Review: The Mysterious Madam Morpho by Delilah S. Dawson

Last year, Dawson’s debut novel Wicked As They Come introduced one of the most unique and delightful landscapes I’ve come across in the paranormal genre for a long time. The world of Sang is dark, twisted, wonderfully irreverent and impossibly sexy.  In this novella, Dawson plunges readers back into her world, and I couldn’t be happier to return.

The story is rather short yet surprisingly well-developed for its truncated page time. Dawson effectively balances the necessity of reuniting us with past characters (because what Blud book would be complete without an appearance from Criminy?) with further developing the characters and creations that populate her fantasy world. I was so pleased with the pace of the worldbuilding with this novella, as it allows us a better glimpse of what goes on behind the scenes in the caravan as well as a taste of life in the cities. I adored Mr. Murdoch and could have read twice as many pages recounting the various inventions he has contributed to the circus. Madam Morpho’s talent is equally as enchanting, and while I won’t spoil some of the surprises that are in store by going into detail about how her show really works, I will say that Dawson has succeeded in emphasizing the steampunk underpinnings of her story in a way that I haven’t seen before.

As for the characters, I didn’t connect as strongly with Madam Morpho as I had

The Mysterious Madam Morpho by Delilah S. Dawson

with Trish, which proved to be somewhat of a struggle as I read, but her chemistry with Mr. Murdoch more than made up for any shortcomings I found in her character. I wish we could have gained a bit more insight into Mr. Murdoch’s psychology, as it plays quite an important role in the story and I felt that the story ended on a rather unresolved note. Yet in this regard Madam Morpho‘s ending was rather similar to the resolution of Tish and Criminy’s story in the previous book, and Dawson has shown that she is willing and eager to revisit their storyline, so I’m hoping that further installments in the series give us more insight into how Madam Morpho and Mr. Murdoch’s relationship allows each character to grow past their insecurities.

Overall, The Mysterious Madam Morpho is a great installment in the series and makes me greedy to get my hands on the second book, Wicked As She Wants, next year.

Cover Reveal: Purgatory Reign by L.M. Preston

Today I’m happy to be a part of the cover reveal for Purgatory Reign, an upcoming young adult paranormal romance novel by L.M. Preston.

Purgatory Reign by L.M. Preston

Something evil this way comes, unfortunately for it, Peter Saints is waiting.
Seventeen-year-old Peter Saints’ life stinks. But things are about to get much worse. First, his parents are murdered in front of him. Then another victim dies in his arms.
 
Visions plague Peter with warnings that something wants him for a sinister cause. It desires the one thing that Peter refuses to give –  his blood.
 

On the run with Angel, a scruffy kid, Peter starts to unravel the mystery. It’s the one secret the heavens sought to hide from the world. Unfortunately, when Peter finds the answer he hopes that will save the girl he loves, he opens the door to a great evil that happens to be salivating to meet him.

Purgatory Reign will be released in e-book format in March 2013, with a print edition to follow in May 2013.

Review: Zombie Vs. Unicorns edited by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier

I rarely read anthologies. Even rarer still do I review them. To be honest, Zombies Vs. Unicorns exhibited the vast array of talent representative of anthologies that makes me hesitant to buy them in the first place, so I’m not quite sure why I feel inspired to review it as well. Perhaps it is because, amidst the variable levels of quality, I found a couple of stories that I wish had been fleshed out into full-length novels. Maybe I simply feel like establishing my allegience (despite my love for eccentric animals, I am Team Zombie all the way). Whatever the case, I’ve decided to give some brief impressions of my Zombies Vs. Unicorns experience.

