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Monday, July 31, 2017

The Hanging Tree (Peter Grant, #6)The Hanging Tree by Ben Aaronovitch
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

These books have steadily been getting better and better and better, or perhaps it's just me getting so far invested in the stories that I can't even tell the difference anymore.

Either way, this says very great things about the books. :)

I am invested as hell.

Aaronovitch's UF writing is rather unique in that his mystery writing is unparalleled, the magic system is firmly grounded, explored, and interesting, and the MC in Peter is just a lovable nerd. Never mind that he's an apprentice wizard working for the London police force or a small subsidiary called the Folley, this is really just a fantastic police procedural full of unpredictable mysteries and grabbing reveals.

This book, however, takes everything that has been building up in the previous five books and focuses yet again on the Faceless Man and poor Leslie. In my opinion, this was a squee-worthy move on the author's part. At least, I was practically slathering with all the great reveals and directions it took.

Dealing with the rich and the issue of the other mystery was well enough and a nice departure, to be sure, but getting back into the grand arc story was simply delicious.

And now I'm stuck in the unenviable position of pining away for book seven. Who knows how long it will take? Alas!

Do I recommend this UF? HELL YES. It's one of the very best. :)

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Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Fairy Boy of Calton Hill 2 (The Fairy Boy Chronicles, #2)The Fairy Boy of Calton Hill 2 by Sean-Paul Thomas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This one takes to the high seas across time through a fairy portal, marking a pretty major departure from the first book set in Edinborough and the Fairy Mound, but still continuing on as a solid adventure/quest to find his lost Lucy.

Pirates! Real dragon battles! Lost kids! Or really, teenager gypsies on remote islands! And of course, our bookish hero with his little fairy best friend is fairly front and center in the tale and he still flies! But really, we've got a few new main characters including the femme fatale teenager pirate, the crusty Spaniard, and wicked monster ship that they fatefully inherit, all the while searching for the fairy portal to traverse worlds.

Pretty sweet, right?

Honestly, it was very good but it lacked the down-home feel of the first, the mirroring that made the fantastic mix with the normal. Instead, we get adventure on the high-seas and that is just fine too.

My favorite part was near the end where we get a pretty awesome battle worthy of the big screen. :) Of course, there was also plenty of swordplay and standoffs and battles on the water, but it was the last scene that really made it for me.

I'm quite pleased to have read these, and I can honestly thank the author for turning me on to them! :)

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Foxglove Summer (Peter Grant, #5)Foxglove Summer by Ben Aaronovitch
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This continues to be one of the very best UF series out there for a very good reason... It's always the careful attention to detail. Proper if you're a copper.

Honestly, I think this one might have hit me in the feels even more than the previous ones even though the last book's zinger was a doozy. I think it had everything to do with the fact it was a massive hunt for missing children.

Even the magical copper was called in for this one, and good thing, too.

So many of the great reveals in this mystery must remain hidden so I can only be super vague, but suffice to say: I loved the twists and turns this took. Our favorite Brook really shines in here, too.

I simply have no complaints about these books. They're solid, funny, immersive, have great magic scenes, even better police procedural, and the quirk is super. I'm almost starting to get upset that I've only one more book to go. I want to make these last. I want to stay here forever.

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Saturday, July 29, 2017

Magpie's Song (IronHeart Chronicles #1)Magpie's Song by Allison Pang
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a great surprise! I came into reading this blind and came out seeing wonders. The world-building is a true delight, having a feel of Sanderson's old Mistborn, a touch of hardcore steampunk, but most of all: pure and distilled fantasy dystopia.

There's a lot of story going on and what's more, Pang's writing at the plain-beauty level is something to behold. I'm not just talking about the repurposed nursery rhymes, either. I'm talking about the perfectly placed and minimal placement of pure poetry right in the text where it would have the very best impact. I was a bit awed.

Make no mistake, this is a pretty epic fantasy not in terms of battles and such, but it was a core YA that centered on thieves. Magpie and Sparrow are best friends and all the downtrodden MoonChildren are at the core of a huge piece of deception and prejudice that will soon become, (I do believe,) the main story arc of the rest of the series.

There's plenty of mystery to go around, too, but it's the details and the imaginings that make this book so beautiful. There's plenty of core story elements that will be familiar to everyone, of course, but how Pang pulls it off speaks more to some serious skill than any other author's half-hearted attempts. :) This is the real stuff.

I am going to be following this series with GREAT anticipation. I can't wait to see more of this craft. :)

Oh, and thanks to NetGalley for this ARC! I love being surprised like this!

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Friday, July 28, 2017

Squawk of the Were-ChickenSquawk of the Were-Chicken by Richard J. Kendrick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I wanted something that tickled all my tail feathers and when I saw this on NetGalley, I just had to jump all over it.

I'm glad I did, too. I somewhat expected a tongue-in-cheek fantasy blowing some chicken or another into epic proportions a-la Pratchett, but here's the funny bit: I got a nice taste of fourth-wall literary post-deconstructionism from one character and a smart-mouthed tinkerer from another as they try and often fail to rid their little podunk kingdom of the greatest threat it has ever known!


What surprised me the most, however, was the rather detailed town, townsfolk, and all every-day life. I felt like no one was ever going to take the danger seriously until it was far too late, and that was despite or perhaps entirely because these folks were already chicken-happy to begin with! I mean, seriously, Chicken-prophesies? Chicken-remedies, professional egg-launchers... well, the last was just an accident, but still... you get the idea.

It didn't remain nearly as light as I'd hoped but as a well-rounded novel with not quite as much humor as I might expect from a title like this, I still had a good time.

I'm pretty sure I'm going to check out this author's other works thanks to this!

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Thursday, July 27, 2017

Upon This Rock: Book 1 - First ContactUpon This Rock: Book 1 - First Contact by David Marusek
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I came upon this as a total surprise on NetGalley, but a completely welcome one! I've read two of his other highly acclaimed hard SF novels and I didn't care in the slightest what this one might be about.

Why? Because he's just that good and I trust him completely to tell a great tale.

Now that I've finished this book, I'm not revising my statement. At all.

