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Sunday, January 31, 2016

Insistence of VisionInsistence of Vision by David Brin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Thanks to Netgalley, I can explore the new Short Story collection from David Brin, one of my favorite authors. Yay!

So after reading a few of the stories, I came to the final conclusion that they're too good, too integrated to talk about except in the most general of terms without giving away practically everything. So I'm going to remain vague. I'll leave a few of my observations from before within a well, and talk, instead of my emotional reactions. :)

I loved this book. I've had the pleasure to read all of Brin's works, including all the short stories that were published in Otherness and before, so I already knew what I was getting into. He's always been a devotee of the need to be original, and I'm very pleased to say he maintains the ideal.

Strange and fascinating societies, are built upon or extrapolated from trends and new ideas, and in the tradition of some of my favorite short stories, they all come with either a clear message or a very nice zinger.

Chrysalis was one of those for me.

The stories with the Coss in them have really been sparking my imagination, too, because by his own admission, Brin has been toying with a new grand epic involving them, and from the three stories here, I am thoroughly impressed and delighted. To say I want more is to oversell understatement.

Something I've noticed before about Brin's writing really stands out in spades in this collection, and anyone who loves the grand SF tradition of conversing with the authors through the stories will know what I mean. He continues the dialogue, but even better, he goes on to name-drop so so many authorial debts, peers, and humorous walk-ons. I've had the pleasure to read almost all of them or know about them, so enjoying this little game has been a particularly nice treat. Brin's very well read in the SF field, and not only his roots are showing, but we should never forget that he has planted tons of his own that we should all remember and admire.

I know I do. Which is why I'm going to send out a call for "MORE!" Please? I've missed my favorite go-to SF author, giving us such breathtakingly real worlds and situations, complicated societies, and breathtaking adventure.

The zingers are always a grand treat, too! Few authors can pull of the kinds of layered plot twists as Brin, and this collection just proves to me that he hasn't lost a speck of his verve.

Please, please, please, give us more! :)

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Saturday, January 30, 2016

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop TalkingQuiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Most of this, to be honest, is self-explanatory, but the rest is a fairly comprehensive exploration of how extroversion became a public ideal back in the 1920's, replacing the power of character with personality and the social stigma that has ever since been placed upon people who don't seem vibrant and ebullient.

It shouldn't come as any surprise to anyone that 1/3 to 1/2 of all people are introverts, but because we live in a society that places a premium on everything non-introverted, most of us have to fake it to make it, and with that comes exhaustion and misunderstanding, whether with our bosses, our intimates, or with ourselves and our own natures.

This book tells us to relax. Be ourselves. Value what you value and understand that some people aren't naturally conflict avoidant, that they like to express anger, surround themselves with a bunch of shallow social jostlers, and that we oughtn't judge our extroverted peers when they jump into decision-making strategies that sink ships and endanger the lives of everyone around them just because they couldn't be bothered to think things through before opening their damn mouths.

And please don't judge all the sheep that are impressed by the aggressive blowhards and follow on their every word because they're just so damn charismatic, either.

It's okay to think and spend some time alone from others. Really. It might just be the salvation of the world if enough of us just throw off the yoke of social expectations or the stigma a shyness and just get prepared, build up all our talents and reserves in peace, and strike when the time is perfect. We're not unobservant, after all. We just have little patience for bullshit.

And even if society has taught us to lie our asses off whenever we're expected to be gregarious and social in all those damn shallow ways that others tell us is the only way to make it in this world, don't despair. The High Social Monitoring we do is a coping mechanism that we've had to develop PRECISELY because we're considered social pariahs.

Oh, and GoodReads is a hotbed for a grass-roots introvert revolution. I don't think anyone here will have any real difficulty cultivating contacts and building their networking, because, after all, we're all discussing things that are very important to us and we're diving deep into the material, wallowing in our talents and our passions, and when we rise,

And Oh! We will Rise!

We will rise like the phoenix from the ashes of social scorn and we will scour the world of all those who would ever deny us our right to sit in silence to read our favorite book or sit in silence to write a chapter in our next brilliant novel.

We Will Overcome!

(Aside: Some interpretations of this book are mine only and should not be associated with the author.)

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Friday, January 29, 2016

Orca (Vlad Taltos, #7)Orca by Steven Brust
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a solid Sword and Sorcery read, with just enough action to keep things interesting, but it's mostly about unravelling a ponzi scheme and a land swindle orchestrated by the Orca.

Vlad is just being Vlad, paying his debts. If it turns out that he bites off way more than he can chew, then blame it on his character.

If it actually makes him seem like a meddling busybody of an ex-assassin that's racking up the hate of every single empire in the land, then so be it. It's his nature. Or at least, it's the nature of this landless wanderer who seems to think he must atone for something, even if to my eyes he needn't atone for anything.

I keep reading these not because there's an overarching goal or something he must aim for any longer. His friends miss him and at least one can reach him, not including his dragons, so all in all, it's still all about healing his new friend who lost his mind in the previous book.

Interesting? Yes.
Worthwhile? Yes.

Does it still feel like just a meandering path to some unknowable future? Yes.
I don't know how I feel about that, but the character is strong enough, and the actual novel was still interesting, so I don't really see a reason to stop.

But. I still want more. I still remember truly grand things happening and stylistic wonders and brilliant plot. This didn't match my memories, but I can't say it was bad.

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Star Wars on Trial: The Force Awakens Edition: Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Debate the Most Popular Science Fiction Films of All TimeStar Wars on Trial: The Force Awakens Edition: Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Debate the Most Popular Science Fiction Films of All Time by David Brin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Thanks to Netgalley!

I'm not normally a reader of non-fiction unless I'm in a hardcore research mode, but I wanted this solely because I'm a fan of both David Brin and Matthew Woodring Stover. It really had nothing at all to do with the arguments one can fling at the SW universe, whether to attack or defend.

To do so is a very deep rabbit hole, indeed.

Fortunately, it turned out to be rather amusing to hear Stover intimate that Brin was a Sith Lord in disguise and to show that Stover is an unabashed apologist because he got paid for the novelization of Ep 6. (As well as a number of EU novels.)

But that isn't all! I genuinely enjoyed most of the coherent arguments and definitely enjoyed the incoherent ones. I think I'll always enjoy the reading of the movies as the revelation that we live in a real holographic universe and Lucas is just trying to show us the path, and that the Jedi are just exploiting the bugs in the software universe to hack and exploit it. Bingo! I can't enjoy the movies more than THAT interpretation. :)

But really, seeing the movies as a comedy in the old sense, that we enjoy them because it evokes a real sense of JOY? That resonates with me, too.

I couldn't care less that the movies are monsters of science inaccuracy. Even if I understand science, and I do, it doesn't always make for stories that resonate, and often put too much burden on any tale to make anyone want to read it, let alone watch a movie about it. Did anyone see Gravity? Did anyone see anything other than a bunch of action sequences and silence? Yeah, that's because it was scientifically accurate, and to bring anyone's attention to that fact would kill the tension. :)

But when it comes to the argument that women are consistently stripped of agency through the story arcs, I have to agree. Simply. Easily. Leia was treated poorly as a character, but Amadala's treatment was deplorable.

Fortunately for the rest of us who have actually seen the new movie, I rejoice in the new direction, and pray that Rey continues to be badass throughout the next two movies. Prove that the valid complaint had taken root and will grow into something truly marvellous. :)

This book came out right after Ep 6, and was given only a minor update *before* the release of Ep 7, so don't expect an cogent and relevant arguments either way that includes the new movie.

I would have LOVED that, but timing is everything, and this was aimed primarily at the fanboys and fangirls who love to think about the franchise, and the best time to capitalize on that is in the tension before the film.

