Laura Bickle, Embers. I like the arson investigation bits. What I didn't like was the pandering. Oh good lord the pandering. "Now here is the scene where Our Heroine goes dress shopping! Now here is the obligatory Snooty Old Lady Clerk treating her badly!" It was this bizarre mix of paint-by-numbers sub-genre stuff and fun arson investigator stuff. Sadly, my tolerance for this particular sub-genre (straddling the line of urban fantasy and paranormal romance) is inversely proportional to the amount it feels to me like it's hitting sub-genre tickyboxes over and over again, so I probably won't be picking up the sequel, but if you have higher tolerance for paranormal romance sub-genre conventions, by all means dive in for the arson investigation.
Amanda Downum (stillsostrange), The Bone Palace. Sequel to The Drowning City. Okay, so Amanda is my friend, but--I still didn't feel like The Bone Palace did the kind of sub-genre tickyboxing that Embers did. Different sub-genre, of course, but--still, there is palace intrigue, and there is an underground court beneath the city, and there is plague as there should be more plague in fantasy. And not only is it smoothly written and fun, it is itself; the stuff that is in this book is in this book and not in Books Of Its Kind. When people make mistakes, they make the whole-hearted mistakes that are in their characters to make, and even when you wince and read them through your fingers, they're their mistakes and not obligatory ones. And also there is a very stubborn young girl, and I am a sucker for those. I would still read The Drowning City first, but luckily for you that is an option quite available to you; and in any case, this is not "that story part two," it is its own story. I just think Isyllt and her world are more effective here for having met them before. More spear for the spearpoint, as it were.
David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer, ed.s, Year's Best SF 15. I don't feel comfortable reviewing anthologies I'm in, for whatever reason, so I will merely note that I read this one and there are some good stories in it, and whether mine is one of them is an opinion I will leave up to you if you're interested in forming that opinion.
David Liss, The Coffee Trader. A financial historical novel of Amsterdam and a Jewish stock-trading family therein, when the coffee trade was not yet really started. Soooo much double-crossing, oh my goodness. David Liss and his double-crossing, uff da. I love all the double-crossing. This is a novel of the exotic and the new reaching a city of diverse peoples, and the systems they attempt to rig up to deal with it--if you're always looking for "what isn't science fiction but might appeal to science fiction readers," this should make the list for sure.
Steven Ozment, Ancestors: The Loving Family in Old Europe. This should have been subtitled Why Lots of Historians Who Aren't Me Are Stupid And Wrong, By Steven Ozment. I mean, he was nice about them being stupid and wrong. But really: stupid and wrong. This attacks lots of the people who were sure that the family in pre-modern and early modern Europe was a cesspit of agony and despair, in which nobody really cared about anybody else and oppressing your wife was only a stopgap measure until the two of you had some children you could both really sink your teeth into oppressing. This is, of course, a caricature of his carefully measured position in the field. But seriously, he points out lots of ways in which women and children in pre-modern and early modern Europe did a lot of vital, interesting work, and how it's fairly easy for that to get lost if you take the "litany of gloom and despair" approach to the pre-modern/early modern family.
Salman Rushdie, Luka and the Fire of Life. Sequel to Haroun and the Sea of Stories. I fell in love with Haroun--it reminded me of The Phantom Tollbooth, and so I was not sure Luka would live up to it. And in fact it did not, quite, so my theory of Luka is as follows: if you loved Haroun, read Luka but understand it won't be quite up to its predecessor; if you did not so much care for Haroun, skip it; if you haven't read Haroun, go read it instead. This goes for if you've read other Rushdie and didn't much like it: this is an utterly different kind of thing than most of what he does.