Robert Kroese – The Big Sheep

I should have reviewed this a few weeks ago when the book came out. But – and this should make you very happy, dear readers – just because I’m a bit late for the publication hype doesn’t mean the book isn’t still out there for you to pick up. I definitely think you should, and not just for the sheep on the cover (which is probably 50% to blame for me being interested in the book in the first place).

big sheepTHE BIG SHEEP
by Robert Kroese

Published by:  St. Martin’s Press, June 2016
Ebook: 320 pages
Standalone (so far)
My rating: 7,5/10

First sentence: “That’s a really big sheep,” said Erasmus Keane, his observational powers functioning as flawlessly as ever.

Los Angeles of 2039 is a baffling and bifurcated place. After the Collapse of 2028, a vast section of LA, the Disincorporated Zone, was disowned by the civil authorities, and became essentially a third world country within the borders of the city. Navigating the boundaries between DZ and LA proper is a tricky task, and there’s no one better suited than eccentric private investigator Erasmus Keane. When a valuable genetically altered sheep mysteriously goes missing from Esper Corporation’s labs, Keane is the one they call.
But while the erratic Keane and his more grounded partner, Blake Fowler, are on the trail of the lost sheep, they land an even bigger case. Beautiful television star Priya Mistry suspects that someone is trying to kill her – and she wants Keane to find out who. When Priya vanishes and then reappears with no memory of having hired them, Keane and Fowler realize something very strange is going on. As they unravel the threads of the mystery, it soon becomes clear that the two cases are connected – and both point to a sinister conspiracy involving the most powerful people in the city. Saving Priya and the sheep will take all of Keane’s wits and Fowler’s skills, but in the end, they may discover that some secrets are better left hidden.

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Sherlock Holmes meets Blade Runner. There, that’s all you need to know. Except wait, there’s more here than just a couple of detectives solving a case in futuristic Los Angeles. Although it does start as a your average find-the-missing-genetically-manipulated-sheep story, it soon turns into something bigger. Keane is a genius (clearly the Sherlock of the team), but it is Fowler who tells the story and it was also him that I immediately liked and wanted to follow. They obviously have a Sherlock/Watson thing going on, but even more than the “real” Sherlock Holmes, I found Keane to be emotionally cold, distant, and not particularly likeable.

In addition to their missing sheep case, the two are also visited by super famous TV star Priya Mistry who may just suffer from celebrity paranoia. Or there may actually be something strange going on in her life. After all, this is the future and Los Angeles is mostly ruled by warlords – believing yourself in danger, especially if you’ve just received a warning note penned by your childhood teddy bear, is not such a far-fetched idea.

What I really liked in this book, after the slightly slow first chapter, was the pacing. It was constantly spot on. Robert Kroese doesn’t spend too many pages on unimportant stuff, say getting from point A to point B. Instead, the focus lies on figuring out these two mysteries that – surprise! – seem to be connected somehow. Fowler’s narration of this fast-paced story also added just the right amount of snark, although I didn’t find this to be a particularly funny book in general. At least not the laugh-out-loud kind of fun. The humor arises more naturally from the bizarre situations and conversations that occur when you’re dealing with a wild sheep hunt and a gorgeous celebrity.

I really enjoyed how the author kept me guessing all the time. At one point, I thought I had figured everything out and the book seemed to agree with me, but then I turned the page and Keane schooled me and my inferior brain and told me just why all my conclusions were wrong. I’ll forgive him because I am totally okay with not being able to guess endings. It made the second half of the book even more exciting, as things are revealed slowly and then all at once. I will say no more about the plot because it was definitely the book’s strongest point and I don’t want to spoil all the crazy surprises for you.

Another interesting aspect is the world-building. It isn’t super extensive, but gives you just enough to be intrigued and to set up the place that Keane and Fowler live in. The Disincorporated Zone, or DZ, has a noir-ish but at the same time futuristic feel to it. You get the sense that a lot of crime happens there (and we do witness some of it) but at the same time, Keane and Fowler navigate LA so effortlessly that I was never worried anything would happen to them. The sciency aspects add to the book’s flair although there is much handwavium used to explain stuff. I personally don’t mind magic dressed up as science (or bare naked magic for that matter) but if that’s something really important to you or you prefer hard science fiction, this won’t make you happy. I was more than happy to suspend my disbelief however and went with the gigantic sheep and other weird stuff that I can’t mention for spoiler reasons.

So, I am totally on board with this book series (will there be more?), mostly for the writing style and clever plot. The characters were cool at first glance but rather weak once you think about them. Fowler is introduced as the guy who endures the genius detective and keeps him somewhat grounded, he’s still hung up on his disappeared girlfriend, and other than that there isn’t much I could tell you about him. He’s competent and snarky and I really liked him in this story, but it doesn’t feel like these characters had a life before the book started. With the exception of Priya Mistry – and she is handled more like an object than a person. I found there was a lot of food for thought whenever it came ot Priya. You forget that celebrities are people, too. They aren’t there simply to look good and entertain the masses – and The Big Sheep makes this a pretty central idea.

The ending was… weird but also great. I loved the solution to the mysteries, although certain parts fell into place way too neatly and I believe Keane got off too easy – he did get into a lot of trouble on the way, after all. The one thing I didn’t like about the ending was the very cheap way it set up the sequel. I saw that bit coming from the very first chapter but I kind of hoped the author wouldn’t go with something so obvious, especially after such an original, fun plot. But I’ll forgive him because Fowler really grew on me and I can’t wait for more crazy mystery solving.

The Big Sheep gave me a few wonderful hours of reading. I giggled, I rolled my eyes at Keane’s superiority, I adored the sheep, and I completely failed at guessing the solution. Well done, where’s the next book?

MY RATING: 7,5/10 – Very good!

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Catherynne M. Valente – The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All The Way Home

This is it. It’s over. No more Fairyland stories with September. I took a good long while reading this book because if there’s ever a time to draw out a story, this is it. The Fairyland series has grown so dear to me that it was incredibly hard letting go, even though Cat Valente ended her series in the most perfect way imaginable.

fairyland 5

THE GIRL WHO RACED FAIRYLAND ALL THE WAY HOME
by Catherynne M. Valente

Published by: Feiwel & Friends, 2016
Ebook: 308 pages
Series: Fairyland #5
My rating: 8,5/10

First sentence: Once upon a time, a country called Fairyland grew very tired indeed of people squabbling over it, of polishing up the glitter on the same magic and wonder and dashing dangers each morning, of drifting along prettily through the same Perverse and Perilous Sea, of playing with the same old tyrants and brave heroes every century.

