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Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Gatefather (Mither Mages #3)Gatefather by Orson Scott Card
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I wanted to like this more. I'm not saying I didn't like it because I actually did.

I just wanted to like it more.

So what was good?

The ideas! The direction the magic took was rather cool and I would have loved to play in this world for a lot longer, but the focus came down rather heavily upon individual choices and Danny's godlike power. Not that this couldn't be a good thing, mind you, even in the face of a setup that could bring down war between worlds and numerous new uber-powers laying waste by both accident and intent, but in the end, we were left with very little actual action. Good story paths, yes, and the idea carries everything better than you might expect, but that leads me to the bad.

The bad: Reader expectations.

I'm not going to sit here and say we're all bad people because we're used to and enjoy anti-heroes and we now hate christ-like imageries because we've seen such things overdone to the point of absurdity. I'm also not going to complain that what was a much gentler touch in the first two novels then gets to be a bit hammer-like in the third.

What I will say is that if you go into reading this knowing that you'll be dealing with a genuinely heroic and moral MC, perhaps something like Ender or Alvin Maker, but without their obvious failings, then you might start thinking that he might be rather single-dimensional. And you'd be right. At least in the previous novels, he was mooning people or knocking up chicks. In this one, he just plays host to Seth and never needs to worry about anything because he's amazingly powerful.

And then we get the morality play. Don't get me wrong! I like a good morality play that's done well. I don't even care if it's heavy as long as it's also clever as hell. This novel's writing is crystal clear and I still enjoyed a lot of the characters and it was very much a YA, but the very insistent focus that most girls (mind you, not women) will always be attracted to the truly powerful, got a bit gruesome.

That being said, there was still a rather big mix between the extra-juvenile (to be expected, considering their ages,) and some rather cool but out of place philosophical moments, (which also might be expected, considering their ages.) However, somewhere along the line, these didn't gel for me and it fell flat. Maybe that's just me and I'm being a bit more harsh on this novel than I usually am because I've read and loved so much of OSC's works. I particularly loved the philosophical moments in the others, even.

This one felt a bit rushed. Like it needed another pass and tone up, perhaps a different main focus or at least one that brought out the peril a bit more. I found myself thinking the novel was about to wrap up half-way through and wondered where it could go. The actual end was... okay, but just okay.

I wanted to have more happen. We did get something big, but we didn't have to work for it. I just feel a bit cheated.

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The Gate Thief (Mither Mages, #2)The Gate Thief by Orson Scott Card
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I think Orson Scott Card is doing a fantastic job writing good-kid YA. It's really hard. Most of the YA out there is full of stupid kids doing stupid things and while Danny fits the bill, he's still a sight better than most. He's dependable and loyal and he does the right thing even when it would be so easy to just fall into the traps that everyone lays out for him.

I'm talking about sex.

I mean, truly, Danny's now the definition of a god, with super-uber gate-magic powers that not only let him use his imagination and trickery, but they also heal the people that go through them. That's pretty beast, especially since he can make a million of the gates. He's a god among gods. God-Punk at its best. :)

But sex is the downfall of all the gods, is it not? Just look at Zeus. And yet, Danny is trying not to be *that*. Admirable, don't you think?

Alas, this isn't the entire book, but it's an important part. The rest is all about the coming war with Seth, the Dragon, with Satan, with Bel, while all the while having to deal or not deal with the rest of the underpowered mortal-gods as they go through the Great Gate that amps up all their powers, while all the while trying to protect his normal friends. Danny's pretty heroic, but he's still just a kid, and a lot of the dialog is very HS.

In the end, I'm really happy with the shape of this story. I love most of the writing and I think it's really gorgeous when it comes to clarity and how well it explains the magic system and just how huge the stakes are. Stolen souls across time? Yup. Worthy of a tale of gods on Earth. :)

Above all, though, I love just how much comparative religion there is in here and how nicely it dovetails into the action. :)

I'm having a blast with this series. Very easy read, emotional, and a lot of high standards while the rest of humanity and gods wallow in the muck. :) It's pretty awesome, in fact.

