Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Ruins (Partials Sequence, #3)Ruins by Dan Wells
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fairly satisfying end to the series, still focusing on the ethics of the situations more than little things like action, but that's fine because the tension is all right there for us. The reveals really came to a nice head in this one, with serious choices needing to be made, and it really isn't all about the nuke in the background or even in the foreground.

It's about whether either species should continue to live, whether all the species could be considered one, or, as everyone else seems to think, we should all go to hell in mutually-assured destruction.

This *could* be considered an old YA theme, and you'd be right, but this one doesn't pull the punches or shirk from asking the hard questions. It focuses on exactly that and hones away at it.

I like that. At least for me, these questions more than any of the plot or the relationship stuff made the novel something very good. Personal preference. :)

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The Talisman RingThe Talisman Ring by Georgette Heyer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I don't have a shelf for Romance, but I'm thinking perhaps I ought to make one. I'm such a bad boy for ignoring such a huge genre.

Yes. That's right. I just read Romance. I'm challenging myself.

But, to be honest and fair, this is really more of an offshoot of the old Regency Romances and full of the whole comedy of errors that we all know and love. Too good to be true? Rich grandfathers, viciously maligned cousins, onerous duties, mystery, theft, and yes, of course, Marriage.

Marriage is what brings us here today. :)

No, no I certainly cannot, she says, I must have more in my life. I must have ADVENTURE!

Oh goodness. Goodness, goodness, goodness... she has adventure, all right, and in true heavy-handed domino fashion, the most outrageous of fortunes follow her around, and to today's sensibilities, I'm almost over-willing to say that she's TSTL, but no! This is Romance, and it slowly dawns on me that Georgette Heyer is Playing With Us.

I admit, I should have seen it earlier. That this is a comedy and it's light-hearted and most especially, it's very, very aware of itself, the conventions of all Regency Romance, and all the popular fiction of the day. The 30's obviously needed a some humor, and this definitely fit the bill, never going over the top and always holding true to the sense of mystery, miscommunication, happy outcomes, and, of course, Romance.

If all Romance is like this or Pride and Prejudice, then I'm almost certain that I'm grossly misjudged the entire genre, and it looks like I'm going to have to ask for more goodies like this. :)

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Monday, May 30, 2016

Pride's Spell (Sin du Jour, #3)Pride's Spell by Matt Wallace
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The third book's the charm. Or, actually, it's pure hell.

Not for us, mind you, it's all for the characters. And what a hell of a ride it is.

I mean, seriously, after the last book, which I thought was pretty good and definitely funny and fun, I didn't quite expect a full and completely kick-butt tale of Hollywood human sacrifice, pools of chocolate, exquisite tacos from a truck, or awesomely choreographed fight-scenes.

I'm pretty sure that Tim Burton was not consulted for the Truly Strange bits, but I would be quite remiss if I didn't tell Mr. Tim Burton that he probably ought to read this book, tip his hat in serious pride for the spirit of this book, understand that this might be a good deal better than a lot of the more recent stuff he's come up with, and come back to Matt Wallace and tell him that Pride's Spell is now being made by him. I mean, fair's fair. This book is awesome.

I didn't even know, at least, not really, that all these wonderful chefs where so versatile with weapons! Or that evil cartoon bunnies could quite send such shivers down my spine.

So was it more a funny book, an action book, or a horror?

Well, heck if I know. All I know is that all three worked wonders in this one and I think this author has just earned a huge fan. :)

Thanks goes to Netgalley for the arc!



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King of Thieves (Star Rogue, #1)King of Thieves by Evan C. Currie
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm really enjoying the universe and the setups now. There's something really nice about knowing the rules of the setting and getting to know new characters (or even enjoying old annoying ones like the Translator) and sympathizing with the new characters. :)

I know that there's a new book coming out that brings back the old favorites, but I'll be honest. I really like this crew. I really like their old-school encounters with baddie aliens, lolarachnids, and huge BDO's with pretty epic special effects. Yeah, I know this is a book, but the special effects are awesome, okay?

This is pretty classic and classy Space Opera, all around, and it does it so well that I want to pull out my damn copy of Lost In Space and watch the hell out of that again. I'll ignore the slow parts and just cut and paste all the cool bits from this novel, instead, and call myself extremely lucky. I had a great time reading it. :)

This is the pew pew and close quarters combat, spaceship-maneuvering, exploring, and absolute Oh Shit kind of novel I was in the mood for.

It's just plain fun... in a let's ramp up Star Trek and throw in Bab 5 and a great handful of others, and throw them in the fire. Poor humanity. :)



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Sunday, May 29, 2016

Lustlocked (Sin du Jour, #2)Lustlocked by Matt Wallace
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Very lighthearted fun. I mean, what else can you expect from a humorous fantasy featuring the feast of a goblin wedding from an error-laden crew of fantasy chefs that just happen to set off a horribly unfortunate scene of a magical sexy-time?

The real treat is in the details, and there's plenty to love. Can you imagine that the goblins are actually the beautiful people? That the Goblin King is the very one we just recently lost, for real, and sadly? Not Prince. The other one. ; ; It put a slight damper on my enjoyment, understandably enough, but it was charming and appropriate.

Even the scary bits with blood and screaming was light-hearted. Or maybe that's just me. :)

The bonus story to the text pulled off what would otherwise be a hard-pressed adventure into the realms of magic and mahem, of discovering warriors and defeating armies... but in all actual fact, it was just the attempt to fill out the regimen of chefs and servers. It filled quite a bit of backstory for me, since I had not read the first book in the series.

I got this copy as a promotion, but even so it was quite fun and quite worth reading. I do rather wish I had read the first, but alas, no chance just now. On the bright side, I did just get the Netgalley arc for book 3, so onward and upward and let's see what kind of dish will make the princess cry or destroy the kingdom. :) These *are* rather delightful and fraught with peril. :)

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The Talented Mr. Ripley (Ripley, #1)The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Honestly, I'm of two minds on this one.

The first is just how much fun I had running around with a trust fund buddy and the scam, enjoying 50's Italy, and especially the really delicious riffs from so many of the great authors doing their thing in the day, the subversion and the dark twist. I mean, we're all super-familiar with the heroic(anti-heroic) murderer protagonist, and some of us might be extremely familiar with it if they've read practically any mystery novels or watched ANY tv at all... but here it is, one of the first to really start the very popular modern mystery trend from the PoV of the sympathetic murderers. We'll ignore how much we love Richard the Third or the long line of True Crime novels or the Penny Dreadfuls, for now. This is the world of anti-hero worship, after all, thank you Dexter and Darth Vader. :)

So yeah, I had a really good time with this. I remember watching the movie and have a great time with it, too, in the theater. Little did I know that I was missing out on great books, too. :) I'm making up for lost time. :) Mistaken identities, con games, great play-acting, opportunity, and, of course, seeing the bad guys win. What's not to love?


And so I go to my second mind.

Closet homosexuality. This novel, with so many others of the time including movies, always made the bad guys homosexuals. This is trope made tripe and it's as stale as it is insulting and almost entirely distasteful to modern readers, if it wasn't already so to people back then. I chose to read it as a buddy novel gone really wrong instead of thinly-veiled homosexuality, and I enjoyed it more, but the question still remains. I can write it off as a sign of the times or general ignorance or a cynical pandering to popular conceptions, or I can think again and be sad that such an otherwise interesting and cool novel should now be relegated to the back-shelf of history because of the implicit homophobia it exhibits, even if there was never an explicit hate comment.

I'm willing to be generous, though. One doesn't toss out decades of literature just because the societal norms of today has changed significantly from those of our grandparents or great grandparents. We twist our noses and complain of the stench, but we still enjoy what is GOOD about what we've just read. That's where I'm standing, anyway. :)


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Saturday, May 28, 2016

Out of the Black (Odyssey One, #4)Out of the Black by Evan C. Currie
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The grand majority of this book doesn't really qualify as a space opera, but the end definitely squeaks it in. What do I mean? I mean this book just put me through the hell of watching the Earth get slowly destroyed by a war it simply had no right to think it could win, despite all the stockpiled weapons and munitions, the high tech drones or kinetic slingshots or nukes, and despite even the help of a few alien friends.

