Friday, August 23, 2013

The Dark Winter, by David Mark

Detective Sergeant Aector McAvoy is a smart and loveably human lead character, haunted by his past and often torn between family and duty. His instincts as a "natural" cop often run him afoul of his boss and coworkers, when he refuses to follow the official plan or instructions, but focuses instead on bringing the right person to justice at all costs. The other characters, be they suspects, witnesses, or cops, all have believable details to bring them to life. The landscape of the setting is almost a character itself, serving to drive the plot in some instances. Although the connection between the murders becomes obvious fairly early on, the true motive and who is behind them remains a point of suspense until almost the very end, revealed through a fast-paced sequence of events. In this debut novel, David Mark has created not only a strong protagonist but a strong case for a continued series of detective fiction.


Those who enjoy Louise Penny's Inspector Gamache series might want to give Detective Sergeant McAvoy a try as well.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Lion in the Lei Shop, by Kaye Starbird

Disclosure: I received a free copy of The Lion in the Lei Shop by Kaye Starbird from Amazon Publishing via GoodReads First Reads.


The Lion in the Lei Shop tells the moving story of a military family whose lives are transformed by the air raids on Pearl Harbor and the events that follow. Of the two viewpoints used to tell the story, the young daughter, Marty, is the more compelling narrator, while her mother April's parts of the tale come across cold and matter-of-fact at times. It is perhaps unnecessary for the mother to repeatedly discredit her daughter's memories of certain events, since the separate narratives of the same incidents clearly establish already that each character remembers things rather differently. Because the two tellings overlap more so than intertwine, the plot does not move along as smoothly as it might, and the second telling does not always add much in terms of perspective. The tiny details, from food to clothes to personal relationships with the loveably quirky cast of minor characters, help make this novel as vividly real as a memoir.


Fans of The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet will also enjoy The Lion in the Lei Shop.

The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic, by Emily Croy Barker

Disclosure: I received an ARC of The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic by Emily Croy Barker courtesy of Viking Press via GoodReads First Reads.


Although the main character Nora may be a "thinking woman" (by virtue of her advanced studies in literature, at least; not by any deep thoughts she herself expresses), she is certainly not an acting woman. Nora is a passive protagonist who tends to mainly observe and describe the events taking place around her, rather than taking action or becoming overly involved in anything. She waits for her male wizard mentor to rescue her on multiple occasions, even though she constantly complains about women not being treated as equals in the magical realm to which she has been transported. She does little to attempt to find her way back to her own world, and finds trivial ways to pass her time until an opportunity materializes for her to go home. Much of this novel could be edited out, and the story would be the better off without the tedious pauses in the action.


Readers who like the combination of fantasy and romance would enjoy Deborah Harkness' A Discovery of Witches. Those fascinated by the idea of a character transported to a magical world should try the Magic Kingdom of Landover series by Terry Brooks.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Children of the Jacaranda Tree, by Sahar Delijani

Disclosure: I received a free copy of Children of the Jacaranda Tree by Sahar Delijani from Atria Books Galley Alley.


Delijani's prose has a lyrical quality that makes it tempting to reread the descriptions and comparisons in each chapter. She brings the sights, sounds, and smells of Iran off the page and into the reader's senses.


Intertwined stories focusing on different protagonists at different points in time don't always work well, but Delijani is successful in weaving her narratives together to compliment each other. The characters each have their own goals, dreams, fears and true losses, but they are all connected by how the Iranian revolution and its aftermath have affected them. This is a novel filled with individual and shared tragedies, yet resounding with hope underscored by the power of strong familial bonds.


Children of the Jacaranda Tree is a gateway into a culture and to conversations about issues global and universal, certain to become a book group favorite. A must-read for anyone who enjoyed A Thousand Splendid Suns.

Masks, by E.C. Blake

Disclosure: I received a free uncorrected proof of Masks by E.C. Blake courtesy of DAW Books via GoodReads First Reads.


The premise of this novel and the details about the uses and dangers of magic that the author provides give this fantasy tale a unique bent. Aygrima, the fantasy world in which Masks is set, is carefully crafted with backstory and geographical descriptions that gives the land a life of its own. These features almost beg for fan fiction to be written in the setting of Aygrima.


The main character Mara shows true growth from a sheltered and naive girl to a brave and decisive young lady. She is a believably teenage girl, who is admirable in her values and determination. All of the minor characters, even those with the smallest parts to play, have their own unique history and attributes to make them stand out.