(And if you're worried this is just another religious tract, don't worry. It's no more religious than, say, OSC's Speaker For The Dead.) Morals, yes. Hammer over head? No. Just decisions and trying to do the right thing. :)

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Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The Lost Gate (Mither Mages, #1)The Lost Gate by Orson Scott Card
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I honestly didn't know what to expect with this one, but I was very pleasantly surprised to find a magic system that incorporates every myth of gods and creates families out of them, weak with time but always hoping for the potential to get much, much more powerful.

That only happens with Gate magic.

Enter Danny, learning that he can bend space and time and learning much about himself as he leaves his scary folks and their community to become a thief. It's a perfect field for someone who can jump anywhere. :)

There's a lot more, too, of course, and the end was fascinating and open to so much goodness... but the one thing that really stands out the most is the post word.

Anyone who's been a big fan of Card's early short fiction will be very pleasantly surprised that this whole novel has the feel of some of his most imaginative works. That's saying quite a bit. I still have a grand memory of them that led me into a life-long love of reading Card in general and not just because he wrote a few of my absolute favorites, like Ender's Game or A Planet Called Treason. :)

I'm still quite amazed that he can write such cool things and do it so engagingly. He deserves respect. His personal opinions on some topics aside, his regular writing is quite fine and always entertaining. I personally don't think he's lost his touch at all. I love the ideas going on here. If he does have issues in RL, it's not showing up in his novels. In fact, I'm very interested in plowing right through all three of these to see where it'll head!

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Sunday, August 27, 2017

The OverneathThe Overneath by Peter S. Beagle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So far, I've been enjoying Beagle's works and this is my first real taste of his short fiction. I'm sure that there will be a ton of fans going ga-ga over the fact that there are two Schmendrick shorts here!

Even so, I think I enjoyed a number of the other stories a bit more. I'm particularly fond of his Steampunk story: Music, When Soft Voices Die which had a particularly awesome horror feel. Indeed, I think I prefer all the stories that had that taste, such as these three: The Very Nasty Aquarium, Great Grandmother in the Cellar, and Underbridge.

Even better are timeless stories like: The Queen Who Could Not Walk. There was something about this one that really got to me.

Even so, there's a little something for everyone in this collection, especially if you like unicorn tales that don't fit in Beagle's Last Unicorn universe. There's even a delightful SF about a lonely guy with an awesome computer who has a penpal across the universe. :)

I admit to liking but not loving most of these, but I can't complain about the quality of any of it! I am quite pleased with the quality of the research and the depth of the myths inside some of the tales. Magic is everywhere. :)

Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC!

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Saturday, August 26, 2017

ArtemisArtemis by Andy Weir
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book was great.

I admit to worrying that he wouldn't be able to keep up the quality from The Martian, and this is definitely a very different kind of tale from that, being half a heist novel but otherwise just a great adventure, but he pulls it off. Better than pulling it off, even. I love his characters and the feel of the moon city, Artemis, is vital and detailed.

But you know what the best part is?

I was thoroughly entertained during the entire read. The pacing is great, the reveals believable, the twists unexpected, and the action, delightful. I really couldn't ask for more when it comes to fun science fiction.

The moon is a great place to have an adventure. There's always the threat of being deported to Earth, the expensive living arrangements, and the law if you're a smuggler, which Jazz is, but there's always suit and engineering and environmental problems to worry about, too. And never forget greed and cupidity and the need to balance being a good person against a ton of intrigue. That's what we've got going on, here, and it's a real treat every step of the way.

No spoilers, but I can easily say that I had a great time reading it from the first to the last page. Nothing could have pleased me more. The read is solid as hell.

Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC!

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Hellboy, Vol. 5: Conqueror Worm (Hellboy, #5)Hellboy, Vol. 5: Conqueror Worm by Mike Mignola
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Oddly enough, or perhaps not oddly at all, I'm really enjoying Hellboy. At first it was just an intellectual enjoyment, getting all into the conspiracy stuff and the metaphysics and the magic as well as the history, but now I'm just rocking to the stories being told.

It's filled with gentle reveals, perhaps no more than hints, and we've got a grand sweep of untold history, but all these snippets are pure gold.

I like Lobster Johnson and Roger a lot. Alien intelligences and cthuhlu entities? Even more. :)

I'm almost sad that I'm reading this as a buddy-read of one volume per month. I kinda want to rip through these now. I'm hooked.