The scale and scope of this conflict is immense and overwhelming, and all we could do was watch Eric and all the earthbound heroes triage, burn, and regroup as all the cities fell. I can honestly say that this is probably one of the best Earth Conflict novels I've ever read, at least when it came to straight war, war, and more war. Gannon came close, but this one beats it by timing, likeable characters, and spot-on fortune reversals.

Was the omnipresent intelligence a bit off-putting or odd? Well, yeah, a little bit, but I expect to know more about her in future books. This is NOT the end. :) Was the last-minute bacon-pulling unbelievable? Nah. As a series of books, it contains a very nice symmetry. I mean, turnabout *is* fair play, and let's be honest, things had really, really gone to shit.

Am I happy that book 5 is coming out in half a month? Hell yes.

Am I going to read King of Thieves with great anticipation, now that I'm a firm fanboy of the author? Yes. :)

Do I *really* *really* want to turn on my game console and play Mass Effect 3 right now, to savor the feeling and much more than the greater experience of this novel to feed off of each other, with delight? Yes. Yes I do. :)

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The Eyre Affair (Thursday Next, #1)The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Close the prose portal, the worms are about to start hyphenating!

Hey! Everyone! This is a pretty awesome literature nerd's playground. :)

I kinda expected something like a UF first-person mystery novel with magical elements where characters jump out of the pages of books and make a mess of things, or vice-versa, where we jump in and make a hash of a perfectly good story, but I didn't expect the novel to have a lot of complicated character elements in our main characters, a nicely complicated plot that continues to twist and turn through a LOT more than just the Bronte Society or Jane, herself.

And what might be better? Oh, the whole World-Building of the Spec-Ops and the very interesting alternate dimension physics, the whole spy networks associated with missing manuscripts, the Shakespeare Conspiracy, and a (literarily) enormous amount of Lit-Nerd In-Jokes not limited only to conversation, but built right into the world we're thrown into.

So is it fantasy, SF (Come on, plasma beams and jumping dimesions lol), a dream of an Editorial Superman or the Wish Fulfilment of every Writer Who Is Also A Fan? Could be it's all of the above. :)

This is some really cool fun that reads like a mystery turned into a spy novel, full of magical and SF moments, and a huge focus on characters. What's not to love?

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Friday, May 27, 2016

Homeworld (Odyssey One, #3)Homeworld by Evan C. Currie
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

By the midway point I was absolutely certain that I was loving this one best out of the three novels, but that was only because I appreciated the new direction it was taking, sliding easily between a cat and mouse tale, a good chase, and solid warfare tactics and strategy. I've said a lot about the good characterizations, and that remains and is possibly improved upon, here, but I can add another great feature to the series.

The world-building is only getting better. :) Sometimes I look forward to a good exposition. Isn't that odd? Well I do. I like to know how things work, whether it's the tech, the political situations, or anything else that has direct impact upon the tale. We've got a lot more of that in this one, and I'm immensely grateful for it. It rounds out all the ever-increasing action and characters in a very familiar and succinct way, building nicely upon the already heavily-embedded "natural" world-building.

But what about the second half?

Oh my. Guess who's homeworld the title refers to? Yup. Ours. And we're in for a mighty shitstorm. This is the kind of classic SF we're used to, of course, but the storytelling is quite modern and quite fun, and I have nothing but great things to say about the surprising and grand ways we make it through.

Even the last reveals seem quite natural because we've already had quite a bit of introduction to it in the way of Central. :)

Poor Odyssey. I do so wonder if she'll get reconditioned in time for book four? *sigh* :)

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Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Heart of Matter (Odyssey One, #2)The Heart of Matter by Evan C. Currie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I had to really focus on enjoying a lot of war, both strategic and tactical, which is fine, but alas, there was a lot less characterization than I actually prefer.

But I let it slide because I had just read the first book and all the characters were still rather fresh for me. I'm not sure I would have enjoyed it quite as much, otherwise.

BUT, the actual war story was rather awesome, with very interesting and difficult aliens to work against. Sure, any race that could turn other races into suicide bombers or create Dyson clouds (a poor man's version of a Sphere), has got a lot of scariness built right in. :)

And then there's also the "good" aliens with such strange weaknesses and awesome strengths. It makes this novel more into a chess game than I might have otherwise expected. This is pretty damn good Space-Opera, even now. :) On to the next book!

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Odyssey One (Odyssey One, #1)Odyssey One by Evan C. Currie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Often, with me, Space Operas are hit or miss. There's either too much mindless action or too much mindless action or there's even too much mindless action.

But sometimes, fortunately, I get caught up with a crew of some really great characters. They get thrown in some interesting situations with plenty of translator humor, and then, suddenly, all my worries just seem to melt away.

If you're looking for some great pew-pew, vroom, and kaa-plowie action, this novel has it in spades and spades, and it's great fun, but none of that would be quite as fun or engaging without a great cast.

This has a great cast. :)

It's also the kind of thing I've always enjoyed about Star Trek. It's all about people who get thrown into situations that may or may not be out of their ken or abilities, but more often than not, it is the fundamental aspects of living and getting along that make them so damn real and a part of our lives. The ship breaks. There's plenty of miscommunication in and out of the hull. And best of all, it's the little heroisms that snag me. :)

Of course, if you want to be an explorer on the first interstellar spacecraft, meeting good and bad aliens and getting caught up in some really stellar action, I think you'll enjoy this novel, too. :) I mean, this is the DEFINITION of Space Opera. :)

Good clean fun... with or without court-martials. :)



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Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Dragonfly Falling (Shadows of the Apt, #2)Dragonfly Falling by Adrian Tchaikovsky
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The good? Non-stop action. It's war and it's really war, with all the grand deaths you could ever hope, and for me, the world-building of all these insect-ish humans helps drag me *out* of feeling emotionally invested, so I could get through so much death and destruction without falling into a stupor of sadness.

Drephos really stands out as mr. mad scientist and I did really enjoy the hell out of him. The artificers in general got me going pretty good and some of the reversals were rather enjoyable, and I mean both the good reversals and the bad.

The bad? Non-stop action. It's war and it's really war, with only small scenes of character building not related to war, and while it is slightly more interesting than the first book's skirmishes, I kinda wish that I had been able to really get *into* the action rather than just note what was happening.

It's probably just a personal preference thing. I didn't really *love* any of the characters enough to pull me along with huge enthusiasm.

I can be enthusiastic about the all the insect-human races and the fact that those who can use magic can't use artificing and the same is true for the opposite, as well. Unfortunately, while I could have been dragged deep into a story that explored these rules deeper and perhaps even broke them more spectacularly, it just didn't happen enough for me to get excited.

War. War never changes. Even if it's a flying army of wasp-men fighting steampunk airships.

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Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Chaos Choreography (InCryptid, #5)Chaos Choreography by Seanan McGuire
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have to admit I felt a little let down seeing that we were moving back to the big city. Maybe It's just the Verity and Dominic arc that I just don't care all that much for, no matter that it's not bad or uninteresting, but I just don't love it quite as much as big bro.

Of course, most of my annoyance is just because I don't really care about dance, and this, more than all the others, is *all* about dance. Dance competition, stardom, and Verity's personal gratification. I don't disapprove, and there's plenty of good conflict, but it's like watching an episode of Dancing with the Stars or some other weird tv show I have absolutely no interest in watching. The saving grace is that we get to see all these semi-or-professional dancers get permanently kicked off the show... and life.

So even if I didn't give much of a poop, at least I can snicker when the prima-donnas start getting bumped off, and that's basically where I was.

Except for grandma and the dragon princess. I have to admit I really enjoyed them. And the Mice. Things are definitely getting interesting in the side-characters. :)

So, all in all, and despite the basic subject matter, I still had a great deal of fun.