What should you expect here? Alaska. Deep country. We focus mainly on two sides of an issue with very little in the way of alien first contact until much deeper into the tale. That's fine, really, because we're thrown in deep into a family of ultra-conservative and perhaps quite fringe Christians who are so elite that they feel like they're more fundamental than Quakers. With a few notable exceptions as with a satellite cell phone for their online business, they would be, too.

The other side is with the Rangers who naturally have beef with this complex and disturbing family because they're squatting illegally on Public Park land.

Prepare to get fully invested in this family and the area and the Rangers, because this novel is completely fascinating and complex all on this level. And then add an alien who knows how to manipulate humanity. :) Angels! Or demons. :)

Murder, rape, right-wing nuttery, and an almost Waco situation ensue, while all the while, we're learning and emotionally preparing for a huge fallout to come.

This is only the first book in a series and the setup is delicious. The point isn't even that it is a first contact novel. The real strength is in the way it's written... the fullness of its details, and the complexity of its characters, the way they live, react, and survive as they see the world and the devil bear down on them.

I can honestly say that this is an epic setup and I trust the author to knock it right out of the park with subsequent novels! :)

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Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Killing Is My Business (Ray Electromatic Mysteries, #2)Killing Is My Business by Adam Christopher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I ripped through the first book wildly enthused and I began this with nearly as many talons at the ready, but even though I'm giving this a solid four stars because it's a nearly perfect "undercover PI infiltrating a mob boss's organization" Noir Mystery.

I only knocked off a star because some of the middle-action was a bit repetitious and there was obviously a lot less cool fifties-robot-revolution stuff except near the end, but I suppose that couldn't have been helped because of the nature of the story.

Even so, I had a good time and the slow reveals burned nicely and kept me thinking about where and who and what was going to happen next... still questioning what might have already been happening because of Ray's little memory problem. :) Seriously. 24 hours is too short a time for all that short-term memory stuff. :) But it still makes for a great page turner!

He is, after all, the real man of steel. :)

This stuff really does hit the spot. I love Mystery/SF blends like this. Popcorn SF at its best.

Thanks to NetGalley for the ARC!

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Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Made to Kill (Ray Electromatic Mysteries, #1)Made to Kill by Adam Christopher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Definitely, a fun read, but I can't quite tell if this is going to be more fun for you straight mystery lovers or for those of you who just like a great rampaging robot private eye/assassin running about the streets of Hollywood.

Me, I like both. It's very Chandler. And as I read it, I was reminded VERY pleasantly of A Lee Martinez's Automatic Detective which has a lot of the same elements.

Still, let's be honest here. The Noir mystery field has a million imitators and what really makes each stand out from the others is just the quality of the writing and the best quirkiness of the main characters.

I think this town is big enough for both books. :)

Especially since its relatively sparse with the SF element unlike the UF element with all that Fantasy Mystery mixes. I believe we need a lot more of this mashup.

Quirky robots are FUN! :)

And this Noir was just as fun as any other mystery I've enjoyed, so double fun! :)

Now on to read the sequel that just came out! :)

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The Wizard Killer: Season 2The Wizard Killer: Season 2 by Adam Dreece
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Season 2 of this serialized magic dystopian adventure actually appealed to me more than the first.

Maybe that's just because I am truly getting into the main character now instead of just relying on action and a few measly reveals about his past.

Indeed, in this season, we get a ton of his past, his returning memory after coming back from the dead three times, the reasons for his revenge, and some really cool baddies.

The world-building is explored in greater detail, too... and I cannot complain! :)

Like the first one, this feels extremely fast-paced and there's still a ton of cool action. What reveals we do have hardly slowed the tale down. Even the memories are full of action and cool events.

Anyone looking for a fast and furious magic adventure that feels like an old western serial only with mana guns, lightning shotguns, and short swords that can bring you back to life really out to check this out. :)

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Monday, July 24, 2017

The Wizard Killer - Season OneThe Wizard Killer - Season One by Adam Dreece
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The author mentioned in his preface that he was influenced heavily from the serialized format of his enormous comics collection and decided to have fun here.

It's obvious that he had a lot of fun, too, because each tiny chapter propels all the action forward in what might look like one long book of nothing but action with tiny sequences of dialogue that was just another pretext for more action.

And far from complaining, this was a light action read with magic that keeps flipping itself on and off in really cool ways that make the battles fun and dangerous and chaotic. Post-apocalyptic in nature and setting, with western-type elements of the Hero's Journey, our MC is without memory or home, in mortal danger.

This is a real crowd-pleaser, a popcorn adventure, and a fast-paced romp through death and discovery with only gentle inclusions of world-building.

The point is to have fun, and this is accomplished in spades. :)

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The Gospel of Lie: A Grieving Christian Searches the Bible for a New JesusThe Gospel of Lie: A Grieving Christian Searches the Bible for a New Jesus by Joshua Lie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'll be honest. I wasn't quite sure what I was getting into when I agreed to read this.

BUT, I'll freely admit to being pleasantly surprised because I've already been a fan of this kind of religious exploration. I might be considered a huge fan of PKD and Umberto Eco and anything that goes deep into Christian Heresies. It's fun!

Think Manichean, the Cathars, all the Gnostic writings... this is what we get. It's a great rabbit hole. :)

What this book does right: It doesn't take itself too seriously, but it certainly isn't light or superficial. Indeed, the superficial tale of Joshua Lie becoming disgruntled after a full long life of being an educated Christian, only to stop believing and then start picking up all the Gnostics, trying to reconcile everything with the basic scripture, is only telling a fraction of the story.

The real story is quite fascinating and it's entirely in the realm of the mind and the heart, of personal revelations, of Alchemy, of redeeming Sophia and Christ, of the Archons and the Demiurge, and even how Judas could very well have been the one spoken of in the prophecies. Judas's oft-maligned person is a tragic one with very different expectations.

Of course, all of these ideas have been explored in many other places, and much, much commentary has been had for and against it all, but the fact remains that it still speaks to us.

PKD's exegesis does this, as does Da Vinci Code, or Holy Blood, Holy Grail, just to mention a few, but This work provides us with a very short and very concise overview of the hottest topics and is written in a very accessible way. It's addictive. And there's easily a lot here for extended food for thought.