Of course, now that the new movie is such a success, I hope to see more. :)

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Thursday, January 28, 2016

Staked (The Iron Druid Chronicles, #8)Staked by Kevin Hearne
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There's a lot to love here and a small portion of sausage, too.

Or actually, there's a ton of sausage and other massive meat products being consumed in this novel by a certain hound, but more importantly, this novel is practically All Meat.

I mean, aside from a few Doggie BathTime stories, we're inundated with action, action, plot development, a bit more action, and a big hunking slab of action to go down with not a single piece of lettuce. No buildup required or necessary, assuming you've been reading all these novels up to now, and you know that it's WAR.

Of course, it's a one-Druid war against a world of undead because of the mass of interlocking promises and treaties he's been forced to make just to survive all his other misadventures, and of course this little nightmare is spilling over into his old Master's Druid Training Camp and his onetime apprentice is getting into her own messes, but this is a remarkably straightforward and readable adventure with loveable characters and an occasional vamp lord needing a vicious unbinding.

There's really no downtime except at BathTime, and that's fine. The sub-stories are interesting enough, but I was actually pretty damn amazed at the quality of myth research involved in this series. I mean, I can barely keep up with just how many thunder gods are running around, here, and fighting the Aesir was always some of my favorite parts of the previous novels, but it's the depth of the realms and the variety of cameos and established myths/gods/fae-made-real that makes these novels really stand out.

At a few points, I was struck with mute wonder at the complexity and ease with which it all poured out of the page, but it was never so much that I was drowned. Hearne has a particular gift, here.

Aside from making wonderful and snarky characters, of course. Atticus is getting less face time because Granuaile and his old Master Owen and Oberon have almost equal page-space. I can't say I dislike it at all. Granuaile has her own quest motif going on, Atticus is fighting a one-man War, Own is the perpetual "A Druid Walks Into A Bar and Says" joke, and Oberon loves sausage. Even Haggis.

It's quick and fun and easily one of the best crazy UF's out there. I'm actually rather sad that all the plot-lines are getting wrapped up, but not that sad. Nothing's worse than a frayed edge to a great series. :)

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Wednesday, January 27, 2016

A Shadow in Summer (Long Price Quartet, #1)A Shadow in Summer by Daniel Abraham
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have definitely read much worse fantasy, or fiction, for that matter, and I see that subtlety and thoughtfulness is the name of this tune, but honestly, it was slow and not much happens.

It was, on the other hand, quite readable and the characters were very solid, even memorable as far as they go. The society, the empire, is also quite fleshed out and has a character all of its own. I have no complaints with any of that. Indeed, I think it's quite remarkable.

I don't even have a problem with the premise, both literally through the magic that this old poet has, or stylistically, or plot-based, that this old man and the empire are one and the same. Both are old, as are quite a few of the main characters, and you can see that they're wracked with guilt and a bit of senility. Rightly so, I might say. Using magic to forcibly abort children with or without the woman's consent is unconscionable, as is a society that has no qualms with enslaving, whether with economics, force, or the Poet's magic of conception.

It's rotten, and the death of one is the death of all, and I can't really find it in my heart to feel sad for either.

As a novel, it is a beautiful painting, glacially slow and majestic like like the adjective. I think it *IS* beautiful, but that doesn't necessarily make it a good novel.

If you don't mind good character studies and an exploration of culpability, duty, justice, and love rather than a modern fantasy yarn full of death and daring and heroism, then I think you might really enjoy this novel.

Even now that I've finished it with a sigh and a fairly large undercurrent of regret that it didn't live up to some undefinable promise, I want to like it more than I do. I have great respect for Mr. Abraham already, so it's not like I'm giving up the cause. I'm a fanboy of the Expanse, after all.

I know I'll give the other four of this series a shot, but I might not do it right away.

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Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The Bands of Mourning (Mistborn, #6)The Bands of Mourning by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I began the first trilogy knowing nothing and then being blown away. I started the second trilogy going, "Huh?", but eventually warming to the interesting characters and setting. After all, the magic system still rocked and turning the series into a western wasn't *that* far out of the realms of possibility.

I wasn't blown away by book 4. I thought book 5 was a good deal better, enjoying the dialog between Wax and Wayne more and more and thoroughly enjoying the thread of lost love and evil gods (and ineffectual good ones, too. Yeah, I'm looking at you, Harmony.) The new world was one I could respect and like, but I never got to the point where I really loved it.

And then this book came around, and after what I thought was a tiny rough beginning, I was delighted to see just how much I loved Wayne's sequence. There was a lot of real beauty in the writing, like a dance of pure chicanery, and I delighted in it. And then, of course, we got Wax's marriage to the wonderful Steris, who is every bit of a match for him, smart and oh-so-damn-prepared. Can I tell you how endearing this woman is with her damn lists? Well, yeah, I guess I can. :)

What really makes this novel stands out, though, is not the adventure into steampunkland or the straight adventure into finding the Lord Ruler's own metalmind that allows the wearer full access to all 16 metals and ferrochemical attributes, but the fact that it was done well. We got the huge magical sequence that is reminiscent more of the first trilogy than the more modest (and down-to-earth) effects of books 4 and 5. We've got some big things coming, and I that leads me to make one last comment.

I've officially moved from a respect and liking for the second series to a deep and profound love. I've finally warmed to it. The characters really stand out in my mind and they're still talking and quipping, and I'm getting a whole bunch of warm and fuzzies. :)

I can honestly say it's only getting better, and all my so-so feelings about the last two have evaporated like mist. :)

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Caine's Law (The Acts of Caine, #4)Caine's Law by Matthew Woodring Stover
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This latest novel that just came out a few years ago is still a high quality Caine adventure, but there's a new twist.

He's being ridden by a god. He's still the badass that everyone fears (and respects), but he prefers to go by other names and live by his own slightly milder agenda. He wants to be left alone. He wants to not need to kill people.

Of course, he has the gratitude of a god and near unlimited power to wield in the name of chaos and pure severing, all of which he doesn't want, so in all real effects, this novel is the tale of a wandering reluctant cleric, and NOT of the master assassin that just doesn't give a fuck about who he kills as long as he saves the ones he loves.

Don't get me wrong. This is also a novel of growing up even after you're past age 50. It also happens to be another of a great revenge novel, a smite your ass novel, and the trickling after effects of a GENOCIDE from the previous novel.

It also happens to be full of fantastic revelations like the first two, rife with not just fantasy and SF worlds, but also a ton of time travel and that peculiar black oil that makes people's heads explode on command. Gotta love that shit. This old man still knows how to kill gods.

My only complaint, strangely enough, is that I think I might have preferred to read a clever editing of both the 3rd and 4th novels combined as one. That way we can have the full force of the great fighting scenes, the rising tension and genocide, right up against the wall of Caine's becoming.

Sure, it would be one hell of a long novel, but that's not too different from the first two, and together, 3 and 4 make an explosively awesome tale that yet again outdoes the predecessors in scale and implication.

I love fulfilled expectations. This is doing it. Totally cool shit.

I won't lie and say it's the end-all of all SF and Fantasy, because it isn't. But it is a (relatively) quiet exploration of good and evil, forgiveness and permission, the wounds that make up a person, memory, and justice. It's still smart as hell and doesn't flinch at asking the really hard questions. It's not just good action and plot and characters. It's philosophical in just the right tone as to not get pedantic.

Okay, let's face it, Caine can't get pedantic. He'd probably kill your ass before he finished trying to make his point. :)

I absolutely loved seeing the dragon fly over the studios. Righteous. :)

Oh yeah, and horse witch?

