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Wednesday, October 31, 2018

The Labyrinth Index (Laundry, Files #9)The Labyrinth Index by Charles Stross

Okay. So I admit I've been chomping at the bit to get my hands on this and I seriously couldn't wait.

So I devoured it.

Only to be devoured.

By K Syndrome.

And then I was volunteered for a Mission Impossible with other K Syndromes and other oddities in the United States! And the President... has been erased from everyone's minds. The Gesh! What a Gesh!!! It's almost like he gave us our greatest wish while making it totally evil at the same time. :) And then I remember that old stint on the internet when Cthuhlu ran for President under the party line, "Vote for the Lesser Evil!" Hmmm... could Stross be running with a theme, here? Maybe? :)

Of course, with the Laundry Files in general, Stross doesn't stint on the action, the ramping up of the peril, or the epic disasters as the world tumbles into a singularity of evil. This time it's focused on America with a crack team of vampires and hand-picked specials invading and ostensibly "saving" the pres. WHAT COULD GO WRONG?

I loved it. What can I say? Stross writes like a bureaucratic nightmare storm with a big dose of despair and disillusionment backed up by a rock-solid sense of duty spiced with fatalism. :) What can one do when a greater demon is the Prime Minister and the only way you can survive is by participating in human sacrifice? It's just another day on the job. :)

Brilliantly fun. :)

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Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Heart-Shaped BoxHeart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

With relentlessly good characterization, this debut horror novel by the now-firmly-established powerhouse of Joe Hill rocks one hell of a good ghost story.

I have a thing for stories about aging rockers. I don't know what it is. They're just so pathetic and glorious and full of redemptive possibilities and gloriousness. :)

In this case, he's just built such a gruesome persona over the years and he's pretty much any horror-writer's dream rocker. You know, like Ozzy, but more like Rob Zombie or a bit like any 70's glam punker. I digress.

He gets himself in trouble by buying a ghost, but it's mostly a con and the ghost is out to get revenge on him, specifically.

Throw in a ton of cool reveals and a lot of willpower, realism, and clear-headed common sense native ONLY to the purveyors of the macabre, and we've got a deliciously stewy no-nonsense novel focused on getting shit done. And all those character reveals did wonders for me. I fell in love with these people. :)

I think it's fair to say I'll be able to pick up any of Joe's novels from now on and be pretty certain I'll have a great time. I'm very happy about this. I never need to read one of his blurbs again. :)

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The DeathlessThe Deathless by Peter Newman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've become a pretty big fan of Peter Newman since the Vagrant books. They were quirky, hardcore horror, fantasy, and even SF bundled as one huge treat.

The Deathless breaks that mold by wrapping us deep inside a world of dark magical forest with strange creatures and castles rather than ravening armies.

What makes this special? Immortality isn't that special, but these are lords and ladies of immortals breeding their line to take over their children's bodies by way of a special bloodletting ceremony... and the realm's leaders are... slipping. Going a little mad. Their one task is to protect the castle and the people from the monsters in the wild.

But what is the real difference between the monsters in the wild and the immortal men and women? That's the big question I keep asking. In the meantime, we have an adventure with flying crystal plate armor, very interesting beasties that aren't behaving quite as monstrously as they ought, and a quirky, smart old woman getting herself involved in bigger events. A large part of the tale centers on a newborn on the run with his mother and faithful servant, protecting him as the literal vassal for an immortal.

I think I had more fun with the big questions and the wild world than with any of the indoors bits with the immortals, but overall I had no complaints about this fantasy. It still has it's cool quirks like Newman's other writings, but it is also slightly more mainstream than them.

Still enjoyable, even if I didn't squee this time. :)

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Sunday, October 28, 2018

Interesting Times (Discworld, #17; Rincewind #5)Interesting Times by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Interesting Times
When Cohen Established that Dynasty That Time
Rincewind Gets a New Suit.

I really enjoyed this Pratchett, being one of the few people who actually think that Rincewind is a likable anti-hero, or rather, a good runner. But sometimes even good runners get caught in the affairs of Wizzards and revolution. Okay, maybe it's Wizards and if I count him, it's only Wizzard, but you get the idea. :)

Welcome to China-ish, buddy! The Emperor would like to meet you. Or chop off your legs so you can more easily search for that head that you just lost.

Classic Pratchett. And a welcome change from Ankh-Morpork. :)

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The Fall of the House of Cabal (Johannes Cabal, #5)The Fall of the House of Cabal by Jonathan L. Howard
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

All right then!

We go from quite amusing escapades right to OMG this is so freaking awesome in one book.

To say I love this little romp through Hell, mystical monkey paw alternate dimensions, and a burning London filled with airships, cowering leeches, and an invasion spawned from one scorned woman is to say that a supervolcano is kinda pretty from orbit.

I love this.

Every part of it speaks of a delightful gathering featuring all the best companions our amoral but unfortunately slightly-conscience-laden hero can summon on short notice. We have another mystical quest featuring him, his vampire brother, a spider devil, a few heavily armed natural humans as they are subject to the wiles of substitute satans, reverse-backstabbing-devils, and the realization that all of the worst evils in the world are caused by women. Of course, the last is entirely justified and quite amusing.