These are still full of a great selection of beasties, of course, but first and foremost, it's all about the Price Family, as usual. And That's A Good Thing. :) What a weird family. :)

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Pocket Apocalypse (InCryptid, #4)Pocket Apocalypse by Seanan McGuire
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Maybe I'm really getting used to the series or I'm really loving Alex and Shelby's dynamics or I think I'm falling for Australia or maybe the writing is just getting that much better, but I love this instalment of the series much more than all the rest.

It's not just the talking mice, mind you. It's Helen the Wadjet, Basil the yowie, and the entire freakin clan of the Thirty-Sixers.

The novel is kinda a "meet the family" with a truly horrible infestation of werewolves. It worked really, really well. :) I'm stoked and thrilled. :)

I'm not just having fun any more. This fourth book commemorates my official and formal status of FANBOY. :)

Alex has rapidly and far-outstripped my previous enjoyment of his little sister's adventures. :)

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Sunday, May 22, 2016

Half-Off Ragnarok (InCryptid, #3)Half-Off Ragnarok by Seanan McGuire
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Am I a bad man for liking Alex Price better than Verity? I hope not. I just like how nerdy and reptilian he is next to his sister who just happens to have a slight and glancing blow in this novel.

We're off and away from NYC and dab in the heart of Ohio, where the basilisks roam and revenant grandfathers give you dour looks. I think I love Alex's dry commentary and the greater exploration of Sarah and the rest of the Price family more than the previous volumes, too.

Is this a turning point? If so I approve. We're deeper in the heart of the beasties, too, with more and better descriptions and taxonomies. I may be forgiven for mainly wanting to read these for precisely these nerdy features. The story is fine and the characters engaging, but in the heart of hearts, I want a greater knowledge of the more interesting cryptids. And thankfully, I get them here! Woo!

Plus, I get the delightful wish-fulfilment fantasy of a hardcore-geek/monster hunter finding and working to keep, a girl who doesn't run away screaming. Because, after all, isn't that what all geeks dearly dream about? (Insert sweeping repudiations and exceptions, here, and consider me chastised. :)

Seriously, I'm both impressed with Alex under pressure and the rest of the family. If I wasn't hooked with the first two books, I am now.

Great fun!

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The BuildersThe Builders by Daniel Polansky
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This might be considered grimdark fantasy, for all the author seems to think that it is actually a "one-note joke". Hell, I have to disagree. I had as much fun reading this as I'd have when watching any of the old war movies with a small cadre of broken warriors gathering around for one last violent blow out, with all the natural elements of a heist novel, the underdogs (or rats) of a long and vast conflict.

It was pulled-off perfectly.

So what's the joke?

You know all those old YA novels that featured cute and furry mice going along on grand adventures in the wide world we know and love but unknowing to us? Yeah. That's this in a nutshell, only it's DARK and VIOLENT and would make a freaking fantastic and pretty darn EVIL trick to play on all those kids that would be screaming to watch this cute 3D film with cute kitties and owls and mice in a garden.

The story is fantastic and holds its own as easily as if it were in a dark fantasy or a modern and gritty Nazi-Occupied war film. It's only the reflection of exactly WHAT kind of setting it's in that makes this so damn funny. :)

Nominated for Hugo Novella '16 and I think I like this the best. :)

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Midnight Blue-Light Special (InCryptid, #2)Midnight Blue-Light Special by Seanan McGuire
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Relationship troubles? No problem, place them in a grander religious nutso plot with a Romeo and Juliet undertone, and still make both of them work hard at working together despite difference of opinions. What a concept!

This book focuses a lot more on family more than anything else, and it's a toss up whether I mean family as the kind you are born with or that which you choose. Sarah, our intrepid cuckoo, gets her own PoV, and I think I really started liking the change. It certainly gave me a more serious and seriously strange counterpoint to the dancing and the chop-chop. :) Higher math and telepathy? Ooohh.. higher math for the satisfaction of doing it yourself despite the telepathy. Nice. :)

There's some interesting plot points going on here, but it's the Romeo and Juliet vibe that got me going. Sometimes getting to know your boyfriend's folks can be a real pain. :)

Fun read and I'm in it for the long haul, not that it's particularly *difficult* to get through. This is an addictive UF. :)

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Saturday, May 21, 2016

Discount Armageddon (InCryptid, #1)Discount Armageddon by Seanan McGuire
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Knowing what I know of Urban Fantasy, I rarely expect anything more than snark, beasties, first-person hijinks, and plain simple fun. Most of the time, the hero is actually a heroine, of course, and there's usually a number of other tropes we can expect, such as three-way love stories including a vamp and a were.

Fortunately for me, I've learned to really TRUST Seanan McGuire, for whether she's writing as Mira Grant or under Seanan, she has never led me astray or into three-way love stories, and when she does UF, she always remains fun. Popcorn fun? Yup.

For Here There Be Dragons. And dancers. And parthenogenesis.... BUT not without a longing for ANOTHER WAY! And ya, I was laughing about the virgin sacrifice along with Verity. Pretty classic.

This is a supremely easy read and I always look forward to geeking out, whether it's by mythical taxonomy, deep time zones, or a groan-worthy dancing story setup all throughout the novel just for the chance to apply it to a fight scene. I mean, come on. You either hate it or you love it, and I'm just one of those sick and twisted individuals that respect a book-length bar joke in the middle of bad romance and even more bad romance featuring monster's love lives.

I shouldn't have waited so long to read this. I just need to remember that no matter what book of hers I pick up, I'll enjoy. It's a nice feeling. :)


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The Many-Colored LandThe Many-Colored Land by Julian May
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was a surprisingly good read, but I suppose I shouldn't have been that surprised. It won the Locus and was nominated for both the '82 Hugo and '81 Nebula, after all.

I had this odd assumption that it was all fantasy from the bookcovers I'd known and from the comments I'd heard, and that's true as far as most of the story elements are concerned, but at its core, it's Hard SF with a huge dash of space opera, a truly epic amount of world-building in both the future and 6 million years in the past, with, of course, a lot of time-travel, and there's a truly epic amount of psi abilities, too.

The story breaks a lot of long-established SF and Fantasy conventions for the time, focusing almost exclusively on being fun, fun, fun. Julian May has a lot of respect for the genres and has a great time playing with ideas and sub-genres.

I mean, where else can you combine starships and aliens and slightly veiled fae with time travel to the deep past and huge genetic manipulation and high psi abilities, a long commentary on what it means to be human-normal in a perfected galactic society and how that makes us throwbacks, and how long wars can destroy whole genetic lines and the part that culture has in the whole mix.

Sound complicated? Not the way she writes it! Like I said, it's all fun adventure the high-tech magical artifacts, winning epic battles in the deep past, and getting to know and love some very interesting characters who happen to be... us. Flawed, idiotic, us. :)

The bonus in this novel is that there's a lot of great characters and it takes on a lot more scope than I'm used to seeing, lately. Not just 6 million years worth of scope, either, but in space and characters, races, and intentions.

And you've got to love rule-breakers and revolution-starters, too. Like I said, it's all fun. :)

And, of course, if you love epic fantasy but always wanted to see it treated like SF, then this is your book, because a great portion of it is devoted to just that. It's really quite a cool crossover. :)



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Friday, May 20, 2016

Fire BoyFire Boy by Sami Shah
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Believe it or not, I think this is a very solid beginning.

The novel is an easy and engaging read, with plenty of fascinating crossover cultural bits between Pakistan and nerdy western practices, *(Thank you for the crossover between Moorcock's Elric and D&D, I think that was pretty well Awesome and A Half,)* and a delightful exploration of the Djinn World and Its History. I got sucked right into Wahid as a character, his friends, and the situation that he has found himself. The writing is engaging and smooth and the many interludes were just as fun as the main text.

So why did I just say this was just a very solid beginning? Oh, I may be wrong about that. We're actually pretty strongly through the middle of the novel, where the reveals come in play nicely and a wonderful new character comes into play. The action is now in full swing.

