Soulless, by Gail Carriger

Alexia Tarabotti has a bit of a problem: she’s just killed a vampire. And that, gentle reader, just isn’t proper.

In alternate-reality Victorian Britain, vampires, werewolves, and ghosts are all part of life: socially accepted and included. Alexia, not so much. Despite her best efforts, society is not as welcoming of her as one would wish; her father, after all, was Italian. She’s also soulless, but that’s an entirely different thing.

Ah, yes. Soulless. Her lack of a soul means (among other things) that not only is she impervious to other supernaturals, but her touch renders them mortal for the full duration of the contact. Most of the supernatural community is aware of her and her abilities, so they usually give her a wide berth.

Which is why she’s so shocked that a vampire would attack her at a private ball. All vampires are born (so to speak) into hives where they are educated on the proper behavior befitting their station. Yet this one clearly had no idea about manners or deportment. And he’s not the only problem: other equally ill-mannered vampires are appearing all over London, while other, more prominent ones are disappearing. And Alexia is looking more and more like the most likely suspect. Enter Lord Conall Maccon, trained investigator and alpha of the most powerful werewolf pack in Britain.

As Alexia clashes with the Queen’s investigator, sinister figures close in. Can she and her unlikely ally restore proper order before it’s too late?

This book is a steampunk novel, but not of the usual type: despite the existence of mechanized transport, airships, and the like, it’s also very light and fluffy. It’s not dark or gritty, but rather almost a comedy of manners wrapped up in an alt-universe mystery story. It’s breezy and fun, and Alexia is formidable, bound by strict propriety and possessed of a formidable will. If you’re looking for something lighthearted and engaging and maybe even just a little silly, give Soulless a try.

Favorite Line:

No one ever explained about the octopuses.

Don’t read if: you disdain treacle tart, parasols, good manners, foppish vampires, or absurd hats.

Libriomancer, by Jim C Hines

Libriomancy: a book-lover’s dream come true. Also: greatest superpower ever.

Isaac Vainio is a Libriomancer. What’s a libriomancer? I’m so very glad you asked. Libriomancers are people with the ability to reach into a book–any book–and pull objects from it. Reading The Once and Future King? Grab Excalibur! Reading The Iliad? Have a golden apple! Reading The Lord of the Rings? Have a…oh, wait, no. Not that one.

Because there are rules, you see. Certain books are locked, because they contain items far too dangerous to ever allow into the human world. Other rules: you have to put it back (Yes, I know you like it. You still can’t keep it.) as soon as possible. It has to be able to fit through the dimensions of the pages of the book you’re pulling it from (so no World Devastators from the Star Wars extended universe. Sorry.) And never, under any circumstances, are you to pull out something living. But back to Isaac.

Isaac is a libriomancer, working as a librarian in rural Michigan cataloguing possible items for libriomancer use found within fantasy and science fiction books. And except for the direst emergencies, Isaac is no longer allowed to use magic.

But then three vampires break into the library, a motorcycle-riding dryad hot on their heels. Isaac knows the dryad in question–her name is Lena, and she’s not someone to mess with. Which is why the two of them team up to find out just why on earth vampires would show up in a tiny town in the U.P. Turns out, there’s a hell of a lot more going on (and going wrong) than a few random undead roaming northern Michigan: other libriomancers are being attacked, and the body count is rising. Can Isaac and Lena figure out who (or what) is behind the attacks before more people (possibly themselves) get killed?

This book, the first in an ongoing series by Hines, is, for all intents and purposes, a love letter to reading and the magic it brings. He fills each page with such deep affection and respect for books of all kinds (especially SF/F) and it spills over into the reading experience itself. So if you like to read, even only a little, you should absolutely, definitely, for sure pick this one up.

Favorite Line:

“Which reminds me. There’s a vampire hand in your freezer’s ice maker.” Seeing my aghast expression, she added, “Don’t worry. I double-bagged it.”

Don’t read if: you take umbrage at fictional things from other words being used in this one, enchanted convertibles, Johannes Gutenberg, or fire-spiders.