Anyone who says otherwise has not been on the right side of her wrath. Shame on you.

I've read a lot of Jonathan Howard's novels by this point and I think it's fairly safe to assume that I've become a slavering fanboy. Especially after this last one. :)

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Saturday, October 27, 2018

The Brothers Cabal (Johannes Cabal, #4)The Brothers Cabal by Jonathan L. Howard
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I will not say this topped my enjoyment of book 2 in this series, but it came really close. It was definitely an improvement upon the workmanlike world-saving adventure of book 3.

Horst! The most affable of vampires sat down to tell a long tale to his convalescing brother, Johannes. :) What could go wrong? I mean, it's not like both brothers should have been dead. Several times over. Or that Horst had burned to death in the first novel. Or that Johannes was brought back to health after saving the world from a world-sucking entity in the dreamlands after becoming a ghoul.


I honestly had a great time listening to the brothers quip at each other and be extremely witty as we caught up with Horst's role in being a dupe by a really big bad trying to set up a monster empire.

And we can't stop there, either. We have to GO there to put an end to it because that's what men of sticky, nasty consciences and motivated self-interest do.

Enter a zombie army. :) Too fun. :) And best of all, there's aerial acrobatics.

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Friday, October 26, 2018

The Fear Institute (Johannes Cabal, #3)The Fear Institute by Jonathan L. Howard
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Quite interesting. Maybe not the best book I've read of Howards, but this is still a fascinating almost-sword and sorcery adventure in the realms of dream... and Cthulhu monsters abounding with a huge dose of Ghouls. :)

And why not? This takes place in the dreamland where necromancy is more than slightly potent... It lets you put talking heads on poles to help you through all the dark places of the world. :)

I admit I liked the previous two Cabal novels a bit more, but as a straight Cthulhu adventure that isn't so much scary as purely imaginative, it works quite well. Johannes himself started out strong but even the dream dragged him down a bit. The other good men of the Fear Institute who bankrolled this little expedition were great fodder for the beasties there. :)

As I said, this is pretty decent. :) Not the best of the series, but serviceable and it leads to a very interesting development at the end. I can't wait to continue on. :)

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ChristineChristine by Stephen King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If re-reading it now, by today's lens, one thing has become utterly clear.

Christine is a YA novel.

I mean, sure, Talisman and parts of the Shining are, too, but this is a bonafide Young Adult territory. We have High School outcasts, a huge page count of sporting events, first love, and standing up to be your own person against what your parents think right.

Yes. Rebellion, jealousy, and an ancient evil possession made up of pure wrath.

In other words, another average YA novel.

Vrrrooom. Vrrrooooooom. Vrrrrrooooooooooooooom!


Seriously, though. King even manages to turn all those sports and car maintenance bits into something fantastic even though I generally couldn't give a cat's fart over them in general. Arnie, Dennis, and Lee made the whole thing worth it. :)

Oh, and all the music references blew me away back during my first read, so I took the time to check them all out when I was 14. No need to do that now, of course. But KNOWING the music makes quite a lot of difference this time. :)

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Thursday, October 25, 2018

The October CountryThe October Country by Ray Bradbury
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This might be a re-read... but for the most part, I had forgotten much of what I read here from way back in the day.

No matter.

It's odd. I've changed as a reader. These slow and gently transformative stories are... prosaic. They don't grab me as much as they might have, years ago. Indeed, I dropped a star for that reason. But I still found enough to love in them that I didn't just despair from boredom.

For one, I'm familiar enough with so many movies and tv shows and even music to exclaim... "Hey! They took that from Bradbury!" or "Hey! Someone really ran with a Bradbury idea and made it deadly!" or "This is superior to Bradbury!"

Ahem. Bradbury has great ideas! Bradbury has wonderful prose! Yes. But he's also mild. I love writers that take ideas and do something extraordinary, and back when these were written, that was probably the case.

Something to consider: His story "Touched with Fire" has a great, perhaps apocryphal, line about more murders occurring at 92 degrees F than any other temperature. It was used in the 70's B movie It Came From Outer Space. And then it was used in a great song by Siouxsie and the Banshees.

I was all, like... I love that song! Another fun fact, Siouxsie's punk music also does full tributes to Stephen King and Shakespeare. Much love. :)

Oh, I hated the story "The Wonderful Death of Dudley Stone" :)

Everything else was fine, if not super-grabbing. :)

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Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Tempest OutpostTempest Outpost by Brad Harmer-Barnes
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was a solidly average horror. Alas.

Ancient telepathic spiders and an oceanic oil rig *ought* to be a lot more fun than this. :) Not bad, but not all that stand-out. It's kinda a cross between the Thing and a very mild Arachnophobia. :)

Not much else to say. October... yay? I liked the other one by this author better. :)

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Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Dead Trees Give No ShelterDead Trees Give No Shelter by Wil Wheaton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a perfect story to read for Halloween. Part slasher, a feeling of King, and more than a few references to Scream, Wil Wheaton pulls off a traditional monster tale of a town with a dark secret.