The only thing is... well... there's no climax. There's no final action. This isn't a complete novel. There is no end. There's just the part where I really, really want to go and then the text stops. It's not even a cliffhanger, because at least there's the peak and then the tumble off the peak in a cliffhanger. This is just... coitus interruptus.

Why don't I give this less stars, then? Because I was really enjoying myself. I want to read more. I'm going to read more. I'm hooked and it's delightful and I've got a real big sympathy for the devil thing going on right now.

Assuming that this novel picks up where it ought to and I can ignore this little interruption, I might just start raving about the book.

Here's to the future! :) *clink*

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The Sailor on the Seas of Fate (Elric, #2)The Sailor on the Seas of Fate by Michael Moorcock
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Absolutely amazing.

No amount of words can explain just how great these two books are for either the world of Fantasy or of even regular Literature. This is the template of which all other fantasies are but mere illusions or drawn-out caricatures.

Heavy words, no? Seriously. Let me explain.

This is drawn in the traditional sword and sorcery style, yes, but that is just a platform on which to leap out and explore wild imaginings and deep world-building, all of which is done so smoothly that it puts most SF/F to shame.

How else can such a tiny tome as either of these books convey a vast multiverse, planes-walking as we D&D lovers like to call it, full of destiny, time travel, reincarnation, grand multiverse'scapes of conflict between Order and Chaos, cities with jewels, or boats with blind captains filled with alternate-reality versions of your own badass self?

And it's not only effortlessly pulled off, it's a grand adventure that actually places me fully in the mindset of AWE. I am in AWE. No one should ever sail by these without tasting of its waters. Your life will be enriched and you will have a true yardstick by which to judge everything else you might read, because you will have tasted brilliance. It doesn't even matter if you're reading it for the sake of metaphor or psychology or grand adventure or soul-drinking chaotic-evil swords or the grand Demon of Chaos himself.

If you read this, you read it bringing whatever you have inside to the table... and you will always come away enriched.

I'm certain I'll be revisiting these books many times over the years, and I'm certain that I'll always be pleased to do so. :)

Simply Awe-some. :)

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Fragments (Partials Sequence, #2)Fragments by Dan Wells
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So I decided to give the series another shot and I'm glad I did. The first was too ham-fisted or at least a bit to obvious in the social commentary for me, but this one ran with a more adventure theme that left behind most of the us/them dynamic and instead focused on ethics where we weren't doing a lot of traveling and hunting for clues across the country.

The twist, and yes, there's more twists, were very decent and I can't complain when it comes to my high-satisfaction quotient. :)

I've respected the author for quite some time now, and that goes a long way to my having given the series another shot. It's a different kind of book even when it contains a lot of the same characters, and thankfully, it hit the spot this time. (It helps that the l-triangle is practically gone. Yay!)

I will continue! :)

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Thursday, May 19, 2016

Cinder (The Lunar Chronicles, #1)Cinder by Marissa Meyer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Honestly, it wasn't that bad a novel, but I do take a few exceptions.

First of all, it seriously didn't need to be a full series. No added wars or plagues or hidden superpowers beyond what my favorite fairy cyberneticist could have offered me. (Although, being the MC AND the fairy cyberneticist is a cool twist.)

I would have been perfectly on-board with less twisty and stronger direct re-telling of the Cinderella classic done heavy SF. Hell, the story could have been showcased and glorified with a wonderful climax in the way that only losing and regaining your artificial limb could be when Prince Charming (Kai) comes running to your rescue.

I love wish-fulfillment stories. I don't care if it's a change-in-circumstance story or a change-in-self story, I'm a sucker for this stuff.

But. This novel was just too jumbled with all the common-ass tropes of YA lit, almost a bucket-list of plot-points designed to bloat a clear and gorgeous little tale-turned-SF into a multi-volume cash-cow. What could have been a clear and beautiful novella or short novel was thus turned into an interplanetary war.

Aren't we tired of flimsy plots of interplanetary war, yet? No, I guess that's really popular with the young crowd these days, as long as we've got cyborgs and plagues, right? I guess I'm just sorry that this couldn't have been a more grown-up treatment, because I liked quite a bit about it.

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Wednesday, May 18, 2016

World of Trouble (The Last Policeman, #3)World of Trouble by Ben H. Winters
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Very satisfying end to a progressively crazy series. I mean, seriously, can we expect anything else when the world is about to end? Cults aside, Henry is right there with the rest of them, still a policeman even when hunting for a sledgehammer, his sister, or that one last kiss.

(But not with his sister, mind you. He isn't *that* crazy.)

Of course, any SF/Mystery series that brings in the Amish is going to be slightly *odd*, right? Still, hunting for his lost sister is far from being the craziest thing anyone could do when faced with their end. A little companionship, a little bit of happiness, a bit of relaxation before Maia destroys the world.

Oh, who am I kidding? It all goes to shit.

And the best part is that it's still a mystery steeped in true apocalyptic SF, even Walking Dead-ish ambiance, getting into the deeper paranoid fantasies, the tenacious clasping to ideas and ideals, and (and here's the very best part,) a very satisfying end to the book and to the series.

Henry has remained true to himself to the very end.

There's something rather divine about that, even when it's batfuck crazy. My hat goes off to you, Hank! May you enjoy companionship and crazy conspiracies in (view spoiler).

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Cold Magic (Spiritwalker, #1)Cold Magic by Kate Elliott
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

First off, I really ought to say that there are a lot of very good aspects to this novel. Some parts, such as the dream of the dragon, the bits with the illusions and the cold steel, and especially the alternate history of Europe right up to the Regency era, with all of the Napoleanic (Camjiata) flavors built right in, even going far back for the world-building to the great empire of Carthage, the Phoenicians.

Like I said, there's a lot to love.

Unfortunately, there's also the bad.

Andevai has got to be one of the most atrociously horrible character I've ever read. Not only do I learn to hate him right off the bat, but there's almost no good points to latch onto besides a little illusion of Catherine in his hands or the fact that he apparently, grudgingly, did the right thing later in the tale. I did not get the feeling that he was supposed to be Catherine's love interest even if she told us, also grudgingly, that he was handsome. I was not sold. No. Nope. Nada. Nilch. Or zilch if you prefer. However you want to say it, he is No Darcy. I mean... "Oh goodie he loves me, now I can forget that he treated me like crap, repeatedly, hunted me, tried to kill me, was shamed by his family and betrayed his master, albeit for me. Woopie. He did the right thing and seems to hate me for it. Oh, yeah, of course he's my true husband."

Right.

That's just the worst of it, but unfortunately, I also had some problems with the flow of the text. I didn't mind how dense it was, in general, but when I start wondering why we're still in this scene and it seems rather directionless at the beginning and a good handful of times throughout, then I had to put the book down and read something else. I don't like doing that. I rarely ever want to, even.

There's a lot of good promise in the book, though. I just wish it had been written by someone else. Or with better editing. Or maybe a good couple of beta readers that could have sat down and said that a good deal of better foreshadowing might have fixed it or that a slightly less traditional wrap-up to the core story might have been quite, quite welcome after having us work so hard to get through the text.

I dislike being this cruel to a book. Seriously. It's nothing personal. I generally love to read. I just wish I could have loved this one more and not so sporadically.

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Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Countdown City (The Last Policeman, #2)Countdown City by Ben H. Winters
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Hank is no longer a policeman, but he's all boy-scout, which happens to make him an ANTI-HERO in this world.

That's pretty funny, isn't it? I mean, sure, we like to make fun of those types of people, right? But in a world full of crumbling order, near anarchy, and bucket lists and *mostly* good people doing whatever they really wanted to do before the last 77 days come around and wipe them all out, that one person who lives by heroic high-ideals, the man who tries to find a missing person in a world full of suicides, is meant to be *our* hero.

It's damn funny. Hell, I think this might have turned into one hell of a comedy, if the voice was a slight bit different or the observations even *less* self-aware and other's reactions *more* violent. But alas, there were still enough people who respect Hank and what he's doing that I got tricked into respecting the guy. Hell, maybe I even like him, a little.