Masks is a great step up for older teen readers moving into reading adult fantasy. This book has a bit of a dystopian feel without the cliches that seem to be becoming common in YA dystopian fiction. Adult readers who have enjoyed series such as Terry Brooks' Shannara novels should be sure to read Masks.


E.C. Blake has set the stage well for a coming sequel to Masks, which readers will await with great anticipation.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Weight of a Human Heart, by Ryan O'Neill

Disclosure: I received a free copy of The Weight of A Human Heart by Ryan O'Neill courtesy of St. Martin's Press, via GoodReads First Reads.


The short stories in O'Neill's collection The Weight of a Human Heart are for the most part overly focused on stylistic literary experimentation rather than on narrative or character development. This feels more like a self-assigned exercise in composition than any sort of enjoyable experience for the reader. A select few of the stories, notably "Africa was Children Crying" and "A Speeding Bullet," stand in isolation as less forced and more telling of the human experience.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Zealot, by Reza Aslan

Disclosure: I received a free advance uncorrected proof of Zealot by Reza Aslan courtesy of Random House, via GoodReads First Reads.


Zealot is not so much as biographical account of "The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth", as it is billed in the subtitle, as it is an in-depth historical exploration of the political and cultural climate during which Jesus' ministry took place. As Aslan admits, there are few sources that reveal much factual certainty about the historical Jesus. Much of the biographical detail, such as whether Jesus' mother was unmarried when he was born, is purely speculative from minute historical or Biblical clues. Nevertheless, Aslan does an admirable job of illuminating the background of Jesus' ministry, his possible sources of inspiration, and why people may have responded to him in the ways that they did in that historical context. Aslan also clears up a number of common misinterpretations of Gospel passages, such as the probable original meaning of references to Jesus as the Son of God that were later reread to establish the basis for Jesus' divinity. The final chapters of Zealot are concerned with the early church in the decades following Jesus' death, and although they are interesting in their own right and shed some further light on how Jesus' mission was either carried on or distorted by his followers, these sections probably belong in a separate work about early Christianity, as they do not adhere strictly to the topic of Jesus or his lifetime.


Not strictly a layman's text, Zealot requires a basic understanding of academic scripture study, ancient history, and theological terminology, as it might otherwise be a slightly difficult read. Readers who are interested in a more introductory work on the search for the historical Jesus would be best advised to start elsewhere, as this is more a scholarly than a popular work.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

The Boys in the Boat, by Daniel James Brown

Disclosure: I received a free advance uncorrected copy of The Boys in the Boat via GoodReads First Reads, courtesy of Viking.

The Boys in the Boat is an engaging Cinderella story of a young team of rowers who came from very humble origins to win Olympic glory, despite the overwhelming odds against them. This compelling human interest story is very accessible even for those who have little or no previous knowledge of the sport of rowing.

Highly recommended for sports fans and anyone who enjoyed Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand. One side note: as this book is focused mainly on a single team, readers interested in Olympic history might prefer a more general work on the Berlin Games; at times, the backdrop of the games themselves is slightly wanting here.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

All the Gold in China, by Kate Zeng

Disclosure: I received a free copy of All the Gold in China by Kate Zeng courtesy of the author, via GoodReads First Reads.


All the Gold in China tells the story of the China's Communist Revolution, through the eyes of an interlocking set of characters, but mainly focusing on Jong Lin, the aide and adopted son of General Han. Jong is mainly a passive narrator, in the style of Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby, and his own story does

not become particularly compelling until close to the end of the narrative. The other characters are almost entirely selfishly motivated, by greed for either money or for power, so they are difficult to connect with. The plot gets off to a very slow start, and then after an unrealistic climax, the ending tapers off as slowly as the beginning. Despite the length of the novel and its drawn-out denouement, there are still questions left unanswered.


Throughout this novel, the sentence structure is simplistic, and other than where the action is fast-paced, this makes the narrative somewhat stilted. The number of typographical and grammatical errors, although not so overwhelming as to hamper the story's readability, are nevertheless glaringly noticeable and unfortunate in a published volume. All the Gold in China could have used additional editing for linguistic style and narrative flow.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Rathbones, by Janice Clark

Disclosure: I received a free pre-release copy of The Rathbones by Janice Clark courtesy of Doubleday, via GoodReads First Reads.


