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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Taltos (Vlad Taltos, #4)Taltos by Steven Brust
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is actually a solid 3.5 stars.

What do you call a prequel of a prequel? We're heading into Vlad's personal past again, but this time only a few years after his days as a tavern owner.

The story is the most straightforward with the least digressions of any of Brust's novels I've read, except during the last third of the novel when I was forced to shift back and forth between current action and flashback regularly. Both sequences were interesting on their own, but something about reading them together seemed a little iffy. It wasn't wrong, per se, but it seemed kinda useless.

That's not to say I didn't entirely enjoy reading about his first assassinations or his first really big job, but frankly, I just wanted more of the main action which felt so much more important.

Not to give such plot secrets away, but my biggest enjoyment in the novel was learning how Vlad met and gained the trust and friendship of the inhabitants of Castle Black. Such recurring involvements were often dark and thoroughly interesting, like a cat playing with a dragon, and their evident trust and approval of Vlad had always appeared to be an inexplicable mystery in the first books.

Well, Now I Know The Rest Of The Story.

I'd like to say that this novel stands well on its own, and it does, for the most part, but in my mind, it falls way too neatly into the category of a flashback of a flashback.

It was okay.

The story might have had a better impact on me if it hadn't been cheapened by Vlad's past within the past.

The main action could have been made much better with a truly interesting climax that didn't merely serve as the purpose of putting the Dragon Lord in his favor. Making a new spell is fine and good, of course, but we're talking about the land of the gods here. We've got practically unlimited resources to go wild, here, and the only real conflict I got to enjoy was a mild sense of why these four characters wind up as friends.

I guess I feel a pretty large sense of wasted opportunity in the otherwise well-written continuing adventures of mr. assassin. I wanted to like it more, of course.

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Monday, July 27, 2015

Teckla (Vlad Taltos, #3)Teckla by Steven Brust
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another very easy read, but this time Vlad has his most difficult challenge ever... His wife.

I can't think of a better way to seriously cramp the style of a man who succeeded against all the odds to win the most high-paid assassination than to have his wife decide to go all in on a revolution for the downtrodden in the slums, especially since Vlad's at the top of his game, rich as hell, and have powerful people owe him favors.

Of course, that's exactly what happens, and he's just trying to save his marriage while being unable to accept or go along with the ultimately doomed idealism. Hell, this would have made a fine novel, full of outrage, love, hopeless fear, and sadness, and all without a touch of fantasy. Fortunately for us, we've got a flying novel that goes down so smooth it might as well have been a dragon dipping into a lake.

I never felt so close to Vlad as during this novel, and that may be because I'm already invested in the character, or it could be because the conflict is real, immediate, and scary, while only occasionally turning into a bloodbath.

Revolution. It was painful to read mainly because it seemed so ill-prepared and idealistic, which was probably an artifact of seeing it through Vlad's eyes, but I couldn't help but agree. It's nice to imagine that hoards of angry peasants can do more than step up to be slaughtered, but come on... what was Cawti thinking?

I suppose this novel felt the most real. It was a squabble between a married couple, with the regular complications of mob-wars, assassinations, and plotting one's own death... and that was only on the husband's side.

Forgive me if I am stuck wondering how this whole novel would have played out written from Cawti's point of view. It might have turned into something savagely different and fun instead of being tinged with despair. Who knows? I might be sitting on this one for a while wondering that very question. That's a good thing. I'm getting more for my money on this read. :)

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Sunday, July 26, 2015

Yendi (Vlad Taltos, #2)Yendi by Steven Brust
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I freely admit that I don't know whether this second book was written before or after the first's publication date, but it certainly falls five years before the main action of the previous novel.

Why does this matter? I don't mind having that tantalizing clue of having died years ago in the first novel being expanded into it's own interesting tale, but something has been itching under my skin as I read Yendi.

It didn't feel as polished as the previous novel. I kept picking up on clues that felt like this was the first tale, not the second. It was straightforward, following action after action, reversal after reversal. The previous novel jumped through time with important scenes and barrelling through ten years giving us the weight of great things and interesting stories untold, letting our imaginations do most of the work and driving us into some seriously important Work without stalling. This second novel compressed the time involved to just a few months, keeping things simple if not uncomplicated.

So why do I feel like this one could have really been the first novel of Mr. Brust? Because he didn't use all of the excellent tools of his writing that were at his disposal.

Don't get me wrong. This was a great mob-boss turf-war novel set among half-dragons and an unfortunate Easterner (read human) interloper in a big city. It also catapulted his love-interest to the forefront, and despite being such a whirlwind romance, I was charmed. Cawti was fully in the driver's seat, whether she was literally killing or loving Vlad. I rooted for both of them. What can I say? It was hopelessly romantic. Thank goodness for revivication. It's what turns any would be tragedy into high comedy.

One thing Steven Brust does fantastic in both novels is the near breakneck speed he can turn any desperate situation into a natural tragedy following from unintended consequences of character's actions.

[In the first book, neither Vlad nor us knew what his casting of the second dragon invitation would do. My heart was in my throat when I, like Vlad, believed that he had just severed the connection with his best friend in order to save his life. The situation was a bit twisted in this novel after I was invited to see Cawti's world through Vlad's eyes after Vlad's assassination had been accomplished. Love at first sight for both of them at the moments of both their deaths... so fucked up, and so damn beautiful. So yes, I say again, thank god for revivication and the kindness of fucking powerful dragon hosts at Castle Black. ]

I really liked the novel's twisty plot turns, the love story, and the quick battles for supremacy. It might not have been as good as the first, but I still really enjoyed it.