After all, Christ wasn't redeeming our sins, he was freeing Sophia, Wisdom, from the mad creator, the Demiurge, to bring us back to the true state of grace and wholeness. Or, to quote PKD, the Black Iron Prison, where the Empire Never Ended, the great illusion of the world where we know something is damn wrong, and that something was the fact that the creation and the creator were both flawed. Like I said, Heresy! :)

It's a fascinating ride! I totally recommend this for a very smart read down this path! It's very accessible.

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Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Fairy Boy of Calton Hill (The Fairy Boy Chronicles, #1)The Fairy Boy of Calton Hill by Sean-Paul Thomas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Missing a bit of magic in your life?

Whether or not you're Scottish doesn't really matter, but if you like a taste of the highlands, with its rich fairyland hiding right below a hill on the edge of your suburbia, then this is surely going to delight.

We spend a lot of time in both the real world and our Fae otherland, with dragons, the little people, and a very nice setup that explains the reason why the doors to the Fae have mostly been closed, the history that used to belong to both our peoples, and a real reason to be scared. In short, we've got ourselves a fascinating world-building romp that keeps on travelling on both sides of the borders and it slides very nicely from a teenage romance story to an adventure to a shared adventure... just before it all goes to hell.

There's some really cool stakes going on here and the imagination's the limit. I especially like the Peter Pan feel. :)

I'll be honest... I generally mistrust YA tales and teenage romance and anything that might say "Fairy Boy" in the title. That's a shame, really, because if it had had just about any other title, I wouldn't have felt so much trepidation. :)

I am here to say that the tale is solid anyway!

(And it helps that I also enjoyed the author's other, adult tale, The Old Man and the Princess.)

Thank you, Sean-Paul, for the pleasure of reading these!

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Saturday, July 22, 2017

The UploadedThe Uploaded by Ferrett Steinmetz
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It is my very great pleasure to have read this!

In fact, because I've been ravenously hungry for everything that Ferrett has written ever since Flux, I practically fell out of my chair after I got accepted by Netgalley to get an Advance Reader Copy. Woo!

That being said, let's get down to the nitty-gritty without spoiling anything, shall we?

The concept is awesome:

Uploaded minds in a VR RPG Heaven, with the dead now far outnumbering the living in this future Earth. Guess who's in charge? It's all about the bare minimum upkeep of the Earth while the servers and the cameras and the game-reward system of social control dominate the world.

Totally cool, right?

Well, we've got a bit of everything in here, but it's the main characters that make this shine. It reminds me a lot of Doctorow's *Little Brother* with the sneaky and funny counterculture bits and the fact that sometimes even the living can program and spoof the dead. Hackers Unite, right? And then it's light enough and serious enough to put most YA novels to shame... while being entirely engaging to me on any level. There's also some very serious romance and even more serious themes going on here, too, but at this novel's core, it's all about the revolution, baby.

From the first page to the last, my attention never wavered. This is the joy of reading Ferrett's work.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: this guy should be a super-bestseller. There's no good excuse why he isn't. I'm a total fanboy because he's just got the writing chops to pull just about anything off.

This one's a winner and a half! Total SF with YA protags and some pretty epic scope that is full of some really great fun and funny stuff.

So, what do Neo-Christians and Lifeguards have in common?

Sounds like a great joke, right? Read it and find out! :)

WOOOOOOO! Great stuff! (insert fanboy squee)

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Friday, July 21, 2017

BlindnessBlindness by José Saramago
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I can *almost* slip this book into that enormous category that is zombie-fiction, but alas, no. There are no zombies here.

There are, however, an increasingly large number of people going blind until there is only one left.

Chaos ensues... one heartbreaking step at a time.

Simple concept, of course, but in this case, it is brilliantly executed. The writing is clear and transforms us every step of the way from our modern society into a cold cinder of civilization, with the fall of humanity experienced first-hand and in great detail. It's no gimmick of a novel.

It's heartfelt. The characters scramble by their fingernails as they degrade into offal-smeared wretches, and all the while they still try to hold on to decency even while sickness and the collapse of all civilization ensues. Heartbreaking.

When I first started reading this, I assumed it was going to be something of an offshoot from that great classic, The Day of the Triffids, where just as much devastation happens when most of humanity goes blind as from the man-eating plants that gobble them up, only this brings us much closer to the complete hell without a commentary on niche species and survival of the fittest. Indeed, we bear witness to every single degradation that mankind can inflict on itself, from suicide, murder, rape, and apathy.

I'm an honest optimist. I actually see a lot of hope in this book, but I'm not going to kid anyone here... this is a harsh one.

It's also one of those kinds of novels that outdoes itself. It's not a simple dystopia. It's an exemplary one. Hell, it probably should be on the top of all the lists if you call yourself a fan of the genre. :)

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Postmodern Deconstruction MadhousePostmodern Deconstruction Madhouse by Peter Quinones
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Don't let my three stars steer you off. There's a lot to love in this book.

For one, the author's ability with characters is actually kinda godlike. Never mind that so many of the women are successful and smart and yet always fall for the rich dipshit or the super-intellectual in lieu of actual honest hotness. I get a distinct impression, backed up by the title of the book, that this is intentional and the main point.

Most of the stories are bright and fascinating mainly because they're very quirky in that fundamental human sense. Every character is odd or stands out as something fantastic and well-worth looking deeper and deeper into. I can just imagine bright colors and snappy attitudes getting scrawled all over nearly every page. Things are very bright even when we're dealing with the scum of the earth.

As for the stories, themselves, my main complaint is in the treatment of their ends.

Yeah, I know, this is an artsy and heavily literary experimental book that consciously eschews normal standards, but even so, my own personal enjoyment still says: FIX THOSE ENDINGS. An abrupt action or discovery does NOT signify a satisfying end, even IF it's trying to get us to think and ruminate and try to get to the bottom or eventually give up and say... oh, this is just how life is... unsatisfying and the complete opposite of a rational and analytical existence.

Of course, we could say that. And the author is probably saying that. Heaven knows a lot of it is telegraphed over and over and over in the text, the titles, even the later "stories" that aren't stories. Rather, they are a mishmash of ideas, mini-scenes, or outright collections of movie reviews for Shakespeare or horror films loosely tied together with personal ruminations (or those of a fictitious character).