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The NightwalkersThe Nightwalkers by J.A. Kahn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is an enjoyable YA horror/mystery with very pronounced comedic elements, but at its core, it's all horror.

I couldn't help but feel the elements of Stephen King's It combined with Inspector Cluso, young kids on the track of a real horror butting heads against absolutely idiotic and bumbling law enforcement. This makes up a very significant portion of the tale, and it gets very dark even through all the amazing incompetence. I kept expecting a moment where the kids would uncover the masked villain who'd say that they'd have gotten away with it if it wasn't for those darn kids... but no, the horror is real, the killers are real, and the incompetence feels absolutely real.

The only people with a clue are the kids, but that's a pretty usual key to these tales. The gulf between the adults and the kids is what makes this stand out stronger than the competition. All the adults are written with broad strokes and tragedy follows despite the humor.

But this is only a part of the tale. We also get deep into the other side of the tale. Vampires. No one believes or wants to believe... and that's fine with them. Still, there's a real tragedy and a long story in this house, too.

Later, all the elements will clash and this was probably the most satisfying part of the tale. So much death for such an otherwise funny horror. Maybe that's the point!

Thanks to the author for providing me an ARC! It was a blast.

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Friday, August 25, 2017

Unhinged VOLUME TWOUnhinged VOLUME TWO by Logan Keys
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Logan Keys has once again released some all new Horror tales (and one bonus SF tale that's one of my old favorites) and she's up to her old shenanigans again.

Want gratuitous death, horrible situations, creepy retellings of nursery tales, or just plain fun anti-hero action? It's all here.

I admit I have a soft spot for horror stories. They make me feel all gushy inside and sometimes on the outside, too. These scratch all my various scary itches.

Sometimes with razor blades.

Island of Doom was quite amusing, beans and all, but my personal favorite was Lost Lane. There's nothing like a little grief nookie to get your head on straight.

Something Wicked This Way Trolls was probably one of the most genuinely scary, in my opinion, even though this was a great riff and The Cave shouldn't be missed, either.

For those who haven't been introduced to Barkley, however, you get one of my favorite robot stories as a delightful bonus. :) Bon Appetite!

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Thursday, August 24, 2017

Null StatesNull States by Malka Ann Older
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thanks to Netgalley for the Arc!

When I read the first book in the series, Infomocracy, I loved it for the hardcore idea-based SF couched in a technothriller base, and Null States continues on in the same tradition.

Only, this next novel isn't all about a high-tech election based on micro-democracy with a mix of intrigue and corruption. Rather, it's about population areas outside of the Infomocracy and an assassination that grows ever more complicated as the novel progresses.

In a lot of ways, it's better than the first. I had some issues with the original in that we were steeped in political information and states and parties that meant very little to me until much later. This one was much more focused on specific and interesting locations. Plenty of mystery, plenty of interesting character development, and plenty of good futuristic technothriller.

The science isn't as interesting as the politics, however. There's plenty to say about possible modes of thinking and action and communication, all of which use hands-free instant communication technologies that veer deep into total computer tech, widely used across the board except for certain locations or differences of use. And that's where we get some of the most interesting sequences, in my opinion.

I love idea novels. :) This one should give us a lot of interesting avenues. Perhaps even some real dialogue on the intersections between emerging tech and how people will eventually get things done.

As for world-building, this is also top-notch. It's far enough away from us to have full freedom and near enough to us that we recognize everything. I can't complain at all. :)

I suppose my only complaint might be the fact that I sometimes got lost in locations and names, not being 100% conversant in all places or languages, but it wasn't bad at all. It just took some more effort.

Overall, though, I'm very happy to say this is continuing the story (and the original MC) in high form.

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Wednesday, August 23, 2017

All These Worlds (Bobiverse, #3)All These Worlds by Dennis E. Taylor
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Homo Sideria

I love it. Actually, I love this entire series.

So much happens, but it's mostly snippets and sub-plots for multiple personalities spread across vast distances across space. Of course, that's kinda necessary since it's one man in an AI matrix duplicating himself massively and communicating real-time over fantastic spaces, doing good as he mines and fabricates and fights battles with aliens, insane AIs from old Earth, talks with friends or adopted relatives or just goes the terraforming route or just about anything else he wants to do.