I'm still curious to see all the places this series will go. Thank god I've got twelve more to go!

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Saturday, July 25, 2015

Jhereg (Vlad Taltos, #1)Jhereg by Steven Brust
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

While there was nothing absolutely mind-blowing about the plot or the fantasy, the one thing that really stood out in this book was the fantastic writing.

It was absolutely some of the easiest reading I've had for an obviously detailed and fleshed out world full of lots of magic, interesting races, very long lived people, and dragons. It flew by so quickly and easily, I was rather surprised at how much info-dump never came across as info-dump. I learned so much about the world, naturally, that I was giddy after the reading.

Is it because I've grown very used to the tropes involved, over so many years of enjoying fantasy? Possibly. But then, that's another reason I need to give this book props. From the mid-eighties, it still comes off as hugely superior in execution, characterization, big ideas, and joy. This is SUPERIOR fantasy.

I've read my fair share of SUPERIOR fantasy, of course, but this one feels so effortless.

Assassins? Check. Dragons? Check. Near immortals everywhere you look? Check. Tons and tons of magic? Absolutely.

I'm pretty sure I'm going to fly through all Brust's novels in no time whatsoever. They're pretty damn fantastic and smart.

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Friday, July 24, 2015

Howl's Moving Castle (Howl's Moving Castle, #1)Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I feel like I've done myself a disservice by having watched the Miyazaki film dozens of times before reading the novel, but not too much of a disservice. There are so many beautiful scenes from the movie, full of magic, flight, and war... that didn't exist in the novel. Who knew? (Apparently, everyone.) And yet, I can't fault the novel for not being great, because it was.

Step by step, all of the characters were pretty damn spot on with what I know of the film, except I was given a great gift of depth and insight that opened up their lives to me. Suddenly, situations that once felt slapdash have reasons, like the flower shop, and sisters actually have lives and motivations and peril. Oh so great peril, indeed!

I think I liked the Witch of the Waste a lot more in the novel, including her plot, her deviousness, and her end. It all felt more immediate and satisfying. And yet, the movie was so damn cute and heartwarming. It turned the witch and the turnip head into (almost) immediately likeable heroes. (Well, maybe not the Witch, but she did have her heart for the film.)

How can I decide which is better? I am tempted to go for my go to canned speech about how novels are always better than their movie adaptations, but I'm having a bit of trouble here. The novel was a wonderfully complete set piece with a light voice throughout. The movie had much better magic and action. The fact that both diverged significantly in story doesn't help much, either, and if the movie had been in anyone else's hands, I'd have belched out my canned speech.

I know I can read this novel again with as much enjoyment as I read it this time, and that's saying an awful lot. I'm going to have to say that the novel is a classic. Why I had never heard of it before is an utter mystery. I'm going to name the novel as the winner, mainly because I loved her use of the mundane to put Howl in his place. It showed brilliantly in the novel, whereas it only touched lightly in the movie. I've got to go for my favorite parts to make a decision.

I'm definitely going to read this one to my daughter when she gets a few more years on her.

This is some pretty classic and classy fantasy. YA, but it's obviously in vogue to read YA as adults these days. At least there was no rape and mass death of children or mind-wiping involved.

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Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Dune (Dune Chronicles, #1)Dune by Frank Herbert
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm going to re-review this one again very soon, because I only slap-dashed this one onto this site years ago. It was unfair to one of my favorite novels of all time and it was unfair to myself. The novel is so rich and fantastic. There's a reason I read it eleven times, once per year since I had turned fourteen, but I had eventually dropped the ceremony after reading five of the prequels by his son and the prolific turner of words, KJA.

It's been long enough that I think I can go back to reading this one, and will come October of 2015 as a buddy read. I'm looking forward to it. I can trace this book back to my original love of all things sci-fi.

I might have been annoyed with all the politics on the first read, but it later became my favorite passages. Who would have known? I might have been slightly annoyed with the idea that there's some man who can do something that women can't. It was couched pretty carefully in the story, and women are generally a lot more powerful than the men in general, so it's easy to let things like that get lost in the whirlpool of prophesy and whatnot, but it still annoyed me. And yet, it's pretty easy to forgive. I loved the discussions and themes riddled through the tale. I loved the worldbuilding. I loved the characters. I used to bore my friends to tears with my wild speculations about Hasimir Fenring and the possibility of spinning off a long line of hidden Kwisatz Haderachs.

What can I say? I am a fanboy in the very very worst way.

I got into philosophy because of all of the wisdom sayings of this book. I got into ecology because of this book. I got into the idea of transhumanism because of this book. I even got into what I had then thought of as the most ugly and contemptible and boring of subjects: Economics.

So, several dozen Economics and Politics books later, I can honestly say that Dune corrupted me. Damn you, Dune. I cannot praise you enough.

But give it time. Come October, I'll be setting my sights back on you, and this time, I might just get critical.

What a delightful time to be alive. :)

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Monday, July 20, 2015

ArmadaArmada by Ernest Cline
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My reactions to this book were like a roller coaster.

I start off with a good and heavy dose of nostalgia, which is fine, but when the Zack starts down the long twisty road of father issues, I follow him down for a good long time without much worries. When it goes down the rabbit hole, then I started going, "Eh?" Do kids anywhere go as far to setting up a veritable shrine to all the things that dear departed dad used to be heavy into?

So I take a step back, put on my suspenders of rebriefing, and enjoy the nostalgia without worrying too much about Zack's insanity quotient. Everything is good again.