I didn't like those so much. It was basically an intellectual exercise or a rambling analysis that may have had a few interesting bits but failed to really engage me, unlike the bonafide stories.

In short, I would have gone nuts over this if the stories had continued on into full novels. I was interested. Quite so, in fact. But the overly-self-conscious deconstruction elements and the need to seem clever eventually defeated the effect. I can appreciate and enjoy all the clever references, but this kind of thing is, unfortunately, a rather niche literary field full of incestuous critics dangling French cigarettes from limp fingers.

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Thursday, July 20, 2017

A Wizard of Earthsea (Earthsea Cycle, #1)A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Here's an odd bit of trivia: I had just read Beagle's Last Unicorn this month, so it is still very fresh in my mind. I agreed with everyone that it was a real classic with so much to love within its pages.

And yet, right after reading A Wizard of Earthsea, I'm gonna have to say I think A Wizard of Earthsea is better. Not only better, but a lot more enjoyable, fascinating, and exciting!

Not by a lot, mind you, but enough that I can easily say that this Le Guin's classic is superior. :)

I hope this comes across as high praise... because that's the intent.

I love everything about it. It's all magic and equilibrium. The magic is super impressive and the world of islands is gorgeous. But most importantly, it's Sparrowhawk that I love. This young kid has gone through a lot in his short years and almost all of the hell and shadow is of his own making. Bad decisions leading eventually to wisdom, and all the while, the magic surges and surges.

Want a dragon fight? Raising the dead? Awesome shadows underneath the waters? Great discoveries? It's all here.

Maybe people just want unicorns more. I don't know. It's not me. I want magic that's clear and deep all at the same time, with a fundamental message that isn't corny and that's interwoven so deftly within the tale of discovery that the result is always obvious and profound.

This here tale does that. Perfectly.

I love it.

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Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Confusion, Part II (The Baroque Cycle, Vol. 2, Book 2)The Confusion, Part II by Neal Stephenson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Slightly better overall now that I've read both Confusions together, I really feel like I got a very cool taste of the rest of the world. I'm really quite impressed that Jack got around that much. I mean, India and Mexico? Whoah dude! In Baroque, too!

I was rather more impressed with the science bits this time, too, and the fantastic personages we get to see. Newton, of course, but after all that time spent with these guys in Quicksilver, it's nice to see that they're all still sipping the silver stuff and going mad like the drug fiends they are. Just because they can do all that heavy math doesn't mean they don't know how to party like it's 1699. :)

Jack, however, and Eliza, both steal most of the show and the page count.

I'm not quite sure if I like that. It may have grown on me. Ethier way, I have to get used to it or these novels are going to go downhill quick. At least the Con-Fusion, or mixing, is going well. Economics as the hidden protagonist for the win! :)

Quite a decent novel or novels since they're all intertwined, but I feel like I ought to be more respectful and impressed than simply enjoying the ride. There's no doubt in my mind that as a historical escapade, it's one of the best I've ever read, but I do think my tastes run a bit elsewhere.

Along the same lines, though, I can say that I loved Cryptonomicon a lot more than this even though they both share a lot of the same themes. :)

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The Confusion, Part I (The Baroque Cycle, Vol. 2, Book 1)The Confusion, Part I by Neal Stephenson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Now, I admit to being a huge fanboy of Stephenson in general, but unfortunately, I wasn't horribly thrilled about this book.

That's not to say that it didn't have some really fascinating bits and sequences... because it did. And I had no problems with the jumping between different times in the Baroque period, the admittedly rather heavy explorations of period economics, of political intrigues, or any of the like. Even the main characters, Eliza and Jack, are rather interesting when they're in the very heart of things, but the rest of the time, there was a lot of what might be called filler.

It's great if you're reading the book for the history, for the feel of the late 1600's and early 1700's Greater Europe (and eventually elsewhere), or just reading it for the unique mix of vagabondry and high-court intrigue with silver and gold heists, revenge, and the language.

Best of all, however, was the alchemy. There's a lot less science in this than in the first volume, unfortunately, but what there is, is really fascinating. Solomon's gold is a special kind of gold that's heavier than regular gold... but throw that into the mix of a gigantic heist and attempted unloading of said heist and the impact that it would have on whole economies, witting or unwitting... and we've got a huge Con... with a Fusion of different alchemies. :) Of course, there's also the combining of different economies in the mix, too, but no matter how clever this book might be when we dig deeper into it, the entire thing does rather fall into the plain old other kinds of confusion.

I'm going to continue because I do have a bit of fondness for Jack and Eliza, but I'm mainly sticking with it because it is, after all, Stephenson.

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Monday, July 17, 2017

The Seven (The Vagrant, #3)The Seven by Peter Newman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I don't usually run across fantasy that stands out this much, but when I do, I really feel the need to shout it from the rooftops.

This one wraps up one of the most fascinating and epically glorious trilogies I've ever read. This is by far one of the most ambitious and fun demon-sword tales ever, especially since goats are involved and the swords are rooted in a deeply fantastic world-building setting that's as much hard-SF as it is epic demon hoards and battles.

It even has spacecraft and high tech battles right alongside immortal demons and flesh-crafting seen on a scale I've generally never seen done this big anywhere.

But if you think this isn't praise enough, all by itself, then know that the characters are hella cool and they more that carry the entire tale in such a way that we could easily do away with all the epic battles and it would still be a really fascinating and funny and deep ride.

High praise? Well, it deserves all that and more.

I have pretty high standards when it comes to epic fantasy. There's a lot of average epic stuff out there. This one is anything but average.

And as for the author, I have no qualms about following him to the ends of the earth, no matter what he writes next. He has real chops. :)

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Sunday, July 16, 2017

The Transmigration of Timothy Archer (VALIS Trilogy, #3)The Transmigration of Timothy Archer by Philip K. Dick
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a re-read for me and perhaps not exactly my favorite of his last and greatest sequence of linked novels that began with VALIS, but it is still profound and beautiful.

Truly, it is a very good book, but it stands as both a major departure from PKD's normal fiction. That's to say, it's a novel that explores all the same themes that he's is known for, but he does it in a very firmly grounded and mainstream way that very much does NOT touch upon his more traditional SF style.

