Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Golden HouseThe Golden House by Salman Rushdie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thanks to Netgalley for a copy of this ARC!

I've always had Rushdie in my rear-view mirror it seems. He keeps cropping up everywhere and I always meant to read Satanic Verses for the big hubbub it made back in the day. You know, the whole assassination thing. And yet, I never actually got a round to reading him.

And then, out of the blue, I see a chance. Netgalley. I jumped on it and was pleasantly surprised to get it. And then I read my very first Rushdie.

Expectations are a tricky thing. I rather thought I was going to get a heavy literary novel full of references and mythology bubbling beneath the circus, if not surface, of the text. What I got was exactly that, but more-so, because I was engrossed in something so very readable and enjoyable that I never once had to really WORK at it. You know?

All the references myth were telegraphed as loudly as a classic Russian novel, the basic themes as loud as Bollywood musical, the pathos and the tragedy as distinctly American as a Mafia film.

Indeed, my own references were carefully considered and a careful reader will know what to expect if they pick this novel up. :)

It was pretty awesome, all told. The search and the apparent finding and confusion of identity is a very major theme, whether told as the story of Nero Golden, the patriarch, or through any of his sons who are as bright as those in Brothers Karamazov, or through the identity of our unreliable narrator, the house-guest and future filmmaker of the House of Golden.

But let me be honest here... I'd have read and enjoyed this novel just for the sequences about the rise of the Joker in politics. :) That stuff was GOLDEN.

And indeed, all of this was clever and fascinating and the looming tragedy of the family always kept me glued to the page as if I was rubbernecking a particularly bad auto accident. And it was beautiful. I don't know what that says about me, but I certainly love a good tragedy. It was lurid and fantastical and gaudy as if we were reading about Gatsby which, indeed, there was made multiple references.

Above all, this is a very modern book full of modern post-truth America and the lies that we see with our right eyes and the distorted truths of our left. I can honestly recommend this as a great and fun read. All those accolades that Rushdie seems to be getting are well deserved. He's one hell of a writer.

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Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The AdjacentThe Adjacent by Christopher Priest
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I've been reading a lot of Christopher Priest lately and I think there must be some kind of critical mass build-up because I just exploded.

The good kind of explosion. Like, my mind just popped.

This one's a love story. Odd as that may seem, looking like a death and a mystery at the beginning.

At first, I wasn't quite sure what to think. These last few books have all been dealing with the Dream Archipelago, an alternate reality close to ours in so many ways but all the names and locations are different and there are odd tech and weird creatures and fantastically detailed lives revolving around death, unending war, isolated peace, and, oddly enough, dying magicians, artists, writers, and similar.

I expected this to be similar but instead, we deal with the future London with a war to end all wars with truly weird weaponized dimensional tech and a mystery drawn out of Priest's signature depth of imagining for his characters. Melanie's body was never found. :) A charred perfect triangle had scored her right out of the ground.

He's at a loss, and that's just the beginning of the novel, just him trying to pick up the pieces, having this strange war-sagaved London get slowly revealed to him, with new mysteries abounding, where we are the ones doing all the heavy lifting. Poor Tibor is a bit distraught, but he gets there.

This is just the beginning, however, because we get extended scenes from WWI and WWII as well, with characters going through many of the similar kinds of emotional upheavals as Tibor, but with very specific and wonderfully detailed differences that are the Very key to unraveling this whole novel's mystery.

And then, when certain events come around, (no spoilers here) to tie this novel way more than firmly to Priest's The Prestige on both superficial and fundamental ways, only to slam us head-first into the last 3/4 of the novel taking place in the Dream Archipelago... well... by this point I'm snapping at people to leave me alone. I have to finish this because my mind is whirling and whirling and it is so utterly delighted and flabbergasted.

This book actually gives us the best hints as to the nature of the Dream Archipelago and the oddest bits of The Prestige and The Affirmation and it even ties itself to The Inverted World in a truly awesome way. I feel like I'm getting all those totally huge reveals only hinted at and hinted at and hinted at for so many novels. I feel like I'm getting something REALLY BIG HERE, folks.