He's the best-behaved, idealistic, most duty-bound BAD BOY I've ever had the pleasure of reading.

Strangely enough, maybe it's just me, but I like this second book a lot more than the first. I think it's because I'm just used to the guy and I can appreciate what he's doing despite the fact that he annoys almost everyone around him. Maybe it's because he no longer has any authority to be a boy-scout, too. Less authority makes him a bit more sympathetic. :) Now he's just a *really* good samaritan in a collapsing world full of a strangely large number of libertarian social constructs. :)

There *are* a lot of interesting levels to this novel beyond the mystery, although the mystery structure is better here than the first book. I think I like the world-building best, though, right after the weird character commentary. Winters has a *lot* to say about human nature, and it's actually pretty delightful once you get over your annoyance at having to follow this guy around. :)

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Monday, May 16, 2016

Paladin of Souls (Chalion, #2)Paladin of Souls by Lois McMaster Bujold
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Even though this one is set in the same universe and there are crossover references and characters, this novel is quite different from The Curse of Chalion, in both situation, location, and MC's. Don't let that dissuade you, because this book kicks some serious butt. Literally, for there's even a WAR!

Enter Ista, the dowager mother, considered mad but really just god-ridden, bored and desiring a bit of action on the side. (Get your mind out of the gutter. Yes, she does have some romantic feels, on the side, but it's more the case of a woman on a mission of self-discovery, travel, and understanding.) And just because she becomes the Paladin of a God and becomes one of my most favorite female protagonists in fantasy literature, full of rounded personality, wry humor, natural desires and surprising reactions to what ought to be some horrific reveals, should never downplay the fact that when push comes to shove, she really knows how to kick ass. Need I say that the reveals and the novel's climax are amazing? Probably not. The novel is a widespread favorite of a lot of people and it won the Hugo in 2004.

Of course, she's not the only great character in the novel. I have to say I've grown quite fond of the Bastard. Liss has quite a personality, too. :)

I'm fascinated at just how much this novel does NOT feel like a pilgrimage of saints. Or how the portrayal of so much death does NOT feel strange or odd, but instead feels like a spur to great things. I was frankly amazed at feeling a great deal of awe at so many of the otherwise fantasy-normal events that were twisted on their sides to appear as something completely different than I'm used to.

I could just chalk that up to Bujold being Awesome Bujold, but I think it's something more than that. She manages to turn something that ought to be epic fantasy with battles and demons and mages with blood flying everywhere into something personal and revealing and surprising, and that isn't something that anyone should take lightly. It takes a brilliant writer to pull that off, and she's got the chops. :)

Beautiful novel. :)

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Sunday, May 15, 2016

The Curse of Chalion (Chalion, #1)The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The first time I read this, I was torn between my respect for Bujold and the slow burning plot of this first fantasy I had ever read by her. It didn't hurt that it was nominated for the Hugo, as she had been nominated over and over, winning several for her classic SF series, but I was like, "What? Fantasy? But she's so excellent with SF, why switch?" And then when I started reading it, there were none of the fast-paced elements or larger than life characters that I expected.

In fact, other than the fact that Cazaril was a broken man like Miles, he was pretty much Miles's opposite. Steadfast, principled, not attention seeking, reflective, Cazaril is the definition of Loyalty To Another, self-effacing willing to sacrifice himself for a much greater good.

The house of Chalion is under a curse, after all, and even after Noble Cazaril's capture and having been turned into a slave, his subsequent escape, and reinsertion into his natural household, he's still a conflicted and broken man in body and in spirit. All he really has to hope for is supporting his liege-woman.

This is NOT an action fantasy. Indeed, it's nearly spiritual in all the divine revelations. There isn't much magic, but don't worry, the true delight is in the messes that the Five Gods make of the world. The Bastard's death magic is particularly harrowing, and it happens to have the largest role and plot significance in the novel.

The other fantastically creative part of this novel is it's devotion to characterization. Bujold has always been a master at this, and while this particular novel seems to be a large departure from what we have known, we get through it feeling as if every character is as real as our own loved ones, we handle and are horrified by all the political intrigues and machinations, doing our absolute and not-quite-sufficient best.

I feel a lot of sympathetic love for Cazaril and the characters that he loves. Being broken is not the end. It's difficult and painful and horrible, but even in his darkest despair, he still managed to keep being wise, even in his (several) self-sacrifices?

How many main characters can you say that about? That the plot wasn't driven by a main character's stupidity? Exactly. This is SUBVERSION OF THE FANTASY TROPE. :) lol

This is a methodical and expertly-paced fantasy, but don't expect it to be flying. It's very careful.

But... the rewards are truly awesome. :)

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Saturday, May 14, 2016

The Iron Dragon's DaughterThe Iron Dragon's Daughter by Michael Swanwick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a very impressive and work of imagination, and while I've read better Swanwick, it's *still* Swanwick, and that means it's head-and-shoulders better than almost anything out there.

This novel gives the illusion that it might be a YA, with a lot of impressive and delightful adventure elements, but it eventually turns into an adult romp full of sex, drugs, and stardom, only to eventually return to its adventure roots. So what makes this piece stand out? Jane is a great character with lots of sides to her, not just exploring what it means to be a woman in a thoroughly Misogynic Elf society, trying to find a piece of herself, her dreams, her sexuality, while all the while struggling against two great gods of the Steampunk/High Fantasy world.

What's the Iron Dragon? An AI in a steampunk airship with cybernetic interfaces. Nicely SF.
Are there Dwarves and Elves and Changelings throughout this University-Dominated setting? Why yes, yes, there is. :) Complex society, too. Very nicely Fantasy.

Does the plot and the themes begin as a slow spiral only to end up in the center of all the conflict in a wild explosion of action? Why yes, yes it does.

I really like this novel, and it really shines well in craft and characters, but to be perfectly honest, I didn't know where a lot of it was going until much later and it just seemed like it was drifting in dissolution. A lot of the plot events, including the mob scenes, play out the same feeling, of course, as well as the immense sense of loss, and while the reality of the author's intent was clear, our actual payoff feels far from clear. I get a few good impressions, and the visual imagery is grand, but then I wonder if this was still all about Jane's growth or not.

I assume it is, and not the played-out grand conflict of gods. :)

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Friday, May 13, 2016

The Last Policeman (The Last Policeman, #1)The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Don't let the methodical pace or "flawed" police detective fool you. This book is something special. I've read better SF and I've read better mysteries, easily, but here's where this novel shines:

It's a delicate balance trick.

I mean, after all, what would you do if the world was going to be hit by an unsurvivable asteroid in six months, eleven days? Follow your dreams, go wild, or commit suicide? All options are commonplace, but here we get a rookie detective promoted because no one else wants the job or cares any longer, and he's not even doing it out of duty, but because he always wanted to be a detective. He's a real drag, in fact. He's keeping everyone else from having their last days be memorable by studiously trying to solve murders that no one even cares about.

And yet, being a jerk in this case would definitely have been considered a "calling" and "following your bliss" in a normal world. :)

Like I said. It's a balance trick. The tension created just between the twilight-zone society in this novel and this normal guy is quite something.

While I was reading it, I was sometimes bored, sometimes annoyed, sometimes very happy and sometimes disgruntled. It put me through all these things, and yet, in the final estimation, I can't do anything but nod my head and say, "Very Well Done."

I'm not saying the story isn't interesting or that the details weren't fascinating, because they were. I really wound up enjoying Palace's character and all the other "somewhat un-present" characters that surrounded him. It was very surreal when I was looking for it. :) I thought the whole blue-book affectation was a hoot and a half, too. :)

Was this a mystery gimmick novel? Or was this an idea-focused SF novel? That's a good question. The most interesting elements are in the details, just like in any good mystery or in a subtle SF. All in all, it's the combination and the great mixing of these two worlds that really drive this work's importance home to me.