Suicide, madness, drug use, heavy intellectualism comes right to the fore... but rather than deal with it from inside the person most afflicted with it or get funky with some really strange happenings, we follow Timothy Archer's daughter in law, Angel, as she tries to come to grips with the grief of losing Tim along with all of Tim's friends.

Sound simple? Well, grief isn't simple and Tim's life and intellect was pretty fantastic and the impact he had upon everyone was pretty profound. His struggles with faith and his eventually giving up the cloth and going to great lengths, intellectual or otherwise, to discover the real truth about Jesus, has long term effects on everyone.

That's not to say there isn't a lot of really strange things happening here, however, but they're all based on reality and scholarship and the deepest quest for meaning that anyone can or ought to strive.

What if Christianity was a mushroom cult, that systematic drug use and hallucinations WAS the body of Christ? That all the early Christians were, after all, drug pushers? I love it. It's even based on some really impressive scholarship. But beyond that, there's also the idea that this mushroom also opens our minds to see the truth of reality and in so doing, allows us to link-in with the system of the universe and carry on past death for real. So, blithe and humorous assumptions aside, this was the real aspect of faith and the promise... and the tragedy is... that we lost this bridge.

Even so, my takeaway from this book, with this topic, is only a single feature in a very rich tapestry of characterizations, explorations, and fundamental human experience. Don't take my word for it. Read it with the other VALIS novels and get really surprised that this was so mainstream. I know I was.

And now I really can't wait to pick up Radio Free Albemuth again! It, perhaps more than all the rest, is the capstone of all these ideas and it is a firm adventure in revolution and science fiction greatness as well! All the ideas and themes come back in full force.

What a fantastic storyteller!

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Saturday, July 15, 2017

Equal Rites (Discworld, #3; Witches #1)Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Great Pratchett Re-Read Continues!

The third book begins the "real" development of the whole Discworld mythos, and rather than focusing on setting, it goes whole-hog (or Witch) into character and a rather deep social issue.

It is, at its core, a novel about breaking down the walls that the sexes tend to put up to keep the other side out. Witches can be wizards and vice-versa. :)

I didn't appreciate this as much the first time although I got the whole social bit perfectly... and mainly that was because I hadn't quite gotten as invested in the characters that would soon become the main driving force of the novels.

But now that I've had the pleasure of reading every novel, I'm fine. Just fine.

But Weatherwax seems to be not quite fully formed here. Isn't that odd? Or perhaps it isn't. This is the first time we see her and I have nothing but fond memories of the woman she reveals herself to be later. BUT, of course, such things always come with time. Thankfully, the wizard/witch battle was still brilliant. :)

Standing out was the Head Librarian, again, and Simon. And of course, our little witch was fun to follow but, unfortunately, she's not Tiffany.

Even so, I'm so glad to be revisiting all this! :)

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Friday, July 14, 2017

Threads of an Empire (Breaker of Nations #1)Threads of an Empire by Simon Rudman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was pretty impressed with this novel.

It should be right up your alley if you're interested in historical Carthage during its height and even more if you like magical elements in your history... including soothsayers and rather interesting demons (or demon-like) baddies.

There's a lot of war and empire building, too, so it should be just about perfect for all you epic-fantasy fans. :)

If I had any qualms about this, it's only that I've read a lot of epic fantasy and it feels very regular to me. Of course, that's rather the point, to enjoy plots where characters grow and get strong. :)

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Thursday, July 13, 2017

Exit WestExit West by Mohsin Hamid
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm of two minds with this book.

My first mind revolves all around SF and SF concepts and good plots and great characters and deeper feels and plainly fun writing.

My second mind is content to have a novel that's mostly just about the immigrant condition and have a mostly realistic if slightly too regular action revolving around a strained relationship between two rather different people forced together by circumstances.

The second mind considers this novel to be rather literary and super-grounded in everyday and everyman concepts, attempting to be universal while barely touching upon anything extraordinary. This is true despite the fact that an apocalypse has come and portals to other places start turning normal doors into a random exodus on the Earth. This concept is barely explored. It's just a dirty handwavium and is used as a very convenient plot device. The fact that war devastates everything and all the normal lives are thrown into upheaval is just a setting, not something to have thoughts about.

This is fine if all we want is a character novel that makes light work of everyday chaos and instead tries to show us that normal relationships will still try to work (or fail) regardless of setting. We aren't required to have any kind of stability to live. Our two main characters here are caught in the normal struggles of very different people trying to make a go, drift apart, or otherwise dance the somewhat sad and complicated dance that is all relationships. Theirs is not a happy or exciting relationship, but it is a complicated one. The author is striving for realism and he gets realism.

The other reason this book might attract readers is the fact it's distinctly Muslim.

On the other hand, my first brain is rather disappointed. I wanted SF and this is about as mild as it comes. A brief mention that doors become doors elsewhere is all we get. The rest is just mild survival stuff with mostly running into nice people who give these kids a place to stay once they finally leave their homes. Later on, it's just the immigrant condition of making a living, falling apart, and later, wondering what happened.

As an SF it's almost nothing. At least in other "literary" works I could mention like DFW or Rand or Atwood, a lot more attention is given to making the SF interesting and thought-provoking.
This one was just a silly plot device that is below the standards of 1930's bad pulp. Sure, the literary realism side is nice and readable if that's what you want, but as an SF? Look elsewhere. It can't even be considered a post-apocalyptic.

I suppose I'm not really a fan of the super-super mild brand of literary fiction that borrows a single super-simple SF concept to tout itself as being on the forefront of the genre. It cheapens the really and truly excellent authors who have done amazing things in the field in so many brilliant ways.

If he's trying to fool the literary crowd into buying into the SF market, then fine, but that market needs to realize this kind of novel is baby/baby lite SF that's more like a shadow of a shadow of what it could be. I suppose it might be best to just call it literary and strike off the idea that it might be SF.

Ian M. Banks, this is not.

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ItIt by Stephen King
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Like so many others I seem to run across, I read this when I was just a kid and again when I was older, unconsciously mirroring the characters in this book. Coincidence? Or fate?

Either way, I got my pants scared off me both times. We all float down here, I think.