The Highest Justice by Garth Nix

It could be a symptom of having been the first story I read way back when I bought the book (and thus having had the most time to languish unremembered in my thoughts), but I don’t recall being particularly enamored of this first story.  2/5

Love Will Tear Us Apart by Alaya Dawn Johnson

I’ve never read any of Johnson’s work before. Alright, truth time, I’d never actually heard of Johnson before purchasing this anthology, but I’ll surely be seeking out more of her work in the future. This story, though short, packed a huge emotional punch, and it delivered on so many fronts: a zombie plague masquerading as an infection, resultant sentient zombie who’s torn between kissing and eating his lover, bonus points for boy/boy romance, and great musical references. Really, this story earned the highest rating possible when it started things off with an Arctic Monkeys-inspired chapter title.  5/5

Purity Test by Naomi Novik

My boyfriend and I had an hour-long drive ahead of us, so I decided to read a story aloud to pass the time. Forty minutes later, my head hurt, and not simply due to sore vocal chords. I could barely manage to finish this story, and I’m still not quite sure what it was hoping to achieve.  1/5

Zombies Vs. Unicorns Anthology

Bougainvillea by Carrie Ryan

Though I have The Forest of Hands and Teeth sitting on my bookshelf, the only piece of Ryan’s writing that I’d read thus far was a short story for the Enthralled Anthology (one of the only stories in that anthology that I wound up liking). Unfortunately, I couldn’t say the same for this one, as I found the nonlinear timeline confusing and the characters rather unsympathetic.  2/5

A Thousand Flowers by Margo Lanagan

This story felt like an Angela Carter tale: slightly confusing, otherworldly, menacing, and wholly uncomfortable. I would never have thought a story about unicorns could feel so wrong, but Lanagan managed to create possibly the most disturbing story of the bunch.  4/5

The Children of the Revolution by Maureen Johnson

I’ve read a few of Johnson’s books, and this story read much the same as her other writings. I found it fun, but without a whole lot of substance or innovation. Still, she managed to keep me interested, which is more than I can say for a lot of the stories in this collection.  3/5

The Care and Feeding of Your Baby Killer Unicorn by Diana Peterfreund

I’m a huge fan of Peterfreund’s Secret Society Girl series, but I haven’t read any of her unicorn books yet. That might change, if my reaction to this story is any indication. While I wasn’t particularly enamored of the characters featured in this story, she created a unique world unlike any I’ve read before. I’d like to see how much farther she can take the concept of killer unicorns before it starts to feel contrived.  3/5

Inoculata by Scott Westerfield

Westerfield’s world, while somewhat intriguing, read far too much like the introductory chapter to a series. It didn’t stand on its own two feet, which is a shame, since I felt that he had a whole lot more to say on this subject. Kudos for a subtlely drawn girl/girl relationship. 3/5

Princess Prettypants by Meg Cabot

I’ll admit, The Princess Diaries series is a guilty pleasure. However, if this story is any indication of the tone of Cabot’s other series, I’ll be steering clear. Cabot was asking for ironic humorous chuckles, but I wasn’t feeling any. 2/5

Cold Hands by Cassandra Clare

I could go on for days about the various grudges I hold against Clare. Instead, I will simply say that, as usual, Clare has delivered an inadequately thought out world with a saccharine romance that just barely managed to keep me reading.  2/5

The Third Virgin by Kathleen Duey

While I felt the idea for this one (an addicted unicorn; who knew?) was novel, the writing kept me at a distance. It was too reminiscent of the detached prose of Patricia McKillip, whose writing I simply cannot get into no matter how much others might love her.  Still, I recognize the quality of writing, even if I didn’t relate to it personally.  3/5

Prom Night by Libba Bray

Many other readers raved about this story, but it didn’t draw me in like most of the other zombie stories in this collection.  Unfortunately, I skimmed much of it, and so don’t have a whole lot to say.  1/5

Despite a lot of average writing, Johnson and Lanagan’s stories really knocked it out of the park for me, and so they managed to bump the rating for the whole anthology up a notch. Check this one out if you have the time.

Review: Audrey’s Guide to Witchcraft by Jody Gehrman

I have an urban fantasy confession to make: witches have never really done it for me. I love the idea of magic in general, but for some reason, whenever I’ve been presented with an array of supernaturals to choose from, the witches always take last place. That being said, I rather enjoyed my brief excursion into Audrey’s world, although my reaction might be due in part to my witch-biased low expectations going in.