Yes, that's right. Wil himself wrote and made an audiobook with his own perfect audio-voice. :)

I was thinking of American Gods when I read this, too. :) Yep. Quite decent. :) Traditional novella, even. :) I'm glad I got to read it. :)

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The Deathbird & Other StoriesThe Deathbird & Other Stories by Harlan Ellison
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Oh lordy, these stories were so good. I feel like the last person on earth to have discovered Harlan Ellison or something. As if I had some really good idea why I should have avoided his stories or something. I mean, I've only been hearing about all these all my life, and yet, the only reason I didn't read them was that they were SHORT.

So. Stupid. Of. Me.

So here I go, choosing this collection mainly because I already know he blends horror in with fantasy and science fiction in really fantastic ways and the whole "Deathbird" in the title seemed just about perfect for an October read. And I was right. :)

The Deathbird was pretty freaking amazing, adding a whole sympathy for the devil thing and an endless stream of reincarnations and a wickedly cool ending. Hello, God and the Devil. Only this is an epic rendition full of dead dogs and pain and the whole Ademic treatment all rolled into a burning bush. :) Loved it.

Most of the stories were simply fantastic, but a few were outstanding. This is Harlan, don't you know. Quicksilver, dirty as hell, sharp as a seat full of tacks you just sat on, and desperately wicked.

Run for the Stars might have just been an SF adventure with TONS of dead Earthlings, a death switch sun-bomb, revenge and bloodshed, but I love this antihero stuff.

Croatoan did the whole alligators in the sewers in a REALLY nicely twisted way. :)

My personal favorite might be The Beast Who Shouted Love at the Heart of the World because, hey, let's face it... I love twisted as hell stories that let all the imagination hang out. :)

I'm skipping a quick review a whole bunch not because they aren't good but because I can't do them justice, but The Whimper of Whipped Dogs really made me wish I was worshipping dark gods in dirty cities. :)

Killing Bernstein was a wickedly funny love story... of a sort. :)

But the Count the Clock That Tells the Time was a great 4th Dimensional romp that does a ton of justice to the whole Wasting Time trope. :)

How Interesting: A Tiny Man was just plain harsh. :)

Do I recommend Harlan? HELL YES. Brilliant writer. Ascerbic, cruel, freaking intelligent, very knowledgeable, deep, heartfelt, and quicksilver. These have got to be some of the very best short stories I've ever read.

Or at least, while I'm reading them, they have a certain quality to drive out all thoughts of any other kind of work until they start leaking from my ears, having eaten all other stories like slavering dogs inside my skull.

Just. Wow. :)

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Something Wicked This Way ComesSomething Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I remember watching the Disney movie back in grade school. It fostered my horror of carnivals and men in top hats, music played backward, and the eerie irreality of people changing ages as they would change hats. As an adult reading the text, I was understandably awed by the rich metaphor and playful language.

Re-reading it now makes me melancholy.

Gone are the years that would support friendly neighbors in small towns where everyone knows everyone else, when the death of a barber actually makes a stir.

The fact is, this is an extremely bucolic coming of age tale centered on the choice to be good or bad with a lot of supernatural help.

Add a spattering of Stephen King's IT, a dab of Mary Poppins, stir firmly into a smooth wordplay of rife with the pastoral, and you've got Something Wicked This Way Comes. 1961.

I honestly don't know if it would stand the test of time for the newer generations. It is theoretically timeless by design, but despite my own personal memories, my objectivity wonders if it falls into a different category.

Mark Twain has appeal because it hits both the historical and the universal in just the right ways. Does Small Town Illinois during a carnival have the same staying power? Maybe. But let me be honest... my tastes have changed a lot since grade school. :)

This is not flashy even though it has great horror scenes. It's slow to develop although it goes at a whirlwind pace in places.

I'm still giving it 5 stars because it is objectively a beautiful piece of writing, but some of its power is slipping from my heart. Alas.

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Monday, October 22, 2018

Vietnam BlackVietnam Black by Brad Harmer-Barnes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Think you've seen all the horrors that Vietnam can bring?


Let's run through the jungle with an enormous centipede monster interfering with our peaceful little war. Damn insect.

Can we call some air support, please?

This novella is pretty okay. Good parts and better parts. Lots of bloody fleshbags with nametags. Oh, war. War never changes.

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The Crook FactoryThe Crook Factory by Dan Simmons
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

OMG. Okay, let's face it. Dan Simmons is a consummate author. Consummate because he does a TON of fantastic research, thorough follow-through, and fantastic characters. Not only that, but he happens to have been one of my favorite authors ever since I read Hyperion back in the day. Since then, he's equally well-known as a hard-SF writer and an epic horror novelist, equally good in either branch....

But then something weird happened. He's been writing historical novels. I didn't quite realize this until now, which makes me kinda an idiot. I read Drood which was all about Dickens and Wilkie Collins, and then there's the Terror and THIS novel. And there's more, obviously.

I'm ... frankly blown away. Drood was everything in Victorian England. This was utterly WWII Cuba. :) HEMINGWAY, FOLKS! As the author names it, 95% of everything in this novel is true, and whatever narrative liberties he makes, it's all for the good.