Honestly, I was a little worried that I'd be disappointed with a novel blatantly riffing off The Last Starfighter, but I shouldn't have worried. Mr. Cline expands and makes the whole universe his own, with updated tech, MMOs, and tons of righteous personality. I'm into it. And I'm even more into it when the war starts, Zack fucks up, and Zack saves the day, picking up a girlfriend along the way that's much smarter than he is, and they're both happy that it's so. Love during wartime. No messy relationship conflict necessary. It was refreshing, and all the conversations are light, bordering on snarky. It's just that kind of novel.

I'm still well on-board.

Then daddy issues get complicated, showing us a brand new depth that hero worship can send a kid if he has a usb key with almost two decades of letters from papa. I groaned. Zack doesn't decide to pass on them for a more fortunate time. He obsesses. I start losing it, again.

Not to worry, though, the war is still going strong and all things and all manner of things are well... until my cart takes a super deep dive into magical happy ending land. Don't get me wrong. I love my happy endings. But I love them more when they're not had at the expense of credulity. I mean, sure, we have plenty of cues throughout, from the official backstory of the MMO game sets, the complaints everyone seems to have about "reasons" for aliens invading Earth, IE., "Why? Why bother?", etc., but in the end, we do get an answer, and the answer isn't quite the mind blowing one I was rather expecting.

It brought me down. Sure, the massive dead count does count for a happy ending, but it's the "reason" that really disappoints. It's fine for those people who like a good meta. I enjoyed the reason for the meta that it is. I just don't think it belonged in this otherwise fast and easy and engaging read that made me feel giddy and good and excited. I felt like I was in the middle of the action and I was enjoying myself a great deal, after all.

If the novel didn't have the likeable characters, the sharp dialog, or the engaging story, I'd have easily given this a two star rating rather than a four. If we hadn't gone so repetitively into the daddy issues, while retaining the meta, I'd probably have given this book a five. Meta isn't a big problem. It just marred what I considered a very very close shot to being an utterly breakaway awesome novel that would deserve to be on the bestseller list for 40 weeks and be loved by as many people who loved Ready Player One.

Like me.

I'm just saying.

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Sunday, July 19, 2015

The Camelot Shadow: A NovelThe Camelot Shadow: A Novel by Sean Gibson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am able to review this thanks to Sean's gifting of this novel. Thank you!

That being said, on to the review. I can honestly say that I really enjoyed the novel right after we left the Alzheimer's Saint Scholar, because that's when all the action started revving up. I tore through the rest like I was on a rampage and I enjoyed the zombies and canopic-jar-sheath holding Nigel's power as well as the fight scenes. They were very well done fight scenes, with just enough tease and breaks at fantastically annoying places that left me hungry for more. They held my attention, and I'll be honest, fight scenes usually don't do it too well for me. I prefer my movies for that kind of thing. This hit me on the nose, though.

What dragged me down was initial slowness of the novel. Sure, victorian lit often had slow bits, but sometimes, like with Charles Dickens, he can move things along like lightning when he wants to. In this case, I wanted to rev things up for quite some time. There might have been an easier way to get the feel of scholarship without dwelling so long on it. It's not Possession, after all. It had more of a feel of a Victorian Dan Brown mystery for the first half of the novel, which is fine as far as that goes, but I'll be honest... I got a bit bored. Still, I appreciated what it was trying to do and worked harder to keep my focus on the tale, and I'm glad I did.

I enjoyed the conflict of themes and those characters that embodied them. I loved how every single character introduced eventually had the spotlight.
Mr. Gibson never had a qualm about killing his darlings, which I really appreciated, and more so when I got to see how those were reused. Waste not, want not. There was never a wasted character.

I suppose I want to complain about one other thing, though. The prelude was like a D&D story, tempting me to believe that the novel was going to be *that* kind of story, so I was rather jarred when the novel started up and continued to be like nothing like the prelude for most of the novel. Sure, it did get explained, eventually, but I was a bit annoyed, especially because it seemed like a lot of promise that I was told I might never taste. You know, the social contract of writers and readers. In this case, it was a minor thing, because all is right with the world after finishing the novel, but it did boot me out of the illusion several times.

Again, not a deal-breaking issue

I enjoyed the tale, and I have no qualms about reading more. I had fun!

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UlyssesUlysses by James Joyce
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's one hell of a novel, to be sure. I was lucky enough to get in on a class that studied it, ad nauseum, and without it, I'm not sure I'd have had the stamina. As it is, I still love it, and have it close at hand to gaze upon as a testament that I'm not really a shallow reader.

Seriously though, how many pages were devoted to his thoughts while on the crapper? Seriously?

I still can't truly recognize the step-by-step shadowing of Homer's classic. It strains my mind and my eyesight, no matter how many times I was told that it was there. Should I read it again? Very possibly. Then again, maybe I'm just afraid that I'll go as crazy as Joyce did, by osmosis.

It's been so many years since reading it, and yet it still has a big impression in my brain. That's saying an awful lot.

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Saturday, July 18, 2015

Wilting Souls (Wilting Souls Saga #1)Wilting Souls by C.R.J. Riggins
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Once I got into the story, I wanted a much longer novel and a complete omission of its existing end. The novel is just too damn short to pull off such a meteoric rise. I liked Bandares. I had no problems with his descent into revenge and a black hole of a human heart. He truly began as a naive little kid, and I enjoyed seeing his fall into what he was slowly becoming, but that's part of the problem. I was still at the beginning of his fall when everything just turned off.

Believe it or not, there's a lot to love in the tale. I've rarely seen such a good blend of so many mind-boggling intense alien races to fill the gaps of the universe, skillfully borrowed and woven into this tapestry from so many of the best Space-Opera elements I've ever read, twisted sufficiently to be rather unique, and others that only give a glimpse of true coolness.

