Let’s Get Gifty! Recommendations from the Pitch Wars ’15 Class

Move over, Elf on the Shelf, gotta make space for this year’s book haul! If you need a little help gift shopping, the Pitch Wars ’15 class has you covered. Check out our list of recommendations for all the book lovers in your life:

Tracy Gold recommends: THE HEIRS OF WATSON ISLAND series by Martina Boone
“Martina Boone’s Heirs of Watson Island series for the Southern Gothic feel of Trueblood minus the vampires and written for teens!”

Amanda Rawson Hill recommends: BIG MAGIC by Elizabeth Gilbert
“For the writer in your life. Or the painter, or the actor, or anyone trying to pursue a creative endeavor.”

Courtney Howell recommends: AN EMBER IN THE ASHES & A TORCH AGAINST THE NIGHT by Sabaa Tahir
“I recommend this series to everyone, whether they like fantasy or not because to me, it transcends the genre. The characters are so real and so flawed and so compelling. It’s also great as an audiobook. The narrators are incredibly talented and make this already amazing story truly gripping.”

An Anonymous Elf recommends: THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES by Mindy McGinnis
“The perfect gift for your teen girl. Or your teen guy. Or your best friend who is all about Pantsuit Nation. Or anyone who needs to learn something about the female of our species. Plus you get three really sharp POVs and an ending that I’m not sure you’ll be able to predict.”

JR Yates recommends: BORN TO RUN by Bruce Springsteen
“For lovers of music, pursuers of art, and liver’s of life. Springsteen reflects on his childhood, his father’s mental illness, marriage, love and his music.”

Mike Mammay recommends: OUTRIDERS by Jay Posey
“For people who like Military Science Fiction. . . Posey writes soldiers right.”

Mairi Kilaine recommends: SOFIA KHAN IS NOT OBLIGED by Ayisha Malik
“Laugh out loud funny women’s fiction often described as the “Muslim Bridget Jones.” Malik deftly weaves comedy, romance, and the intricacies of finding love as a Muslim woman in London. I stayed up until 3am to finish it, my highest bar for a good read.”

Sarah Madsen recommends: THE HOLLOWS series by Kim Harrison
“For those who want a COMPLETE urban fantasy series . . . great fun with wonderful characters and a rich world. I adore it.”

Julie Artz recommends: PAX by Sara Pennypacker
“This lyrical story has the feel of the animal stories we loved as kids, but with a touching message of peace, hope, and second chances that feels awfully appropriate right now.”

Ashley MacKenzie recommends: THE HEARTBREAKERS by Ali Novak
“It’s a fun, voicy romp through teenage romance and sibling relationships.”

Elizabeth Leis-Newman recommends: LIFE AFTER LIFE by Kate Atkinson
“For your friend who likes literary fiction with an element of fantasy . . . it follows Ursula as she lives and dies in each chapter, and I think it is a book that examines how choices you make have ripple effects.”

Wendy Langlas Parris recommends: HOWARD WALLACE, P.I. by Casey Lyall
“Great for kids to read on their own and perfect for parents who want to read aloud to their kids—it’s from the POV of a middle schooler who talks/thinks/acts like Humphrey Bogart in THE MALTESE FALCON. Very funny film noir voice.”

Caitlan McCollum recommends: EVERY HEART A DOORWAY by Seanan McGuire
“Featuring a gorgeous diverse cast, this gorgeously creepy novella is for anyone who ever wondered what it was like to travel through the looking glass or a wardrobe to Narnia and beyond, and for those struggling to return to the real world after having an adventure.”

Leigh Mar recommends: THE HATING GAME by Sally Thorne
“For the RomCom lover in your life . . . It’s fun from page one as long-time work rivals Lucy and Joshua compete for the same job.”

Heather Murphy Capps recommends: THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD by Colton Whitehead
“Magical Realism. The story of Cora’s escape from slavery, via an imagined actual underground train. I was concerned because the device foments the regrettable (frustrating) misunderstanding that the railway was an actual train. But it’s a beautiful, brutal, important story.”

Isabel Andrew Davis recommends: THE SUN IS ALSO A STAR by Nicola Yoon

Maria Mora recommends: SWORDSPOINT by Ellen Kushner
“Adult Fantasy. Rich world-building and delightful, subtle romance. Such a cozy, unique book and worth hanging onto for many rereads. I read it once a year.”

Kristen Lepionka recommends: WOMEN CRIME WRITERS: Eight Suspense Novels of the 1940s & 50s
“Boxed set collected by Sarah Weinman. A crash course on the female writers who shaped the crime fiction genre alongside writers like Chandler or Hammett back in the day, but whom you might not be as familiar with. Dorothy B. Hughes, Margaret Millar, and Elisabeth Sanxay Holding, to name a few. On top of that, it looks gorgeous on a bookshelf!”

Lyndsay Ely recommends: THE GODS OF GOTHAM by Lyndsay Faye
“Picked up this book purely for the author’s name and ended up being seduced into the series, which follows the fictional first New York City “detective.” A dark, lusciously gritty story full of street slang, devastating characters, and pull-no-punches period details.”

Happy book buying!

Book Review: MACHINATIONS by Hayley Stone

Hayley Stone’s MACHINATIONS goes beyond the world building to do what a lot of great science fiction does: explore the question of what it means to be a human.