Ernest Hemingway ran his own spy ring fighting the Nazis in Cuba. Notable persons involved in the tale are Hoover, Ian Flemming, Ingrid Bergman, Gary Cooper, a wide cast of real people I have no idea about, and it all makes for a rollickingly awesome spy tale. :)

For anyone who knows anything about Hemingway, he's a man's man with a lot of animal charisma that shines through not just his fantastic prose, but in his real-life actions. It would be super easy to go on and on about the man, but that's just it. He had a really fascinating life.

Many wives, a lost briefcase of all his early short stories, getting shot up in wars, serving as war correspondents and an ambulance driver, being a huge part of the Lost Generation, being an expatriate, and generally being a superstar literary genius. To be treated with a novelization of his spy ring, tho? The Crook Factory? ...Is something truly extraordinary. :)

But I should mention that this will only appeal to fans of Hemingway, spy fiction in general, WWII buffs, and the positively curious. Otherwise, all this name dropping focus on the man will go to waste. Alas.

Good thing I'm a fan of everything that went on here, right? :)

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Sunday, October 21, 2018

HornsHorns by Joe Hill
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is one hell of a fun novel.

Let me get rid of all the side stuff first... I'm reading this because I respect Joe Hill on his own merits and it's far from the first novel I've read of his. That being said, EVEN IF it wasn't Joe Hill, I had a fantastic time reading this!

Let's take the whole devil trope and turn it into a body/psychological horror novel, shall we? But let's turn away from the outside agency angle. :) Add a bit of the Lucifer tv show angle, add a few horns on Ig's head and the inability for anyone to quite remember that they had just been talking to an apparent demon or that they just spilled all their most horrible thoughts to the guy, and run with this.

This is fantastically sick. Difficult. Pleasurable, even. In the, oh god, everyone really thinks THIS of me already, why don't I give them something to REALLY munch on kind of way. :)

But then the novel became something a lot deeper when we got into the flashbacks and the love story. We get into the heads of the people who did him some serious harm thanks to a bit of touch-telepathy flashback power going on as Ig turns into a demon. The reveals hinted at only get more twisted and allegory-ish as we move on, but you know what I like best about this?

The devil never gets to be the hero. We WANT him to be the hero, tho, and that's what's really great about this.

So two thumbs WAY up. :) I never once got bored. I FELT something for these characters. :)

And no, I'm probably not going to watch the movie made from this. I don't want to spoil my very positive reaction. :)

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Friday, October 19, 2018

Raising Stony MayhallRaising Stony Mayhall by Daryl Gregory
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The first half of this novel was probably the best-written YA featuring a zombie I've read, and I generally have a slight repulsion for the idea, so the fact that I actually LIKED this was rather impressive.

Taking place at the same time as Romero's first Dead movie and steadily marching through time as a handful of zombies who weren't summarily wiped out in the first outbreak quickly regained normal human consciousness, we follow this particular kid, Stony Mayhall. He grows up, being unusual enough because he learns how to actively heal himself, unlike other LD individuals, and interestingly enough, he joins the ranks of other hiding LDs, keeping his head low and biding his time until the eighties... when, like gay demonstrators, they take to politics and equal rights.

Wow, right? It just became a completely different kind of novel! But it doesn't end there. I loved the idea of getting their own island and eventually heading to space, being naturally resistant to G forces and radiation. :) :) Reminds me of that Fallout New Vegas scene. :)

But when the hope crashes and the crackdown falls on the poor zombies, the novel takes another complete turn... in a concentration camp, featuring torture, learning positive skills, and being curious about the nature of zombies. When does a zombie end, for example. All those chopped limbs and reanimating prosthetics was fascinating. :)

And then the novel changes yet again. Modern zombies. :) And the pendulum swings yet again.

Wow. This was a seriously understated and fascinating LD novel. :) I'm very happy to have read it, and I should add that Daryl Gregory should never be underestimated. This is my third and they've all been very excellent. :)

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The CastleThe Castle by Franz Kafka
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The simplicity of Kafka's style and the unrelenting direction of this tale still lends itself to multiple interpretations. It's easy to get lost in the labyrinthine passageways of the Castle, but it's not the walls that are difficult. It's the endlessly stimied goal.

For me, this is a novel of utter hopelessness. K's initial, simple request to see the lord of the castle from the position of a Surveyor quickly devolves into the darkest of comedies or, rather, a nihilistic tragedy, as he is regularly put through an increasingly onerous set of hoops. The entire staff of the castle seems set to keep him off the lord, but it grows very clear that everyone there is just as caught in the trap as K.

Utter hopelessness. Everyone's unhappy. Everyone is paranoid. And worst, they're all trapped in an unending cycle of self-perpetuating madness.

Why would anyone do this to themselves?

Well, here's the brilliance of this novel: it's us. Any single one of us. Every step of the way we take with K, he's being asked to do what anyone in our world is asked to do in any walk of life. Through the bureaucracy, gullibility, vindictiveness, fear, paranoia, resignation and worst of all, hope, every character is forced to go through their own hoops endlessly and with little good reason.

Truly, this is a nightmare.