Priest's writing is always paced rather slow but it's always deeply characterized. The world-building is absolutely phenomenal. The fact that he can string us along, leaving us almost always completely in the dark for what seems forever, is a testament to ungodly skill as a writer.

And perhaps it's just the fact that this has been building to one hell of a screaming crescendo for me for quite some time. I'm truly floored.

I won't say this is a particularly easy read and it requires a lot of extra thought on the side to piece everything together, but for all you folks that love beautiful challenges, but not challenges in writing or getting involved in the text, I totally recommend this. :)


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Monday, August 14, 2017

Mort (Death, #1; Discworld, #4)Mort by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Being one of the first and the latest of all the Pratchett reads, I'm really surprised just how much I loved this one. I'm upping the star count to a full five just because I think I liked Mort, the character, even better this time around.

DEATH on DISCWORLD. :) Seriously, there's nothing quite like it. Him. The personification. :) He meddles so much with humanity, tries to get drunk, and hires an apprentice. Not all in that order.

Death is the mewling cat at the party of life. :)

The story is a bit more interesting, I must say, than the ones immediately preceding it, and of all the books, I think it captures the essential spirit of all the ones to come after. High praise, no? I hope so. :)

Very funny stuff. :)

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Tehanu (Earthsea Cycle, #4)Tehanu by Ursula K. Le Guin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I think this was an interesting installment for the Earthsea books not because it continued the grand tradition of huge fantasy implications and events, but because it flips our expectations and gives us a very domestic view of Earthsea.

That's not to say that evil things don't happen, because they do, but the scope is pulled all the way back in, with Tenar from book 2 and Ged meeting up again after almost a lifetime, with her as a middle-aged woman and Ged much changed after the events of book 3, having lost his magic.

Reader expectations can be a huge complication to any tale that wants to be told. If I hadn't gone into this with my eyes wide open, I might have been rather upset. As it is, I judged this book in my mind against a vast collection of fantasy novels rather than the highest expectations of LeGuin's other novels and I didn't find it wanting. In fact, I quite enjoyed the deeper exploration of what it means to be a woman in Earthsea, with the different kinds of magic, the complications, and the down-to-earth feel. If Ged is the wind, then the female side is the earth. No surprise, I'm sure, but it was quite well done.

As for the plot, it didn't drag for me. I've read much, much worse. :) The setup at the end was quite interesting, too.

Final estimation? It's not on the same level as the other three, but it does explore the world of Earthsea in a rather interesting way that includes two of my favorite characters from the previous books. Sparrowhawk isn't mighty and righteous or just trying to fix his mistakes. He's just a man. That's okay. :)

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Sunday, August 13, 2017

Heart's BloodHeart's Blood by Juliet Marillier
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is definitely my favorite of Juliet Marillier's books, but to be fair, it's only my second.

That being said, it wasn't a love at first sight, much like the main character in this Beauty and the Beast retelling. It grew on me, much as the Beast grew on Belle.

The later half was quite exciting and full of magic and trying to break the curse and there was plenty of ghosts and ghouls and armies and all the awesome Norman invasion historical stuff to keep me involved in the medieval world this draws from. All the characters became something special for me, too, thanks to the weight of their interactions and involvement with each other.

Unfortunately, it took a while for me to get there. I was kinda bored by the pacing of at least the first half and while it was really focused on the realism angle and strove hard to stick to reality in the retelling, I was only very mildly interested. It was halfway between a historical and a slice-of-life with mild hidden past. It took a while to build up to something cool.

Even so, it ended nicely and it was still charming.

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Saturday, August 12, 2017

What the Hell Did I Just Read: A Novel of Cosmic Horror (John Dies at the End, #3)What the Hell Did I Just Read: A Novel of Cosmic Horror by David Wong
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I always go ga-ga over these books, and for a really great reason. They're FUN AS HELL.

It bends all genres, has some of the absolutely most delicious wry comments and commentary on our modern f***ed-up life, and is consistently over-the-top when it comes to action, monster mashing, and total reality crushing.