Quite by accident, September has been crowned as Queen of Fairyland – but she inherits a Kingdom in chaos. The magic of a Dodo’s egg has brought every King, Queen, or Marquess of Fairyland back to life, each with a fair and good claim on the throne, each with their own schemes and plots and horrible, hilarious, hungry histories. In order to make sense of it all, and to save their friend from a job she doesn’t want, A-Through-L and Saturday devise a Royal Race, a Monarckical Marathon, in which every outlandish would-be ruler of Fairyland will chase the Stoat of Arms across the whole of the nation – and the first to seize the poor beast will seize the crown. Caught up in the madness are the changelings Hawthorn and Tamburlaine, the combat wombat Blunderbuss, the gramophone Scratch, the Green Wind, and September’s parents, who have crossed the universe to find their daughter…

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This is the last book in the Fairyland series and with it, the series comes full circle in many ways. September and her friends must participate in the Cantankerous Derby, a race for the crown of Fairyland, but of course, this being Fairyland, it’s not just any old race. Because what they have to find is the heart of Fairyland and you all can imagine that it’s not an actual heart lying around somewhere under the Perverse and Perilous Sea or deep in the Worsted Woods. But with Ell, Blunderbuss, and Saturday, September follows every lead she has to win a crown she’s not even sure she wants.

I felt sad the entire time I read this book, even when Blunderbuss made me smile and Saturday filled my heart with joy. Nailing the ending of a series is always difficult, and with this one especially I was wondering how it could possibly end without tears. But Cat Valente has proven herself to be a trustworthy author who knows exactly what she’s doing. After a wonderful adventure, with a particularly delightfull chapter under the sea (I want a Bathysphere, that’s all I’m saying), a trip to the land of Wom, and several encounters with bloodthirsty tyrants, we do get an ending and it is that rare sort of perfection that I wouldn’t have believed to be possible.

In many ways, it reminded me of Peter Pan, where Wendy’s story in Neverland may come to an end but that doesn’t mean that Neverland’s story is over. As the beginning of this book tells you, Fairyland has become a character of her own and she will live on, even after all the changelings and heartless children are done with their adventuring.

[…]a door is a door, and a door is always an adventure

I could tell you about all the wonderful new places and creatures we meet in The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All The Way Home, but that would take out part of the fun. We meet old friends (and foes, and in-betweens), we see lots of new faces, we discover new places in Fairyland and revisit some well-known ones.  The last Fairyland novel still keeps up that sense of wonder that’s made it so beautiful in the four previous books.

But what really makes this instalment shine is how clever everything falls into place. There are hints about the ending strewn all over the place but I, at least, didn’t make sense of them until I had read the ending. My biggest worry was always how September could possible unite the two worlds living in her heart – her family are waiting for her back in Omaha, after all, and September loves her parents. But come on, it’s Fairyland. Who would ever want to leave? It’s a big conundrum and I’m glad that Cat Valente solved it because so many others have failed before her.

fairyland 3 aroostook

Aroostook is back!

I always hated stories where kids get swept into a magical world and the only thing they can think to do is find a way back home. Like, really? Is home always such a perfect place? Dorothy left Oz, Wendy left Neverland, and yes, I understand that these are all metaphors for growing up, leaving childhood behind you – that doesn’t mean I have to like it. Valente understands this and she also sends a powerful message with her book series. You don’t have to leave wonder and fun and silliness to be a grown up. Yes, there are difficult decisions to be made, and yes, the grown-up world can be an adventure as well. But there can still be stuffed combat wombats, and marids, and wyveraries. This is really all I can say without spoiling the ending.

There is one scene (there always is one, isn’t there) that was so beautiful and thrown in so seemingly carelessy, that made me well up again. September and Saturday’s relationship has been sort of fortold from the very beginning. With marids living all times at once, September has seen several Saturdays, at varying ages, throughout the series. But this Saturday, her Saturday still delivers the gut-punchiest speech of the book, and part of it only makes sense after you’ve finished reading all of it. Maybe I’m just a crybaby when it comes to books – yes, okay.. I definitely am – but man, that bit tugged at my heartstrings. I want to jump up and down and giggle and cry all at the same time.

The one thing I do have to say, however, is that the book felt a bit rushed at times. With the introduction of a TON of new characters, things get hectic. September’s journey through Fairyland also feels a bit too fast at times. While a nice number of pages lets us marvel at the underwater world that Saturday knows so well, other places and people barely get a full chapter. But it’s a minor quibble considering Valente has written such an amazing book series that can appeal to people of all ages. I have endless love for Fairyland… there’s a reason these books live next to Harry Potter on my shelves.

MY RATING: 8,5/10 – Most excellent!

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Top Ten Tuesday – Top Ten Books I Enjoyed That Have Under 2000 Ratings On Goodreads

This was much easier than expected. The Broke and The Bookish picked an excellent topic for this week’s Top Ten Tuesday. I love finding underrated and not-so-well-known books and I love telling others about all the underrated books that I know. Now, I’m not sure I interpreted the Goodreads ratings correctly because I only checked the number of ratings on whichever edition of a book I own (or whichever came up first). I’m sure if one adds the ratings on all available editions, all these books have more ratings but, honestly, I don’t know if Goodreads gives you that number and I was way too lazy to add the ratings up myself.

So I’ve included the number of ratings (of my edition) in brackets next to each title to show you just how unloved these gems are. I also linked to my review if I wrote one. Seriously though, pick these books up, they’re all excellent!

My Top Ten Books With Less than 2000 Ratings on Goodreads

Angela Slatter – Sourdough (82 ratings) and The Bitterwood Bible (73 ratings)

Oh my god, you don’t know what you’re missing! Angela Slatter is an Australian author who weaves the most beautiful fairytale-esque stories you can imagine. Her two short story collections are much more than just some short stories put together. They actually tell a much larger story. In Sourdough every story gives you a new puzzle piece about the history of a place and its inhabitants. The Bitterwood Bible spins this further (although it is a sort of prequel), with recurring characters, intertwining stories, and lots of fantastic female characters. I love these books to bits and urge you to get yourself an ebook copy – they’re affordable and available worldwide. Yay for the internet!