BUT. It is also one hell of a good read, too. :) As the darkest of satires, it succeeds brilliantly. :)

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Thursday, October 18, 2018

City of the Shrieking TombCity of the Shrieking Tomb by Patrick A Rogers
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A rural India travelogue becomes a ghost story that turns into a Lovecraftian horror.

A quite decent old-school horror that belongs in Amazing Tales, perfect for all us folks wanting something that FEELS authentically true. The devil is in the details here and the author's real travels across India shows it. From dialogue to truly great descriptions of the countryside and the ancient ruins, I'm always THERE and it was quite fun.

I also enjoyed the deep history of the region and the backstory in general, but let's be real here: exposition through dialogue isn't always the best way to info-dump us. It's better than how the novel starts as an outright scholarly work, (which stops quickly, thank goodness,) but a lot of it slows the pace of the novel.

However, when we get the full-on action, I'm as happy as can be. The prior knowledge gives the supernatural and ghost/demon story some great weight, but I can't say that the way it got there was perfect. Even so, I've read much worse. :)

Its strengths are very strong and the reveals, while rather expected, were satisfying. :) Great for October!

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Sleeping BeautiesSleeping Beauties by Stephen King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm pleasantly surprised by this novel. For a book ostensibly about the conflicts between men, it REALLY underscores the conflicts between men and women. :)

I am torn, however, between whether this is a fantasy or a horror. I mean, it has all the bottom-barrel elements of people of both sexes and nasty and heartbreaking events happening to everyone, sure, but when it comes to the straight horror, it dwells mainly on A: jackholes taking advantage of the sleeping women, B: the necessity of staying awake if you're one of the last women, and, occasionally, C: the rage-filled consequences of waking these beauties.

My intuition is itching here. I mean, despite all the PoV sequences of the women in the prison and a smattering of a few others, I'm only seeing the rage of the abused and the abusers, with only one PoV, Frank, that kinda straddles the line between them. Evie was supposedly his counterpart, but this is where the whole horror-feel kinda fell apart for me.

Animals, yo. Greenman. (ahem, Greenwoman.)

And then there is the epic conflict between good and evil, with The Stand kind of feel, but focused more on the battle of the sexes, asking the question whether we should even bother trying as a species or if genocide is right and proper. I mean, CAN'T WE ALL JUST GET ALONG? Do we have to STOP the human race?

The full novel is pretty darn good and has all the feels and thrills I've come to expect from King, and lacking a frame of reference with Owen, I'm not disappointed. But after thinking about the end events, I'm kinda of the opinion that the end is ... kinda weak. The reveal for Evie was both good and bad. Good because I kinda love that the trope is entering into a modern book again, but bad because it's a REALLY old hat. I want to love it but I've seen too much Disney, too.

But how else could it have ended? It could have bucked all expectations and I probably would have raved, then. But it didn't and the end just had to be this way.

So, let's be real. I took away a star because it wasn't courageous enough. Read Alderman's The Power instead.

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Tuesday, October 16, 2018

No NameNo Name by Wilkie Collins
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wilkie Collins!

I should mention that this guy is one hell of an interesting writer if I can go by anything said by Dan Simmons in Drood, since the author is the main character!

Putting that all aside, which I probably should as it is a really, really bad idea in the first place, I must tamp down my initial presentiments and judge this book by its own merits. Hard. So hard.

What we've got here is a very sensationalist novel decrying all the worst aspects of inheritance law and the stigma surrounding bastards. Or bastardettes, as the case may be. These poor girls are cruelly separated from their inheritance, and soon after losing both papa and momma, are beset with poverty as well.

Fortunately, we're introduced to Magdalen, the most vivacious and forthgoing actress of her age to only show in a single production only to use her talents across every scheme, gambit, grift she can possibly imagine with her new friend Captain Rag to GET HER MONEY BACK.

And when we get to this part of the tale, I'll admit I was pretty much hooked. What a rollercoaster! There's death after death and a revolving-door fortune and so many schemes and setbacks and you KNOW the servant is the Biggest Bad in the tale. And just when you think that having to battle through household after household in this drama wasn't enough, we're slammed in the face with utter desolation.

Indeed, for Magdalen, there will never be a name she can call her own.

Or will there?

The moral of the story is pretty much as sensationalist as you can get for the time. Wilkie Collins is HOT for 1862.

Please don't expect ACTUAL murdering going on or selling herself on the streets or anything LEWD like a close-up description of the skin texture of a frog.

Oh... wait... maybe you can expect that last one.

Quite fun. Quite fun. :) It would make a really fantastic BBC production, I think. :)

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Sunday, October 14, 2018

Dark Intelligence (Transformation, #1)Dark Intelligence by Neal Asher
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is easily the best Asher novel I've read. I'm kinda surprised.

I mean, between Pennyroyal and the whole hooder transformation, with so much body horror, memory modifications, and the multiple-revenge storylines with all these characters clashing against each other, I was blown away.

Most of the other Asher novels had big action, flashy action, and a plethora of great ideas, but the characters were often hitting the level of interesting or adequate. There was something cartoonish about them.