Audrey’s Guide to Witchcraftdoesn’t stray too far from the typical young adult paranormal mould, introducing us to a likable yet unremarkable heroine with self-esteem issues, a rushed introduction to the supernatural world, and a case of the dreaded insta-love. Still, while the book does commit the foregoing offenses, it does so in a manner that is almost charming in its lack of pretension. This book never takes itself too seriously, and while that tends to drive me crazy much of the time, here it was an asset that helped to offset the book’s more generic qualities. Audrey might not be particularly compelling as a narrator (not to mention her unfortunate

Audrey’s Guide to Witchcraft by Jody Gehrman

ascent to Mary Sue status), but she is sincere and thus eminently more likable than so many of the young adult heroines that predominate in the genre at the opposite end of the spectrum. Audrey is tossed unceremoniously into a world she never knew existed, yet the vehicle for her education is a delightful secondary character who I hope resists becoming overshadowed as Audrey’s mom inevitably gets a larger page-presence in future books. Even the romance angle was cute, albeit inadequately explored. Still, Julian is a nice guy without a hint of being a broodingly secretive alpha-asshole, and rejoice! There isn’t a whiff of a triangle so far.

While reading, I couldn’t help but compare the book to other stories that I’ve encountered before, and honestly, Gehrman does little to dissuade the tendency. Pop culture references proliferate throughout, with more than a couple of nods to Harry Potter, yet I didn’t get any Rowling vibes. No, my brain ran to more obscure gems in the film arena such as Halloweentown and Simply Irresistible. If you can’t recall those cinematic wonders, don’t worry- your ignorance is forgivable. I can’t say the plot was enthralling, but it kept my attention, which is commendable judging by my reading record of late. The jury’s still out on whether I’ll be picking up the second book in the series, but if you’re looking for something rather frothy to while away a fall day, Audrey’s Guide to Witchcraft is a good bet.

Review: Thieftaker by D.B. Jackson

I’ve been holding my breath for Thieftaker to come out since last year. D.B. Jackson isn’t an author I’ve read before,  yet he seems to have built himself a nice following. Thieftaker represents the subgenre of historical urban fantasy, one that I haven’t had much exposure to, and I’m sorry to say that I doubt I will be reading much of it in the future either. That shouldn’t be taken as a statement against Jackson’s abilities as a writer nor Thieftaker as a novel. This wound up being a read in which I could sense the quality of writing, but simply couldn’t connect on a personal level.

Thieftaker takes place in 18th century Boston, a setting that I never anticipated

Thieftaker by D.B. Jackson

being featured in an urban fantasy novel. Yet depite its unlikely locale, Thieftaker has all the trappings of the genre, in particular a skilled narrator in Ethan Kaille. Ethan reminded me of what Harry Dresden’s ancestor might have been like. That might be part of the reason why Ethan and I never clicked. (I only got through the first two books in The Dresden Files). I love reading books told from a male point-of-view, but not when the male in question exhibits that annoying habit of stoicism that so often seems to accompany the Y-chromosome. Ethan clearly has much in life that he’s passionate about: his profession as a thieftaker (a fascinating and apparently real relic of historical times), his failed engagement to a beautiful woman of his past, the question of whether to commit to the beautiful woman in his present, and the potentially lethal frustration of dealing with his main competitor, the (obviously beautiful) Sephira. Perhaps it’s because I’m a woman and so less susceptible to this particular power of suggestion, but I got a bit tired of hearing about all of the beautiful women in Ethan’s life, no matter their relationship with him. I found Sephira in particular was a tiresome character, as her continual presence causing trouble in Ethan’s life never convinced me of anything aside from her feral grace. While we are told that she is a deadly foe, I witnessed no evidence of her competence aside from the muscle exhibited by her hired goons.

Despite my grievances, the magical system that Jackson has created is rather compelling and I’m sure that many will not have the same issues relating to characters as I did. I have no doubt that Thieftaker will be one of the breakout fantasy books for the year; it just wasn’t for me.