The three main characters are memorable and thrown right into the middle of the action pretty damn well, given problems and flushed down the toilet when things really got screwy. Believe me, I appreciated the speed and the direction of the novel and it was a damn easy read.

Other minor problems that I got stuck with at the beginning was the (to me) over-reliance on sex and sex-byproducts. Sure, it has a place in the novel from a worldbuilding perspective, but I would have felt more inclined to dive into the novel more without the gratuity of the cultural expectation. I would have been fine with implications without it being repeated so much. It's just my personal preference.

What the hell happened with Wa'raydon? I can't ignore the huge dangling rope of a plot like that.

It's another reason why the novel needs to be simply continued, maybe three or four times it's current length. I'd read the hell out of it, and enjoy much further development of the characters. As it is right now, we got to the end of the first act. I expect a hell of a lot more rise and fall and rise again and fall again before a resolution that either confirms or denies the internal issues going on in everyone.

What can I say? I'm hooked on the characters and I absolutely loved the space battle/s. They were all very strong.

As a reader, I'm saying that I want more! Don't pull away my satisfaction like this! Otherwise, I probably would have given it a five out of five. :)

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Foreigner (Foreigner, #1)Foreigner by C.J. Cherryh
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My personal favorites of Cherryh are the Foreigner books, hands down. And that's even while excluding her actual Hugo winners, Downbelow Station and Cyteen.

It's been so long since I started the Foreigner series that I only very vaguely recall having to struggle a little bit at the beginning. The second readthrough, on the other hand, was an absolute joy, picking up and retaining all those previously annoying details that then brought the tale to life. Nothing is wasted. The tension between remaining loyal to the human community and getting sucked into the political tensions of an interesting alien race that could seriously benefit from a greater stream of technology was like a draft of pure clean water in comparison to so many years of ham-fisted Star Trek.

The seriously twisted mental gymnastics of having to speak through numerology made me really believe, deep down, that these aliens were not only brighter than us, but they were also natural Shakespearean poets. I also learned more about herd mentality from this book than I did from any other source, and she made it truly exciting.

What will Bren do? Will he betray his own kind? Is it right to do so? Is he being set up to die?

The poor Paidhi was so lost. I loved it.

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Friday, July 17, 2015

The Children of the Sky  (Zones of Thought #3)The Children of the Sky by Vernor Vinge
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a bit of a roller coaster for me, in that I expected huge undertakings and huge payoffs, but what I got never delivered more than an upheaval of Tines society and the progression toward a technological revolution in the Slow Zone, but after I got over this rather large disappointment, I was pleased to run with all the packs in a fascinating, complex, and plot-driven wonder of a really good character novel.

I should have reread A Fire Upon The Deep first, but it wasn't absolutely necessary. I loved that classic novel. It was the one that spurred the Singularity that we all know and love. This is its sequel, but The Children of the Sky has little to do with the Singularity, except as a far-off threat.

Setting my personal expectations and desires aside, I sat down to read this long novel intent to enjoy it on its own merits no matter what the cost. It is a Vernor Vinge novel, after all. I have always GUSHED over his novels in the past, and it really speaks very well for him that 3 out of his 6 novels won the Hugo award.

Quality is Quality is Quality.

And this novel is Quality. The characters took a while to fall into, and the starting plot was somewhat okayish, but the depth and the execution of all the characters grew overwhelmingly poignant with time. It required patience, but never once did Vinge let me down. The whole novel is a painstaking tapestry that is imminently steady and complex with character relationships and development. Ravna grew on me, as did Amdi and Joanna. Even Tycoon grew on me, and he surprised me by not being any sort of classical villain. I was surprised by the developments, to be sure, and that goes double for the Choir. What a strange and fascinating creature.

For those who either haven't read the first novel or have completely forgotten about it, the Tines are an alien race clawing its way from a medieval worldview to an advanced society. They are packs of dogs with telepathy, combining together in groups between 4-8 dogs to have equivalent human intelligence. That's the premise, but what Vinge has really given us is an extremely dense and really fantastic exploration of alien subtlety ranging from romance to warfare. Human technology only makes things chaotic and hopeful and destructive, and how the two races get along is the true heart of the novel.

I think of C J Cherryh with so much fondness when it comes to this kind of alien exploration, but honestly, Vinge holds more than his own when it comes to the same thing. This novel isn't as flashy as the Foreigner series, but it is definitely as deep and magical and thought provoking, if not more so.

It wasn't what I expected, but it certainly was more than I bargained for, and I can't help but feeling flush with satisfaction after reading it. It's true science fiction, exploring ideas, even if they are mostly "soft" ideas. I can't help but sit in awe with what he pulled off, even if the novel isn't completely mind-blowing.

It isn't. It's not going to rank at the top of any list, but I am supremely glad I got to experience it. No reservations. No regrets.

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Thursday, July 16, 2015

Ant-Man: Scott LangAnt-Man: Scott Lang by David Michelinie
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

My god. What was I thinking?

Totally mediocre 70's tripe, and just when I was planning on getting all hyped to watch the new movie starring Scott Lang as Ant-Man, an obviously better choice for Ant-Man than Pym who sounds like a douche. Or The irredeemable Ant-Man who was an utter ass without any quality whatever.

Scott Lang should have been my man... but I'm sorry, but I was bored to tears by these comics. We need a completely new imagining for him by some of our most excellent modern writers who care to make a story both intelligent and interesting. Is that too much to ask? Please don't just slap together any old piece of crossover trash. Please.