I'm now really looking forward to reading the full trilogy, now. :)



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Thursday, May 12, 2016

Perfect StatePerfect State by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Taking the holographic universe to very logical conclusions, or at least just adding a new spin to both the Cosmere and the Matrix as well, I thought this was a fairly interesting read only made better by the end message.

No spoilers, but it's kinda obvious from the start what the tale is about. It's telegraphed pretty heavily.

Still, there's a lot of great things about the novella, with good worldbuilding, a wide and sweeping grandiosity of scenes and settings that really makes this shine.

So what if I find the main character a bit of a blowhard and not very sympathetic? He's uber powerful but he still has to account for himself in the Wode. But to procreate? Oh my, this has just turned into a comedy.

And it is. From that point forward, the novel is a comedy, but only in the traditional sense, where lessons are learned and the MC moves forward, barely sidestepping tragedy by the grace of others.

Pretty cool, all told. A decent and quick tale.

It was nominated for 2016 Hugo for best Novella.

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A Head Full of GhostsA Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What an awesome surprise! Mr. Paul Tremblay knows his horror motifs, and he (and I) love how they're layered and layered some more, starting from truly delightful character sets with the slowly creeping horror, the slide into a normal family's confusion and pain, and then...

Possession.

What? A straight possession tale and not one about a family taking care of a mentally ill daughter? One who suffers from paranoia and schizophrenia?

Oh yes, let's take this tale into a heavy-hitting commentary on religion that's fully aware of the past treatments and current standings and let's make sure that the audience is treated like the knowledgable horror fans that we are. Because we are.

And to drive the point home really well, we've got Merry playing karen in a cameo! ;)

Only, the character is discussing all these narrative points and previous entries in the horror genre and establishing this book's place in the greater conversation. How delightful! Who better to be an expert in a horror genre, blogging under an assumed name and not as herself, than the little 8 year old girl who suffered through the breakdown of her sister into maddness/poessession, and the religious/media circus that followed the reality tv spectacle. Real life following art following real life following art? Yes, please!

But what really sets this book up well is not just the obvious devolution and the questions and the lies and the religious nuttery; it's the twist that explained so naturally, so self-consciously, so delightfully honest and with great energy, that I was pretty well floored by the end of the read.

And this is how a good book becomes a great book. :) Well, a great horror, anyway. :) Smart and delicious and self-conscious and surprising. :) What more could we ask for? Tragedy? Oh yes, there's that, too. :)

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Burning MidnightBurning Midnight by Will McIntosh
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This might be a real surprise hit that everyone is going to be talking about for a long time. Or perhaps it simply should be. :) I'm not generally a YA fan, but even so, I keep running into real gems lately. Or spheres. Lots and lots of ability-granting spheres for appreciating really good stories with fascinating characters and plots that are literally impossible to put down.

I read this and skipped dinner, for heaven's sake, even forgoing a potty break because this was just that good.

I was hooked from page one and I loved thinking about all the ramifications, the pure and unadulterated wish-factor, the treasure-hunting aspect of the adventure, and the twinge of revenge and hate for being screwed over so horribly. Not that this was about getting revenge. Nor was it really about romance, although there was a small bit of that, too. (And no, there weren't any love triangles and the only conflicts between Hunter and David were purely interpersonal and not coming from the outside at all. Let me tell you, that was a delight. :)

Adventure! Treasure Hunt! SF wish fulfillment! And there was even a really cool twist! I mean, come on, what wish comes without a monkey's paw, right? And my horror sensibilities were laughing out loud when the moment came, so beware, all you unsuspecting chumps of readers. You thought you'd get off easy? Muahahahaha...

Seriously though, the tension never lets up. I worried about so many different things, the novel never once felt monotonous. The pacing was excellent. And can I see this as one hell of a great movie? Oh yeah. There's even a gratuitous wish-fulfillment plug from the author for just that outcome right in the story. It was so blatant and funny and the whole story is just that good that I can do nothing but wish him all the luck in the world! :) I don't say that very often. I do mean it, here. :)

What a fun ride!

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Wednesday, May 11, 2016

'Salem's Lot'Salem's Lot by Stephen King
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Well this is annoying times two. I just wrote a review and lost it, and then there's the *other* issue.

What other issue?

Oh, the one where my 14 year old self of infinite wisdom and experience remembered a boring tale lacking truly epic blood and guts from what should be a vampire tale in a small town. If that 14 year old could have had his way, then 80% of the novel would have been excised for being too-character driven, too-focused on hundreds of characters only set up to be knocked down in gruesome death (or undeath), and too detail-driven and poorly-paced for a thriller.

Damn, I was a dipshit. I'm not saying that I'm no longer a dipshit, mind you, just that I think that kid was a real idiot. I mean, I'd only reading anything at all for less than a year and 8 months of that was focused on learning *how* to read. Of course I was going to be influenced more by the all the slasher movies rather than novel construction. I even watched the crapfest that I considered the made for tv movie based on this book, and I think I might have been a *little* too harsh on it, too.

So flash-forward to now, when I jump up the rating from a scathing 3 stars to a full-blown 5, an adult reading an adult novel of suspense, emotionally invested characters, subtle humor, more high-brow words than I remember Stephen King usually using in his novels, and beautifully crafted passages of hometown life falling into what might as well have been a modern retelling of a medieval town falling under the spell of the Black Plague, with all the horror and sadness and superstition that entails.

This novel was gripping and intense to my adult sensibilities. Do I feel like a fool for my old memories? Yes. Am I embarrassed? Yes. Am I absolutely impressed and amazed that the very first "trash" novelist I got into as a kid actually turned out to be a consummate master of the writing craft? Yes.

All the things I hated as a kid happen to be the things I love the most, here. The characters were absolutely gorgeous. I fell into them, and later, I fell into love with the whole town. The fact that it had a cancer that was eating away at it from the inside, slowly, was only a tension-driver. This may be a vampire novel, but it is really a tragedy, through and through. We expect to love and lose our loved ones, and this is the true horror. Not just the eyes like stars or the breath that smells of pure putrescence or the image of a supernatural horror that no longer needs keys because, now, the dead can squeeze between door jams.

Of course, Part 3 was all action all the time, with the stakes as high as it can be. It was all for the sake of pure survival. But Part 1 (the get to know you) and Part 2 (something isn't right) were some of the best readings of Stephen King, like, ever. :) Believe me, he has a personal formula when it comes to his writing, but I know of no one who's able to pull off exactly what he pulls off. He makes everyone so damn real to me. :)

Fun fact! There's a dead John Snow who knows nothing in this novel! Isn't that fun?

So, I've eaten crow and said that I'm sorry for being an childhood idiot, but what I really mean is that There Are No Sparkles. This is a novel of horrible anticipation and and deep sadness, of exciting vampire hunting with truly intelligent foes. There are no levelled-up vamps or long antihero arcs or Master Vampire Hunters. And best of all, there are no werewolves.

There is, however, a sense of reality and loss and fear, and if you are missing a huge dose of that in your life, if only to hold up as a mirror to your own life to say that things aren't so bad with you, then you really ought to jump out there and pick up a copy. I can't believe this is only SK's second novel! Wow!

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Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Partials (Partials Sequence, #1)Partials by Dan Wells
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm gonna struggle a bit here and say some good things. The writing is clear. The characters are easily visualized. The plot twist is serviceable.

It's not a bad book. There's plenty of tension and action and *big* *fear*.

But?

Yeah, well, um... I'm read it before. A lot.

But it's YA! It's meant for new readers who've never been blown away by classics like Darwin's Radio or The Children of Men or any of two out of three dystopian YA novels on the market.

Add cute girl and two cute boys, give her talent and drive, cut and paste into a slightly different dystopian future filled with almost everyone dead, add supersoldiers, mix, then a reveal. Sound familiar? That's because it's formula.

Powdered milk with a bit of mineral fortification. It kinda misses the whole point of having a bunch of thriving gut flora and leaves a child's mind weakened to truly invasive memetically-modified horrorshows that will change your life.

Again, it's pretty standard stuff. It's okay. But it won't change anyone's life.