The Rathbones is a hypnotic, surreal story of a family whose lives and history are so irrevocably bound to the sea and whaling that their entire lives are lived in an epic oceanic metaphor, even the young protagonist Mercy, who has previously not been on a sea voyage. Mercy's search to find traces of her lost family members brings out a dream-like narrative of multiple complex meanings, both to Mercy and to the reader. The character's name repeated throughout the novel seems like a distress call ("Mercy!") but exactly what Mercy wants to be saved from, she herself must decide as she moves forward from the Rathbone legacy towards her own destiny. Despite this novel's length, Janice Clark's storytelling prowess and seamless use of thematic language make it smooth sailing from one page to the next.


Fans of Barbara Kingsolver will particularly enjoy this fanciful family epic, which is stylistically similar to The Poisonwood Bible.


Thursday, June 13, 2013

Prophet, by R.J. Larson

Prophet is a thrilling and emotionally driven story about a young woman who follows her faith and takes up the difficult, self-sacrificial task of being a prophet among unbelievers. The main character, Ela, is multi-faceted and inspiring: she wrestles with self-doubt even as she courageously leaves her home to obey the Creator's calling. Although Prophet is set in a fantasy world, not a factual place, few fantasy elements (ie, magic spells or elves) appear here, only a few mythological-type monsters. The themes of the book are overtly religious, and will largely resonate with Jewish, Christian, or Muslim readers, since the focus is monotheistic. However, Ela's story is a riveting read that stands strong even without looking closely at the spiritual overtones.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Psi-Chotic Adventures of Drew Darby, by Richard W. Kelly

Disclosure: I received a free copy of The Psi-Chotic Adventures of Drew Darby by Richard W. Kelly courtesy of the author, via GoodReads First Reads.

Drew Darby, an ordinary high school student with previously untested psychic powers, finds himself recruited into the U.S. Army's top-secret "Psi Ops" unit, and hurled head-long into a battle against the ultimate evil. Similarly to the Harry Potter novels, Drew's adventures of the epic scale are balanced between the usual challenges of a teenager, such as making friends and talking to girls. Since his missions are top-secret, Drew must maintain a double life so that even his parents don't suspect that he hasn't simply been working at his after-school job. Drew is a believable character that most pre-teens or early teens will relate to, and the novel is a fast-paced read, yet still gives thorough explanations of how Drew's psychic powers function. Some pieces of the story could have used further development; for example, far too many of the minor characters, including one of Drew's crushes, were not given names, which would have made the whole scenario seem more realistic.

Young fans of Harry Potter or Percy Jackson will enjoy reading The Psi-Chotic Adventures of Drew Darby, which will appeal to middle school students including those who are perhaps otherwise reluctant readers.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Almond Tree, by Michelle Cohen Corsanati

Disclosure: I received a free copy of The Almond Tree by Michelle Cohen Corasanti courtesy of the author, via GoodReads First Reads.


The Almond Tree is the compelling story of a young Palestinian's struggle to get an education and make a better life for himself, his family, and his people. Ambitious, hard-working, and devoted to those he loves, the main character Ichmad is not only captivating to read about, but an admirable example to aspire to as well. The detailed, nuanced relationships between the characters and the rich cultural background upon which the story is drawn make it almost easy to forget that one is reading a work of fiction, rather than a narrative biography. Readers will almost certainly learn something about the history and culture of Palestine and Israel by reading this book, as well as being inspired by Ichmad's trials and triumphs.


Fans of Khaled Hussaini's The Kite Runner or Andrea Busfield's Born Under a Million Shadows will certainly enjoy The Almond Tree as well.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Flight From Berlin, by David John

Flight From Berlin is a fast-paced historical thriller centering around the 1936 Berlin Olympics and a mysterious secret dossier with dangerous information from Hitler's past. Olympic swimmer Eleanor Emerson and reporter Richard Denham are unlikely heroes and unlikely companions in this adventure, but they are likable characters whose passion for each other and for doing the right thing truly make this an enjoyable read. Although some of the events in the novel become increasingly implausible as the plot unfolds, this page-turner will appeal to fans of authors such as Dan Brown. David John's skillful interweaving of historical fact and fiction is reminiscent of Dan Fesperman's The Armsmaker of Berlin, another historical thriller dealing with Nazi Germany.