Okay, so I've been very spoiled by the last twenty years of comics, and especially by the last ten, and it isn't fair to judge a damn comic by being what the market could bear, but it bears an awful lot of trash. I could have been reading something good, dammit, and now I've just become ambivalent about a movie that I was getting really psyched to see. I guess I'll just have to sleep on it and see if my ambivalence shrinks by morning.

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Dead Ever After (Sookie Stackhouse, #13)Dead Ever After by Charlaine Harris
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I may have had my own issues with the series, but after seeing all of the really nasty comments from previous fans, I had to sit down with my own thoughts and really have a heart-to-heart with them. I didn't dislike the last Sookie book. It felt, rightly so, like a gently methodical loose-end tie-up. Sure, there was a little bit of contrived tension, but I had no issues with it. This was a novel, after all, and not a post-mortem compendium.
I always liked the man she ended with, and while Eric and Bill had their charms, there was just way too much baggage to let them have a happy ever after with Sookie. The books were always relatively light, despite the blood, gore, mayhem, explosions, and torture. It was their charm that kept me as a reader, and this last book kept the charm strong. I had to remind myself that this was a southern-vampire series, after all, and a Line-Dance at the end was not only appropriate, but also fitting. A wedding at the end capitalized the idea that the series was a traditional comedy, not a tragedy. I was charmed and relaxed through the entire reading and it felt good, like any good lazy read about people you've known and loved for years.

I wasn't in it for the Eric-Sookie romance, either. Perhaps that's why I enjoyed it so much. Granted, I was fully charmed when Eric had lost his memory and the man he used to be charmed the pants from Sookie's hips, but I was also charmed by the witch sequence and the fairy sequence.

Maybe I happen to enjoy the grown-up ending and the almost complete release of character tension without having to worry about just killing the dog at the end. It's not a spectacular hollywood ending, after all, but it was very satisfying.

I will continue to read Charlaine Harris. :)

Update July 16, 2015:

So I haven't read any more of Charlaine Harris. Honestly, I feel kinda blah about trying to pick up her new series or any of the short stories, so much so that I haven't even bothered to read the reviews of them to see if they might have been worth while. Hell. I haven't even read the blurb on those books.

Does this mean that the passion is gone?

Looks like it. I might just round this book down to a 3 star because I'm so thoroughly underwhelmed by even an attempt to keep on going. I'll just keep my memories of the good times. You know, like TV Dexter before the last episode.

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Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Hexomancy (Ree Reyes, #3)Hexomancy by Michael R. Underwood
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Thanks to Netgalley, I'm able to wolf down my fix of one of the most interesting Urban Fantasies to come along in a while, and do it with a smile and well before the actual publish date. Am I squeeing? Yes, yes I am. I feel like I just got a powerup on nostalgia, just like Ree, and my geek is ON.

There's nothing quite like this series. The rules are well defined, the characters are interesting, and the utter truckload of geeky nostalgia plows through me like the power of the dark side. Or is that Hexomancy? Hmm.

For those who have read the first two novels and the novella that sets the stage for this one, kudos. You've got all the props and the asshattery of a certain Eastwood under wraps. If you're just missing the novella, then you're asking yourself why the Strega (luck magic witches) are cursing him out and destroying Grognack's cool geek bar in the process, demanding that he die for crimes that haven't been committed yet. Can anyone not see this foreshadowing? No? Okay. No problem.

Now we enter in to this novel, resplendent in magic right out of WoD Mage: Ascension mage class designed to find and exploit weak spots in people, buildings, tools and generally being practically unstoppable. Pit these greek fates against the great wall of geek, and we've got a delightful action tale with excellent pacing, character development, and a truckload of geeky references. We even get the hint of a better question as to the previous novella's foreshadowing. It's very solid.

My only complaint is that the geeky nostalgia is headed too much into the huge franchise land. It's fine to use the MCU/DC, Star Wars, Star Trek, Magic: The Gathering, and wonderful Buffy, but what I really want is a bit of the deeper geek. You know, more Doctor Who than just the psychic paper. A real exploration of the badassery of the Leverage characters, or, especially, an all out geekfest of cyberpunk. Mr. Underwood has definitely played upon all of these already, to be sure, but here's my problem:

I WANT MORE. Like ravenous beast with a maw like a caldera, I want to consume an endless supply of these novels.

That being said, I loved the character developments, the new potentials for great mischief, and Drake. He's like a door to another universe just walking around and being extra polite to everyone. Fun stuff.

I totally recommend this, dude, but please, do me a favor and be sure you've read the others. It will stand up on its own, but only technically. The joys are really in the backstory and development.

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Monday, July 13, 2015

The Magician's Land (The Magicians, #3)The Magician's Land by Lev Grossman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Strangely enough, I worked through all of my reservations from the previous two books, having liked the first book well enough, and on reflection liking the second one much less, I discovered that passing the hump of the heist in the third allowed me to finally relax into the story after finally realizing that Quentin wasn't going to remain a douchebag forever.

The heist was fine, as far as that went, and his just going along with everything and sliding along with his life was par for course. It wasn't that surprising, but I was rather amused with the situation. I even caught myself reimagining the tale as one of discovery from the side-character's pov as they went about their sneakthievery only to realize that this ponce used to be a king of Fillory. There wasn't too much of that, of course, but it still amused me to think about it.

Later on, during the great hiding, the time wasting, I finally realized that Quentin was actually doing something with his life instead of coasting. From that point forward, I began to root for him. The resulting changes seemed like brief backsliding, but in the end he eventually did the right thing. And then he did the right thing again. And again. I started wondering if I was reading the same set of novels. When did this idiot start growing up?