Régis Loisel – Peter Pan(434 ratings)

I suppose French comics aren’t read very widely and my own interest in them comes from having lived in France for a while. But if you like Peter Pan and comics, this is for you. Loisel gives J. M. Barrie’s story a new spin and although there are many recognisable characters and plot points, this is not the children’s story you remember. It is brutal, devastating, not for kids, and absolutely heartbreaking. The six-part series is completed so you won’t have to wait for sequels either. So pick it up.

Theodora Goss – In the Forest of Forgetting (615 ratings)

Another short story collection that deserves to be better known. Theodora Goss has a distinctly lyrical, fairy tale style that makes the most mundane things seem magical. The titular story is one of the most beautiful things I have ever read, and some of her other tales stuck in my mind, refusing to let go.

Luiz Eduardo de Oliveira (Leo) – Aldebaran (161 ratings)

Another comic book series, yippie! Aldebaran is a science fiction comic and I’ll be honest with you – I’m not a huge fan of the artwork. But the story, now that’s quite brilliant. A village on Aldebaran is devastated by some sort of natural (or not so natural?) catastrophe, so the survivors set out to find what happened and to make a new home for themselves. They discover way more than they thought was possible. This is a story that spans years and many miles, and while I may not love the art, Leo came up with some incredible flora and fauna for his planet. It is well worth checking out.

Sarah Pinborough – Poison (1869 ratings), Charm (1150 ratings), and Beauty (1071 ratings)

Anyone who loves fairy tales and retellings should pick up these three short novels. The titles tell you which fairy tale they’re about (Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty respectively), but these are twisted, more adult versions of the stories you know. They are connected and you only get the full ending if you read them all, but you can also pick up each book on its own and enjoy it. With covers like these, I honestly don’t understand why they don’t have more ratings.

Ysabeau S. Wilce – Flora’s Dare (1217 ratings), Flora’s Fury (685 ratings), and Prophecies, Libels & Dreams (97 ratings)

The first book in the adorable, original, quirky Flora series has more than 2000 ratings on Goodreads but for some reason (I think I know which) people don’t continue reading. The first book is very childish, although it already shows the greatness that is Ysabeau Wilce and her imagination. House ghosts, magical boots, an Aztec-inspired Empire, and in the middle of it a young girl who just doesn’t want to join the military like her parents, but wants to be a ranger. I adore Flora and Flora’s Dare is by far the best book in the series. If you’re unconvinced, try the short story collection set in the same world – algthough featuring other characters. I am still hoping for sequels.

Catherynne M. Valente – Speak Easy (258 ratings), Radiance (1438 ratings), and Six-Gun Snow White (1818 ratings)

Okay, so Radiance is still pretty new and has been getting nothing but rave reviews. I know reading a Valente book can be a big leap. Her language is demanding and beautiful, her subject matter varies from whimsical fairy tales to deeply difficult themes. In Speak Easy, a novella, it is the language that makes the book so great. That is, until the ending. That ending destroyed me.
Six-Gun Snow White was hard to read simply because the main character is put into such a horrible position and her stepmother mistreats her, all under the guise of love and care. But it is also an amazing twist on the Snow White story, seven “dwarves” and all.
Radiance is perfect. That’s all I have to say.

Nalo Hopkinson – Midnight Robber (1274 ratings)

Another book that gains a part of its appeal through language. Written in patois, it isn’t easy to get into if (like me) you were unfamiliar with that way of speaking. But I love discovering new languages and this felt like such an organic way to speak English, it took me a couple of chapters and I was all in. The story itself is breathtaking, a mix of science fiction and coming of age story with Caribbean influences. It was the first Hopkinson book I read and I can promise you that although this is my favorite so far, she is a fantastic writer to follow.

Karin Lowachee – Warchild (1459 ratings)

Any book that can pull off even a single chapter written in second person singular deserves a chance. In the best cases, you don’t even notice that the book is written in second person. This was the case in Warchild – and don’t worry, only the beginning is written about “you” – and it made the life-defining things that happen to the protagonist all the more immediate and touching. The title keeps its promise and Lowachee does tell the story of a Warchild. Someone born in war, swept up in it, fighting in it, and suffering everything that comes with it. This was a deeply moving, closely drawn portrait of a young boy growing up. It also has cool aliens and space battles.

Genevieve Valentine – Mechanique (2002 ratings)

Ok, so I’m cheating a bit because this book actually has ever so slightly more than 2000 ratings, BUT it doesn’t have nearly as many ratings as it deserves. I think Genevieve Valentine’s genius is slowly becoming more appreciated but I suppose few people go back to her novel Méchanique, a book that broke my heart so many ways I stopped counting. The premise is the story of a strange travelling circus – so far, so ordinary. Except everyone in this circus seems to have secrets, carry emotional baggage, or fight silent feuds against other circus members. Finding these secrets in a steampunky world was just amazing. Plus, Valentine throws in sentences that say so much more than an entire other novel would. She knows excatly what she’s doing with language and for that Méchanique is still my favorite of her stories.


Also, yes, these are a bit more than ten books, but I’ve grouped them all nicely for you so I’m sure you’ll let it slide. Plus, that just means more great reading for you guys. Now I can’t wait to discover all the books I’ve never heard about that others are recommending. There’s still room on my wishlist, after all.

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Brandon Sanderson – The Alloy of Law

I have made no secret of my love for Graphic Audio and the way they do audiobooks. With a full cast of actors, fantastic narrators, sound effects and music, it’s my favorite way of listening to a story. It took me a while to get over Vin’s story in the Mistborn universe but now I am ready to read the next chapter set in that big sprawling world of allomancers.

alloy of lawTHE ALLOY OF LAW
by Brandon Sanderson

Published by: Tor, 2011
Ebook: 332 pages
Audiobook: ~ 8 hours
Series: Misborn #4, Alloy Era #1
My rating: 7,5/10

First sentence: Wax crept along the ragged fence in a crouch, his boots scraping the dry ground.