Yeah. I love her loads. What a character she is! What romance! :) I kept thinking of the timey-wimey stuff from Doctor Who and Dr. River Song. :)

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Monday, January 25, 2016

Deathless (Leningrad Diptych, #1)Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Breathtaking, quintessential Valente, making what might be a fairy tale into a gorgeously Russian love story between one unlucky girl stuck perpetually in the space of an hour who never got to marry the birds and the God of Life.

Of course, it never ends well, because she's conscripted into his eternal battle with Viy, Death, and regrets it, while simultaneously mastering Life in the middle of Leningrad during WWII, which ought to be considered one of the worst moments in human history.

Do we love life? Is he capricious and cruel and uncompromising and sweet? Is he locked in the basement and forced to listen to his wife make love to a mortal man? After that, can he still be true?

I cannot do this justice. Our heroine cannot fully commit to Life, and finally betrays him.

For all the truly magical qualities of this novel, the beautiful writing, the amazing mini-tales, I'm left in a state of profound sadness while being amazed at the sheer beauty of the tale.

It's raw, right down to the core, and horrific, sexy, full of the seeds of hope and longing and everything that makes the world so complicated and scary and wonderful all at once.

I sit in awe.

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Caine Black Knife (The Acts of Caine, #3)Caine Black Knife by Matthew Woodring Stover
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have nothing bad to say about this novel except that it is a scaled down and streamlined version of the previous two novels. Assume you're taking our favorite badass, Caine, and developing a subplot that was teased in the previous novel about the Black Knife Clans, where Caine was made a blood-brother to a bunch of orcs, and run with it.

We've got the backstory where he made enemies of them when he was just starting out as as an Actir making huge ratings and long after that, indeed, several years after the events of the previous novel, where he takes on yet another god while being hounded by another that *loves* him. *shudder*

It's quick and it's fun and it has everything we love while reading Caine, including a bit more of him from first person, of which we had a taste in the previous, but not a lot. That means we can get lied to. A lot. Which is fine, because we can always fall back on Caine's Laws to know exactly where he stands.

Some characters are so well known that they become a force of nature. That's where Caine stands for me, too. I know I'm not alone.

This novel is a straight character novel, so don't expect huge revelations and twists like in the previous two. The scale is much, much reduced, but that doesn't mean it isn't fun. It's more in the nature of a great action novel with a beloved character we all know well, doing what he does best.


The best part is, for all it's apparent normalcy in a fantasy field that is full of similar feels, it's *still* better than most. I could read this stuff forever. It's just that good. :)

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Sunday, January 24, 2016

The Illearth War (The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, #2)The Illearth War by Stephen R. Donaldson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I find myself in the unenviable position of rooting for Lord Foul Bane and his many loathsome minions. Maybe it's just the intentional feature of making all the good guys so perfectly good and forgiving and nonviolent and understanding, but Thomas Covenant DOES NOT DESERVE IT.

Therefore, I really want to see Lord Foul Bane corrupt every single one of those bastards solely for the purpose of rising up and smiting that worthless son of a bitch, the Ur-Lord Thomas Covenant.

If it wasn't crazy enough that the Rape-Child of TC loves her Rape-Father so much that she summons him from our world to save their cut-out-heaven, she thinks she's in love with him and throws herself at him.

Yes, she's his daughter.

Not only does every character in the Land have no more dimensionality than a piece of toilet paper, but their insane levels of acceptance, even when a rage-filled father goes after TC or when the only true hero of the tale attempts to smite TC across his head, no one gets his just deserts. The grand heroic general who deserves every accolade gets transformed into a tree, and this is despite the fact that he was summoned from the our world, just like TC. He was also the most interesting character of the bunch.

So what was actually good about this book?

Well, the battles and battles and endless battles and strategy wasn't as bad as I've read elsewhere, but it isn't my cup of tea. It reminded me of the bad old days of WoT books 7 and 8, or perhaps a bit worse, because I cared less for the Land or its characters.

Some of the fantasy elements were pretty good, though, and what's not to love about bone melding and turning a combatant's bones to ash, letting the meat sack tumble to the ground? I got into this book only late, and completely to spite TC. Good thing most of the novel didn't have TC in it, or I might have gotten through an entire season of a TV show I'm way far behind on instead of just half of it, all in a desperate attempt to alleviate the boredom I felt while reading this godforsaken novel.

I can understand why people might revere this, considering the amount and kinds of fantasy trash that might have been out and about at the time it was written. I understand why it changed the face of old fantasy, just as I understand the Mallorean books did the same.

But the fact is, they all lack the gritty realism and complexly developed characters that I have come to revere in modern fantasy, and I just can't get behind it.

Having far off pining and far off horrors and far off hopes and plans is just BORING as hell to me, and if it can't be shored up by characters that learn and develop and change when faced with singular events that OUGHT to change them, then all we've got is a spoiled asshole who's turned a veritable heaven into an ongoing hell and he actually BELONGS on the side of Lord Foul Bane and he always will. The fact that he was summoned by LFB's minion in the first place should be a dead giveaway, but what the hell do I know?

It's not like Lord Wonderful Kevin (Don't get me started with the silliness of that name, the wonderful ancient godlike hero and destroyer of the Land) had anything to do with TC's summoning, like everyone thought. It looks like everyone has been fooled, and fooled good. Maybe I'm right about TC's direction. I don't know. I'm going to have to summon superhuman stores of patience to pick up the third book to find out.

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Saturday, January 23, 2016

Blade of Tyshalle (The Acts of Caine, #2)Blade of Tyshalle by Matthew Woodring Stover
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Where the hell can I begin? I'd like to say I'm speechless and drowning in a god-river of awe, but the fact is, I could write twenty-odd pages or more just to expound how much I love this book, and by natural extension of story, Heroes Die.

They're both of one piece, but what really blows my mind is the fact that it's not only as good as the first, but it absolutely refuses to back down and aims for something much, much greater. I'm very afraid that I can't come even remotely close to doing a review justice without revealing not only a dozen great plot turns and surprises from the first novel, and then it gets much worse because there are two dozen great reveals in the second.

With your permission, I will try to gently gloss over What Makes This Book So Great, but be forewarned: Here There Be Spoilers.

[The first book was a self-contained masterpiece with equal parts Hard SF and High Fantasy, where the networks vie for ever higher ratings by sending real humans to a distant world where magic actually exists, where all the High Fantasy tropes are gritty reality, and the Actors (Actirs on the other side) cast their POV adventures back to an overcrowded and very advanced Earth who hail them as celebrities. Hari/Caine was the most popular. His ex-wife, also an Actor, had gone missing/unresponsive on this side and since he still holds a flame, goes over to save her. Of course she doesn't care to be saved, in fact, she's working to free the enslaved and downcast over there. Jump through tons of truly awesome and SMART adventures and overwhelming odds that ended with a huge machiavellian finale to take down a literal and actual god that ended with Hari/Caine's ex-wife dying and being reborn as the goddess of all the waters in the world and fighting the other god for supremacy, and you've got yourself 5-6 fantastic novels wrapped all into one. 

When it ended, I wondered how the fuck this author could top it. I mean, Caine's lover is now a nearly all-powerful god, Hari has taken over the network and has built up a little empire of his own out of revenge for what the assholes on Earth had done to him, and Hari/Caine pulled-off one of the funniest and impressive god-takedowns I've ever read. He brought him back to earth, penniless and powerless, with only a fraction of a fraction of his mind left. How could it ever get any better?