Did I mention that this is to UF as Evil Dead is to Horror? It's not a bad comparison. But then, it's sure as hell not complete, either, because this stuff is in it's own league.

Think slacker/slasher fic that does the funniest Supernatural episodes but adds a bit of crack to it to make it even more addictive, then throw in a major course of Cthulhu, sexual innuendo, and Cracked Magazine, and then you're getting pretty close.

It's the same for all three of these books, and I'm proud to say that this third one is still very strong, indeed. No spoilers, but as it says in the series, John Dies at the End.

For those of you who don't know the books, he really does die, but it doesn't always stick thanks to the Soy Sauce. The time travel and alternate dimension hopping and a barrel of snakes that is potential girlfriends just makes things a bit complicated. You know, normal stuff.

All in a day's *unpaid* work.

Of course, that's not to say everyone has supernatural girlfriends, and Dave's Amy is a real trooper and a badass whom I really love. :)

Honestly, this is some of the most righteous laugh-out-loud OTT technocolor raunchy cool books out there. :) It's a self-conscious B-Movie that transcends into ultimate badassery. :) I am STILL totally recommending this series. :) :)

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Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Beneath the Dark Ice (Alex Hunter, #1)Beneath the Dark Ice by Greig Beck
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Technothriller gun-porn for people who like ancient monsters.

Does it sound like it's up your alley? Then good, this one's pretty decent at what it does. Plenty of action, some political commentary, but what it really has a lot of is super-competence and/or super-powers for its main character.

Alex is a freak of nature thanks to that bullet in his brain. Woo!

Now let's keep him in charge of his team of crack commandos and watch as the scientists they're protecting die in horrible ways deep in the ice. Woo!

Like I said, if this is your cup of tea, it's pretty decent.

If you like more ideas in your SF or you want more magic in your gun-fantasy or if you want sheer terror in your horror, you might want to look a little further afield. This book covers a lot of rather a lot of familiar territory. Even the main characters fit the mold perfectly. There's not a lot of surprises to behold. At all.

But it's Gun-Porn! Woo! It's all about setting the right expectations. :)

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The Farthest Shore (Earthsea Cycle, #3)The Farthest Shore by Ursula K. Le Guin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This wraps up Le Guin's original trilogy of Ged, better known as Sparrowhawk, the greatest wizard of Earthsea, and even though I really enjoyed it, something about it keeps nagging me.

It's about death, the deathlands, and the end of magic. That's not the problem. In fact, that's the best part of it.

I suppose it's just the feel that this story is the end of Ged after I just started to get to know him. That cocky kid and cocky adult just metamorphosed into an old man. I mean, sure, he's still the same cocky and hard-earned wise man and he really shines when he picks up companions, like this young future king, but it seems like he's always having to correct his old mistakes.

Of course, that's kinda the point, too.

As a fantasy, I think it's still pretty wonderful. I guess I'm just grousing because I prefer a younger wizard. :)

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Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The Stone Sky (The Broken Earth, #3)The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There's really no easy way to put this, so I'll come right out and say it.

This is one of the very best stories I've ever read.

All together now, all three books in this trilogy, together, make up one hell of a great story.

I am amazed. I cried. I was blown away by the sheer immensity of what was going on, of the implications and the revelations and the final action.

Sure, we knew that one of two things must happen by the end of the second book, but I hadn't quite realized just how invested I'd have gotten by that point. I didn't know how it would happen or what kinds of complications might arise or just how much enemies had turned into allies or who was good or bad... because that was never the point of these books.

We are all people. Every single one of us... whether stone eater, rogga, or still. The fact that the point is far from belabored, rather gorgeous in exploration and execution, makes it more than icing on this cake. I'm simply shaken to my core.

This is one of the best stories I've ever read.

It's more than sheer imagination, storytelling skill, world-building, or fantastically complicated characters or world-shattering events. It's ART.

I am 100% squealing fanboy here.

I actually whooped aloud as I was reading and startled my daughter. :)

THIS is why I read. This is the sheer fascination I always try to hold onto. :)

THANK YOU!