He's pretty much a machine god in our future, but he's also just Bob. Geek from our century. Doesn't really want anything for himself but is perfectly willing to do so much good for so many people, it's really rather sad how much people take advantage of him.

In this third book, however, we come to a head with the alien ships that chew up and spit out whole worlds, and it's everything I'd hoped it would be. :) All the sub-plots include romance, exploration, guilt, and just plain getting pissed off, but what else can we expect? I feel for him. :)

Great trilogy. Possibly some of the most refreshing stuff I've read in ages. :)

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The Other Wind (Earthsea Cycle, #6)The Other Wind by Ursula K. Le Guin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is one of those novels that you have to see through to the very end before the total shape becomes clear and casts the entire series in a new light. Unfortunately, the buildup to get there is kinda middling for me.

Don't get me wrong, the dragons are great and the whole introduction of new characters and getting back to the King and to the question of Ged and the role of women in this world is pretty good, but the best part is the return to the dry lands, the realm of the dead.

As before, there's a balance between wizards and dragons, and all of this becomes even more pronounced as the reveals keep coming, as we learn mankind's place in the world and where we fit into the scheme of things along with our dragon brothers.

Pretty cool stuff, really. I just wish that I didn't have to do a re-read of the weaker novels in order to get to the really cool stuff.

I really wish that I could have the joys and the pacing and the coherency of the first two novels repeated in the ones to come after, but it just isn't to be. Maybe I expect too much.

That being said, I can truly appreciate the end of the Earthsea cycle as it has become, and not be truly dissatisfied. Dualities can be a real pain. :)

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Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Betrayer (Foreigner #12)Betrayer by C.J. Cherryh
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This series is consistently satisfying in a way that very few SF can be. It's very political, very immersive, and so deeply rooted in an alien world. Humans and Atevi navigate the turmoil in the provinces as Tabini regrows his political strength. Tabini's grandmother Ilsidi has sent Bren into enemy territory to broker a deal among the most chaotic associations.

This is a huge amount of trust. And amidst various accidents, Bren has been forced to appear like he's betraying all his associations with Tabini and Ilisidi. It's exciting and it's very, very political, but Cherryh pulls it off wonderfully. I just love how Bren always comes through as an extraordinary diplomat.

If that wasn't enough to hold our interest, of course, we get a huge dose of action as war breaks out and alliances shift and Bren is caught in horrorshow of field movement and gunfire. These novels aren't normally this full of action, either, but this is the end of this mini-trilogy, so it's perfectly natural. :)

I can't help but think of this as anything but a long, long story arc over years, from Bren's early days to his middle age, encompassing so many huge changes over an alien world, with humans stuck on a small island in a world full of very dangerous aliens. What would it be like as a tv series? A long-running tv series? It's very close in my mind to, say, Shogun, and the similarities keep coming... only, I have to admit... I love this one more. :)

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Monday, August 21, 2017

Red Sister (Book of the Ancestor, #1)Red Sister by Mark Lawrence
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm of two minds with this one.

The things it does well is very, very good... but when it came to my own preferences, I got bogged down in a good and nice long rut of boredom. If I was someone else, someone who really enjoyed a lot and a lot of YA school stuff, then I'd probably go ga-ga over this.

As it is, I enjoyed the writing and the developments, albeit slow developments, of the story.

Sure, it's awesome that it's a school of assassin nuns and the Ancestors and the hints of high-tech and moving moons and all that stuff is pretty cool, but it wasn't Harry Potter and there wasn't a lot of other things going on. The huge arc was all about the chosen one and some of the nuns were rather memorable... I'm thinking of you, poisoner... and yet, there was something about it at around the mid-way point that made me lose interest. The big actions and reveals were downplayed by the resumption of more studies, or perhaps I'm just a bit inured to it.

On the other hand, when the magic comes out and the climax arrives, I'm back in the story's skin and it got good again, so I still call it a win. Maybe not the best fantasy I've ever read, but the writing is solid and everything is pretty well-developed for most tastes.

It's just the fact that I've read a ton of really great fantasies in the last year and this is a bit middle-of-the-road. Still decent, though!

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Sunday, August 20, 2017

American GodsAmerican Gods by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I remembered raving and raving about this book back in the day, reading it long before I read his Sandman and going... wow. :) And very wow.