Well, it did. He fucking did it. There's never a wasted word, never a wasted sub-plot, and never a wasted moment of character development. And it's 800 fucking pages long. :)

Up the stakes. Oh my god, he just upped the stakes something HUGE. Okay, so we open with a paraplegic Hari heading a losing-money network, his best friend is hugely diminished god from the other world that he defeated, and everyone's setting up some real hell for Caine as the incarnation of satan among all the churches and empires on the other side. After all, he only brings chaos wherever he shows up. Life is pretty bad, years have made him lose any edge (or legs) to stand on, and his relationship is back in the shitter. So how the hell do we get from there to the returned machiavellian re-ascension of the deposed god, learn that there's another that can roll him, and start throwing nuclear bombs, tanks and airplanes at the other world as it gets annihilated by a horrible plague that Earthlings made and almost killed us, AND have Caine win and throw out some really fun surprises on top? 

That's the amazing shit, right there. Becoming a god doesn't mean you've landed yourself a story-stopper. This shit is AMAZING, and despite what I said about giving you spoilers, I've still left 90% out.]

Only a truly gifted writer could pull all this off, to keep it always entertaining, moving quickly, with ever-deepening character explorations that makes most SF OR Fantasy authors look like amateurs.

These books are multi-faceted and deeply layered stories that rely more on action and plot progression and revelation than anything else, and it does it so well that even intended themes sneak up on you and they're not just right, but they're necessary to me as a reader.

To say that I love these is to just laugh in my milk. I just spent an hour gushing over the novels to my wife while I was attempting to write this review, and my mind is still spinning from all the little things that happened to it while reading this oh so excellent novel. :)

They may be long novels, but they read quick. I can't honestly believe that people aren't gushing about these novels even now. They're very modern, with modern SF/F sensibilities, and much better than almost any Hard SF OR High Fantasy that I've read in decades, and each side stands with its head high in either. :)

This is no fly-by night operation. This is a SERIOUSLY well-planned, a well-developed, and a blood-sweat-and-tears masterpiece of fiction. It SHOULD be on everyone's must-read list, if you're at all interested in either SF or F. :)

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Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Tiger & the WolfThe Tiger & the Wolf by Adrian Tchaikovsky
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Thanks goes to Netgalley!

Really a 3.5

This is my second Tchaikovsky, and it certainly won't be my last, but I'm struck by just how different his finely crafted SF is to his Fantasy. And I'm not saying that his Fantasy is poor. Not by a long shot.

But I think I might have been the wrong audience.

Iron Age tribes dominated by a whole world of humans who can shapeshift isn't a bad concept, mind you, and having a dual nature of Tiger and Wolf is a great conflict, especially since the two Great Tribes had not long ago had a war and the enmity sits heavy upon both.

All in all, the underlying story is good, focusing upon the themes of freedom, whether from a warring internal nature or the needs and expectations and failures of one's family. It's solid.

Where I have a problem with the book is its pacing. A lot of setup occurs at the beginning, with a whole lot of nothing going on and very little to keep it interesting. And then when things do start to move and our MC moves out with the help of a wise serpent, all things are fine in the world. Plenty of conflict, danger, tension, and personal growth. My second problem may be entirely a personal one, but there was a hell of a lot of fighting going on, and it tends to bore me unless there's either serious character development coming along for the ride, some seriously snappy dialog, or a MAJOR plot development, and then, it ought to be to the point and/or lyrically beautiful for me to stand up and applaud.

If you are one of those readers that loves tons and tons to battles featuring shapeshifters of tons of breeds, be it wolves, tigers, alligators, bears, horses, and a partridge in a pear tree, then ignore everything else I've written here. THIS IS A BOOK YOU'LL LOVE.

Hell, even I think it would have been a fantastic book that I'd have loved if it had come with some serious omissions (less battle filler), quicker real plot developments (less substitution of battle for the sensation of progress), or even giving us the end of the novel as the middle, and give us the REAL conflict and story progression from the point of the epilogue.

I loved what finally happened. It felt right and good and quite satisfying. I just have to wonder if this book is indicative of his other Fantasy titles, if he's trying something new, or if this was just a slip.

Either way, it was still a pretty solid read, it just had elements I didn't care for.

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Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Naming of the Beasts (Felix Castor, #5)The Naming of the Beasts by Mike Carey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, THIS volume is the strongest of the series.

In comparison with all the rest, writing gets progressively stronger, the plots less disjointed, the characters more sharp and the overarching story more defined.

And no, there's no real need to read them in the suggested order. In fact, I doubt anyone would really complain, knowing all the facts, if some random bloke like me said, "Skip the rest, just read the last one. You'll be kosher." Because you will be fine. All the story elements are there, and while the initial reach and problem entwining all these novels together is resolved in this one, we're not missing a thing from the other novels. Yay!

It really is the most solid of them all. Unfortunately, you can also tell. And then the series ends.

I can honestly say I love what happens in the novel, and while I'm not too huge on paramilitary operations, the action sequences were pretty damn good, the descriptions and rulesets to the magic and the beasties were much more well-defined than the previous novels, and Fix has finally been fixed. (The opening sequence notwithstanding.) :) But that was on purpose, so I'm not holding his drunk-ass accountable.

The most positive and interesting thing I can say about the series and Fix in particular is that he never gets too big for his britches. No unexplained power increases, no deux ex machinas. It revolves around solid mysteries that happen to have a lot of connections to the supernatural beasties now overwhelming the Earth for some reason. The normal bloke makes good, and the last novel doubly so, but I say this from a style viewpoint.

Of course, now that the series is ended, (as of this writing,) I'm sad to see it go and a bit angry that I won't get the chance to revisit it now that it HAS gotten good. If I were mean, I'd probably knock off a star for that, but I feel generous. I want to let the novel stand on its own.

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Night FilmNight Film by Marisha Pessl
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

So as I was thinking about this book, I was struck by just how much of a search for god or the devil it had become, a true horror in the evocative feels, a true mystery by it's investigations and second-guessing, and a jaw-dropping mind-romp when I simply consider the tale as written by a master storyteller, or Cordova. It doesn't really matter.

The artist and the art are all one and the same, here, and I avoided *most* reviews on this book because there's been a lot of loving and hating going on and an enormous amount of popularity.

It also doesn't matter that I'd barely even heard of this book except in passing and more recently when I was told that I just had to read it from a person I respect, so I did.

And now I can firmly say that it deserves all accolades. :)

All of the characters are vivid and unforgettable, the streamlining of the search for truth is old and time-tested, but it works so damn well here because what we're looking for is the heart of the story, and no one is absolutely sure if the story is one that we make for ourselves or the one that others have led us to.

I was frankly pretty damn amazed by how many threads were pulled to unravel this sweater, and even more amazed that all of them were magically waved back into a whole and, dare I say it, pristine sweater. Even now, I can't decide whether I'm singing with the Mermaids or whether my heart has been squeezed dry by the oroboros of a worm. Reality or magic, god or the devil, it's a wild ride that manages a very tight line of Thriller for a time before it heads into the darkest territories of Horror before it leads you straight out again into Reflection... and Insanity.

Or is it insane at all? Indeed, Ashley, I think you might have been the most sane one of the bunch, and you're the white rabbit.

So delightful! I'll be honest, I got scared. My heart was pumping pretty hard. And I'm an old fan of Horror, too, so it takes a lot to get me all riled up. But I got riled up! There was so much detail and the story was so damn strong, I just couldn't tear my eyes from the page until I got through it.

You know what this means? I have to read her other novel. Soon. Very, very soon. I'm so damn glad I got to enjoy this. It was like being taken home to some of the greatest adventures in thrillerland.

If any of you haven't checked this novel out by now, expect reclusive geniuses, masterminds, tragic artists, discredited reporters, quirky actresses, and questing lovers. If that isn't enticing enough for you, there's always the Deep Web, insane cultists, fanboys, strange rituals and disappearances, and real heart. Don't miss it.