Centuries after the Mistborn trilogy, Scadrial is on the verge of modernity – railroads, electric street lights, and skyscrapers. Waxillium Ladrian can Push on metals with his Allomancy and use Feruchemy to become lighter or heavier at will. After 20 years in the dusty Roughs, in the city of Elendel, the new head of a noble house may need to keep his guns.

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It was hard for me to accept a story set 300 years after Vin’s tale and my mind buckled a bit when Waxilium Ladrian used his allomancy in combination with guns. But I quickly fell into this new version of the Mistborn universe and I really enjoy the different vibe of this story. Other than the epic scope and Dramatic And Important Tale of the first Mistborn trilogy, this is a much lighter, more fun read that makes the pages fly even faster.

Wax is a twinborn, somebody who can use both allomancy and feruchemy, and he has just returned from the Roughs to the city of Elendel to take over his dead uncle’s estate and keep the family name going. This premise already set off an explosion in my head because of course everything hails back to Vin and Elend’s story and there are tons and tons of references to the first Mistborn trilogy. Some are in plain sight, such as city names, others are woven into the world building. A religion may be based on real events (but twisted, of course, as history handed down the story and invariably changed it in the retelling), or swear words based on actual people. Sanderson is a smart man so he doesn’t give a lot away but just enough to get me to bite and break my brain trying to fit everything into its place. I really enjoy that sort of thing.

alloy of law GABut of course, a new era of allomancers means new characters and this was what worried me. Unnecessarily, as it turns out. Wax and Wayne, the cheeky but adorable friend, took my heart by storm. Marasi turned out to be great although she blushed a bit too much for my taste. Although she doesn’t appear for long in this book, I also really liked the gun specialist Ranette. Another female character, Steris, was a completely over the top heartless, practical, stoic woman whom we’re not supposed to like but who showed some real emotion towards the end. I was actually impressed and hope that she gets to develop more in future books.

The plot is fast-paced and fun. Wax, Wayne, and Marasi are investigating the Vanishers, a group of criminals who rob train cars, but so quickly nobody understands how they do it. They also kidnap women and nobody knows why. Being a former lawkeeper, Wax can’t help but stick his nose into the case and he and Wayne banter their way to the truth. Dialogue, especially funny dialogue, is something that Sanderson didn’t have down all that well, at least to my taste. But Wayne – who is definitely the heart of all that’s fun in this book – bantered his way merrily through the entire book. He cleverly cons people using his allomantic powers and it’s just pure fun to watch.

Speaking of allomantic powers – allomancy leveled up! I was surprised at how many things stuck in my brain from the first Mistborn trilogy, like which metal gave you which power and so on. Now there’s a complete new set of rules to learn, but unlike Kelsier’s lessons to Vin, there are no chapters dedicated to explaining allomancy and feruchemy, or how they can be combined. It’s all kind of clear from context, at least the abilities of the protagonists and the villain. I especially love that there is now a power that can manipulate time. This opens so many doors to cool places I can’t wait to continue reading this series.

The writing was Sanderson lite. At less than 400 pages, this is a short book, but it is right just the way it is. The lower page count doesn’t give Sanderson enough time to dive into his new world endlessly but gives us just a big enough taste to keep us wanting more. The plot happens quickly but doesn’t feel rushed, the characters get enough time for development to make them sympathetic but there’s room for more. And there was even enough time for a few surprises about which I can say nothing because spoilers in Sanderson books are really, really huge things.

All things considered, this was a Hollywood movie in book form with guns and action, witty banter, great new superpowers and a well-known setting in new clothing. I am hooked!

MY RATING: 7,5/10 – Very good!

About the Graphic Audio version:

Graphic Audio did a perfect job of keeping the Mistborn universe alive. They use the Mistborn theme to set the tone, the narrator is the same one who told us Vin’s story, but the character actors are (mostly) new. Of course, certain actors from the first trilogy play new characters here, but they changed their voices and accents in such a way that I didn’t find it distracting at all. When allomancy is used, the same tingling sound effect is used that I heard so many times when Vin was learning how to push and pull metals. It’s the perfect combination of old and new.

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Top Ten Tuesday – Top Ten Most Anticipated Releases For The Second Half Of The Year

It’s another great topic from The Broke and the Bookish. Their weekly Top Ten Tuesday is something I’d love to participate in all the time but sometimes I find it difficult coming up with 10 books (or any) for their chosen topic. Not this week though. Oh no, I have plenty of books on my wishlist, most of which haven’t come out yet. So here they are, my

Top Ten Most Anticipated Releases for the Second Half of 2016

N. Kobelisk gate. Jemisin – The Obelisk Gate

OH MY GOD GIVE IT TO ME NOW!!! I read The Fifth Season pretty late, just in time to nominated it for a Hugo Award but long past most other book bloggers out there. But this book, man. It has blown me away. Everything about it is perfect. There are twists, there are the most amazing characters and the coolest, most original world-building I’ve encountered in a long, long time. Actually, I can’t think of anything quite as refreshing that didn’t also come from Jemisin’s brain. Give me the sequel already, I can’t wait to find out what happens next to these beloved characters.

Publication date: August 2016


Sarah Porter – Vassa in the Nightvassa in the night

An author I’ve never heard of before so not something I’d naturally freak out about. But a book description that starts with “In the enchanted kingdom of Brooklyn…” and then promises magic and Baba Yaga (Babs Yagg) is just begging to sit on my shelf. I love retellings and I love Russian fairy tales. So give me Vasilisa, give me Baba Yaga, and let’s not forget that beautiful cover which is partly responsible for my excitement.

Publication date: September 2016


Becky Chaclosed and common orbitmbers – A Closed and Commom Orbit

Another sequel, one to the amazing, make-you-warm-and-fuzzy-inside The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. It introduced the crew of the Wayfarer, a super cool space ship with even cooler people living on it. I’m pretty much okay with whatever Becky Chambers has in store for Lovey and Pepper, who I’ve come to love in the first book and who will be the protagonists in this new story. Chambers writes with heart and great care for her characters and I can’t wait to wrap this book around my brain like a cozy blanket on a cold day.