Not this. I loved this. Every single character felt like an ensemble cast all converging upon something really awesome and hardcore... and it delivers. :) These AIs are MESSED UP. :)

Two thumbs up! :) :)

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Thursday, October 11, 2018

Nemesis Games (The Expanse, #5)Nemesis Games by James S.A. Corey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Re-Read: 10/11/18:

Shit. I said everything I wanted to say in my old review. It's still a stirring adventure for each of the characters as they split up and eventually came back together.

Truly a character-driven novel this time, though. Not much alien stuff. Just humans doing the god-awful crap they do. :)

Old review:

This was one hell of an easy read. I got sucked back into the characters as if I had never left and was delighted to see that they shone brighter than in several of the previous novels. They're back in the Solar System. The main crew got a hell of a lot of face time. If it isn't enough that this qualifies as a wonderful character-driven adventure, then rest assured. It's still all about the big ideas, big events, and big space.

The pacing is near perfect on this one. I never once had to force myself to pay closer attention. Indeed, the revelations kept everything pumping. Every character is evolving, growing older or wiser. The novel has struck a perfect balance in this. Hell, I'm just tickled pink that it turned out to be a better novel than Cibola Burn. There weren't any moments where I wondered why we were spending time on one thing or another instead of the big action. The threads in this novel were woven so nicely that I swear I saw a bow. What was inside, you ask? Oh, Bobby is back! And don't forget Fred or our absolute favorite foul-mouthed politician. It was a perfect gift for me, the reader, and I've got to shout out to Daniel and Ty: "Thank you!"

This is fifth novel in the Expanse is so very worthy, I have to say it easily nudges out the third and forth novels in being my favorites, but it does somewhat lack in the sense of grand mystery that those had developed. I mean the grand scope of mystery, the big scary objects, or the ominous death of so many intelligent species. Instead, we've got very human tragedy and a very interesting power grab in the local system, not to mention mysteries closer to home for our main characters which feel more important, somehow, than the mind-blowing ones.

I can easily say this satisfied my deep craving for truly excellent space opera. So many tend to have holes that that suck my attention into the void, requiring me to spend a ton of reaction mass to get back on track. It's a delight to have one that shows me so much love.

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Cauldron (The Academy, #6)Cauldron by Jack McDevitt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Looking back on the other five books in the Academy series, I have to say I like Cauldron the best. It not only engages us back on Earth with something other than a religious diatribe, it gives us a look at the failing drive to get out into the stars.

Oh, and because there is hope for a brand new stardrive that would get us so much farther and faster out there, a great deal of the story is watching each attempt at the drive fail.

But let's cut to the chase. That's all great character-building stuff and when they finally go out there in much smaller ships to encounter and resolve all the great mysteries wondered at in the other novels, we're treated to real resolutions.

Setup, adventure, revisited mysteries, more death, and big reveals.

You know, like the Omega cloud, the one that seems to eat spacefaring species.

... And a lot of that is quite welcome. The pacing is much better, too.

But I will say this: the very last reveal was something of a major letdown. McDevitt's build-ups are always pretty awesome, but when we finally have an answer to the mystery, I'm kinda underwhelmed.

This is not a Peter Watts novel. *sigh*

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Tuesday, October 9, 2018

The MetamorphosisThe Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a welcome re-read, quite nice for Halloween season when we all become things we're not.

Or, in this case, he becomes a horrible drain on his family because he turned into a gigantic beetle. Or cockroach.

I was really struck with the sensation that this was a reality TV show where family members are doing all they can to pretend that they're not living with a cockroach until it becomes too much to bear and they vote him off the island.

Of course, if he was just depressed, and not an insect, or if he had some physical ailment, almost nothing in the text would change.

How strange, that.

Or not so strange, since this IS an undisputed classic of alienation comically written... and amazingly disturbing.

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MedeaMedea by Euripides
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Yes, I'm giving this classic Greek play a 5 stars because it's classic, but DAMN. This is the classic trophy wife who's constantly misused by the men in her wife then laying down the LAW... all for the sake of revenge. Sweet, sweet revenge.

But to think that she would go so far as to kill her own children just for the sake of it... is chilling in the extreme.

The furies definitely rode this woman.

Simple, classic, and clear.

Oh, and you men, if you get that freaking fleece, use your head. Sheesh.

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The Bane of the Black Sword (The Elric Saga, #5)The Bane of the Black Sword by Michael Moorcock
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Definitely the pinnacle of Sword and Sworcery. Elric, the mage of legend, is a transformed warrior descending from lofty ideals into the realm of chaos and back again, casting off his allegiance to the goddess of chaos itself to battle... um... just about everything. :)

I can say this is less strange and less idealistic and mysterious and archetypal than the previous volumes, focusing more on the quest and the battle and retaining a core of his idealism, as corrupted as that has become.

Mister anti-hero Elric. :)

It isn't so challenging anymore. It IS pretty wonderful, however. Epic, even, for being so short. :)

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Robinson CrusoeRobinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I just had to get in a classic this month and since I already had lined up a Lycanthropic version of this particular classic, I thought, "Hey! This is gonna be great!"