IT, probably more than any of Stephen King's other works, is the scariest book he ever wrote, and if it wasn't for that one major flaw, a particular scene near the end, I would go on and on and on about how this book will always be an utter classic till the end of time.

I mean, it's jammed with bucketfuls of fantastically scary scenes, characters that are super memorable and are so easy to get fully invested in, and a town that rivals most science fiction for its sheer world-building majesty. And it's not only these things, but it's the story. It's one for the ages. It's also timeless and very much centered on the times of '58 and '85 and it's impossible not to be immersed.

I also think I can blame SK for making all clowns scary. I can also blame him for Rowling's ideas in Prisoner, too. Or the big bad in Full Metal Alchemist. But even better, I can trace my undying love for SK back to this book and the full realization that all his early works and a ton of his later ones are all connected in one gigantic web of ideas.

Of course, I laughed when someone made a comment about being put away in Shawshank. I shivered when the ghost of Christine graced the page. Even the Crimson King and the sense of all the universes crashing down showed up here.

But best of all, there was Derry. What a town!

It eats children.


Like I said, if it wasn't for that one flaw, I'd be raving that this is just one of those major works of imagination that should never be missed by anyone who reads anything at all. Just snipping out that scene would make this more than a classic. IT would be truly and not figuratively, be timeless. :)

Move aside, Pet Sematary. Stand. Gunslinger. This here book is wicked awesome and probably the reason why I fell in love with reading and wanting to be a writer for real. Anyone who could do this to someone from the other side of a page is a god. :)

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Monday, July 10, 2017

The Brightest Fell (October Daye, #11)The Brightest Fell by Seanan McGuire
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC!

Unfortunately for me, I have so much I want to talk about for this novel, and yet almost ALL of it becomes spoiler territory!


But! I think this is one of the strongest Daye novels since the battle with Blind Michael and even more interesting in a way or two than Toby's eventual falling in love with the King of Cats.

I'm sure I can get away with saying that her mother features very strongly and the consequences are very dire and the feels are very deep. I can honestly say that the buildup from all these previous novels and the eventual payoff in total entertainment value for this one is very, very, very high.

In fact, I'm kinda squeeing over here. I loved this novel. Not only was I super excited to have gotten the ARC because I'm a big fan of the series in general, but my own expectations were met and exceeded by the actual experience. The carryover storylines were some of the very, very best in the series and this direction....

Well, suffice to say, I'm very impressed and more than satisfied. :) :)

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Sunday, July 9, 2017

The Last UnicornThe Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is for all the fans of Red Bull! Sure, I feel a little haggard after drinking the damn stuff, and it also makes you blind and contributes toward a murderous rage toward all unicorns, but the drink does grow on you! It's just a shame that it makes all the little girls cry. *sigh*

That being said the novel itself is a rather wonderful and clear and a perfect example of a self-aware fairy-tale. The fact that it stays simple and strong is a testament to its great writing.

Better than that, however, is the way it brings out the core theme of wonder and awe or how the searching for one's dreams can turn to either darkness or to light.

It's also charming.

Not much else needs to be said except that this novel probably deserves all the love that has been showered on it. Well worth the read.

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Saturday, July 8, 2017

Tomorrow's Kin (Yesterday's Kin Trilogy, #1)Tomorrow's Kin by Nancy Kress
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC!

I've read a lot of Nancy Kress, going way back to the Eighties and Nineties when she was a regular in Asimov. I'll be honest and say that I was amazed by her debut novels. Some of the later ones, though? Not so much. I know that this novel isn't going to get a super-glowing review, but I can tell you that it's solid novel. Very solid.

As with a lot of Kress, we get a lot of single or at most dual high-science concepts taken all the way as the grand arc for a novel, and this one is no different. In this case, were talking about the global effects of an invasive species in an ecological System, only we see it from the actions of an alien first-contact scenario and focus more on the subtle effects rather than an in-your-face action sequence that dominates most stories.

I appreciate that a lot.

It's thoughtful, personal, and because of the nature of the theme, usually only obvious long after the initial contact is done and done. That's not to say the effects aren't long lasting... because they are. And in a very real way, it's very dangerous and even possibly catastrophic.

This is just assuming that all parties involved, I.E., both humans and aliens, enter into some sort of dialog or transaction with the highest possible motives!

I think that's Kress's main strength. People are generally rational and even when everyone is doing their best on either side of a huge (or small) genetic gap, unintended consequences always can ruin your day. :)

For everyone else just wanting to know what they can expect, science-wise? Genetics, a bit of cool physics, Systems Theory, and a lot more than a hint of species-change. :) And there are a few cool surprises and scary points, too, with action and explosions, but this is NOT the coolest part of the novel. The coolest part is how down-to-earth it is and how much good science is explored in a really fascinating way. :)

I'm looking forward to any sequels to this. It's so nice to see rational people struggle and eventually succeed in good stories. We all know how often the other sort tends to dominate the hero business.

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Friday, July 7, 2017

OutlandOutland by Dennis E. Taylor
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If this is Taylor's first novel, I'm still hella impressed. It reminds me of a classic SF and modern topic mashup, kinda like a love-child between Pratchett/Baxter's Long Earth and classic Heinlein such as Tunnel in the Sky.

From a sheer enjoyment aspect, few books can beat it on the idea front. Uni-studs, crafty teachers hop world-lines in classic SF joy, building up to the grand and horrific spectacle of an erupting Yellowstone.

Yeah, I know, Long Earth did it, too, but this one, in a few specific ways, might be better.

I like the classic SF feel and the hopping plot that is full of very good explanations and depictions of the oncoming disaster. But best of all, it's a Can-Do novel at its core.

The characters are fine and I like a lot of Taylor's signature geekiness, but this one's characters aren't quite up to the grand-awesomeness that I've come to expect from Bob-verse. :)

Even so, the adventure and the decisions and the surprises in this more than makes up for that. I totally recommend this for a taste of the good old days. :)

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Thursday, July 6, 2017

Deceiver (Foreigner, #11)Deceiver by C.J. Cherryh
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It's always a real treat to pick up these books even when I know it's gong to have some parts that are going to inevitably annoy me. Such as Barb. But despite that, I think I'm really getting into--- or perhaps diving ever deeper--- into the alien political misadventure. :)

It's almost as if I'm meant to cry in relief every single time Bren daydreams or doodles or has to convalesce after getting shot because all his other hours are just filled the sneaky suspicion that he's just landed his and his allies' staff in yet another outbreak of war. Those backward Atevi just don't appreciate the human influence! (or working indoor toilets)!