“Waiting On” Wednesday

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a meme created at Breaking the Spine to spotlight upcoming releases that we can’t wait to read.

Today I’m ecstatic to have found the gorgeous cover art for Frost Burned by Patricia Briggs.

Frost Burned by Patricia Briggs

Here’s the summary, taken from Goodreads:

Shapeshifter Mercy Thompson’s life is calming down, at least enough that she can focus on mundane matters like Black Friday sales. But on her return, Mercy is unable to contact her mate, Alpha Adam Hauptman, or the other members of their pack. All she knows is that Adam is angry and in pain. With the werewolves fighting a political battle to gain acceptance from the public, Mercy fears Adam’s disappearance may be related – and that he and the pack are in serious danger. Outclassed and on her own, Mercy may be forced to seek assistance from the most unlikely of allies: the vampire seethe.

It’s been too long since the last time we got to visit Mercy, and judging by that blurb, oh how I hope we get to see more of Stefan!

This title is released on March 5, 2013.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter: A Guide for the Thrifty, Impatient, and Clever Visitors

After spending hours reading blog posts and articles recounting others’ visits to the Wizarding World, I thought I was prepared to visit Hogwarts and Hogsmeade in all their glory. Friends, I was wrong; the Wizarding World was even more magical than I hoped for, and while I can’t in all honesty say that I want to go back to Orlando again any time soon (heat, crowds, and gaudiness galore do not a happy Shortlatte make), I do so wish that the Wizarding World wasn’t quite so far away, because I would be holding season passes if I lived within a hundred miles of it.

Yet while my trip was as wonderful as I’d hoped it would be, I have a feeling that I might have been slightly less enamored of my experience if I hadn’t done so extensive research beforehand. As I mentioned before, many have written about their own trips to the park and have provided some useful tips to help get the most out of your visit. Unfortunately, most of these articles spend their time extolling the benefits of staying in an on-site Universal Studios hotel, as hotel guests get free express passes for the Dragon Challenge and Flight of the Hippogriff rides as well as entry to the park an hour before the general public. Yet, when the boyfriend and I sat down to make travel plans, the pricey Universal package simply wasn’t an option, so I was forced to come up with some strategies of my own.

1. Do your research.

I said it before and I’ll say it again: there are a lot of useful tips that others have written about that will help you to navigate the park with the least amount of hassle and frustration. I won’t rehash what others have already said, but I will add that your research should span all aspects of your trip to the Wizarding World, including shopping. You might not realize it, but as exciting as the prospect of shopping in Hogsmeade might be, it also poses some serious logistical problems for park-goers. Shopping bags aren’t allowed on the rides, so if you’ve got something that doesn’t fit in a pocket, you’re going to have to rent a locker. Though lockers are free for a certain amount of time, there’s no guarantee that you will be through the waiting line and off the ride before the time is up, so you might wind up having to pay to stash your stuff. Not to mention the fact that the locker line is separate from the actual ride line, adding more time to your overall wait. Then there’s the pesky little problem of buying candy from Honeydukes in ninety-plus degree heat: many a Chocolate Frog have suffered a miserable melty fate from park patrons who insist on toting them around the park all day.

Obviously, visiting the Wizarding World without buying something isn’t an option, so my advice is this: don’t be afraid to do some shopping ahead of time online. I don’t suggest that you make any purchases, but the online shops give a good idea of the range of items available for sale, so you can get a sense of the souvenirs you simply have to take home with you. This leads to step number two: take advantage of the Potter merchandise for sale throughout Orlando. From the airport to the Universal shops in City Walk, most of the stuff available for sale “only” in the Wizarding World is actual available at other locations as well. My boyfriend and I stocked up on the items on our list, including those pesky Chocolate Frogs, upon arriving at the airport and visiting City Walk the night before. Not only did we not have to worry about the problems mentioned above, but we also didn’t have to wait in ridiculously long lines as we would have had we waited to buy our souvenirs at the park. That’s not to say that we didn’t make some purchases there as well, but we were able to wait until just before we were ready to leave the park.