The ride's the thing. :)

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Monday, January 18, 2016

The Boy Who Lost Fairyland (Fairyland, #4)The Boy Who Lost Fairyland by Catherynne M. Valente
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

So how do you judge an exemplary YA adventure that stands out heads and shoulders above everything you've ever read in the field?

You don't. Or, at the very least, you judge it by the others in the series.

So that's what I'll do.

Unfortunately for me, I still can't decide between the first book and this one as being my favorite! UGGHH....

Sure, there happens to be another revolution, but this time it's all for the changelings. We even get a small role for September, and my previously ignorant prediction of seeing more of Saturday was a woefully misbegotten sentiment.

So just how wonderful is it to see a little troll boy grow up in Chicago?

Let me tell you: IT WAS SPECTACULAR.

Everything is turned on it's head from the previous books, and yet it's all so damn close. We've got a There and Back Again coming from exactly the wrong direction as the previous books, and what do you know? I actually prefer it! Did I see myself all in Thomas? Oh yes. Do I feel like doing a ton of Trollish things? Oh yes. Did I delight in rediscovering that I'm not NORMAL? Oh yes, yes, yes, Indeed, Yes. :)

Did a few tears fall from my eyes?

Yeah, surprisingly.

So beautiful. So utterly charming.

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Thicker Than Water (Felix Castor, #4)Thicker Than Water by Mike Carey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm growing very comfortable with this series. Maybe not as comfortable as I've been in more than a handful of others, but it's definitely becoming a more enjoyable read. There's a lot of traditional gumshoeing in this novel, like the others, but for some reason, it feel a bit more polished that the previous novels. It's a lot less disjointed and the way it brings in Fix's wayward childhood, gangland style, was actually rather refreshing.

As always, the titles to these books have multiple references, and this one is obviously blood, be it family or the mark of the demon he's hunting. No spoilers here, but the basic story was pretty satisfying and I really enjoyed all the implications for all the souls in the world and Carey's universe. I feel like some real progress is shown in understanding the deeps.

It's one of the reasons I love UF. The speculation, I mean. Being so firmly based in our reality, it's a foundation that's almost irresistible, even when we work closely with some of the kings of hell. (Well, "king" is too structured a word, but powerful works just as well. Poor Rafi.) Once again, Castor is roped into using the big guns he has on hand, and once again, it gets away from him. I wish that we as readers could summon an ounce of surprise, but Fix is always in a fix, and being what he is, he'll use whatever tools are on hand.

I was very happy that he did fix up his relationships with his friends. Nicky and Juliet aren't worse for wear after the events of the last book, so I guess that means they forgave him.

(I suppose that means that we as readers can forgive him, too. Good. I hate holding a grudge against the main character. :)

It turns out we can transfer a lot of grudgeworthy elements over to new peeps in this novel.

I heartily approve. I want to like Fix, and now I can get a chance to like him a bit more than I have been.

This is probably the best of the novels, but then, I've been saying that as I read each novel, so that either means it's me or Carey is becoming a better writer. :)

Read this if you love magical noir, peeps. It really is getting quite fun.

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Sunday, January 17, 2016

Last Song Before NightLast Song Before Night by Ilana C. Myer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was one hell of a pleasant surprise!

I expected an interesting fantasy, having thought the premise looked promising, but I hadn't realized I was stepping into a wonderfully pure story. Every character was crystal clear and everyone changed naturally, proving to be much more than any single trope, growing into wonderfully *likeable* people. Even the antagonists were exquisitely balanced.

I fell into this novel as if it was always meant for me, and I never once had to use any of my willpower to plow through either plot, circumstance, or reversal. This was pure candy, leaving out everything except the elements absolutely necessary for the protagonists, the over-story, and the magic.

Best of all, Poetry is Magic, and poets are powerful in the realm. How cool is that? Sure, they're bards, and a few of them rule from behind the throne, but most glorious of all, words have power again.

No fireballs, no uber-powerful assassins, no young girls overthrowing kingdoms... oh wait... that last one is true, but how it happens is simply and truly delightful.

The old ideas are made fresh. The people want to bring magic and enchantment back to the world. To do that, the poem must be found to open the door to the Otherworld. Of course, magic always comes with a price, and the old Poet who had gone there and come back was not willing or able to pay it. It's fresh because it is written so damn well. I feel the draw of the magic, the efforts of our heroes, their pains and their hopes, and, eventually, their tragedies.

Everyone shines and the pacing and characterizations are divine.

It is one of the easiest reads I've had this year, but don't assume it's not smart. It's very adult and it's very modern classic, focusing on better writing, evocative events, and practically no exposition. It has got to be the most organic and natural fantasies I've read in a long time.

Even the ones I swore by over the past few years seem rather contrived with stylistic tomfoolery compared to this novel.

There's only a few places where the time of events is reversed, but it doesn't feel bad or seem like a mistake. It just propels the plot forward and keeps the overall pace perfect.

Myer is going to be an author I'm going to follow with great anticipation from now on. Something this deeply enjoyable and spot-on is rare and just plain lovely.

I will say one last thing: I was frankly amazed and in awe of the fact that women weren't raped willy-nilly through the tale. Men were actually behaving with honor, and I am even including the bad guys.

I kept expecting coercions of one type or another, and indeed, they do happen fairly regularly, but it's an open question as to who is coercing whom. Lin is the exception. Her brother was a real bastard to her.

But in the end, I never thought that any character was without agency. They were all heroes to their own stories. I liked Lin, Darien, Rianna, and Marlen. They all start out as archetypes but they definitely grow into their own and I never once had a problem with believability.

What I did bring out of this novel was not a throwback to old fantasy themes, but a purifying of them.

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Saturday, January 16, 2016

The Wandering Fire (The Fionavar Tapestry, #2)The Wandering Fire by Guy Gavriel Kay
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I've been falling into and out of this book in almost precisely the same way I had in the first. I love the short lyrical descriptions, I enjoy the mythic references, and I especially love how each character eventually gets woven into each of the underlying story structures. There is a great deal to love in these books, and I've enjoyed tracing much of the straight-line continuation of style from this fantasy novel into the types that have enjoyed much fame and popularity in the eighties and nineties.

But I'm going to be very honest with ya'll. It just wasn't for me.

There's very beautiful language, assuming you love pastoral (and glacial) story progression, filled with enough ooohs and aaaahs to stun every romantic bone in your body. This is what it is, after all. A romance. It's turning war into romance, rape into romance, summoning undead into romance, and all it's missing is Spenser's The Fairy Queen. Oh, wait... there's even some of that, and Le Morte d'Arthur: King Arthur and the Legends of the Round Table, too.

I'm not saying that sexuality is the key to the tale, although there is plenty of it that makes magic either powerful or weak or unimportant. I'm saying that this novel is all about the romantic frame of mind.

If you like novels that gloss over the grimdark features of life, speeding through epic battles to focus on the epic heroics, or wallow in the myriad build-ups that are there to push the fully-engrossed reader into a paroxysm of legendary legends legending the legendixed legendonier, then you're in good hands.

I just couldn't get into it.

I finished it, and I'll do the next in the trilogy because I'm willful like that, but I just can't get all starry-eyed with a build up of prophesied and lost babies, the idea that women are the true strength behind their heroic men, (Why can't they be their own heroes, exactly?), or the fact that we've got not only a lantern hung on a specific character here (view spoiler), but an entire lighthouse hanging on his neck like an albatross.

What do I mean? Even Kay knows he's cribbing the legend so much that he doesn't even bother to submerge the meme into any of his characters. He just brings him back through a universe-spanning curse and forces him to replay both his deeds and his lost love story as penance, nearly fourth-wall-breaking borrowed pathos, and the Weaver's serendipity.