Up to that point, we hadn't had much of the god-punk genre. I like to believe that Gaiman was the one that really popularized the whole notion and ever since, we've had wonderful, wonderful examples filling the market. Usually UF, quite a bit of other fantasy as well, and above all, our imaginations.

We love gods. We love stories of gods. We especially love it when we bring them right to our doorstep and give them humanity and then change us into something timeless and full of wonder and even a really huge dose of skepticism.

My second read of this book falls into that second category.

I've been all over the fantasy field searching for the same feeling I got from American Gods and I've found many great examples. Some, not as wild or deeply read, some deeply read but more humorous, others verging off into the straight creative realm that only shadows the gods we know from our own mythologies.

In the end, though, none quite have the rambling feel of discovery upon discovery, the search for self and identity, as this one.

The whole con-artist angle is was still as great as I remember, of course, and what a mind-job that was, but even after the main action was ended, Shadow still went on, tying up loose ends and going the route of discovery through the other main mystery.

What is it to be a god? It's more and much, much less than being a mortal. That's what I mean by skepticism. No matter how much power you think you have, it's nothing before a good con man. Or the idea of peace. There are always two sides to a coin. Isn't that cool?

Reflections and reflections and reflections. Of course, this novel is full of great characters and story, even better reveals and discoveries, but to me, the best part of this latest read has got to be its universality. :)

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Stratus Online: Awakening (Stratus Online: a LitRPG series Book 1)Stratus Online: Awakening by Drew Cordell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have to admit this one is a total guilty pleasure. Granted, I've only read a handful of crossover computer game RPG crossover SF's, but the few that I have, have been uniformly awesome.

Which others? Oh, a few common titles like Ready Player One and Heroes Die, to name a few. I think I may have raved about them in the past.

So, it turns out that LitRPG is a thing, now. I want to think that it might be derivative or silly because it is, after all, crossing RPG video games over into novels, capturing the thrill of loot and leveling and fascinating characters while still being just a novel, but in point of fact, it's fun as hell and dispenses with all that otherwise silly stuff of explaining where the power comes from or other BS. Let's just get right into the action and play the game, already! Like story? It has a good story! Like defeating enemies with your new skills and your new weapons and armor? You're in luck! You can even keep a close eye on your HP bar or your Mana.

Don't forget to pee!

It's hard to remember these things since so much keeps happening and you need to optimize all your time to catch all the prerequisites and outfit yourself for the big boss! And don't forget that you've got to rouse all your npc's and work closely with your online friends or this is NOT going to end well. They're relying on you, after all! Just hold it. Forget real life injuries, too. Suck it up, buttercup. Get back in the game. :)

Of course, with other great franchises like .hack that tell similar stories AS a video game or Sword Art Online which is a fantastic anime about a video game, there's always these little snags where games intrude RATHER heavily on real-life, and this book is no different. That's part of its charm.

Am I addicted, already? Yup. Guilty pleasure? Yup. I've played a lot of video games and this stuff is a pure crowd pleaser. :) Fast, great characters, great reveals and a purely fantasy-life that I'd choose even when it gets really bad because the potential for absolute godhood is so tempting. :)

So happy.

Now, I just have to take a leap and see if it's just all that I've read in the LitRPG field or whether I've just been extremely, extremely lucky. I think it's probably that I've only been picking the most highly regarded stories, though, and haven't had the misfortune of reading crap, yet. :) I can only thank the pioneers who have been reviewing this field for me.

Of course, It may not be the field that I love so much, as the writers I've chosen to read from. Drew Cordell has been consistently fantastic in all his other works and that was the main reason why I jumped on this one so easily.

It might just be the luck of having found a really talented writer who can turn his pen to anything. :)

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Saturday, August 19, 2017

The Ruin of Angels (Craft Sequence, #6)The Ruin of Angels by Max Gladstone
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

New Craft book!!!

I got lucky with an ARC thanks to Netgalley and I immediately got sucked right into the story since I had just gotten caught up with the previous publication-order book, Four Roads Cross.