To Whisper Her Name, by Tamera Alexander

Olivia Aberdeen, the main character in To Whisper Her Name, is self-absorbed and her speech so overly formal as to appear stilted. She is not a protagonist who it is easy to root for in life or in love. She keeps repeating that she doesn't want to get remarried, but until opportunities fall into her lap, she does nothing to seek an alternative to support herself as a widow. Her ridiculous fear of horses is ill-conceived: for someone in the Civil War era to be afraid of horses would be like someone in modern America having a fear of cars -- she simply would not be able to get through so many years of her life without addressing it. The love interest, Ridley Cooper, is more interesting and complex in his motivations, but what attracts him to such an unappealing heroine as Olivia is a mystery. The early development of their relationship, including stolen kisses before he proclaims an interest in marrying her, is sadly typical of so-called "historical" romances that have "historical" characters behaving like modern couples. The other issue that is glaringly present in this novel is the overly politically correct handling of interactions between the central characters and the servants: although it is nice to see the main characters treating black servants as their equals, everyone except the few stereotypically racist characters sees it as perfectly normally for blacks and whites to interact as equals, when of course that was the opposite of the norm in the South in the post-war years. The story's finale is overly rushed and feels even more unrealistic than what proceeded it, which is sad because the earlier chapters were too drawn out and the author could easily have spent more time on the ending.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Pyg: The Memoirs of Toby the Learned Pig, by Russell Potter

Pyg, by Russell Potter, promises much and delivers little. For a book that is supposedly the "memoir of a learned pig," a subject which sounds at first inclination to have the potential to be most amusing, the actual narrative is very dry and lacking in much plot development. Essentially, Toby the pig is rescued from the slaughter, learns to spell as part of a performing act, and when it is recognized that he can actually read and understand the words in front of him, he gets the chance to become more educated. Nothing else of interest takes place that is not articulated in the cover description. Pyg is neither a comedy nor is it a social commentary in the style of Animal Farm. It is simply a matter-of-fact narrative that, had its protagonist been human rather than animal, would have no interest to readers whatsoever. As it stands, Pyg might be more interesting to advanced middle grade readers, providing that they have the necessary vocabulary and sufficient patience to wade through this text.

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie, by Ayana Mathis

This novel is actually more like a series of interwoven short stories, focusing on the various children of the central character Hattie. Although most of the stories are riveting in and of themselves, none of the individual characters are adequately developed, nor are the relationships between the siblings particularly well defined. More disappointingly, Hattie herself is a rather shadowy figure, not coming together well into one cohesive portrait from the depictions of her rendered by her offspring. There are simply too many points of view at work here, tearing the narrative in many directions, and Mathis would have probably done better to focus on only a few of the children as her main characters. Fans of The Help by Kathryn Stockett will doubtlessly be interested to read The Twelve Tribes of Hattie, but will not necessarily find this tale as moving or articulate.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Leopard, by Jo Nesbo

Riddled with anti-climactic moments, The Leopard lacks the full-out suspense of some of Nesbo's other Harry Hole novels, such as The Snowman. The ending crosses the surrealism of Lee Child's Reacher series with the contrived revelations of an Agatha Christie mystery. Nevertheless, the character of Harry Hole remains compelling, and the detective as much as the case is the driving force that makes this a page turner. Fans of Scandinavian noir mystery featuring strong character relationships will also enjoy the works of Camilla Lackberg, including The Ice Princess.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Countdown to Jihad, by Jeff Westmont

Disclosure: I received a free copy of Countdown to Jihad courtesy of the author, via GoodReads First Reads.

This CIA vs. terrorist thriller contains a real gem of an action story. The problem is, the plot doesn't truly get off the blocks until about one-third of the way into the book. Readers who hang on this far, however, are in for a wild ride, as CIA agent David and his allies pursue a dangerous bomber in a wild chase through the final pages.

David is an intriguingly complex character, whose history and family background complicate his work and lend him compassion for his enemies. His relationship with Iranian agent Parissa is sweet, if somewhat predictable. What is unpredictable is the plot-twist at the end, which perhaps could have been better set up.

Fans of traditional spy thrillers such as John leCarre's Smiley novels, who enjoy character development and don't mind slowly emerging backstory, will enjoy the similarly-themed Countdown to Jihad.

Friday, March 8, 2013

War Brothers, by Sharon E. McKay

Disclosure: I received a free copy of War Brothers: The Graphic Novel by Sharon E. McKay via GoodReads First Reads, courtesy of Annick Press.