The fact that Jennifer/Guinevere was fairly interesting doesn't spoil the fact that the rest of the novel was a slogfest for me. I really wanted to like it a lot more than I did. I tried liking it repeatedly as I was reading it, giving excuses to myself, tracing all the mythological elements and revelling in it, even trying to summon a truly heroic effort in my heart to like Paul, our resident mage, as he learned to walk the spaces between life and death, tickle fish, and beat back winter.

I have no complaints about the mythos. It's beautiful how Kay brings in so many cool elements, such as the basic connections between winter and death and summer and life, including the greater and lesser mysteries, and how it all interwove into the defeat of the Wolf.

If the novel had the speed and excitement of modern novels, I'd have been rocking hard to this.

As it was, it felt so old-fashioned and pedestrian and mild and old hat that I wanted to cry and plead that I had just read this novel too late in my life, that I have already read too many great novels that explored all these themes too well, that the characters just weren't strong enough to make up for that fact, or that I am, in the end, sad that I'm just an asshole.

These are just my opinions, of course. I might not really be an asshole. I'll leave that to others to decide.

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Friday, January 15, 2016

Use of Weapons (Culture, #3)Use of Weapons by Iain M. Banks
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a rather surprising novel. I mean, on the one hand, it is filled with glorious ultraviolence, satisfying all atavistic tendencies, but on the other hand, it's almost poetry, devoted to all the ideals that the Culture is known for. Peace, objectivism, minimalistic good, and respect.

Where does war really fit? Well, in the end, there's always a niche for everything, and, indeed, everyone.

So what was so damn surprising?

I can't, I won't, tell you.

*sigh* It's a long story, full of daring-do, future-feeling, peace-striving effort.

It's also a story told backward, a reflection of now told one scene in the past going further and further back, fleshing out and building the character of the One Who Uses Weapons, eventually ending the book where he began.


I'm sorry. This was and exhausting tale, thrilling and surprising.

I just have to sit down a moment.

(Thanks, Manny, for the beautiful notion.)

This book, like all that I've ever read by Iain M. Banks, is brilliant. By all rights, it shouldn't be. It's full of action, smart dialog, and overt messages. That should be enough for most tales. But no, he always goes that one extra step and pulls a twist. Bravo! A virtuoso performance! It's a real art.

This chair isn't really that comfortable, but I did have to sit. I think it'll go very nicely in my living room.

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Thursday, January 14, 2016

The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two (Fairyland, #3)The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two by Catherynne M. Valente
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

While the language is beautiful and still bright, and while we've got a little older September to contend with, I don't think this is the best of the Fairyland books.

She's growing up, learning that Yeti's hands can control serious time and Words have a magic that is all the greater because it belongs not only to Fairies, but to everyone, and the clothes you wear are like the words you use. It's sweet, and it's good, but there was something missing in the middle of the book.


I loved the descriptions, the imagination, the characters, and the Rights of Tools, but there wasn't a center impetus to push the plot forward. I don't mind if we meander, and there was a lot of meandering, but I like to know that we're shooting for the moon, too.

I am NOT saying this was a bad book, because her works are so brilliant that they outshine the sun. I just don't think it matches the strengths of the previous two. Even if Saturday is becoming a Timey-Wimey love interest for our cute September. :)

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Wednesday, January 13, 2016

PalimpsestPalimpsest by Catherynne M. Valente
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It is a reverence, a sting of the holy, as rich and powerful and desired as honey, and the book rolls on the tongues of paupers and kings alike, like fire, like hard cocks, like the welcoming embrace of a whole city. Indeed, this book is a love poem written by and scratched out by the city, itself, of Palimpsest, the fae kingdom of adulthood, of loss, abandonment, of scars and mutilations, of loveless sex and all the dirty waters of the world, of the ripe and blossoming heat of four who will finally make one, of the discourse of the bull and the serpent, and last, but not least, of all the maps of the universe, be they the eight-thousand door train or the touch of the third rail, be it the entire catalogue of all animals, imagined or real, plastered across the soul, be it madness and the touch of the wet lady, or be it the thousand bees in the belly, this is a novel of such grand depth and squirming desire, that I am literally tongue-tied in tracing the map upon the skin.

Or, put a bit more simply, I liked this novel.

It was sadness given form, with just a hint of hope to flavor the flood of despair, of obsession and longing. It, like all of Valente's writing that I've had the immense joy of reading, has been so utterly well-read and well-crafted and so very deeply loved, never fails to amaze and shock and make me want to get on my knees and say, "I am not worthy."

There are a few technical things I'd like to say.

I've never read an author with such a confident use of semi-colons. She writes whole novels as if they were poetry. Indeed, the plot is never so easy to parse, and the very act of reading it requires nearly as much imagination as the author, just to make love to the words we read and fill it (or be filled) with a sense of completeness.

Never imagine that this is anything other than brilliant.

But then again, never imagine it is easy. This book is a lover that will show you all her dark secrets and then leave you as soon as she makes you hold her hair so that she may vomit over the side of your bed.

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Infidel (Bel Dame Apocrypha, #2)Infidel by Kameron Hurley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I come away from this novel with the same feeling I had from the first.


Of course, that's the point. War, religious or otherwise, is hell. Being good at it does nothing to improve your relations with others, and Nyx is a shining example of the honor-bound disgraced warrior working to regain her good name and status as a Bel Dame elite.

And yet, for all the fighting, the tight plotting, the hopes, the fears, and the twists of everything, what I really feel is the oppression of deep heartache. It's wonderful to read a novel that sets out to tear us up and does a grand job of it.

It's even more wonderful to throw in some of the most dense worldbuilding for a SF novel out there, whether as a continuation of the first in the series or not. It's all very close to the cuff. The devil is in the details, and great god in heaven, we're dumped in it. Most of it is political and cultural, but the most striking aspects are of course the bugs. It might as well be magic, and of course the class of people who use the tech are called magicians, and of course there's also the shapeshifters, but don't be fooled into thinking this is some sort of UF.

It's hard SF, through and through.

The same warning I gave for the first novel, I continue for this one. It's rich, it's dense, and it requires patience. Things aren't easy for anyone in the book, especially Nyx, but then, it's not easy on ANYONE. Since I as a reader am getting into the story pretty deep, it is also not easy on me.

Don't read this if you want a light and easy read.

Definitely read it if you want deep immersion and a truly fascinating and well-fleshed world and characters. (Even if they lose their heads now and again.)

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Monday, January 11, 2016

Dead Men's Boots (Felix Castor, #3)Dead Men's Boots by Mike Carey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I think this novel deserves a good long run and a mighty jump... the waters might be cold, but it's like Fix says about death. You get used to it real damn quick.

This world of mystery continues along its deep mystery roots, including such near caricatures of women that it nearly passes through to the other side, as if through death, to become something utterly strange and familiar. Femme Fatale? Try Femme Demonic, and you'll be on solid, unconsecrated grounds and wishing you'd paid just a little more attention to what your mother tried to tell you about 'dem women.

I'm not just talking about Juliet. I'm talking about all undead women forced into poltergeist holding patterns of serial murder.

(But don't assume you'll really guess the un-beating heart of this locked-room mystery. Things tend to shift and slide as in all good mysteries, but it can get awfully complicated when you throw in immortal demons feeding on lusts or rarified murders, zombies being brutally mistreated by uncaring main characters, or plain old sympathies for the devil. Welcome to the jungle.)

I have to admit I like this one better than the previous two volumes. There's enough twists and turns and eventual reconnecting threats and threads to make anyone's head swim, but it's the cold heart of Fix that ties everything back together in the end.