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Monday, May 9, 2016

The Sword of the Lictor (The Book of the New Sun #3)The Sword of the Lictor by Gene Wolfe
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This, as well as the first two books and theoretically the last in the series, is rapidly becoming the most difficult work of SF I've ever read. Why? It's not particularly difficult to follow; the Hero's Quest is rather straightforward throughout. Nor is the main character Severian particularly uninteresting or difficult to like.

My main concern, as well as my questionable joy, is in the author's requirement that we take not just an active role in the reconstruction of this tale, but that even a deconstruction, a literary analysis, a creative interpretation, a fuck-you-sideways until you bleed from your eyeballs reinterpretation, might not quite be enough for us to reconcile story elements from action elements from reflective elements from literary elements.

I'm assuming, just from my own idiocy, that this is a 4-d topographical map and I must rip out the pages according to odd-numbered reoccurring themes, plaster them together in the shape of the Claw of the Conciliator, and then read the text while standing on my head. And I can't do it while inebriated. This isn't, after all, noir fiction.

This is, supposedly, the most brilliant literary mindfuck of a SF novel ever written, only it's so far beyond bizarro fiction that it has usurped James Joyce's throne. Take your pick if you want to liken it to SF Ulysses or SF Finnegans Wake. I mention the last just because this has darkened depths to it where deep literary beasties roam, unseen, and not because it's batshit crazy like the author.

I'm not saying that Gene Wolfe is crazy. Not at all. But for all the ways that this *appears* to be sword and sorcery on the surface, and decent sword and sorcery that happens to take place a million years in the future on Earth where the sun is dying and aliens mess with us and tech indistinguishable to magic roams the earth, events, plot elements, and narrative elements will sometimes hit is from out of nowhere and they will make absolutely no sense at all if you are reading on the simple surface.

Truly, just the little hints are enough to drive me crazy. Yes, I pick up quite a few, like Severian's little discussion with little Severian about men who decide that living like men is too much for them so they get a special lobotomy so they don't have to reflect or worry about what it means to be a man, that they can live happily like beasts. Little Severian says, "Is that why you go without a shirt? Because you are like the beast men?" "No, I haven't undergone the procedure, but yeah, perhaps I do go without reflection like them." Of course, in the story context, he's saved the kid with his name, vows to be his papa, and proceeds to watch him die, moving on to the next quest without much reflection. Right. (Btw, I'm not checking my review for precise quotations, I'm paraphrasing from memory.)

This isn't even the biggest bit of crazy. There's resurrected love interests, either pure memory from an alien juice and another from a time-reversal trick, both of which he loses, aliens with masks as many roles, with the real one being as smooth as unworked clay, as like unformed from conception or story, a mirror for everything else that goes on, and giants who resemble the witches whom Perseus steals the eye and the tooth.

Don't get me wrong. It's pretty cool. But when the fiction turns metafiction, when plots get thrown right into some heavy meta-soup and we're left wondering what the hell we just stepped into, we still have the sense that we *ought* to be knowing what the hell is going on. It doesn't let us drop, exactly. It just tries to entice us into rereading the books 5-10 times to try to figure out just what the hell is going on. I have to question myself: Do I care enough to become a devoted scholar of Wolfe and write at least a dissertation on his work? Do I care at least enough to finish through the 4th book?

The answer is No, and Yes. It's frustrating to see all those little fishes in the dark water below my feet, see them scurrying away, but I'm not quite hungry enough to get down on my hands and knees and beg Poseidon to make them jump right into my mouth.

Maybe someday, when I've burned all my other books and am exiled to a desert island where I have nothing else to read than these four admittedly interesting books will I sit down and devote the rest of life to figuring out just what the hell is going on here. :) I don't quite think I'm alone in this feeling, either.

Shouldn't there be a whole cottage industry devoted to figuring this thing out? Where are the scores of scholars? Is this going to go down into history as "The series everyone wants to say is genius but no one has the guts to say they have no idea what's going on"? I'll at least say it. I don't know what's going on. Surface? Sure. Pretty damn straightforward. It's everything else. Gahh!

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All Flesh is GrassAll Flesh is Grass by Clifford D. Simak
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It's 1965, so there's a general sense of small town glorification and everymen are everywhere. This novel happens to be one of Simak's most firmly grounded in modern ('60's modern) society, and that's the expectations I had when I began reading.

And then we've got our WTH moment. How many impenetrable domes encapsulate small towns in SF, anyway? Stephen King did it twice, first in Tommyknockers and then in The Dome, but is there a direct line connection to this tale or how far back does the concept go? I was worried that I've already read this book before, albeit from later incarnations by later authors, but... I shouldn't have worried. Simak won't lead me astray and won't disappoint.

Suffice to say, it's full of lots of surprises and a wild alien invasion and discovery, time travel, alternate earths, action, betrayal, and a satisfactory end. The title may be referring to a bible passage, but I wouldn't take too much *stalk* in that. There are plenty of grassy knolls to stroll down, idea-wise, and enough new horticultural discoveries to confound any social scientist. Sense a theme? Yar, the aliens quite grow on you.

I give this novel full props for taking the SF in odd and cool ways, for staying grounded in '60's character tropes, and being immensely readable like all the rest of his novels. Its not the individual ideas, though, that make this great. It's the way he mixes the pot and grows the flowers. :)

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Sunday, May 8, 2016

Europe in Autumn (Fractured Europe Sequence, #1)Europe in Autumn by Dave Hutchinson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Shift ahead a few years and a slightly less populated world, drop in a fascinating collection of european characters from Poland, Hungary, Germany, England, and much more, and give us the origin story of Rudi, the cook turned Courier, sold a bill of sale about countries without borders, give him the basics of spycraft, and lie, lie, and lie some more.

And that's just the beginning.

This is a rather deep and detailed look at parts of the world I have little experience in, even though I'm a fan of spy movies, obscure horrors, and thrillers of all types. By all rights, I might have had a harder time with this novel, but I was very fortunate. I really like Rudi. The kid was really put through the wringer. Where he goes when he decides to take his destiny in his own hands is where the novel gets really interesting.

I did have some issues with how the narrative started looking at Rudi from the outside or as a stranger, with short Vignettes, but when each of those outside PoV's started tying together into a very incomplete, but still extremely interesting picture of a grand conspiracy of polities and information assets going after a goal that is still unclear, I still don't mind.

I should. I really ought to mind, especially since the novel doesn't get tied up with bow at the end, but the picture, the map I'm forced to draw of the situation, happens to be very revealing and satisfying, even if it doesn't fit the standard structure for novelizations. It's obviously just the beginning of a series, but it gave enough payoff to the reader, enough meat, and real food for thought, that it still *felt* like a good ending.

Isn't that odd? Some sort of magic happened, here.

There are some good techo-geekery going on in the novel, but it's generally sparse and always in the service to the tale, never the other way around. No macguffins. The focus is all on people, and what can I say? I appreciate it. The other stuff is too obvious and too cliché. This is a return to the roots of the spy novel, and it really sucked me in. :)

I'm looking forward to reading the next in the series. :)

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This Book Is Full of Spiders: Seriously, Dude, Don't Touch It (John Dies at the End, #2)This Book Is Full of Spiders: Seriously, Dude, Don't Touch It by David Wong
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved the first book in the series, John Dies at the End, for all it's absurd lovecraftian slacker humor and over-the-top dick jokes and splashy gore and time travel and rastafarian dudes asking you to drink black goo that opens your mind to all the sick and twisted things that crawl around on the surface of the world but you never quite see them.

It was a vision of perfection if you love funny horror. I kinda made a happy dance.

So why didn't I read the second book right away? IDK! I don't have any excuse!

So yeah, I'm reading this before I read Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits, because, you know, David Wong, and here's a big spoiler:

While there *are* spiders in this book, they're practically metaphorical. The novel is *really* a rip-roaring zombie-outbreak tale, again full of great humor and wry observations and a fully-slackerish mentality. It has a more streamlined plot than the previous novel, which is both a boon and slightly disappointing, because I loved how freaky the first one was, but the sense of a *really* *huge* *mess* makes this one rather shine.