2. Get up early.

Harry and company weren’t afriad to forego a little sleep when the occasion called for it, and neither should you be. As I mentioned already, if you don’t stay at a Universal hotel, you will be forced to wait in line at the turnstiles until the park officially opens. We got up at six and were at the park before seven, over an hour before the park opened to the general public. We were the first in line and were treated to an hour-long wait during which hordes of hotel guests breezed through the gates right in front of us. You will want to apparate all of those early entrants out of there, but it’s alright. The good news is that by the time you enter the park, the hotel guests have likely already ridden the Forbidden Journey, paving a clear path for you. So when you finally get in, powerwalk straight back to the Wizarding World and resist the urge to take pictures. Those shots of the castle will still be there in an hour, but the lack of line won’t be. We went straight to the Forbidden Castle and rode it without a wait, then went straight to the Dragon Challenge and did the same for both rollercoasters. By the time we got to the Flight of the Hippogriff, there was an hour-long wait, but we managed to experience the most popular rides relatively hassle-free.

3. Have a gameplan.

Ours was mentioned above. Yours might be different (though I highly encourage bumping the Forbidden Journey to the top of your list). Nevertheless, you need to have an idea of where your priorities lie and do those things first, or else the crowds will swamp you.

4. Once you’re inside the castle, slow down.

You can always go back through the castle on the single rider line or on a castle tour without having to wait on the monstrous line, but those only give you a limited view of the castle. So when you go through the first time, let people pass you as you go along and take pictures to your heart’s content. Stop and absorb everything, because unless you want to wait on the uber-long line more than once, this is the closest you will get to the good stuff.

5. Explore the shops.

The stores in Hogsmeade are crowded pretty much morning, noon, and night, but not unmanageably so. The only one that has a truly off-putting line is Ollivander’s, and we opted not to wait for the wand-choosing ceremony. Instead, we ducked through Dervish & Bangles into the adjacent store and checked out the wands there. If you’re really craving the ambiance of Ollivander’s but don’t want to brave the line, there’s a good wand set-up in the Owl Post that gives much the same feel.

6. Chow down.

You woke up at the crack of dawn and have been walking or standing for hours, so chances are you’ll be hungry early. We headed to the Three Broomsticks around eleven and were seated instantly. A few minutes later, the crowds stormed in, so if you can, eat early to beat the rush. You’ll get a great seat and be able to eat in peace. If you get thirsty, resist the urge to get a Butterbeer from one of the carts and head to the Hog’s Head instead; there’s rarely a line and you can buy the collectible mugs there as well. You can get pumpkin juice (and the delicious Hog’s Head Brew) there too, as well as in Honeydukes.

7. Explore all the nooks and crannies.

The designers did a bang-up job with this park. It feels like a real locale rather than a recreation, and nothing shows that off more than the details. Take the time to notice the subtle touches. Look up everywhere you go, because so much of the good stuff is hidden above your head. Duck out back entrances to the Three Broomsticks and down alleyways for unique angles of the castle not visible from the main road. Even the ATM’s and the bathrooms have little touches that bring the world to life.

8. Don’t neglect the kiosks.

Had I not taken my own advice and done some shopping research beforehand, I wouldn’t have known about the amazing Skele-Gro keychain sold only at the Wizarding World. As it turns out, it really is sold only in the park, as it’s one of the items not available in other Universal gift shops. Unfortunately, it also didn’t seem to be available in the Hogsmeade shops, as after several passes through I still couldn’t find it. Thankfully, I thought to check the outdoor kiosk outside the Castle, and I found it in all its glory.

9. Go back at night.

The Wizarding World is a totally different experience when as the sun goes down. The heat isn’t as intense, and the crowds die down a lot. Most importantly, the setting sun gives the town a beautiful glow that makes for great photo ops. Hogwarts truly is stunning in the dimming light.