Publication date: October 2016


Scott Lynch – The Thorn of Emberlainthorn of emberlain

A new Locke Lamora!!!! It was a long wait between the second and third book in this amazeballs series and while The Republic of Thieves disappointed in the romance department, it was full of witty banter, clever cons, and a few twists that turned my world upside down. I desperately want to know more about the things uncovered in the last book and I always want more Locke Lamora.

Publication date: September 2016


last days of new parisChina Miéville – The Last Days of New Paris

A new China Miéville book is always reason for excitement. I’m really bad at catching up on his backlist because his books are just so damn big. But I have yet to read anything bad by Miéville so I’m going to get this book as soon as it’s out. I mean, Paris in 1941, Surrealist fighters, streets that are “stalked by living images and texts” – how could I resist? This sounds like dream and nightmare fuel alike and since it’s written by China Miéville I think I’m in for a treat again.

Publication date: August 2016


Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples – Saga Volume 6saga volume 6

Saga has been continuously excellent with the last collected volume one of the stand-out great ones. I pre-order these things as soon as they’re listed on Amazon and then forget about them until they show up surprisingly in the mail. But that doesn’t mean I don’t look forward to every new instalment in my favorite comic book series. What started as an interplanetary Romeo and Juliet has grown so much bigger, with a cast that I absolutely love, heroes and villains alike, and a world that offers so much more room for exploration. I also appreciate that the dream team Vaughan and Staples have stuck together to work on this. Let’s never stop, okay?

Publication date: July 2016 (so soon, yay!)


accident of starsFoz Meadows – An Accident of Stars

I have loved Foz Meadows’ non-fiction writing for a while so, naturally, I’m curious to see her fiction. With a cover like that – what are these people riding and where can I get one for myself? – and a portal fantasy description, I am giddy with excitement. Add to that four women protagonists, and I don’t even mind the otherwise fairly standard-sounding plot of world-saving. For some reason, I don’t think Meadows will go the tropey route of girl saves world so I want to book just to find out how she’ll subvert the tropes and stereotypes of the genre.

Publication date: August 2016


Angela Slatter – A Feast of Sorrowsfeast of sorrows

A new thing by Angela Slatter!!! *heavy breathing* If you missed it, Angela Slatter is my newest author crush. I shall devour all that she writes forever and ever. This is a collection of short fiction, so there will probably be some tales I’ve read already. But it also includes two brand-new novellas so I cannot miss it. Plus, Slatter got another great cover that immediately makes you think Snow White… a very dark version of Snow White. Which is just how I like it.

Publication date: October 2016


nevernight1Jay Kristoff – Nevernight

I’m on the fence. I had mixed feelings about Jay Kristoff’s debut novel, but I’ve been super excited about the acclaimed Illuminae (which he co-wrote with Amie Kauffman). Now this new book sounds amazing and has a wonderful cover to boot. There are so many buzzwords in the description: a “city built from the bones of a dead god“, “a land where three suns almost never set“, assassin schools, a protagonist who has to beat her opponents in “contests of steel, poison and the subtle arts“… aaaargh okay I give up, I want this book!

Publication date: August 2016


sex criminals volume threeMatt Fraction, Chip Zdarsky – Sex Criminals Volume 3

Another comic book series that I just pre-order without even reading the description anymore. The first volume was just wonderful in its depiction of a relationship between two extraordinary humans who thought they were all alone in the world. And then Matt Fraction started really playing around in this world he’s created. There are many more secrets to discover, the characters still have a lot of growth in them and there is always room for more humor (glowing genitalia aside).

Publication date: June 2016 (next week!)


So these are my most anticipated releases for the second half of 2016, although I’m sure there are more to come. What books are you looking forward to?

Matt Wallace – Pride’s Spell

Trust Sin du Jour to get me out of a reading slump. What with so many great and long-expected books coming out recently (the last Fairyland book, the last Raven Cycle book, tons of fantastic new stuff…) I had a bit of an overload or books and didn’t feel in the mood for anything. Except Matt Wallace’s novella, the third in his series about a catering service for the supernatural.

prides spell

PRIDE’S SPELL
by Matt Wallace

Published by: Tor.com, 21st June 2016
Ebook: 240 pages
Series: Sin du Jour #3
My rating: 7/10

First sentence: The lights burn brighter than any layperson can imagine, but Bronko is used to sweating in kitchens far hotter than this studio.

The team at Sin du Jour—New York’s exclusive caterers-to-the-damned—find themselves up against their toughest challenge, yet when they’re lured out west to prepare a feast in the most forbidding place in America: Hollywood, where false gods rule supreme.
Meanwhile, back at home, Ritter is attacked at home by the strangest hit-squad the world has ever seen, and the team must pull out all the stops if they’re to prevent themselves from being offered up as the main course in a feast they normally provide
Starring: The Prince of Lies, Lena Tarr, Darren Vargas. With Byron Luck. Introducing: the Easter Bunny.

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We all know something sinister is going on in Hollywood, right? I mean, why do the most vapid movies get three sequels when the best TV shows are cancelled after only one season (Firefly, I will never forget you!)? Matt Wallace knows what’s up in his latest Sin du Jour story which takes the crew to Los Angeles for a big catering event with surprisingly ordinary food. Well… ordinary by Hollywood standards, I suppose. There’s a vegan option for everything, the food has to correspond with all the famous people’s particular diets and whatnot, but there are no supernatural ingredients this time, so you’d think Ritter and his people would catch a break.

Except Ritter and the others who remained back home are all visited by, let’s call them interesting guests. It won’t spoil the fun when I tell you that the Easter Bunny and Santa Clause are not like you expect them to be. They offer a few very action-packed, hilarious chapters in which Ritter and Co. show just how awesome they are in the face of danger – even if that danger is so crazy you don’t know whether to laugh or grab a sword first. Hollywood, apart from all the insanity you’d expect anyway, also has some surprises in store for our kitchen heroes.

It’s a movie poster.
The title is Authority over Unclean Spirits and the one-sheet is dominated by an image of a very pretty actor the makeup department has tried very hard to make unpretty (which seemes ludicrous to Lena, among others, considering how many talented ugly people there already are in the world) kneeling in the mud in front of barbed wire, looking to the sky.