Unfortunately for me, as well as everyone else who reads these books, I still have to do timeline juggling in my head because the later Full Fathom Five takes place AFTER Four Roads Cross and it's now even worse because the new book doesn't even have a handy number-sequence in the title. Check them out if you don't believe me. :) HOWEVER. Tara's here and badass and Kai who was MC in the previous chronological novel is ALSO right square in the action, so it's pretty easy to assume that we've come into an interesting juxtaposition: book 6 is actually the latest, chronologically! :) Weird, huh?

All right! Let's put that aside, as amusing as it is to contemplate, and get down to my reaction.

The end is as big as all the rest of the books, and glorious and exciting and magical and mind-blowing, but a very long stretch of the novel reads more like a down-to-earth mystery/hardship novel, with a murder, a theft, and lots of god-debt to have to juggle. Kai's estranged sister is in deep trouble.

I admit it took me a bit to get fully into it, but I placed my faith in Gladstone and got led out of the maze with some very heady reveals that had me gibbering with excitement.

Honestly, I just want someone to go on and on about the city and how it resembles not so much a city of the dead, modernized, but how mirror-modern it is to us. I still can't get over the idea of the means they were using to launch satellites into space... a little hint: this UF is full of mind-gnawing monstrosities from demon universes pulled into iron-clad contracts so big that it requires full law firms and multinational business to make it profitable. Extrapolate from that and you see where all the economy is and what might be involved in space-flight.

Mind-blowing, I say! And then there's this little new artifact they made that superficially resembles something like an old trope of a Sword Of Power, but those tropes are just plain toddler-level simple stories compared to this little beauty that was designed to BUILD A NEW *** from scratch. Just... wow. Wanna know? Read away!

This series is freaking amazing. The level of worldbuilding continues to astound and the characters are truly badass, but not in those old-style simple ways. These women and even some of the men are complicated, flawed, full of contradictions, and yet they eat gods for breakfast. :) ... well, Tara does, anyway. :)

There are really few books quite like these. I can definitely name a good handful, of course, but I can confidently raise these very high among the very best fantasies out there, sweeping most away by the sheer strength of its ideas and its facility. :)


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Friday, August 18, 2017

Four Roads Cross (Craft Sequence, #5)Four Roads Cross by Max Gladstone
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read this on a tear. I just couldn't believe how good it was. EVERYTHING was perfect.

I mean, I've read these books in publication order but they're all out of timeline order, and while that makes it seem kinda funky, it doesn't really matter because certain events HAVE to be well known before their significance can shine in the next.

It doesn't exactly make for popcorn reading. We have to keep on our toes. But that's what's so brilliant about it. We're treated to an extravaganza of wonderful ideas and scenes that make us scratch our heads in wonder and enjoyment. Wanna fly on the back of a gargoyle on a road trip and discuss translation problems of really good poetry? How about asking a truly enormous dragon why he's allowing himself to be used as a common transport vehicle rather than raging against the injustice of it? Or how about huge business concerns, contracts, and fiduciary obligations revolving around gods and their multinational holdings and how certain liabilities like LOVING ANOTHER GOD can call into question said god's commitments?

Sound awesome? It is.

And all the while we have huge action, fighting gargoyles, silvered suits, JUSTICE, demons, necromantic law firms, underwater vampire kings, and a being a priestess for a goddess based on trust and partnership rather than faith.

And you know what the best part is? TARA IS BACK! Book one's Tara is the MC here! :) :) So Great! Her student loans are a real killer. Being a modern girl giving up on the fast necromantic track is really scary. She still owes 98 souls! Now if only she can stabilize that resurrected goddess.... :)

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Wednesday, August 16, 2017

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

Thanks to Netgalley for a copy of this ARC!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tuesday, August 15, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Monday, August 14, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

Very funny stuff. :)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sunday, August 13, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Saturday, August 12, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All in a day's *unpaid* work.

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

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

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Wednesday, August 9, 2017

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

Technothriller gun-porn for people who like ancient monsters.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tuesday, August 8, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am 100% squealing fanboy here.

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

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


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Monday, August 7, 2017

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

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

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


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

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

So did the plot.

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

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

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

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


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

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

Do I get bonus points? *sigh*

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Saturday, August 5, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Friday, August 4, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wednesday, August 2, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks to the author for a chance to review it!

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Tuesday, August 1, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


You know, just like the droids.

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

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

Damn fine read.

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

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

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

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

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

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