Is Fix really that likeable?

Jury is still out on that one. He borders a lot more closely to being an anti-hero than two-books would have you believe. It's easy to assume, since he is pretty passionate about helping the downtrodden dead, that he might be able to give a shit for any of the living.

Frankly, I'm not really sure about that. He gets along all right and enters into all types of social contracts readily enough, but like I said, his heart's really not in it.

It's probably pretty fortunate that he's not an overpowered UF protagonist.

He might then have the power potential and the heart to murder the world. (Am I the only one to think this? lol, maybe... but I just can't bring myself to TRUST him.)

Still, a fine and entertaining read!

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Sunday, January 10, 2016

Vicious Circle (Felix Castor, #2)Vicious Circle by Mike Carey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A ghostly whodunit turned into a "Hey, didn't you do it?"

Some of the storylines were slightly meandering until we got into the meat, but they served to remind us and explore a bit of what makes Fix a tortured soul.

Of course, this is pretty standard fare when it comes to the Noir genre, and it hardly makes a difference whether the main character wields a gun and a whistle to work his magic, (both figuratively and literally.)

While it doesn't really stand out too far ahead in the UF field, it is an entertaining read. Having a Succubus on the team certainly helps, and diving into the nitty gritty of hell and plucky satanists while working with and running from the cops does seem to maintain a certain nice tension level.

Some of the text is a bit clunky, but overall, I enjoyed it very much.

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The Sandman, Vol. 5: A Game of You (The Sandman, #5)The Sandman, Vol. 5: A Game of You by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I love Barbie. I love Wanda. I love Thessaly.

Truly, this was one hell of a tightly-woven story including inner-worlds, cuckoo birds, ancient witches, pulling down the moon, and death.

There's no way in hell that I could really boil it down to essentials. As a whole it seriously rocks and hits me in the feels. Sexual identity and childhood and babies is only a part of it. Being wise and forgiving is only a part of it.

Hell, I see that holy-bitch at Wanda's funeral and I see her just acting in her nature, just like the Cuckoo, and I feel like Thessaly, knowing I really ought to behave like Barbie. It tears me up.

This is serious literature. Both fantastic, strange, and deep as hell and sharp. :) Hard to believe, after reading it, that it is a comic.

View all my reviews The Sandman, Vol. 6: Fables and Reflections (The Sandman, #6)The Sandman, Vol. 6: Fables and Reflections by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm really in the swing of my Sandman re-read and loving every second of it, now.

I love the retelling of Orpheus. Hell, that entire sequence sent chills down my spine and kept making me think along the original storyline, making fantastic connections. It's not for the faint of heart. My only complaint was the script. It wasn't the easiest to read. Still, what lies underneath is the most important. French-revolution and the Furies, indeed!

I liked all the stories, really, and even while they don't come with the same kind of kicks I'm used to, quiet reflection isn't exactly a bad outcome. Watching Emperor Augustus play a beggar was priceless, as was the examination of what makes an everlasting empire. But the First and Last Emperor of America was brilliant. Nuff Said. :)

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The Darkest Evening of the YearThe Darkest Evening of the Year by Dean Koontz
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I wish I could say I liked this novel more. I mean, there were a lot of murderers and anarchists, there was the healing power of a golden retriever, and there was a mentally handicapped kiddo and some genuinely nice people who were our heroes.

Unfortunately, it just doesn't stand out that much from any of Koontz's other novels. No breakaway gimmick, no over-the-top message beyond treating dogs well. (Kids are a lesser priority, but let's face it, dogs are cuter.) ;)

It was almost as if I've read this novel before. Several times. By the same author.

I mean, there's absolutely no relationship between this and Watchers, right? There isn't a dog in every single one of his novels, right? There aren't psychos and anarchists and just plain murderers abounding in any of his other novels, right? There aren't slightly flawed heroes and heroines suddenly propelled into situations way out of their league, right?

Sorry. This one was pretty much straight Koontz formula. Good for what it is, decent if you've never read his stuff before, but don't expect to be blown away if you've already been a fan.

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Saturday, January 9, 2016

American ElsewhereAmerican Elsewhere by Robert Jackson Bennett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

First of all, I did enjoy this book... in general. There's a lot to love and I've always been a fan of any book that can cross genres, mixing SF/Fantasy/Horror into a wonderful smoothie. This is my third Bennett book, so I knew what I was getting into.

Unfortunately, I liked this less than the other two: City of Stairs and City of Blades.

It's kinda surprising, actually. I grew up in New Mexico, so getting the flavors and the horrors of the location should have been so nice, and I did enjoy the nostalgia, as far as that went. I knew to expect an epic blowout, too, so that was something I really wanted to see. Fortunately, I'm given that treat as well.

The small-town oddities devolved into a small-town family fight, in essence, but because this is Bennett, just expect the consequences to get way out of hand. As in universe-shaping uglies duking it out in all the old grand traditions of the genres, but localized in a sleepy New Mexican town. It's nice. Very nice. Full props for ideas and exploration and twists within the characters we get to know.

But here's where it's not so great: The pacing has a lot to be desired. It suffers from that old horror-cliche where a lot of digressions fill up most of the book. Sometimes it is in the service of the greater story, and sometimes it isn't.

I could easily overlook all of that if it wasn't for just one little thing: we probably didn't need the long and painful explanations. I think the novel would have been stronger if it rested on the hints and profound eerie-ness and suppositions. It just wasn't set up right for an epic denouement of gods releasing all their secrets, IMHO. It took away from the horror and the tension, big-time, even if it satisfied some of my SF roots.

So, in effect, I'd have preferred a fully "Show, don't Tell" resolution. It might have been just fine to omit the offending passages, after all, the action was there and it was quite enjoyable.

If I were in a more forgiving mood, I probably would have just given this a full five stars and be done with it, but I've read those other works of his and they didn't suffer from this complaint, or at least not nearly as badly as here.

Putting this in context with other Horrors and SF, there's still a lot to love and I don't want to steer anyone away from this novel. If you forgive a bit of meandering and exposition (common traits in Horror and SF, respectively,) then I'm certain you'll be all over this like flies on a cowpie. :)

Always expect big things under the surface with Bennett. :) I have yet to be dissatisfied with his idea-wrangling.

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Friday, January 8, 2016

Don't Eat The Glowing BananasDon't Eat The Glowing Bananas by David D. Hammons
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

All the while I was reading this novel, I kept trying to imagine how it could be funnier.

While our itinerant food reviewer tasted the delicacies across a fallout wasteland, I couldn't help but imagine him playing as one of the cast from Monty Python's Flying Circus. Probably Eric Idle.

Once he teams up with Lewis and Zoe, I had this strange desire to see the whole novel done on stage. With singing. And dancing zombies. I thought it would be so cool.

In the end though, it was amusing, mostly mildly so, and it made me really want to fire up my Fallout New Vegas on Wild Wasteland settings and grin my way through the strangeness.

And eat Tamales. Even if it's rat stew, it'll now always be Tamales in my heart.

It was very nice to see a light-hearted take on a nuclear wasteland. The travelogue was a very nice touch.

Thanks to Netgalley!

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City of Blades  (The Divine Cities, #2)City of Blades by Robert Jackson Bennett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Thanks goes to Netgalley for the advance copy!

We're not in Saypuri anymore, Toto.

Oh, Shara, Shara, what have you done?

I'll do my very best to not reveal any spoilers, but a few things might be helpful. Shara is no longer the main character, and while Sigurd does play a pretty major role, it is General Mulaghesh that gets all the glories, glories, and ten-times the glories. I loved her nearly as much as Sigurd in City of Stairs, but she outshines even Sigurd in this book.