The machinations refer to the overthrow of the human governments of the world by robots, which is like 98.3% likely to happen for real, so you could look at this as kind of a road-map to the future. The other 1.7% is zombie apocalypse. But that’s not really our point here today. As the book opens, the machinations have already happened, and the society that’s left is living in the aftermath, fighting to survive.Machinations

The main characer, Rhona, dies. You’d think that a review wouldn’t lead with a spoiler like that. And you’d be right. She dies at the very start of the book, and it triggers the story. Rhona is a leader of the resistance, and to protect her they’ve created a clone. An exact replica of her, that’s triggered to life upon her death, so that she can carry on the fight.

Except it doesn’t work quite right. Rhona comes back, but she’s not all herself. There are holes in her memories. And that’s where the real story starts.

MACHINATIONS explores what happens when a person looks like herself in almost every way, but there are pieces missing. Whether she’s really her, and what it means to be ‘herself’ at all. It also tackles how losing her affects the people she loves, and how they react when she comes back different. Imagine that for months you thought your lover was dead, only to find out she wasn’t. You’ve grieved, you’ve moved on, you’ve got a war to fight. Now she’s back, at least in body.

It’s a great situation, and the book doesn’t take any short cuts on the answers. There’s no simple solution. It’s complicated and messy and up and down, just like you’d expect it to be in real life. Stone does an excellent job conveying the psychological effects of war, the pressures of leadership, of love lost, and relationships where the two involved feel differently about each other.

Through it all there’s the war with the machines. Stone’s crisp, first-person present tense prose is a good fit for the story. If you’re looking for a terminator style book, full of action and massive battle scenes, this probably isn’t for you. While there’s definitely some of that, and plenty of action, MACHINATIONS is much more about the human dynamics. With that said, the strong writing and the pace of the story make this a fun, quick read.

If I had to put a rating on this book it would probably fall somewhere between PG and PG-13. I’ll give it the 13 rating due to mature themes, but it’s safe for folks who like a pretty clean read.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from Netgalley in return for an honest review.

Fantasy Book Review: ENEMY

When it comes to a new fantasy series, I have a love hate relationship. I love being in on something from the inception, and getting to read something great before everyone has read it. At the same time, publishing can be slow, and sometimes I read the first book in a series only to wait more than a year for the sequel. With ENEMY, by K. Eason, it’s the best of both worlds. It’s a great debut that people are going to be talking about, and the sequel is set for release in July, 2016, so there’s more to come soon. I’ll be grabbing the next one the day it comes out.

This isn’t fantasy for beginners. If you’re not a regular reader of the genre, I wouldn’t recommend this as a starting place. Because while it’s excellent, you won’t find a simple good vs. evil story here. There are no easy heroes and villains. This is rich, complex, and realistic world building with societies, religions, social-classes, and self-interest all in conflict. If you love the worlds created by authors like Hurley and Jemisin, you’ll feel right at home in the Illhari Republic with ENEMY. Eason-Enemy-21735-CV-FT

The world is the thing that really makes this book special. There are two opposing magic systems, both with their strengths and weaknesses. They both have risks. Costs. On one side there’s academy trained, science-based magic. It’s reliable, but only functions in certain areas. In the wilds, it creates backlash, which can be unpredictable and deadly.  On the other side there are the god sworn. They have potentially more powerful magic, but rely on the changing moods of their deities, which can also turn deadly. Add to that the fact that the gods have their own agendas, and sometimes oppose each other, and it creates a complicated, wonderful mess.

The opposition of the science-based and deity-based powers appears to be cyclical, and the cultures associated with those magics rise and fall in parallel. The god sworn fell out of power some two centuries ago, but now are back on the rise and ready to reclaim what they lost. But this isn’t the Empire versus the Rebellion. It’s not good versus evil, and there’s no clear villain. It’s more like Game of Thrones, where everyone wants power, and will do whatever they can to get it without much care for who they oppress or hurt along the way. Internal to each side of the conflict are the highborn and low, the rich and the poor, the honest and the corrupt. The main characters find themselves drawn into this broader conflict, like it or not.

Snow and Veiko don’t like it at all. That’s one of my favorite things about the book. They’re both loners, and like most loners, they’d much rather that the world just left them…well…alone. They don’t have any particular fondness for either side, but as much as they try to avoid it, the world insists that they take part.

Snow is a half-breed assassin with ties to an underground mafia, proficient with knives and magic. Veiko is an outcast who wields a big axe and learns he can speak to the dead. Thrown together by several different factions, the two individuals, for the first time, find someone else they can trust. It’s rare to find a platonic male-female relationship in fantasy, and it’s refreshing here (though fans are going to want to ship them by the half-way point). Over time these two individuals who look out for themselves find that they’ll sacrifice anything to protect the other. They’re partners. As I was reading, it reminded me of sort of a Mulder/Scully vibe. I can’t think of a better M/F platonic partnership in fantasy.

Together, they form a new side in the conflict. Their own. They play competing powers against each other, when they can, fight them when they have to. They form alliances with enemies. Whatever it takes.

The book has a unique voice. Each point of view has some quirks that take a minute to get used to, but ultimately enrich the story. The book moves with outstanding pace, but it took me about 15 pages before I got comfortable with the cadence of the writing. But that’s part of what makes it great. It’s not ‘just like everything else.’ Far from it. It’s unique, while still maintaining a solid tie to traditional fantasy. A great combination.

If this was a movie, it would be rated R for language, some violence, and one rape threat.

I’m not a big fan of putting star ratings on reviews, but if I did, I’d give this one 5 of 5. This book is great. If you like rich, complex fantasy with a side of grit, then you’re going to love it. I know I did.

Disclaimer: I paid for this book. It was my idea to write the review, and I got nothing for it.