Cast away on a desert island... me and Mr. Friday sharing the same fate...

Yeah, well, it was certainly a fast and fun read, sharing all the usual things I have enjoyed from Tom Hanks, short stories of Stephen King, or any number of coolness from Lost.

Only, this is blunderbusses and goats. Cannibals and grateful captains. And such a pace of three decades in the space of a short novel. :)

Well! It sure is a popular idea! And redone about a million times, alas. Still, I'm glad to learn the origin of My Man Friday. :)

And for Halloween, seeing raven's corpses on poles. Muahahahaha

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Evil EternalEvil Eternal by Hunter Shea
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

An oldschool splatterpunk horror adventure in the old-style.

Not really what I've come to expect from Hunter Shea.

It's not quite the B-Movie horror I like from him, but it does remind me an awful lot of that old 90's Tales from the Crypt Demon Knight with a bit of Hellsing Anime thrown in, sometimes meeting the old standard and sometimes not.

If anyone wants a little short fun in that old realm of immortal priests fighting the eternal fight against Cain and his Cthulhu horrors in the modern world, however, this is easily their ticket to that adventure. :)

But, honestly? It's an average outing. :)

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Monday, October 8, 2018

1Q841Q84 by Haruki Murakami
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow. Just wow.

I admit to being slightly intimidated by the idea of reading this novel. I read a novella of his from before and while I thought it was stylistically pretty great, I didn't FALL for it as I fell for this.

Haruki Murakami's longer fiction is amazing. :) It is smooth, full of great ideas, magical without being pretentious. And especially for it being closer to a mainstream book than a fantasy, I was worried it was going to wind up being something like a David Mitchell book.

But no. I thought it was a great pleasure to read from the first page to the last.

So, yeah, the great bits and great ideas abound. It's not just an easy and fun read, it's about a fantastic female assassin revenging abused women, it's about literary fraud, it's about slipping between dimensions and dealing with the Little People, Air Chrystali, religious cults, Receivers and Perceivers, and best of all, it's about a love that transcends time.

Sound great? It is great. I never once got bored.

It's a near-perfect blend of reality in Japan in 1984, sometimes altered in dimension, and a fantastic shout-out to old SF, modern magical realism, and epic transcendental love. :) Totally recommend.

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Saturday, October 6, 2018

They RiseThey Rise by Hunter Shea
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I always hunt for Hunter Shea when I want some senseless monster fun. B-Movie madness, gore, and monsters!!!!

And he's back. And this novella is pretty much what I wanted Meg to be but didn't quite manage.

Shea's got it. Novellas are the perfect length for this kind of thing. Fast and furious characterizations that are dropped face first into the muck (or ocean) to be eaten in glorious fashion.

And then the fighting back is just as good.

Mind you, I DO have to turn my head off sometimes as I read these, but I'm not reading them for accuracy. It's monster madness! :) I'm having a great time.


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RosewaterRosewater by Tade Thompson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Lately, I've been seeing a lot of novels either set in Africa or Nigeria in specific, ranging from complicated crime tales or wild fantasies or hardcore SF.

This one is more hardcore than most. The SF branches into the Zenosphere, alien-headspaces, biopunk nightmares and symbioses and regular everyday Lagos and Nigerian, in general, misbehavior. :)

This novel is packed to the gills with great ideas, interesting storytelling structure set in two times, and a very interesting re-take on the old trope of telepathy and noir/spy fiction. To speak of the little parts as if they are the best part is to miss the point, however. As a whole, the novel flies through wild magic-realm-like excursions, flesh-eating biomorphs, bank-fraud prevention, and very real alien invasion stories.

Am I impressed? Intimidated? Thrilled?
Yes. All of the above.

But one thing should be made very clear: in some ways, the alien is not so much the SF elements, but Rosewater, itself. Culture is STRANGE. Be prepared for a weird ride. :)

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Friday, October 5, 2018

Extinction (The Remaining, #6)Extinction by D.J. Molles
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I think this one was probably the second best of the 6 books. I'll say the first was still best, but that's because a beginning is a very delicate time. People get hurt so easily then! And we don't have such an IMMENSE body count.

But then we get to the 6th book and that's the main strength. Two militaries and a HOARD of zombies. Not quite a free-for-all, but the action takes place on many fronts.

I was getting tired of all the mil-sf stuff, the automatic 'let's go there' permission-to-be-evil or at least try to feel fine with yourself as you get more brutal, more deadly expedient, more revengeful with every betrayal.

There's a big lie going on here. Yes, in reality, there are circumstances where doing the horrible thing can be justified, but DAMN... almost all the fiction of today conflates those circumstances to absolutely insane degrees. In reality, I can see 1/10,000 cases where it might be necessary compared to fiction.

What is this? This isn't really mil-porn, is it? No. It's permission for readers to feel good about their own sociopathy. We want to let loose and kill everyone who betrays us or hurts others, and screw law, civilization, or red-tape. We readers seem to scream for more opportunities to just let loose with every animal instinct and/or thirst for blood.

