Sunshine, by Robin McKinley

Sunshine’s in trouble. Big trouble. I mean, she’s chained to a wall in an abandoned house, food for the vampire in the room. Except, wait. He’s chained to the wall, too…

Years back, the Voodoo Wars happened: The Others (vampires, Weres, etc) rose up against the humans. Humanity won, mostly, and now there’s an uneasy peace, but there’s always a fear that the violence might start up again.

Rae Seddon (Sunshine to her friends) is a coffeehouse baker, and she likes her life. She likes her friends, her apartment, her job, her family (well, mostly); but one night she just wants some peace. So she heads out to the old cabin her grandmother owned, out at the lake. It wasn’t as dumb an idea as it sounds: after all, she’d gone there a lot as a kid, and since the Wars things had been pretty quiet there. But something went horribly wrong, and now she’s wearing a ridiculous dress and chained to a wall, waiting to become the vampire’s next meal.

Except he has no interest in food. He’s a prisoner, too, and refuses to give their captors the satisfaction, and he and Sunshine manage to escape. In daylight.

A vampire. In daylight. And it’s all Sunshine’s doing…

Anyway, after they get back to civilization, they part ways and never expect to see each other again. All she wants is to go back to her old life and pretend the whole chained-to-a-wall thing was just a bad dream. But their captors know something happened, something beyond a simple escape, and they want to know precisely what they missed. And now Sunshine’s a target, and it’s going to take everything she has to get out of this alive.

I love this book. It’s kinda dark and moody and the world is fascinating. Sunshine is a great heroine–reluctant but determined. It’s a vampire book without really being about the vampires. It’s the story of a young woman who gets stuck in a terrible situation, doing her best to get out of it, who just wants life to go back to normal. Be warned, though: it’s not a YA and in a few places it’s darker than most other vampire books out there.

McKinley’s long been a favorite author of mine, for her ordinary heroes who don’t really want to be heroes, but do it anyway because someone has to; for her female protagonists who are resilient and capable and have agency; for the atmosphere and history and realism of the world-building. Her ability to write books where you know the world existed before the story began, and will continue after the story ends, is absolutely incredible. I really hope you give this book, and all the rest of her work, a try.

Favorite Line:

I wondered what you’d have on the side with a plate of Deep Fried Anxiety. Pickles? Coleslaw? Potato-strychnine mash?

Don’t read if: you dislike baked goods, table knives, ugly vampires, mysterious landladies, or wounds that won’t stop bleeding.

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Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman

No good deed goes unpunished, as poor Richard is about to find out…

Richard Mayhew is just a guy–a normal, ordinary, run-of-the-mill guy with really nothing very special about him. Nothing, that is, except one thing: he helps a girl he spots broken and bleeding on the street. But he doesn’t really think anything of it; why would he? He just did what any decent, ordinary person would do. Right? Right?

Yeah, no. The next day his whole world falls apart. The house agents are showing his apartment to prospective tenants, his fiance can barely remember him, his coworkers have no idea who he is. Bewildered and upset, he tracks back to the last person he knows for sure saw him: the injured girl, named Door. As it turns out, his invisibility’s a side effect of sorts, one he picked up by helping her in the first place: she comes from London Below, the other London, the one that fell through the cracks, that people forgot about. And by helping one of its denizens, he’s become all but invisible, too.

Door tells him that he can be returned to London Above, but first she’s got more pressing problems: someone’s after her, and whoever they are, they’re dangerous. They’ve already taken out her family; she’s the only one left. She’s heading out with a couple of allies to find an angel, the Angel; since the Angel is the guardian of all of London Below, if anyone would have some insight as to who would want her dead (and why), it’s him. Richard, still a bit befuddled and a lot upset over his whole situation, tags along, seeing as how he literally has nothing to go back to.

I know I say this all the time, but I really do love this book. The contrast between a completely ordinary schmo like Richard and the bizarre, funhouse-mirror world of London below is wonderful and eerie in equal measure. It’s clever and brilliant and very, very different from anything you may have read before.

Will Door find out who killed her family? Can Richard get his old life back? Just how scary is Knightsbridge, anyway? Pick up a copy of Neverwhere, and join them as they journey through a London made not of concrete or steel, but rather of darkness and dreams.

Favorite Line:

Mind the Gap.

Don’t read if: you don’t like anthropomorphic personification, being underground, riding the Underground, or London in general.

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.

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.