So while Bronko, Lena, and a handful of others are trying to survive Hollywood Hell (literally) and Ritter and his team fight off all sorts of creatures gone mad, there is actually quite a bit of character development going on. Lena is still a skeptic, despite having witnessed angels, goblins and horny lizard monsters. Her relationship with Darren has been strained ever since Lena started sort-of-dating-but-mostly-just-sleeping-with the sous chef Dorsky. He knows this relationship isn’t good, Lena knows it’s not good, we readers know it’s not good, at least not in the long run. But why not let Lena have some fun?  Matt Wallace doesn’t judge what his characters do, he simply offers up a situation and, through his characters, different perspectives on the situation. I like Lena, I like how she handles things, I totally get why she hooked up with Dorsky in the last book (it was a very heated moment, after all), and I also understand why Darren doesn’t like it. Considering the ethics of sleeping with a sort of superior from your work place already makes this a bad match, but then there are the vibes going on between Lena and Ritter. It’s a lot of fun to read about.

With the crew split apart between cities and the plots happening pretty much seperately from each other, the book doesn’t feel quite as fluid as the first two did. The back story for the Hollywood plot was a little neglected because I guess then the novella would have grown into a novel. With all the characters already introduced, Matt Wallace still had a lot of work showing the readers new settings and the scary dream world that is Bronko’s mind. He did a great job, although the story drifted more into horror territory than humor this time. I still can’t get enough of Sin du Jour and although I hope the next volume will be more focused (maybe not having all characters in each volume), I enjoyed reading this a lot.

MY RATING: 7/10 – Very good

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Books in the Queue – The Summer Reading List

The struggle is real, guys. I don’t know what to read because there are TOO MANY GREAT BOOKS! I have a total book overload and whatever I start reading doesn’t do it for me because I know there are fifty other great books I also want to be reading right now. But I’m tackling this ridiculous first world problem head on and making a list. These are some (!) of the books I wish I could eat up at this very moment, but being semi-reasonable at times, I know that it will take me a while to catch up on all of these. I also know that I don’t ever stick to strict reading plans, so I won’t plan my reading order. I hope that I can get through all of these during the summer – that includes June, July, and August – and you’ll see some reviews of these soon-ish.

My Summer Reading List

Catching up on sequels

  • Catherynne M. Valente – The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All the Way Home
  • Maggie Stiefvater – The Raven King

I’m currently reading both of these, so you can definitely expect reviews within the next weeks. Spoiler alert: I’m loving both books, so be prepared for some squeeing.

Shiny and chrome new stuff

  • Mishell Baker – Borderline
  • Kat Howard – Roses & Rot
  • Angela Slatter – Vigil

I got a review copy of Angela Slatter’s first novel. You know what this means! I will crawl into my bed, start this book and won’t come out until I’m done. Maybe some music is allowed in there with me but that’s it. Food and human company are overrated anyway, especially when there’s an Angela Slatter novel involved.

Both Borderline and Roses and Rot have picked up some rave reviews and while Kat Howard’s novel sounds just up my alley, I don’t know whether Mishell Baker’s book will be my thing at all. But they both sound fantastic and throw around so many buzzwords that I can’t wait to start them.

Books for reading challenges

  • Nicole Kornher-Stace – Archivist Wasp
  • C.S.E. Cooney – Bone Swans
  • Helen Oyeyemi – What is Not Yours is Not Yours
  • N. A. Sulway – Rupetta

Ah, reading challenges. A blessing and a curse. I do love them dearly but I am – again – falling behind on some of them. Summer holidays are the perfect time to catch up, so wish me luck.

…and all the rest

  • Jordanna Max Brodsky – The Immortals
  • Dexter Palmer – Version Control
  • Kelly Lee – A Criminal Magic
  • Hermione Eyre – Viper Wine
  • Amie Kaufman, Jay Kristoff – Illuminae
  • Silvia Moreno-Garcia – Signal to Noise
  • April Genevieve Tucholke – Wink Poppy Midnight

These are just a few books that keep staring at me with puppy dog eyes, begging to be read soon. They each have something that completely drew me in, whether it’s Prohibitian Era magic, Greek gods, unreliable narrators, time machines, music, crazy literary romps, or complicated relationships – I could pick up any of these right now and be happy (if it weren’t for the other books looking resentful at me. Yes, books really can look resentful, you just have to leave them on your TBR pile too long and they start hating you. I’m serious!)

Other than that, I still have some Hugo Awards reading to do. I have read Uprooted and The Fifth Season, which will definitely be my first two choices. Unless of course one of the other books is so overwhelmingly amazing that it overtakes them, but I very much doubt that. Still, I look forward to Jim Butcher’s book and I’m curious if Seveneves will be the first Neal Stephenson book I finish. So it’s going to be a long summer filled with lots of books. The way my luck goes, by the time I’ve finished all of these, some of the sequels I’m waiting for will have been published and I can start the whole thing over. If too many books is my biggest worry, however, I consider myself a very happy girl indeed.

V. E. Schwab – A Gathering of Shadows

If you ever want a prime example of middle-book syndrome, this is it. V. E. Schwab has created a wonderful world in A Darker Shade of Magic, one that deserves to be explored in more depth, and with characters that I couldn’t get enough of. So my hopes were high for this second volume to get more world-building, more character development, more magic. And… I guess all of these things are there, it’s just that there’s no actual story surrounding them.

A Gathering of Shadows Final

A GATHERING OF SHADOWS
by V. E. Schwab

Published by: Tor, 2016
Hardcover:
Series: A Darker Shade of Magic #2
My rating: 6/10

First sentence: Delilah Bard had a way of finding trouble.

It has been four months since a mysterious obsidian stone fell into Kell’s possession. Four months since his path crossed with Delilah Bard. Four months since Prince Rhy was wounded, and since the nefarious Dane twins of White London fell, and four months since the stone was cast with Holland’s dying body through the rift – back into Black London.
Now, restless after having given up his smuggling habit, Kell is visited by dreams of ominous magical events, waking only to think of Lila, who disappeared from the docks as she always meant to do. As Red London finalizes preparations for the Element Games – an extravagant international competition of magic meant to entertain and keep healthy the ties between neighboring countries – a certain pirate ship draws closer, carrying old friends back into port.
And while Red London is caught up in the pageantry and thrills of the Games, another London is coming back to life. After all, a shadow that was gone in the night will reappear in the morning. But the balance of magic is ever perilous, and for one city to flourish, another London must fall.