For shame!

Even so, I love the pace and the constant simmer of excitement. I'd grown to expect Tabini's son and his delightful PoV to get into yet another kerfuffle, but would you believe it? Not This Time! :) Of course, Tobi and Barb and a mess of other Atevi youngsters are more than enough to get people shot or kidnapped or turn the South into another outbreak of civil war, but who's counting? Well, actually, I am. I love this series. Its great characters, its DEEP worldbuilding, its amazing political and instinctual setup, everything always rises to the occasion!

The next book will conclude this mini-trilogy following Bren's rise to political power in the Atevi. I can only hope that these benighted aliens get their crap together and prep for an alien invasion! Sheesh!

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Wednesday, July 5, 2017

The WanderersThe Wanderers by Meg Howrey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I like all kinds of books.

I generally don't have much of a problem getting into SF that happens to be more about family and interpersonal drama than about space... but I do like to know that this is what I'm getting into.

By all accounts, the extended opening felt like a glorious character-driven lead-up to a tight and absorbing journey to Mars. But when the interpersonal stuff took over and most of the page space was devoted to different family members, all of which stayed behind, I had to conclude that this whole book wasn't really about Mars or the journey for the three Astronauts, even though the tale centered on them. It merely had the cool journey be a pivot for deep internal monologs and stream of consciousness. It really could have been set anywhere. It just happened to have space travel as the spice.

The plot really isn't that important.

The character studies are where this book shines. From issues of being gay to finding a balance in your life or even the ideas of what is art and despair, it does shine.

I wonder if this is going to be a new "thing", though. I've been reading title after title lately that is just mainstream topics and exploration with just a tad of science or science fiction. Maybe one dystopia here or one exploration there, but the rest is just a mainstream novel that could have been marketed so easily as another genre.

Don't get me wrong. It's fine. But I am quite fond of my science and my science fiction. I'm used to my SF having truly glorious themes and explorations and complicated structures. I'm just not sure what I think about bare-bones and mild A-to-B SF plots becoming a carrier vectors for other genres.

Otherwise, the writing is quite good and I otherwise probably wouldn't have had any complaints.

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Red Witch: The Tales of Ingrid Redstone (a Temple Tree & Tower novel)Red Witch: The Tales of Ingrid Redstone by Sean Patrick Traver
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Thanks to Netgalley for this ARC!

I admit I grabbed this title mainly because of the gorgeous cover and was amazed that there weren't more glowing reviews after I began, but by the end of the read, I was flabbergasted. Why? Because I can see why there might be two camps for a tale of this scope and magnitude. It's non-traditional all the way down the board. That's not to say it wasn't easy to follow, either, just that it does very well to bend all kinds of genres.

We can assume, first of all, that it's a really dark fantasy with romance, and this is absolutely true. But it's also epic in scope and because of the in-depth exploration of the world of the dead and the peculiar qualities of timelessness there, this book also fits neatly into time-travel and segues even better into a well-thought-out piece of historical fiction going all the way back to Aztec sacrifices, through the silent age of film, the World-Wars, druggie sixties and the modern world of Indiana Jones and lasers, and all of this can be accessed through the door of the dead. It's pretty awesome.

But most importantly, this is a love story between the King of the Dead and a modern occult witch right out of Aleister Crowley's pagebook, full of passion and misunderstanding and disillusionment and even a few surprise twists in the span of their relationship. It's not a simple relationship, either, but it certainly felt like a genuine one. Even if it does sour.

So much happens and so much is explored in this book, I'm not going to be able to touch on even a fraction, but I can say that it's pretty epic. It's also one of the most unique and fascinating takes on necromancy that I've ever read. This is not a simple tale. It's actually rather emotional and brilliant.

If the world had any justice, then complicated and exploratory adventure/romance/horrors like this would fill all the shelves of the world. We'd be steeped in the glories of more truly creative fictions that aren't afraid to cross all those silly boundaries of the genres. :)

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Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Bonecaller: Book OneBonecaller: Book One by Logan Keys
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC!

This book is a great entry into a world of ancient magics and simmering revenge. I know that sounds rather the norm these days, but it's the magic and dragons and the plot twists that really makes it shine.

I really love the old witch and the buildup.  Just wait for the big reveals, too. There's a lot of fun in here.

Now if you're looking for an actual comparison with other novels, try the fact that it evokes the imagery of Mists of Avalon and the crushing defeatism of magical slavery with the hope of revenge. Add a few hijinks on the high seas and more cruel magics, and you'll be bringing these characters together in style.

Warning, however... This is still the start of a full series. This is not a standalone. 

Suffice to say, I'm still gonna be following this with great interest. :)

Monday, July 3, 2017

FledglingFledgling by Octavia E. Butler
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I admit that I wanted to like this more than I did simply because I am a big fan of Kindred. I was slightly ambivalent about another book on vampires, however, and while I tried not to take that into serious account when reading Butler, it still crept in.

Mostly, however, I liked the book fine. Any major issues I have can be neatly summed up in my opinion on quasi-pedophile literature in general. It's designed to make us squirm. If it doesn't make you squirm then maybe you're reading just a tad too much pedo-literature. Suffice to say, I squirmed a lot. I tried telling myself over and over that a 53-year-old vampire with amnesia with the body of an eleven-year-old girl should be judged on the stated facts alone, not by the super-creepy visceral feel it evokes.

Putting that aside, the rest of the novel doesn't break any new ground. Far from it. Can anyone else remember a novel that starts out with an amnesiac MC? Anyone? Is it one out of six novels? By proportion, I do believe that about that many of us in real life must be amnesiac. It makes sense, doesn't it? That's probably why we keep forgetting how many times we've read novels with amnesiac main characters.

Moving on. Slow build, discovery that we're dead. Check. Mind-rolling all the first people we meet. Check. Falling into long-term relationships with these random people. Check. Now let's have a little violence and ask the question of why. Uh oh. Vampire politics. Check.