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Monday, August 7, 2017

Against the DayAgainst the Day by Thomas Pynchon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm not sure that I can review this. Honestly.

I'm overwhelmed with the sheer sprawling immensity and lack of cohesion except for just a few special points... the big ones happening to be light and light's refraction, and anarchism.

SAY WHAT?

Yeah. That's kinda my view, too. It's set up with seemingly hundreds of little scenes and build-ups starting all the way back to Chicago's World's Fair and ending after WWI and never staying in any place for very long. Want to globe-trot around the world? Hop from character to character in admittedly brilliant and detailed and deep world-building sampling whole realities of the past? Stick around. We've got anarchism and dynamite-wielding revolutionaries, Archduke Ferdinand, Nicola Tesla, druggies, time-traveling hucksters turning harmonicists into a paranoid commune, we've got the ultimate steampunk, we've got sexual escapades from all sorts and means and ends, we've got a cumulative history of detectives starting from mining towns and ending in LA pre-noir, we've got cowboys, the Mexican Revolution, and best of all, tons and tons of science AND science fiction.

But above all, we've got light. Lots and lots of light. Double refractions cause both hallucinations and mirrored universes and where are you, Alice? The rabbit just disappeared.

So did the plot.

This novel has no plot even when it has lots and lots of scenes that appear to have plot and cohesion... but it still has nothing tying it together but a vaguely uneasy feeling that we've just been given an Anarchist Plot from the other side of the Mirror.

Who knows? Maybe I'm alone in this feeling. Maybe others will find something very deep and amazing in this after they've studied all the references, done an enormous survey of the pulp fiction of the day, analyzing all the clich├ęs and overblown character-references, etc., but I don't have the energy or the desire for that.

Indeed, I'm caught on the fence between wanting to throw my hands up and go, WHY? and just sit back and relax and enjoy the nearly pointless ride of it all.

It was entertaining in all its myriad pieces, to be sure. I cannot say the same about trying to tie it all together in order to make sense of it all afterward. Or during, for that matter. It's random and anarchistic AS a novel. Not just with the characters and the constant re-referencing to anarchism.

*shrug*

I'm glad I read it, to be sure, and I'm also super thrilled to be done with it as well.

I feel like I just read a DFW novel that was wider rather than deeper than his normal fare. :)

Do I get bonus points? *sigh*


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Saturday, August 5, 2017

The Tombs of Atuan (Earthsea Cycle, #2)The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula K. Le Guin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a very fine fantasy. I say fine because it evokes many great labyrinthian images, old, old traditions of sacrifice to the Dark Old Ones, and eventually, freedom from the same.

There's a lot of beauty here, and while I didn't love it on quite the same scale as Ged's original journey in the first book, it's mainly because I liked the core theme better.

Other readers will absolutely take out of this book different layers. I can say that confidently because there are some really beautiful and clear layers interwoven here.

The past and the evil in the past can be broken and escaped. That which was broken can be renewed.

And what's more, so much of it has to do with our own perceptions! Of course, isn't it always? :)

Our MC is the high priestess of an ancient cult and Ged does show up halfway. It's really quite amusing to see just how easily she toys with the poor "greatest wizard", but I admit to liking this book a lot more after that point.

It's really something else to see how clear and easy this is to read compared to a lot of modern fantasy and it's even more interesting because it stands up to the test of time. Le Guin definitely has great skill. :)

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Friday, August 4, 2017

Wildfire (Hidden Legacy, #3)Wildfire by Ilona Andrews
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's official. I like this series better than Kate Daniels by the same authors. Maybe it's the fact that the two MC's are damn solid and there's never any doubt about where they stand and maybe it's because I love all the side characters, too, but one thing is for certain: The action and the non-action bits are equally cool and always grip my attention.

Who knew that being a Prime or becoming one could be so wrought with danger?

Well, I guess I already knew that from the previous books, but seeing Nevada cross these troubled waters with an evil grandmother on her ass and suitors begging for her hand is a real treat.