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Lila did it! She’s on her way to become a pirate on Captain Alucard’s ship and she is exactly as Lila-like as I remembered her. I’ve been waiting a year for a reunion with these wonderful characters and, let me tell you, Lila’s entrance is bombastic. A Gathering of Shadows starts out strong, at the same time showing us what our favorite thief has been up to as well as introducing new characters and a bit more of Kell’s world. Sadly, this is where it goes downhill.

The blurb and the beginning of the book promise a big magical event – think Triwizard Tournament of Red London, with lots of competitors and magic used like in The Last Airbender. I was super excited to read about this, especially when it becomes clear that both our heroes snuck into the tournament as competitors. However, this event does not happen until well into the second half of the book. The same goes for a reunion between Kell and Lila. I understand that building tension is a good thing, but believe me, hundreds of pages of dangling that glorious moment in front of my face, when I know it’s going to happen eventually, is really annoying.

Instead of giving us the same fast-paced exciting funride she did in A Darker Shade of Magic, V.E. Schwab lets her plot meander. This is the mother of all middle books. It takes ages to get going, clearly sets up a new threat but doesn’t progress it until the last chapter, it gives us a handful of great character moments and some battle scenes that were way too short for my taste. Add to that the cliffhanger at the end and you have a book that should not exist the way it does.

All of the actual plot could have easily been told in flashbacks while the overarcing story continues. If you edit this book down to only the necessary bits – and I’m including character development and world building scenes here as well – it would have been maybe 150 pages long. The rest is frilly decoration, keeping back story for… I don’t know why actually. But if you remember the thrilling joy A Darker Shade of Magic gave you, this book is almost a slap to the face.

But. I can’t say anything bad about the characters. I just love Lila and her frankly insane ideas. Her disregard for her own safety baffles me but it makes her an exciting person to follow. And she does grow in this book, not only because she discovers her own magical abilities and just how far they go, but also on a personal level. It was always Lila against the world but now there are people she cares about. Possibly even better than her is the introduction of Captain Alucard. What a character! I adored him from the first moment he entered the book, but I completely fell in love with him when we find out that there might be romance in his future. Please, please, let there be romance in his future and let it be the one I’m hoping for (no spoilers, so you just have to trust me here, it’s a good one).

As much as Lila gets to grow, this isn’t a good book for Kell. Of course the aftermath of the first book doesn’t make life easy for him. But Kell used to have a spark, he used to be a smuggler. An honorable smuggler, sure, but he lived dangerously and he was a multi-layered character. Now, not so much. The tensions in the royal family disappear, mostly because the king and queen make it clear to both Kell and Rhy who is important to them and who they consider a son. It’s heartbreaking, really, even though the thought was always there, in the back of Kell’s mind. But apart from the Elemant Games and the heart-stopping last chapters, nothing much of consequence happens to Kell.

All of this leaves me rather disappointed. I’m sure the third book will be better, because it had an entire novel building up steam for it. And the second half of A Gathering of Shadows was fun to read. The magic battles, the scenes when characters finally see each other again after a long time, the ending when many useless chapters of impeding threat come to a conclusion… it’s all good. The dialogue is snappy, I adore the new character, and I just love the world Schwab has created. But the reason I still kind of liked this book is mostly based on my love for its predecessor. A Gathering of Shadows is not a very good book, not even a very good second part of a trilogy. It doesn’t progress the plot, it meanders constantly, lingering on useless moments, holding out on the readers for just a little too long, and it ends with a cliffhanger, which I simply think is cheap but which was also obvious as, unlike in the first book,  there is no real plot arc for this book to stand alone.

I’m convinced the next book will be better even though I’m worried that Schwab has to cram all the plot she didn’t give us now into one book. There’s also a lot of character work still to be done as we only got teaser moments so far. But with such refreshing characters, even when they wait around an entire book for the plot to pick up again, I can’t really hate the book. Yes, I am sad that it wasn’t what I’d hoped for, but at the same time I got to see Lila and Kell and Rhy again, and that’s worth a lot of brownie points.

MY RATING: 6/10 – Good-ish

Top Ten Tuesday – Ten Books I Feel Differently About After Time Has Passed

This week’s topic of Top Ten Tuesday (hosted by The Broke and the Bookish) is just up my alley. There are many books that I like while reading them, but then, a few months later, when I think about them, I have very different feelings about them. The same thing happens in reverse. Certain books don’t seem like much when I read them, but they grow in esteem, they get stuck in my mind, I think about them long after reading them. Because this has definitely happened to me, I picked some examples of both changed-for-the-better and changed-for-the-worse books. I only came up with seven examples, though.

Seven Books I Feel Differently About After Time Has Passed

old man's war1. John Scalzi – Old Man’s War

Here’s a book that was a lot of fun while it lasted. However, not even long after finishing, I couldn’t remember the characters’ names or, indeed, many plot points. The fact that so very, very little of the plot or characters stuck with me makes me like the book less in retrospect. I now think of it as fluffy, forgettable science fiction. Nonetheless, I do know that reading it was enjoyable.

2. Mira Grant – Feedfeed

Similar (but not quite) to the Scalzi book, I enjoyed some of this zombie novel. It was incredibly slow to start, most of the plot points were sorely predictable, but the second half of the book was written really well, so I kept turning the pages. Now that some time has passed, all that book makes me think of is that it has one original idea – and a beautifully clever title – but otherwise lacks any depth.

3. Ellen Kushner – Swordspointswordspoint

I really have to re-read this book, especially with the Serial Box stories that were recently published. Swordspoint is the opposite example of the two books above. I read it in English when I was still rather shaky on my feet concerning the language, and that is an injustice to this book. Kushner’s language is beautiful and demands to be savored, something I just wasn’t able to at the time. But whenever I think back on the book, certain scenes stand out so clearly in my mind and make me want to go back to the world of Riverside. This book definitely grew on me over time and I intend to re-read it soon.

4. Alaya Dawn Johnson – The Summer Princesummer prince

I gave this book a pretty good rating right after I read it. But this is the prime example of books that’s don’t want to let go. I still think about the themes of the story, see the pyramid city of Palmares Tres in my mind, and happily remember the joy this book brought me. It was a good book when I read it, but I believe I did have some criticism. Now, all negative aspects have been forgotten (which doesn’t mean they aren’t there, just that my brain decided to filter them out) and all that remains in my mind is a perfect gem of a novel.