And then it happened. After slogging through two and half novels of disliking this boy-man, he finally redeemed himself. We finally have a rounded character, and he was good. What a shock.

Getting in on some of the povs of the other superfriends didn't leave me dissatisfied, either. Jane was pretty interesting, and Elliot also had his moments. Penny, well... Penny was Penny. He'll probably remain a dick forever, which is a shame, because I identify more with punks than wastrel spoon-lickers with a mysterious silvery paste on their tongues.

Julia. Out of everyone, I think I'd prefer to have novels devoted to her and her ascension to 3/4ths of godhood. I'm sure there's some pretty good storytelling hidden somewhere in there. After the story of her rise in the second novel, I wanted everything else to follow her about, but it just didn't happen.

C'est la vie.

The only recommendation I can really give for these books is that they all be read in the pure assumption that they are NOT separated by any silly delineation of book-binding. Just assume that all three novels are one ginormous volume meant to explore the ultimate growing up of a douchebag, and you won't go wrong. Then, it becomes rather pleasant. And isn't that what we all really want, in the end?

Happy endings. They exist, even for these books. My relief is palpable. I'm glad I stuck through it all.

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Sunday, July 12, 2015

The Magician King (The Magicians, #2)The Magician King by Lev Grossman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Most of the book had transformed into boilerplate fantasy adventure. If I had a nickel for every time that Quentin used his byline, "Let's go on a quest," I could probably afford a bean burrito at Taco Hell. He steamrolled everything and everyone in his path to get exactly what he wanted or what he believed to be a righteous cause, and except for a few casualties along the way, we, as readers, get to watch him be the the greatest casualty of his own adventure.

The last development somewhat redeemed the rest of his humdrum story, but honestly, I wished there were more dire consequences heaped upon him. He's only middling likeable. In fact, because the books are written pretty well, it just highlights just how much I can't gloss over Quentin's no sense of wonder. It's like he's just going through the motions no matter what he ends up doing, and he's one of the four freaking kings of a Narniaesque land. "Let's go on a quest!"

If the author is actually peering at us through the pages and showing us his true colors, then I'd be tempted to say he despises the genre, so it begs the question... why is he writing in it? It's technically good, after all, and it even shows some really clever and interesting jumps in characterization and development. Unfortunately, the plot keeps running afoul of that great mechanism in the sky being cranked by a great silvery being.

I keep thinking about that one line from the first book where Alice complained at Quentin that he was the only student in the school who truly believed in magic, despite the fact that all the actual practitioners performed magic daily. It always struck me as WRONG. Even if Quentin still believes in the sanctity of Narniaesque, I never once got the real feeling that he really loved the place. Not really. It was always a place to run to or lounge in or perform some great deed to justify his being such a useless wastrel. I submit that Alice was plain wrong. He is the antithesis of love.

On the other hand, Julia was probably one of the most delightful of characters in either novel, and I did get the feel of complete obsession and grasping joy surrounding the magic she had been denied, like an addict or a spurned lover. She's miserable throughout the novels, but at least she actually felt thirteen steps closer to grasping the love the Quentin was enveloped in but couldn't sense. She had real obstacles to overcome and paid a real price. If anything, she completely puts Quentin to shame in every single quantifiable way, and she lost her humanity, her mind, her self-respect, and her expectation of joy; and believe it or not, I think she got the better end of the deal.

I thoroughly loved every part of her backstory and eventually came to dread coming back to the "present". In the end, I wish the whole book had been Julia's. I'd probably have no problems giving this a full 5 stars, and happily. She was always the underdog as opposed to the privileged upper-class and world-weary idiot, and who really cares about the ennui of the disaffected rich, anyway?

Maybe this is just my middle-class upbringing and sensibilities coloring my reading, and perhaps I ought to drape a cigarette over my fingers and let my face go slack in absolute boredom and gush over how, finally, one fantasy writer has FINALLY captured the world-weary worldview of the privileged and elite, but no. It's not going to happen.

I'll keep reading through the third book because I've been promised that happy endings do eventually come to those who wait, and I do like all the characters enough to forgive most of their foibles. Usually, the big ideas can be enough to firmly root me to a series even if I'm pissed at the characters, and this one has enough ground that I'm satisfied. Seven keys was kinda hokey, but the eventual grand quest was all right, even if it kinda fizzled like a T S Eliot poem at the end.

Do I recommend? Well, I've read a lot of fantasy that is much worse than this, and most of my complaint stems from the misplaced hope that it can rise above the simmering hint of greatness. I keep looking for that spark that will send this into the sky. Maybe it will show up in the third novel. I don't know.

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The EggThe Egg by Andy Weir
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a really quick short story by the author of The Martian that was written well enough to leave an impact even though it's an old idea. I always liked this idea way back in my teens, but I think I might have enjoyed this story even more back then. We Are, after all. Check out some metaphysics, people. Or if you don't care to put in a little effort, check out this little 4 pager instead. It's just a seed of a seed, but hell, the old ideas are often the most polished and pretty. Just like an Egg.

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Friday, July 10, 2015

The MartianThe Martian by Andy Weir
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There was only one thing going through my mind during the first several dozen pages of the novel.

I'm reading Heinlein.

That being said, I really enjoyed it. I like all of Heinlein's works, but this is getting close to his tight juveniles, full of science and explanations and especially that can-do attitude.