If I don't get a lot more of these books I'm gonna scream. :) You know, like a naughty fanboy who isn't getting his way? I think that's a good plan. After all, I think I've just crossed the line into evil fanboy territory.

Who knew that Romance could be so fun! Action, magic, and lots of hot other action. It should hit a lot of people's right spots if you know what I mean.

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Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Operation Hail StormOperation Hail Storm by Brett Arquette
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a pretty standard techno-thriller of the ultralight assassination-drone variety and it's a competent novel as far as it goes, but there are a few things that rather annoyed me about.

First of all, it wasn't the topic. I really didn't have much issue with it although I've read some very, very good versions of it, such as through Daniel Suarez. Rather, it's the editing.

A lot of the story features are repeated even if they're repeated through different PoVs. It's almost as if we had been asked to give a play-by-playback of special scenes... but in reality, we weren't asking for it at all. It happened several times and I just didn't think it was all that necessary.

The other issue was the character choices. The female lead had, unfortunately, had the Mati-Hari trope attached to her. And while she hated it, I tended to hate it, too. I liked that we tried to get her away from the trope, but it was... hard.

And then there was Hale. High-tech billionaire turns assassin? Okay. *shrug*

At least the story flew by and while it was very tech-heavy, I didn't mind that so much because I'm rather tech-heavy, so if you readers like this kind of military blow-'em-up kinda thing, I'm sure you're gonna love this book anyway. :)

Thanks to the author for a chance to review it!

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Tuesday, August 1, 2017

If on a Winter's Night a TravelerIf on a Winter's Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I wonder why this is my third Italo Calvino book and want to kick myself. I should have read this first even though his Cosmicomics is more my speed in general. Gaah!

That being said, there's something awesomely lulling and beguiling and downright charming about this book. It reads wonderfully and with such a light touch that you can't help but feel as if you're riding in a giant's careful hand, a soft but omnipresent voice telling you where you're going and what you'll be experiencing and that you really shouldn't be surprised that you're going to be dropped into one opening novel after another after another, beckoning back to previous novels and forward again, all of which are fascinating and provoking, sexual or paranoid, driving you forward until the count of ten.

That's right. Ten novels in one. That's just how Italo Calvino rolls.

But don't think this is hard to get through! Oh, no! This alway has a helpful fouth-wall-breaking hand to guide you on your way, with a constant theme of self-reference that often goes off the deep end of metaphysics but doesn't really. After all, the novel is only referring to the nature of itself.

What is its nature? It is ten novels in one, always starting, never ending... a story within a story within a story.

I love this stuff. Like, big time. Total meta-fiction, but so damn charming and carefully crafted and often dreamlike and firmly plotted, or anti-plotted, to excite and titillate and then draw back and return once more to the idea that

THIS IS NOT THE NOVEL YOU WERE LOOKING FOR. :)

You know, just like the droids.

And yet, it always is the novel you were looking for, fake within fake within fake and always turning back in upon the central theme that makes this so special: Books. Stories. Truth hidden deep, a story like an onion that can be peeled over and over and yet remains always the same.

I can honestly say I'm thrilled to have read this. It's probably the most accessible post-modern novel I've ever read and it's a comfortable and comforting ride all the way through despite the sense of uneasiness that the author intends to project upon us. Or maybe that's just me. I like labyrinths, after all. :)

Damn fine read.

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Back of Beyond (Complicated Love, #1)Back of Beyond by Neeny Boucher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that I had a really good time with this YA Romance even though I really shouldn't. I mean, it has no SF or Fantasy elements at all and I've gone on record saying how I love to hate all YA... I'm so inconsistent!

And yet, I had a great time. I was in these kids shoes as they dealt with the horrors of high school and how they straddled the fences between total outcasts and being an Outcast Crew, a member of a great band, or a member of the in-crowd.

What really stands out the most, however, was the slow progression from a total hate-hate relationship into grudging acceptance and then, finally, into love. These kinds of stories always seem to strike a great chord for me. It's often completely unbelievable and entirely realistic all at the same time. Even so, it's the journey that counts.

I can easily read these all day long even though it's not normally my cup of tea. :) There's just something about it. :)


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