Crocodile on the Sandbank, by Elizabeth Peters

A recently-wealthy, opinionated Victorian spinster goes on a Nile cruise with a new friend–what could possibly go wrong?

Amelia Peabody has just come into a great deal of money. As a spinster with no ties holding her down, she decides that it’s time to travel to all the places she’s ever wanted to go: Paris, Rome–and Egypt. While in Rome, she meets another woman, Evelyn Forbes, and the two hit it off–so well, in fact, that Amelia insists that Evelyn travel with her to Egypt as her companion.

Before embarking on a trip up the Nile, they spend a few days in Cairo seeing the sites (the Giza pyramids, the Cairo Museum)–and meeting the Emerson brothers, Radcliffe and Walter. Walter is a good, kind man who swiftly catches Evelyn’s eye.  Radcliffe, on the other hand, is loud, rude, and irritating; and he and Amelia don’t exactly see eye to eye. Not that it matters, because Amelia and Evelyn are off on their cruise.

They stop at Amarna, famous city of the heretic pharaoh Akhenaten, and find a pair of archaeologists working to preserve and restore the site–it’s the Emerson brothers, in fact. Fascinated by the process, the ladies decide to stay awhile and help–but end up getting far more than they ever bargained for.

With suspicious accidents happening left and right, a mummy on the loose, and Evelyn’s past coming back to haunt her, Amelia knows it’s up to her to save the day.

This is a fun one. It’s a lighthearted, thoroughly enjoyable (and informative!) mystery featuring one of the most indomitable heroines I’ve ever encountered. Amelia knows her mind (and speaks it), takes no crap from anyone, and doesn’t back down, no matter what (It doesn’t hurt that the Egyptology is dead-on–Elizabeth Peters earned a PhD in Egyptology before she became a writer, so the history and archaeology are both accurate).

Travel up the Nile with Amelia Peabody, and have a Victorian adventure unlike anything you’ve ever read before.

Favorite Line:

Men are frail creatures, of course; one does not expect them to exhibit the steadfastness of women.

Don’t read if: you have a distaste for boats, Egypt, ambulatory mummies, or tapioca pudding.

Discount Armageddon, by Seanan McGuire

All she ever wanted to do was dance…

Verity Price is a cocktail waitress and aspiring ballroom dancer, hoping to hit the big time in New York City. The only problem is, her other job keeps getting in the way.

Other job? Oh, right. Verity’s a cryptozoologist (from a long line of the same), and her job is to look after the urban cryptid population–help them when they need it, keep an eye out for potential problems, and help them stay off the human radar. But someone else is in New York for the cryptids, too, and he isn’t nearly so helpful.

The Covenant of St. George is a centuries-old organization dedicated to slaughtering anything that wasn’t on the ark with Noah. (Where they got the complete passenger list from is anybody’s guess) It’s been decades since they last purged New York City, and the cryptid population has swelled–so much so that there’s no way Verity could ever protect them all.

What’s more, she can’t let the Covenant find out who she is–her family’s efforts to protect cryptid life has put them on the Covenant’s most wanted list (dead or alive, but most preferably dead).

With cryptid women disappearing from the streets, the Covenant agent haunting the rooftops, and ugly whispers of cults in the sewers, Verity’s got her work cut out for her.

This book, the first in an ongoing series, is loads of fun. (Gunfight in a strip club, people!) Author McGuire takes conventional monster (or “monster”) tropes and spins them into living, breathing, real people who don’t seem too different from you or me–apart from the claws and fur, that is.

(Oh, and I’d be remiss in not mentioning the mice. The hyper-religious, pantheistic mice who turn pretty much everything into sacred writ.)

Can Verity save the day and make it to the tango competition on time? Will the Covenant discover her identity and purge New York? Will the things lurking in the sewers destroy the city in some sort of Discount Armageddon? Read it, and find out.

Favorite Line:

I hate killing people. It’s messy, it’s inconvenient, and while body disposal is surprisingly easy when you know what you’re doing, it’s not a pleasant way to spend an evening.

Don’t read if: you don’t like free running, gingerbread, competitive ballroom dance, or dragons. Or talking mice. Seriously: if you hate talking mice, don’t read this.