Of course, this isn't Heinlein, but it is definitely a novel I'll give to my daughter to read once she gets to that certain age where adventure based on using your mind is so much more fascinating than using a sword. I have no problems recommending this novel to anyone. It reads well, it has good humor, and it comes across as a slightly more accessible Kim Stanley Robinson. You know. A Red Mars for young adults.

I can't wait to see what else Mr. Weir will publish.

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Thursday, July 9, 2015

The Magicians (The Magicians, #1)The Magicians by Lev Grossman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

For the most part, I liked the novel, but I have some very serious bones to pick with it. First of all, it was only a very slightly veiled story about super-rich-kids pissing and moaning in an extremely exclusive ivy-league college, reminiscing tones of Bret Easton Ellis as Harry Potter. The whole Narnia riff-nee-theme is too obvious to mention, because it's so huge, but unlike C. S. Lewis, the underlying concept is reversed, and not in a good way.

(My idea of a reverse Lewis is basically your evil realm of darkness that you can step through as if you were Stephen King.)

No. Instead we have here a world of magic that appears to be one of deep happiness and wonder, but at its heart is the idea that it exists only for unhappy people. If you're content, you can never have magic. To that, I want to say, "Shit" in all the complex and various ways we get right out of The Wire. It's like we're dealing with a critic/novelist who saw Harry Potter as unbelievably happy and decided to take a nice, long, 400 page dump over it.

I wouldn't be bothering to bring up the riffs if Lev Grossman hadn't done it, himself.

So the kids matriculate out of college, discover that they're spoiled rich kids that never have to work or do anything serious again, waste their lives around the warm heart of the void, screw everything up, and then discover that they can go to the other world and drag all their unhappiness around with them.

How delightful. I might have been carried around my the concept if one of the characters had proved to be the happy foil to all this misery, but no, everyone is pretty much set on being humorless pricks.

So after saying all this, you ask, "Why do you even think it was a pretty good story, then?"

The hidden plot with the beast was actually rather satisfying, the learning at school was pretty neat, and at one point I was actually rooting for Quentin and Alice.

The fact that I liked Quentin for a while made me hurt more when he turned into such an ass.

The book is somewhat redeemed for the wrap-up, while not redeeming any single character, did leave a lot open for later improvement. The fact that the two next novels get much better reviews helps a lot, here, or I might have stopped with this one. Yes, I am a lemming, but I am a discerning lemming. :)

I want to see where it all goes from here.

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Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The Invasion of the Tearling (The Queen of the Tearling, #2)The Invasion of the Tearling by Erika Johansen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Time and Flesh, they work wonders on a novel, don't they?

Enough of being cryptic. I really enjoyed this second novel; but to be honest, I wasn't sure I would. At least, this was true during the first third of it. The introduction of Lily was rather a vindication of my many suspicions that these books were, indeed, science fiction. Of course, magic is still a primary focus, but by the end I felt joyous that I got two quite different novels in one package, Kelsea and Lily tied in each other's orbits and endlessly circling each other delightfully. The viewshifts were slightly abrupt and made me wonder if I had fallen into a completely different novel, but hell, that's all right. It didn't take too long before I regained my patience and started enjoying the future of the past. The dance between the queen and the housewife grew organically and became ultimately and satisfyingly clear by the end. I can't give that part more praise, and don't mistake me on this. It is high praise.

As for the additional viewpoint characters, I tend to only tolerate the extras. The novel added two more, in addition to Lily, to the list. I'm suspending judgement as long as the little knife-girl and the deceptive-jailor have increased parts to play in the next novel, but they really didn't have much to do with the core of this book, except to prop up the recurring themes and main characters. They weren't uninteresting. They grew on me as the novel progressed, but neither of them had more than an oblique touch on the main plot.

The plot was a straight line, but there was a ton of consequence and a lot of character building. Many questions that were teased at in the first novel were answered in this one; happily and at length. As for how the book made me feel, I felt the populace's terror, but more importantly, I felt the interpersonal horror more. I was rooting for Lily almost the entire time, and like her, I thought her situation was hopeless. I suppose there's a lot to be said about hitting the reader close to home. Men can be such pricks.

After reading this novel, I'm sitting with this bittersweet empty spot in my heart that can't be filled until I get to the third book. Snatching it up is not going to be a difficult decision at all. I was moved.

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Sunday, July 5, 2015

The Scarlet GospelsThe Scarlet Gospels by Clive Barker
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a panacea for my horror-starved heart.
You know these two movies? I still continue to love Lord of Illusions and Hellraiser. I gushed blood over these two gems for many years. So what could make my day complete? You got it; a pale scarlet horse comes riding up to my doorstep to hand me this gorgeous little tome featuring Harry D'Amour and Pinhead performing an intricate dance around one another; filling me up with a horrid rooting fascination for anything that Pinhead tries to accomplish, or clean up; and sick pity for the genuinely good man in Harry that is always eventually drawn to hell.

First of all, let me say that Harry is well and truly out of his league for almost the entire novel. He is so hopelessly outclassed that I'm forced into a situation where I, the reader, am left as a victim of irresistible bondange to the novel as I, like Harry, get to witness Pinhead's ascension in hell.

Sure, this novel mostly takes place in the bowels of hell, but instead of Mr. Barker trying to goad our increased tolerance of blood and gore, he successfully introduces a kingdom of wonder and awe. That's really hard when it comes to novels about hell, in my experience. There was acknowledgement of an infinity of suffering, and some truly inspiring sights, creatures, and events, but underneath it all was the deep sense of magic and learning and discovery.

Yes. I'm talking about Hell as a place to learn and grow, and never once did I feel like I was being punked.