The graphic novel War Brothers tackles the difficult subject of child soldiers in Uganda's rebel army under Kony Joseph. This is a tasteful, sensitive portrayal through the eyes of a fictional boy who is captured by soldiers no older than himself and thrown headlong into the horrors of warfare that ravage his home country.

Some of the images and events in the book are disturbing, but they are taken from real-life events, and serve to bring an important message to teen readers: boys such as those in the book have in fact been forced into fighting, lost their lives, or suffered PTSD and social ostrazation if they are lucky enough to survive. The themes of friendship, bravery, faith, and family bring hope glimmering to the surface, just as lighter images appear toward the end of the book, symbolizing possibilities of a better future for the children who survived.

War Brothers is not overly wordy, instead allowing Daniel LaFrance's skillfully drawn images show the emotions of the characters far clearer than dialogue possibly could. Raw fear and pain in the faces of the young boys draw the reader in as one of this band of brothers, making it impossible not to empathize with their ordeal.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Gilded Fan, by Christina Courtenay

Disclosure: I received a free copy of The Gilded Fan by Christina Courtenay via GoodReads First Reads, courtesy of ChocLit Limited.

The heroine of The Gilded Fan, Midori, is an appealing character: bold but modest, proud but dutiful. She is both admirable and sympathetic. Unlike so many ladies in romantic historical fiction, she is a true lady, and it is understandable why the hero, Captain Nico, finds her so attractive.

Courtenay fills her entire narrative with cultural and historical detail that makes the dual settings of the shogun's Japan and Puritan England jump off the page in vivid color. The themes of honor, faith, and the importance of family are intertwined with an entrancing tale of romance and adventure, which is populated with unique and colorful characters. Despite the quirky improbability of the connections in Nico's and Midori's family past, their story as a whole rings true, and the ending leaves the reader wanting to read more about their life together.

Monday, March 4, 2013

What's a Dog For? by John Homans

Disclosure: I received a free copy of What's a Dog For? The Surprising History, Science, Philosophy, and Politics of Man's Best Friend by John Homans via GoodReads First Reads, courtesy of Penguin Press.

What's a Dog For? is a blend of a touching story about the author's love for his own rescued dog, a Lab mix named Stella, a history of dogs as pets, a lengthy speculation on intelligence and empathy in dogs and other companion animals, and a discussion of the ethics of animal rescue. As it might sound, this mashup of subject matter and attempt to mix personal tales with a somewhat subjective history of dog ownership fails to create a truly cohesive narrative that would satisfy either fans of cute animal stories or those interested in a more factual account of dog and human relationships through time. Despite this, and the owner's obvious personal bias against the purebred "dog fancy," this book will appeal to many dog lovers who can't get enough true-life pet stories and will doubtlessly lap it up.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Pearl Harbor: Hinge of War, by Richard Freeman

Pearl Harbor: Hinge of War provides a vivid behind-the-scenes look at the battle that brought America into World War II. Richard Freeman seamlessly meshes together political and military histories from both sides of the conflict, along with survivors' accounts, to create a genuinely readable and personal narrative account. The heroism of the individual sailors and airmen comes to life from the page, sure to captivate military history buffs and layman readers alike. Why did the Japanese decide to attack America, and where did they get their information about the Pearl Harbor base? Could American leaders have foreseen the attacks? What crucial mistake did the Japanese command make that proved deadly later in the war? All of these questions and more are addressed in detail in Pearl Harbor: Hinge of War. The one glaring flaw in this book is the author's failure to adequately document his sources; Freeman states in his final notes that the survivors' accounts are "mostly taken from a vast range of veteran and newspaper websites," but he does not give the names or web addresses of any of these sites so that interested readers could look for more materials about the heroic veterans of Pearl Harbor.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Lessons in French, by Hilary Reyl (pre-release)

I was fortunate to be able to read an excerpt from Lessons in French, made available by Simon & Schuster on Scribd and forwarded to me by the author via Goodreads.

Not a French textbook as the title might fool some into believing, Lessons in French is the captivating story of recent college graduate Kate, who moves to Paris to find herself, her heritage, and perhaps even l'amour. The narrative style of these first chapters paints a portrait of Paris that the reader could almost step right into, and perfectly captures the compelling voice of the protagonist, who is herself an artist. I eagerly await reading more of Kate's adventures in Paris and self-discovery. Lessons in French should be at the top of the reading list for all Francophiles!