I had some reservations about the first book. I admired the very thing that made me dislike it. Bennett is pretty much a master at blending genres, and I didn't know whether I should applaud or despair the mixing of mystery and epic fantasy and mythos the way he did.

That was then. This is now. And now I'm a total convert. We've got Shara being an ass, Mulaghesh being strong-armed by her friend, and a ghost story. Sounds pretty simple, right?

No. The tale is pretty straightforward compared to the twists and turns and big reveals of the previous novel, and the end of this one does have a truly Divine Epic Resolution that is nearly as satisfying as that we achieved in City of Stairs, but what I was most genuinely impressed with was the Soldier's Tale. I thought it was pretty damn heartfelt and beautiful as hell.

Is it as good as the first? I think it's better as long as you're not hoping for sneaky twisty-turny plots. It's certainly more accessible, and it does have its share of great surprises.

The one thing I ought to stress, though, is that this is a Bennett novel. He generally writes rings around lesser writers. What I am comparing is this novel versus the one prior. We can't go around comparing works of facile brilliance and creativity with creatures utterly unlike it, now can we?

These, I can safely say, are works of true Originality, if only in the unique blends and surprising allocations of genre, character, and plot. I love it. I'm seriously impressed as hell. :)

Thanks for a winner, Mr. Bennett!

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Wednesday, January 6, 2016

The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There (Fairyland, #2)The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There by Catherynne M. Valente
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What an amazingly and gloriously smart YA.

It's not only a fun and delightful quest and beautiful flight of imagination, but it's also rife with tons and tons of literary and mythical allusions, whether oblique or referenced almost directly. It's keeping my adult brain most occupied and thrilled and slathered in smarts.

And how in the world can such a tale also be written so smoothly and cleverly that a young child can follow it without a care in the world?

Answer: Catherynne M. Valente.

Seriously, people. She writes as if her pen were Michaels fiery sword or as if she were drawing from the long-brilliant tradition of the best snarky English authors, and Valente is American. *gasp*

Shadows are magic and allow you to have magic, you know, and the lady of teas and the mister of coffees have a way of masterfully messing up your drink.

One word of warning, though. The Revels don't actually happen until the very end. Sorry for the spoilers. The rest of the book is sheer adventure.

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Lucifer's HammerLucifer's Hammer by Larry Niven
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I just knocked this one off my top one-hundred novels of all time, but I did it with a heavy heart.

Memories of a novel sometimes simply don't live up to a re-read.

On the other hand, there are quite a few things about it that are still freaking fantastic, such as the science and the emotional impact of the comet strike. Most of the first third of the novel focused on the 70's modern society, with all the strange views common of that time, but that wasn't the most striking feature. I was humbled by the way they could turn so many flawed and normal people into an epic scene of pathos when they died.

I even had to set down the novel because the tears prevented me from reading through the meteor crashes or the tidal waves or the mud falling from the sky for weeks.

You know all those stupid apocalypse movies of the 90's? Yeah, this novel STILL does it better.

The rest of the novel was all about sheer survival for those who were left, and I was pleasantly reminded of Brin's The Postman that outdid this novel for the post-apocalypse rebuilding, but props should always be given to those who did it first.

"Give my children the lightning!"

It's a good rallying call. It's the future, scaled down to the bare minimum after trawling the dirt and praying to make it through one winter. It's a far cry from Heinlein's eggs or Clarke's magic. It's realistic, or some might say, pessimistic.

But what else can we say about this great-grandaddy of all dystopian futures? It's still a damn sight better than most that have come after, even considering the racism, possible return to slavery, the cannibalism, and the wholesale slaughter by mustard gas, not even mentioning the whole nuclear war between Russian and China.

I carried Dan Forrester in my heart ever since I read this the first time. He was the most tragic and glorious character of anyone. A second read doesn't really change my opinion.

I did carry one caveat, though. He should have saved Dune. Stories are just as important as scientific texts. I can only pray that later generations would carry it forward after conquering California and finding any intact libraries. Of course, this was written only a handful of years after Dune, so the authors hadn't realized the weight of the public's imagination by that time... but they did when it came to the commune filled with LoTR characters. :)

Niven and Pournelle really outdid themselves with this one. I went on to read the rest of Niven after plowing through this novel, but I never did read any of Pournelle's solo work. I still think that this novel was the best that either had written, even if I can't honestly say anything about Jerry's work.

Still a fantastic novel, regardless of it's faults. Anyone interested in dystopias really needs to read this one.

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Monday, January 4, 2016

We Are All Completely Beside OurselvesWe Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a surprisingly interesting read.

There's plenty of food for thought, right from the announcement that Rosemary had her "Own personal Schrodinger's Cat," to her insistence that memories cannot be trusted. Even so, these minor reveals are not the important pieces that frame this narrative structure. They may be emotional and harrowing, but the novel is much more than just this.

It's really about our place in the universe and how "Others" fit within it, as well.

I was confused from the very start why this was nominated for a Nebula award, though not so much for why it was nominated for the Booker. The writing is very good and the number of topics and narrative juggling was as smooth as any I've seen.

There are no aliens in this tale. There are humans and apes.

I can't tell you how clever the afterthought works unless you read it yourself. Mind you, there aren't any twists. There are only after-effects.

This is a very psychological and sociological novel set up as a near-twin study and an attempt to obliterate social differences by simply raising both children the same at the same time, but instead of getting a well-ordered experiment, life happens.

In the end, though, I'm stuck in a quandary.

Is there any real difference between Rosemary's brother Lowell and Fern? Chimps or aliens, the question is entirely the same. Is it just to treat "Others" any different than we treat ourselves? And, obviously, shouldn't we be treating ourselves better?

These are the SF questions that I've seen a hundred times, and it's a real delight to see them brought so close to home. We can easily transfer Fern into our own brothers and sisters, or anyone who has mental illness, and see for ourselves just how poorly we treat our own. Imprisonment is imprisonment, no matter how you justify it or rename it. The whole idea falls into a fractal in this novel, applying itself to gender studies just as much as interspecies considerations, or even the episodic stories we tell ourselves to justify the things we've done. Memory is just as much a prison as anything.

Again: This novel was a real delight! :)
An easy read, too, believe it or not. :)

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The Devil You Know (Felix Castor, #1)The Devil You Know by Mike Carey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There's something about all detective novels that provide a very nice pace for the prospective reader, a gentle lulling between beatings and the solving of murders, and this is only enhanced by the inclusion of ghosts and Succubi.

I only learned later into the reading of this that he's the author of other Constantine stories, so my initial connection made perfect sense. Hell, I like Constantine, so this is pretty much perfect for me.

I know I'm going to like the rest of the series, if this is a good sample. Fun stuff.

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Saturday, January 2, 2016

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making (Fairyland, #1)The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is easily one of the most delightful and magical YA titles I've ever read.

I know people do like to compare it to Alice in Wonderland, but in a lot of ways, it's better. There's more than a basketful of clever, more than a truckload of beautiful language, and a whole ocean of delight.

The darkness doesn't overwhelm and there's no overt or subtle religious messages. A lot happens, but it's friendship that carries the final day.

I'm going to be reading this to my daughter when she is a little older. I honestly think it surpasses Pullman and Gaiman and Carroll. It's so light and it tickles all my funny-bones.

And best of all, it leaves no aftertaste except for a pleasant glow. No saccarine. No pedantic moralizing. Just plain magic, trickery, adventure, and a twist of the tongue that makes me grin from ear to ear.

Valente is quickly becoming one of my most beloved authors. I knew I had to read everything after Radiance, and this just cements it. :)

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