Voila! One vampire novel to order. It did have a kinda courtroom feel at the end, no? *sigh*

I may sound like I hated this novel, but no. Like I said, it was fine. Not extremely creative, just a tad or a bit more than a lot of creepy. The horror aspect went away pretty early and the novel fell into a comfortable settle in with her mind rolled lovers before it became Law and Order for bloodsuckers. It just feels like I've read this book before. Many times. And the only thing that makes it stand out is the fact that it creeps my non-pedo-self out. That's not exactly high praise.


Next, please.

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Sunday, July 2, 2017

Optical DelusionOptical Delusion by Hunter Shea
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Do you remember those bare-bones hokey horror shows from the seventies and the eighties, the ones that played upon fifties values and aimed at the lowest common denominator by giving us a MC that IS the lowest common denominator?

How about some really cheap made-for-tv horror episodes that were amusing more for the schlock value than the shock value? Do you miss those?

I admit I do, to my everlasting shame. But I don't feel that guilty. Not really. It's comfort food and Shea is great at giving us exactly what we want. No nutritional value at all. :)

In this case, we have a slothful drunk dad that goes on a journey with his new x-ray glasses that really function as advertised, only they're cursed and he can't get them off. Of course, the old complaint about x-ray glasses also comes true when it starts working a little too well. The simple concept even has the horror-moral built in, and I didn't care what happened to the guy so...

Enjoy! Nothing in here except popcorn wish-fulfillment as long as you're a 12-year-old boy inside a sad grown man who just wants to see titties.... gone wrong. :) Amusing for what it is. Please don't expect anything more, though, unless you're expecting a bit of a nice gross-out, because that's here, too. :) In this respect, it's quite a bit better than the made-for-tv horror shows. :) Very modern sensibilities there, at least. :)

Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC!

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Odalisque (The Baroque Cycle, Vol. 1, Book 3)Odalisque by Neal Stephenson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Still going strong. We have all the characters from the first two books plus a few entries that only deepen the sense of the world of Europe. In the previous two, we got to see a lot of England and then a massive amount of the Dutch world in the second, but this one focused mainly on the French.

Our favorite tease/spy lives her life as a fake noble (but not so fake that no one fails to realize it), but that's all right. It's the life of intrigue in Louis the Fourteenth's court. Truly fascinating.

We also return in full force to Daniel, and while everyone is older, the political intrigue is nevertheless as dangerous as ever with the new English king.

The immensity of detail is such that I'm thrown deep into the late sixteen hundreds without pause or breath and I feel like I'm getting one hell of an immersion. It's also so full of interesting plots and twists, going back fully into the anti-slavery angle even while whole parts of Christiandom want to enslave whole other parts of Christendom just because of their beliefs, it feels like an insane move to go any further or wider in scope when there's such dissension everywhere you look.

And then there's the science and the economics and the way that the perennially tapped nobles play the markets in order to regain their wealth. The science bits are always the most fascinating for me, but I have to be honest. The economics bits are pretty damn close to the top as a favorite.

Let me be clear: I read and loved Cryptonomicon which is like an Epic Economics treatise as well as a cryptography primer, so getting the early explorations of these same topics but within the frame of Europe during this time is a real treat. So much to learn!

I'm really impressed by these, and I've still got five more to go! What will happen next to my poor MCs? *cry*

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King of the Vagabonds (The Baroque Cycle, Vol. 1, Book 2)King of the Vagabonds by Neal Stephenson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Part two of the first Cycle takes a huge departure from the first book that mainly revolved around science and a richly detailed England to follow Jack, the self-styled King of the Vagabonds in this traveling adventure around all of Europe in the late sixteen-hundreds.

Include spies, a huge political intrigue, hanging out with all the lower sorts, and enough scrapes, tosses, and near-death experiences for any taste. Jack doesn't really have the ear of anyone, let alone a king, but what he does have is a talent for getting into the biggest messes.

What makes this special is not only the characters, which are a serious hoot but the amount of research and a perfect inclusion of real history and events on a scale I've never before seen. This might as well be a Masters course in history if it hadn't been written so excitingly and humorously.

I think I might have enjoyed this one even more than the first book in the Cycle, but only in terms of pure adventure and sneakily introduced economics, medicine, and a good idea about how the REST of the world lived during these times. Jack's about as low as they come. :)

I totally recommend this for Historical Fiction lovers everywhere. :)

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Quicksilver (The Baroque Cycle, Vol. 1, Book 1)Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm re-reading this wonderful Historical revolving Daniel Waterhouse because I'm a huge fan of Stephenson and I have to admit that I never continued further than this first book of the first Cycle. I don't know why! Perhaps I just wanted more SF or Fantasy in my life at the time and it just fell away from me, but I feel like an idiot now. :)

SO. Rereading this brought me back fully into the world of post-Cromwell England, so full of details and concerned mostly with the heart of modern science... from Newton, Leibwitz, Hook, and Comstock. The stories themselves are endlessly fascinating, actually, and the man who ties them all together, Daniel Waterhouse, is equally so. His getting into the Invisible College at its inception and working closely with all these fantastic persons was great for both story, history and, more specifically, the history of science.

It's hugely detailed and interconnected, and if that wasn't enough, Stephenson throws in a huge discourse on the economics, political issues, the wars, the plague, and of coruse religion. This is a fantastically intelligent, broad, and detailed look at England, late 17th century and early 18th.

I remember being flabbergasted at the amount of research the first time and now that I know more the second time, I'm still flabbergasted at the amount of research. The fact that he can weave a cool tale and have everything hold together as one of the best historicals I've ever read is a testament to Stephenson. :)

A note, however. There's two sets of books or book collections out here that have gone a great way to confusing me as to what to read where and how. I'll just make a note to everyone else who might also be confused.

The Quicksilver novel shows up both as the first book in the first cycle, also called Quicksilver.

Yeah. Nuts.

So I'm reviewing the individual first novel in the Cycle here, with this, and then reviewing King of Vagabonds as part two (a full novel as well) of the Quicksilver Cycle, followed with Odalesque.

The two conventions would have us believe that there are either three Cycles bound together as three enormous books, or Eight Books altogether, separate. :) I'm going to review all eight, separately, because a lot happens everywhere. :)

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