The release date for Lessons in French by Hilary Reyl is March 5, 2013.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Touch of Frost, by Jennifer Estep

Touch of Frost, the first installment on Estep's Mythos Academy series, is a fantasy novel for young adults that concerns the misadventures of Gwen Frost, a teenager struggling to fit in at a magical academy. Supposedly, Gwen has been transferred to Mythos Academy because her grandmother wants her to learn how to better control her magical gift and use it for good. Instead, Gwen spends most of her time at school poking into the love lives of more popular students and bemoaning her lack of friends. Even when Gwen looks into the death of "mean girl" Jasmine, who no one seems to miss, the author doesn't bring Gwen's powers to the forefront or give her more than a bumbling role in bringing the mystery to a conclusion.

Estep describes Gwen as "a smart, plucky, slightly snarky heroine," but in fact, the protagonist comes across instead as whiny, self-pitying, and always needing a boy to save her. Gwen describes herself as a "geek," with a 4.0 GPA that she's proud of, yet she doesn't seem to enjoy classes or her job in the school library, so this is a hard idea to swallow. Most of the other characters are even less well fleshed out, and certainly less likeable. Jasmine's best friend and rival, Morgan, is described simply as "slutty," and Gwen's perpetual savior, Logan, seems only interested in two things: fighting his adversaries, and chasing girls. The only character who isn't completely one-dimensional is Daphne, a popular girl who ditches her old friends in favor of Gwen after realizing everything isn't as it seems in her clique.

By the end of the book, Gwen hasn't gained new skills with her magic, or found any self-confidence that would seem to make her future adventures worth reading about. I doubt that many teenagers would relate to this protagonist or enjoy reading about the cardboard cutout cast of characters at Mythos Academy.

The one strong point about Touch of Frost is the way that Estep draws on mythology to create the back-story for Mythos Academy and the students' powers, but she devotes too much time to developing this aspect of the story and not enough to the characters themselves. Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, although for a slightly younger audience, spins a much stronger and more enjoyable modern mythological tale.

Friday, January 25, 2013

The Importance of Libraries

I've heard a lot of speculation about the future of libraries lately, and worries about how they can remain relevant in this age of e-books, Google searches, and Wikipedia. (Most of the concern seems to come from librarians, not from the general populace, however, which leads me to believe that their fears are worse than the reality). This piece by Matt Haig nicely sums up why libraries are still so important to society, and I couldn't agree more.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Libriomancer, by Jim C. Hines

What if you could reach into your favorite novel and pull out a magic sword, or a laser gun, or a spider? Isaac, the protagonist in Libriomancer, can do all that and more through the magic of believing in the power of books. But can he stop magical chaos from breaking through into everyday reality? Or will vampires, self-serving sorcerers, and character-possessed libriomancers prevail?

Readers of Piers Anthony's Xanth novels or Terry Brooks' "Magic Kingdom of Landover" series will enjoy the light, humorous fantasy of Libriomancer. The concept is similar to Inkheart by Cornelia Funke, in which characters are read out of (and into) books, but it is not as compelling emotionally, nor as linguistically well-crafted. The author feels the need to stop for explanations of how his character's magic works so often that the flow of the story is sometimes lost at the very height of the action.

This is a book for geeks, pure and simple. From Tolkien to Adams, nearly every fandom imaginable gets a shout-out here. Anyone who hates Twilight will cheer to see Isaac take on the sparkly vampires in the opening scenes, as well. And even fans of Twilight will admit it's amusing that Hines' characters credit Meyer with the existence of new species of vampire.

Libriomancer is the first in the Magic Ex Libris series, with book two, Codex Born, coming soon.

Unholy Night, by Seth Grahame-Smith

The wise men in Seth Grahame-Smith's retelling of the Nativity story are anything but wise, but they are charmingly human. Balthazar, the main character, is a thief with a conscience, who stumbles into the manger scene complete with a healthy dose of skepticism. Despite his unbelief, Balthazar's life becomes inextricably entwined with those of Mary, Joseph, and their infant son, and a non-stop adventure ensues.

Grahame-Smith does an excellent job of weaving together the Biblical tale, his own imagining of Balthazar, and a realistically recreated setting of ancient Judea. The little details such as the madness of King Herod prove amusing along the way. Mary comes through as a refreshingly strong character compared to the "meek and mild" descriptors that usually are associated with her, and Balthazar's eventual transformation is heartening to watch unfold. The very final pages of the book hold one last great surprise that brings loose threads together in brilliant conclusion to an exciting and inspiring story.