1. Blood and Iron: A Novel of the Promethean Age, by Elizabeth Bear (aka the LJer also known as matociquala, whose LJ name I will never, ever be able to spell correctly without cutting and pasting).
I liked Bear's Jenny Casey trilogy, but wasn't sure how I'd feel about this one, given my usual love/hate thing with elves and other fae (hate them in general, but at least half my favorite fantasy novels deal with them, something that says more about the writers than the subject matter, imho). This one only adds to my conflict, as it's not only one of the best novels in terms of exploring that disparate myths behind the fae, but one of the better faerie-oriented novels I've encountered, period. It's not as good as War for the Oaks, but it is much, much more ambitious.
The novel, set against a present-day backdrop in which a group of secret magi have been fighting a hidden war against the Faerie Courts for hundred of years, starts with the discovery of a Merlin (here a title representing a supremely powerful magician who can change the course of the ongoing war -- Arthur's Ambrose was merely one of the line), and the attempts by the Magi and two Faerie Courts to woo her. Things get more complicated, however, as the cold war escalates, allegiances shift, werewolves, King Arthur, Tam Lin, and the courts of Hell get brought into the mix, and hey, even Dracula ends up fitting into the backstory. It's a sort of Grand Unified Mythology (filtered heavily through Celtic lenses) that could easily have resulted in a literary clusterfuck, but Bear pulls it off, telling a story that's engrossing, epic, and (in spite of some announced sequels) complete on its own.
That's not to say I don't have a few problems, especially with the POV situation. Bear mentioned a while back that she should have gone omniscient. I'm not sure I agree (it would be enough of a shift that I won't pretend I can imagine what the book would have been like), but the viewpoints we get -- primarily that of Seeker, the once-human servant of the Daoine Sidhe, with chunks also told through the eyes of the Magi Matthew and the werewolf Keith (who is also Seeker's ex-lover and father of her Faerie-dwelling son, Ian) -- tend to send things awry. For starters, not getting any Unseelie POV makes the three-way attempt to woo the Merlin somewhat less than exciting, even before that plotline fades into the background. But moving away from Seeker's POV would, for me at least, have undercut her as a sympathetic character, as she often takes actions that are, at the least, unsympathetic (certainly not helped by my admittedly anti-elf bias). But there definitely didn't seem to be enough balance amongst the POVs (Keith, in particular, seemed to have a weak voice, existing more because someone had to witness his scenes than because he added something).
There's a ton going through my head revolving around Seeker, and the actions she takes throughout the story, but that's a discussion that can't happen without major spoilers, and that's not what this post is about. Ditto Bear's explanation of the existence of Arthur and the even less "real" Lancelot that in many ways forms the underlying theme here, as the force of past stories and ballads not only helps shape the present day state of things, but also provides the characters with a set of rules to question and attempt to subvert (and the house-of-cards state of any reality so heavily informed by stories and ballads is another discussion in and of itself).
But for all that I'm not overly sympathetic to Seeker as a person*, she's a fascinating character, and her story is definitely what keeps the book moving. Highly recommended.
2. Dead Man on the Moon: An L.C.S.I. Novel, by Steven Harper.
A quick look at the cover shows that the "LCSI" part of the title (no periods on the cover) is what's likely to catch your eye, and the high concept "CSI in space" idea definitely drives this police procedural. Luna City is a university town on the moon, a small city which is only just beginning to experience some violent crimes. We get two murders -- once involving a body dump in vacuum, one that appears to be a drug-related crime. Investigating are two members of the police force and the lone doctor on the moon. I've been a fan of Harper since he was still Steven Piziks, and I certainly enjoyed this novel well enough, but it's hard to call it much more than fluff. There are moments that seem shoehorned in from old storyfiles (included a god-awful humor bit involving an overheard conversation about being a Barry Mannilow fan that's jarringly silly and out of place), and Harper seems to have trouble deciding what tone the novel should take (hard-boiled, romance, etc). For all the romantic subplots, there simply isn't much in the way of good character development. Still, it's enjoyably written (and the lunar society, as well as the procedural elements, are both handled nicely), and reading LCSI a perfectly fun way to pass a few hours. Recommended if you find it cheap/used/at a library.
3. Candyfreak, by Steve Almond.
Okay, I'm late for this bandwagon, and I know it. shadesong got me this for Father's Day, and I adored every single work. Almond's book is partially a memoir of his own various discoveries of candy (and memories of how they tied into important events in his childhood), partially a tour of small candy factories, and partially just his random ruminations of candy, politics, and society. Needless to say, it's damned near a perfect book for me. I mean, it's hard not to like a book that writes this when reminiscing about the Marathon Bar (which I remember fondly):
And then, as if we weren't bamboozled enough, there was the sleek red package, which included a ruler on the back and thereby affirmed the First Rule of Male Adolescence: If you give a teenage boy a candy bar with a ruler on the back of the package, he will measure his dick.
Almond is a witty writer, and he's more than willing to take the self-denigration route, never pretending that his obsession makes him better than anyone else, and fully recognizing that it might, in fact, serve to fill other voids in his emotional life. Although the big guys get mentioned, Almond here focuses on the smaller, more obscure candies (many of which were amongst the top-selling candies at one time), and makes the production process itself out to be something almost magical. This book is a delight, plain and simple. Plus, he recognizes that flaked coconut has no place in candy bars, a sign of taste and intelligence. Highly recommended.
4. Prador Moon, by Neal Asher.
I'm tempted to just say, "dude, it's Neal Asher," which really should be enough. I've been a huge fan of Asher's Polity books for years, and this novel, showing the first contact (and subsequent war) between the AI-guided humans and the Prador, a nasty, bug-like race who feature prominently in The Skinner. This is a much shorter novel than Asher's other works (220 pages, and the type isn't small), but it's a quite nice (and surprisingly complex) bit of backstory for his other works. It does not require any knowledge of Asher's other works, although folks who have read those will have some fun moments on recognizing familiar situations and characters (and, conversely, will be less surprised by the nature of the Prador). Also, this is a novel about interplanetary war -- it's not for the squeamish. It's on the pricey side ($15), but it's still highly recommended for Asher fans, and recommended for sci-fi fans in general.
*Using "person" in a broad enough sense to refer to any character, regardless of their race).