It continued the same kinds of themes that Pinhead has always been known for. "I will show you exquisite suffering." *shiver* And then it blew my mind with his ultimate scope and ambition. And then there were a few scenes in the book where I had to put it down and jabber excitedly at my poor uninterested family members about how damn cool the scene was. I am not going to ruin it for anyone, but yeah, they were fucking cool.

As for Harry, I learned more about him and his past in a really excellent urban fantasy setting, got to know his good friends, and learned that the lot of them are all damn crazy. If a really good friend gets dragged off to hell by a cenobite, I'm sorry, but I'm just going to have to beg off the question about going after them. First of all, it's PINHEAD. Second of all, it's Hell. I know that they were all going to do the same for Harry after he stupidly played with the box, and how he got out of that was freaking funny, but still! Barker pulls it off. He pulls it all off. It runs cinematically. It's never boring. I kept thinking that this might-might-might make a good miniseries. Maybe. I don't know. I just want to see all the love and detail brought to my tv the same way that I've enjoyed these guys all my life.

As for Mr. Barker, I just want to say Thank you! You've been out of circulation for a bit, but what an awesome way to jump back in. Thank You! Fanboy is very pleased!

If you do continue the adventures of L****** and choose to incorporate Harry, then I'm already drooling. I want to revisit everywhere. It doesn't matter. I want anything you've got, Mr. Barker!

Warning to the wise. The horror market has unfortunately fallen to the wayside to make room for an endless supply of snark and rehashed vamp/were/magic that is reaching a nearly intolerably glut in the market. This is not one of those newfangled novels, although it has some elements of the new breeds.

This novel is epic in scope and quick in execution. As I was reading it, I kept saying to myself, "This is how it's done."

Sure, I have a few issues with the characters, in that they have a bit of a lack of interpersonal conflict, but that's easily ignored because they are, after all, in Hell. As I was reading, I kept thinking about another tidbit I'd heard from another reviewer that said that Barker had written this as a straight-up showdown between Harry and Pinhead, and it was well over twice the final length. What we got was a mute witness, and it worked very well, but I can't help but wish that I could see that other version.

If Harry was a fly, he'd be picking a fight with a nuclear explosion. It's definitely not fair, and I swear it could never turn out well, but I can't help but want to read it anyway.

Here's for hoping that another version gets released someday for those diehard fans.

I could spend the next week trying to devise a plot and resolution, myself, but I fear that I'd probably go mad.

The novel is going to keep me up and wondering for some time. I love it for that.

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Friday, July 3, 2015

Dead Ice (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter, #24)Dead Ice by Laurell K. Hamilton
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Why? Why? Why?

The questions keep piling up every time I read another one of her books. Why do I subject myself to this, over and over again? Maybe I'm inherently defeatist, surrendering utterly to a character I once loved deeply and truly before she became a fucking whore. To be sure, I have gone through all sorts of mental gymnastics to get me this far, purchasing hardcover books for each and every one of these mammoth tomes as they came out, actually managing to summon my own zombies of enthusiasm when I realize there's a new book coming out, each and every time.

And after reading yet another, I ask myself the same damn question:


First, to be fair, this is more of a 1.5 star book. All the parts I love are there and easily definable. It wouldn't be a difficult task to cut and paste the sections together into one unified whole that may reach a hundred or a hundred and fifty pages, max. So what are these sections, you ask? The very start of the novel. A few digressions with Manny. All of the interactions with the police. And finally, the end. These parts could actually take up less than a fifth of the actual novel.

The rest is WORTHLESS. It's all just whiny relationship shit, boring sex, drama, whiny relationship shit, boring sex, more boring sex, and to be entirely fair, a tiny bit less Drama than most of the previous novels. But STILL, it's just filler. How many fucking lovers can one woman not just fuck, but maintain deep and meaningful relationships with while managing to make every single reader of LKH's books completely forget or wish they could forget all those fucking lovers?

I had to take up cutting myself to keep awake during all the damn filler.

So I ask myself, and have been asking myself as one unending rant as I read this novel, WHY AM I STILL READING THIS SERIES?

Answer: When it's good, it's really great. When there's plot and powerups and horror and action, it's really top-shelf enjoyment. I can string all those adventures together and see how she's levelled up and feel a warm glow of deep and true satisfaction. Hell, I ate the first eight novels in a few days, years ago, and swore that this was written just for me. And then we get away from her long-drawn-out celibacy and jump into a threesome. Okay. Not really interesting me, but all the action and suspense is great. Then we have a metaphysical and magical reason why she needs to feed on sex like a vampire. I go, okay, still not interesting me, but I'll stick with the series because the action is still fascinating and the big bad has my full attention. Then, later, we have whole novels full of all the side characters she has to fuck to survive. And then I'm going, "What the hell am I doing?"

Other than a few good novels spread thin in the next fifteen, most of it is filler. I swear it's like watching the original Naruto after Ero-Senin took him off to train in the ways of being a sage. Years and years and years of goddamned stupid filler. I want to cry and shake my hands at the heavens and pray for ONE GOOD EDITOR to put their foot down upon LKH's manuscript and say, "Cut it out, already! Kill your fucking darlings. No one cares. Go back to telling good stories."

Am I going to torture myself with the next one?

Possibly. I'm unreasonably loyal to those I've decided to be loyal with. Even when I've been BDSM'd to fucking hell and back without a freaking safe word.

By the way, that fifth of the novel was pretty good and tight. Perhaps we need to have a wikipage devoted to LKH to delineate all the pages where actual plot happens and instruct us which pages to skip. I'd donate to that kickstarter. Hell yes.

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