definitely worth the effort. Simmons does a fantastic job of weaving truth with fiction; he makes the historical facts of the trip exciting and the conjecture completely compelling and believable. The science fiction-y elements of this book are subtle and scary, but the real terror comes from the natural world: an Arctic winter so frigid and unforgiving that it makes a Midwestern winter look tropical by comparison! This thrilling book is an excellent choice for anyone who likes adventure or historical fiction.