Maybe you'd have to enjoy streamlined bizarro fiction to really enjoy this. Maybe you'd just have to enjoy supremely fucked-up literature in general, but still, this is pretty damn accessible. Just as David wrote, Zombies are a part of the cultural zeitgeist. Half the books on the market nowadays are tapping into this, our greatest fear, and it's not just the rotting hand jutting from the grave we fear, but the fact that *we* are the zombies.

You could call this book a wake up call. You *might* not need to drink any of that black goo, either! :)

Total popcorn fiction. Fun as hell and funny as hell. :)

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Saturday, May 7, 2016

Low Town (Low Town, #1)Low Town by Daniel Polansky
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Dirty noir fantasy, featuring drugs, dead children, plague, and revenge, now featuring dirty cops and cocky evil nobles and a crowded world of blades, sorcery, and mystery.

The novel is very successful in its world-building. The place is even more interesting and claustrophobic than the characters, and this is pretty much a character-driven tale where no one is quite good enough. I mean, how heroic is it going to be when a main character is a drug pusher?

And yet, when push comes to shove, deeper motivations such as stopping the deaths of children does transcend most petty or old beefs, but that's not to say that everything gets resolved neatly, because nothing is ever clean in this fantasy.

The name should give it away. :)

I enjoyed this book mostly for its conception, but it did hit me viscerally with all the kid's deaths. The characters could have pulled me in more, perhaps, but I certainly didn't dislike the novel. If you love dirty fantasy noir, then you'll certainly enjoy this. The MC's aren't OP. They're generally in over their heads and do the best they can. The gritty realism is the biggest selling point. :)

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Friday, May 6, 2016

Dreams of Distant ShoresDreams of Distant Shores by Patricia A. McKillip
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This collection of High Fantasy short stories is mixed in with "Something Rich and Strange", a novella thrown in for very good measure, and it's easily my most favorite story of the bunch.

I've never read Patricia A. McKillip before, although hers is a name I've seen often over the years. After reading this, I'm proud to say I'm quite pleased to finally get to it. :) She's got a deep fascination with all manner of beasties, from Irish folklore to Greek, from witches of many breeds to merfolk of wonderful quantity and different quality. More than anything, though, and easily the high point of the reading, is the way she juxtaposes solidly grounded locations and situations and characters of one magical type with tropes of a completely different breed, slipping in between each realm as easily as a selkie switches between land and sea. Sure, you can say that a lot of good authors do this already, but McKillip takes it deeper, explores more fully, and never insults our intelligence.

Even from the first line of each tale, we're thrown right into the middle of things, and isn't that always what we expect in good fiction? Moreover, I was quite pleased to feel the magic, to be submerged into the awe.

Every story was more or less very good. I liked the zingers in "Weird" and "Edith and Henry Go Motoring" probably the most, while I eventually felt the best, overall, about "The Gorgon in the Cupboard", but it was really "Something Rich and Strange" that managed to blow me away. Or drown me, as the case may be. The payoff in the last story was really something to behold.

You might say it was a real treat to swim with the fishes. All these dreams of distant shores just got a lot closer, and if you're a fan of modern High Fantasy that still manages to be fresh and new, I definitely recommend this.

My only concern was the fact that while I did eventually get into the characters, it was always a bit slow-going for me. It might be only my concern and not a fault of the writing. I always enjoyed each by the end.

Thanks to Netgalley for the honor of the ARC!

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Elric of Melniboné (Elric, #1)Elric of Melniboné by Michael Moorcock
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is some epic awesomeness.

I'm an absolute sucker for the grand sweeping personal quests to gain more and yet more magical power in the service of rescuing your one true love, casting aside morals, the greater good, your own health, and possibly your own sanity.

This tale holds up perfectly after all this time. All the best aspects of modern fantasy are encapsulated and written with such spartan clarity and diamond sharpness within Moorcock's classic. I only needed this one taste and I'm now a lifelong fan. It's that easy.

This is easily one of the classics of all Sword and Sorcery and I knew that people swore by it before I read it, but I was hesitant. Why? Hell if I know. It was such a brilliant, fantastic, imaginative world, but even better than that were the characters. Elric, of course, is the ultimate Nietzsche Super-Man, fully beyond good and evil, but he, like all super-villains, considers himself the ultimate hero of his story, and I have to agree with him. I love the story.

It's really cool that I've finally read something, after all this time, that evokes the same feeling as I get from the classic Star Wars films. When they faced each other with the two uber-powerful runic swords, I got chills. Seriously. I usually don't get suckered in this easy. I've read a LOT of fantasy and a LOT of really great fantasy, but this one was so diamond-hard that it left me speechless. :)

I was even more impressed by the author's command of sheer storytelling. The whole thing actually evoked awe and wonder. Each new mastery of magic came at a cost, and there was so much magic. Like the Ouroboros, Elric kept feeding on himself to gain more and more power, and the cycle repeated and repeated, with future sacrifice for power, now. Is it the ultimate faustian tale? I don't know, yet, but I'll be reading more. As it is here, we've got a meteoric rise from the simple mastery of the kingdom of Melniboné to the mastery of chaos magic, the elementals, and the godlike black sword.

Do you want a character so awfully OP that nothing, absolutely nothing, can stand in his way? Hell yeah. I'm a gamer. Do you want to have a story that manages to take him and never make him boring? Hell yeah! Here you go!

I'm seriously ashamed that I never got into this earlier. I knew it was out there. I know the author is recognized as one of the greats of fantasy. And now I know why, and I'm hooked. :)

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Thursday, May 5, 2016

Dying InsideDying Inside by Robert Silverberg
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Strangely enough, I found this one a real treat to read. It might have something to do with the fact that I read A Time of Changes, The World Inside, and it all within the same day, somewhat in spirit of how damn quick Silverberg wrote these great classics. :)

And because I read them all back to back, I found that being this familiar with the artist's text made al three books flow like water, common themes kissing intimately and oh so sexually. Like connection. Basic human connection. The first novel revelled in the breaking down of the barriers of self. The second novel, for all it's permissive sex, alienated everyone from deep and meaningful interactions. And then, the the third, David Selig, a powerful telepath living in the Baby Boomer generation here on earth, even with the gift to break through, could never quite make the bridge of intimacy.

Is it a tragedy? Yes. He squanders his talents as a kid and loses his ability as he ages, getting more frantic with time, and yet it's still the question of intimacy that each little vignette keeps coming back to. The novel's scenes jump through time, circling and circling back to peck at this theme, diving deeper into the the problem of telepathy, of squandered gifts, and all the while, we as readers are treated to an honestly delightful and revealing look, so I assume, into Robert Silverberg, himself.

I say this because David Selig is absolutely rich with humanity, being funny, flawed, intensely sexual (I think there *might* be a theme here), unabashedly intellectual, lazy, drug exploratory, and an all-around *real* guy. He's just as fucked as the rest of us, and there's so many things that ground him in the text, so many stream of consciousness moments, and so many insightful reflections, that I couldn't help being utterly, confoundedly, impressed.

It'd be awesome even as a traditional fiction tale, utterly mainstream, but it just so happens to have telepathy. In today's market, this one would probably do very well and no one would blink twice. There's much worse blurring of the lines out there.

Yeah. I'm looking at you, David Mitchell.

For those of you looking for one of those true classics of the SF field, who want a taste without truly wanting to commit to a learning curve, you could do much worse than read this one. It might as well be a novel about a man's descent into sexual impotency, of the rage and fear and embarrassment and loss of connection and identity. It's just that clever, that deep, and that good.

Nominated for '73 Hugo, right on the heels of the other two novels, both of which were nominated for the '72 hugos, both in the same year. Does anyone think that Silverberg was out to prove something during this time frame? Hmmm? The fact that he managed to be so prolific and write such good stuff should be a testament of anyone's real talent, and my hat goes off to him! Bravo!

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