5. Naomi Novik – His Majesty’s Dragonhis majestys dragon

I don’t know what happened, but I didn’t like the first two Temeraire books very much. After having read – and ADORED – Uprooted, I’m starting to think it may have been my mood at the time. The parts of the book I can remember all sound good in my mind and I really don’t know what my problem was when I first read it, so I am making plans to re-read the two Temeraire books I have already read and then give the rest of the series a try as well. So here’s a book I didn’t like much when I read it but which I now think I should have loved.

6. Miyuki Miyabe – Ico: Castle in the Mistico1

I had a lot of problems with this book and I still remember them vividly. But, now that ploughing through the boring parts is in the past, I have to appreciate the author’s original ideas all the more. Thinking back, I just leave out the boring bits, and instead only remember the good parts, which makes me like this book a whole lot more than I did while I was actually reading it.

7. Juliet Marillier – Daughter of the Forestdaughter of the forest1

Due to the hype surrounding this book – at least in the places I go to for reviews and recommendations – I may have expected more than there is to it. So there was some disappointment when I finally read the book and it wasn’t what I expected. But over time, I have come to think of this story more fondly. Yes, it was a quiet book, but there are so many layers to it – and it is exactly these layers that keep coming up when I think about books I loved.


That’s it from me. What are some books that you changed your mind about long after reading them?

Stephen King – Wolves of the Calla

A nice little thing on Goodreads is that, when you mark a book as “currently reading”, then change your mood and put it back as “to read”, Goodreads remembers when you started reading and even where you stopped. This function showed me just how long it took me to finish this fifth Dark Tower book, or at least how long I put it aside before finally making it through. It’s almost three years, in case you’re curious…

wolves of the calla

WOLVES OF THE CALLA
by Stephen King

Published by: Hodder, 2003
Paperback: 771 pages
Series: The Dark Tower #5
My rating: 6/10

First sentence: Tian was blessed (though few farmers would have used such a word) with three patches: River Field, where his family had grown rice since time out of mind; Roadside Field, where kaJaffords had grown sharproot, pumpkin, and corn for those same long years and generations; and Son of a Bitch, a thankless tract which mostly grew rocks, blisters, and busted hopes.

Roland Deschain and his ka-tet are bearing south-east through the forests of Mid-World on their quest for the Dark Tower. Their path takes them to the outskirts of Calla Bryn Sturgis. But beyond the tranquil farm town, the ground rises to the hulking darkness of Thunderclap, the source of a terrible affliction that is stealing the town’s soul. The wolves of Thunderclap and their unspeakable depredation are coming. To resist them is to risk all, but these are odds the gunslingers are used to. Their guns, however, will not be enough…

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So Roland and his ka-tet are on their quest to find and save the Dark Tower. In this fifth book of the series, they arrive at a place called Calla Bryn Sturgis whose population is visited by the Wolves of Thunderclap every once in a while. These wolves always do the same thing. They take their children and give them back roont (ruined) – they come back strangely tall and bulky, with their minds not fully intact. They’re never the same and they die very early. Now Roland could just walk on, continue without bothering with these people’s problems, but that’s just not like him. Plus, it all comes together and it all has to do with the Tower. So the ka-tet stays and decides to fight the Wolves.

I loved this idea so very much that I expected to rush through this book the way I did through the previous three (I’m one of those who don’t much like The Gunslinger). Alas, in the Calla, they meet a man named Callahan who relates his entire tale to them. And this tale takes SO. DAMN. LONG. and is so incredibly boring at times, that it was the reason I put the book away for years. What happens in the Calla, in the present, with Roland trying to win people’s allegiance, Susannah dealing with her own demons, Jake learning to understand betrayal from both sides – this was all fantastic and, just as you’d expect from Stephen King, written really well. Sure, things take a long time to happen but I like the way King builds up tension, creates his characters and settings and then brings us the big show-down.

Now Callahan’s story is important to the plot and I don’t have any useful criticism of it other than it bored me out of my mind. I was so glad when it was over. Suddenly, the pages flew by again, I couldn’t put the book down and I feared again for these characters that have become beloved friends to me.

One of the more intriguing things in this novel is the way technology weaves into the world. While Shardik was a relic of times long gone, here we are introduced to Andy, essentially a still-functioning robot who lives in the Calla. Although I know that technology was once present in this world, it still felt weird to have a robot play with the children of the Calla. There is also a fair bit of character development, not just in Roland but his entire ka-tet. Every one of the protagonists feels like a real person and seeing how they’ve changed from what they once were into… well, gunslingers, was just a joy to read. Seeing them work together as a team, communicate in glances and gestures as much as in words, it makes me dread the next two books all the more because I get the feeling King is going to kill off at least one main character. Just a gut feeling – I hope I’m wrong.

The idea of the stones and travelling doors is continued in Wolves of the Calla and again, doesn’t seem to fit into Roland’s world but somehow seamlessly works. King is mixing all sorts of sub-genres together and somehow makes it internally consistent. Time travel, westerns, science-fiction and epic fantasy all combine to create this wonderful thing. There were no great twists or surprises in the story surrounding the Wolves but there was one serious WTF moment at the end that makes me question the entire universe Stephen King has created in his Dark Tower series. I can’t possibly say more than that without spoilers but I re-read that passage to make sure I understood it right.

All things considered, this was my least favorite Dark Tower book because I feel Callahan’s story could have been shortened a great deal. The main plot, dealing with the Wolves, although atmospheric and an opportunity for King to show off his world-building skills, was fairly straight-forward and went as expected (by me). But there’s no denying that Stephen King is a great writer who knows what he’s doing and the language he created, especially the way the Calla folk talk, was entertaining enough. So not great, but good. On to Song of Susannah which promises an event that makes me cringe already…

MY RATING: 6/10 – Good

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The Dark Tower Series:

  1. The Gunslinger
  2. The Drawing of the Three
  3. The Waste Lands
  4. Wizard and Glass
  5. Wolves of the Calla
  6. Song of Susannah
  7. The Dark Tower
  8. The Wind Through the Keyhole