I admit I feel the same. On occasion. But this general condoning and conflating is nuts. It reads like we all should rally round our families with a pocket full of shells. Damn all else. And that's RIGHT, isn't it? And every eye gets poked out. lol

I rant. I know.

Still, this was a very good end for the series. No complaints. It even had an up-note and a positive message in the middle of the pile of crap. :)

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Thursday, October 4, 2018

Allegiance (The Remaining, #5)Allegiance by D.J. Molles
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Mil-SF porn. Maybe light on the SF and more on the Mil-Horror, but truth is truth. It is porn. Gunporn.

At least this time we have less community-strife and concentrate the strife on military action, intra-military action, and even a bit with the tactics.

Everything else, however, is only sporadic zombie action except when we deal with mass-death stuff.

Was this enjoyable? Some. Somewhat more than the last one.

The point is, I'm enjoying my zombie action when it happens. I'm especially enjoying this particular variant on the zombie myth. Being alive, more like 28 days later, babies even. Evolving like resident evil. You know, that kind of thing is awesome. It brings me back to Night of the Living Dead series. :) So yeah, I'm still good to catch up with the series, but I can't say I'm super thrilled with all the mil-porn stuff. *sigh*

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The Haunted Forest TourThe Haunted Forest Tour by Jeff Strand
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Welcome to Disneyland!

This novel is either bizarro fiction, a novel written on a methamphetamine nightmare, or it's a flip off for all the horror fans who've enjoyed too much of a good thing, namely blood, gore, and more blood.

The trick is to have us first CARE for the victims or possible heroes first. Failing that, we need to have a really compelling reason to hate them and want to see them die horrible, nasty, brutish deaths... EVENTUALLY.

In this case, we're given no foreplay.

It's just a carnival sideshow with super-silly demon antics with the most tired sacrifice plot ever devised, a million monsters in a magical forest, and cartoonish (if blood-soaked military action had a cartoon industry) fight scenes.

The reactions of the characters in this book are less than satisfying. What should have come across as sarcastic cardboard cut-outs actually felt less like we were supposed to laugh WITH them and felt more like the novel was laughing AT us.


Not happy. The novel itself was written competently enough if you leave out the purpose of empathizing with anyone... but overall, the effect was depressing.

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Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Fractured (The Remaining, #4)Fractured by D.J. Molles
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

For as much as I've enjoyed the past 3 novels, there was something LONG and DRAWN out about this one.

Sure, the fractured camp, the splitting up of all these forces... Lee's capture, all the betrayals, the rapes, the torture, the idiotic spiral of isolationism, the rise of despots...

Well. These things do happen in a zombie wasteland, do they not? I mean, it's kinda expected at this point.


Well, except for the main character. He will even go back for his dog. So there's that. But most of the novel isn't with his PoV!

I want to like this more. Parts were pretty popcorn, but I burned out on Walking Dead, too.

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Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Refugees (The Remaining, #3)Refugees by D.J. Molles
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Fast-forward from the previous novel and have a few semi-thriving communities out in the middle of a zombie apocalypse and enter the world of internecine conflict.

You know, because nothing says zombie apocalypse more than small groups of regular humans tearing each other down for any reason most handy at the moment.

WHY CAN'T WE ALL JUST GET ALONG while all the zombies are trying to eat us?

Of course, there is a one really delicious aspect of this novel: the zombies are evolving! Yeah! Like a video game! Yeah! New bosses, badder enemies, and BREEDING? Huh? Zombies BREEDING? EEWWWWW Who told them they could do that?

So, yeah. I'm on a reading frenzy for this series and I'm gonna keep it up. Why not? It's not bad.

It DOES get a little silly now that we get into quasi-governmental decision stuff and the politics of resource allocation, but I can't really expect anything else at this point. Gimme fights, gimmie nom-nom!

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Monday, October 1, 2018

Aftermath (The Remaining, #2)Aftermath by D.J. Molles
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So yeah, zombies, right? Lots of survival among zombies, right?

Well, no, not so much. This is very much like The Walking Dead, where we have long stretches of dealing with live people and the crap they bring to the table rather than stocking up on tons of ammunition and going to work on all the living dead.

Well, yeah, this is very much like the Walking Dead. Perhaps a better, faster version where tons of supplies ARE to be head, big bads are closer to the fore, and we have all the locations we have grown to love and hate from the comics (or tv show, for you non-purists) written large, fast, and big.

And did I mention fast? It's the zombie apocalypse, yo! Let's follow Lee and his Mil-SF trope all the way through the wasteland and see if he brings civilization back to the poor folk here! :)

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The Remaining (The Remaining, #1)The Remaining by D.J. Molles
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Not much to say about this except it's pretty much everything you might expect in a short zombie apocalypse survival novel.

It may as well be Fallout-lite. No hibernation to wake from your Vault 200 years later, but we've got a personal-bunker action, a friendly neighborhood spiderman/boogeyman military type going to ground to re-emerge from the horrors of the zombie outbreak, and the usual picking up of stragglers kind of Walking Dead-type action. :)

Nothing new under the sun?


But the joy is in how fast and unencumbered the text is. Stick with the fun stuff, move fast, fast, fast, and SURVIVE.

In other words, this is just right for October. :)

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