Thursday, November 14, 2019

Sapiens: A Brief History of HumankindSapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Is one supposed to have "fun" reading about the entire breakdown of HUMANITY from a collaborative Anthropological/Campbellian outlook?

Me?
Absolutely.

I was pleasantly reminded of Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything, but instead of wandering all about and being a little less funny than Bryson, what we get is a rather better focus with a little more depth on a subject very close to almost everyone's hearts: Ourselves.

Now let's get this clear. It's not supposed to be a full-out treatise, nor is it giving citations, but I've read a ton of other books that talk about almost everything in here. It's not new stuff. It is, however, written in such an engaging way that I pretty much fell out of my seat in love with the way they are all presented.

I really got into the counterarguments against agriculture, but before that, I loved the idea that people were all always pretty much always people. Language, myths, and ideas changed us all into the creatures we are now. It's a very Campbellian view. Language increases complexity, but also a closer reliance on details. Abstract concepts arose to help people conceptualize groups of people much larger than a decent gossip circle. We tell ourselves lies and stories in order to accomplish much bigger things.

Easy, right?

Well, the author takes us all the way through the agricultural revolution, into cultural theories, monetary theories, political theories, and scientific theories. All of these have made us what we are, and all of them come from the basic storytelling concept. We believe banks work, and so they do. We believe that our social structure works, and so it does. If we don't trust it, it falls apart, but that's the whole point. We trust the story to be true, and we continue on. Money works this way. The author goes into the fantastic rabbit-hole called Credit. Fractional reserve. We all know it works so long as we trust it works. The same is true for Capitalism, or Buddhism, or the Medieval outlook, or Christmas.

Shall we dismiss, or enshrine, the rest of human history this way?

Sure! Why not? It FEELS right. The story this author tells FEELS trustworthy. I'm hooked.

But then, I'm a writer, myself. I believe in the written word and its power to transform the world. Myth as Life. Myth IS Life. Every instant of our own lives is the artifact of the stories we tell about ourselves. It's not so hard to believe that everything else we do as a species follows the same method.

Hello, money. What makes you think I should believe in you? Oh, wait, you tell a very compelling story. :)

I like this book. :)

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ArcadiaArcadia by Mark Lages
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is my second Mark Lages book and I'll be honest, neither of them would have caught my interest in the random playing field of searching for books in general. BUT... having read them by the author's request, or indeed, after getting past the first chapter or two with either book, I can now firmly say that I'm a fan of his writing.

I didn't expect it. I truly didn't. And especially when I learn I'm dealing with a novel about teen suicide, I really out to have squirmed and tried to wiggle out of it... but that's the magic of his writing.

It's warm. Gentle. Empathetic.

We don't jump into the mindset of the suicidal teen except through his poetry, his essays, or some of his actions. We see everything from the PoV of his confused but caring father, who, fortunately or unfortunately, snoops through all his son's things. A grey area? Yeah, of course, but in this case he really does admire his son.

Jacob marches to a different beat. Sees things very differently from most. He's an idealist in a crass, crude world. A sensitive boy unable to deal with the very real negative stuff in this world.

His father is just as lost, but in a different way. This is as much his story as his son's.

All of this could go either way, of course, depending on the writing. Mark Lages holds on to this very gently, leading us up to the critical event with love and care.

Best of all, he doesn't take any easy way out. I admire his courage.

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Tuesday, November 12, 2019

19841984 by George Orwell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My third time reading this has confirmed something to me.

The world is worse than I originally thought, prayed, or hoped it could be.

It's also easy to scratch the barest surface of Orwell's grand dystopia to see the truth of the world of 1948 or 1984 or 2019 or probably even 2091.

We're all doublespeaking all the time. Maybe we believe we're not. Hell, I'd bet that none of us consciously maintain two contradictions in our heads as we juggle the party line... but then, maybe we do. You never know. It is probably about something personal, not political. Maybe it's about saying you love a job you hate, or a spouse, or your own body.

Just applying this to the grand sphere, that people in power got power for the sake of power, and then manipulated us all into believing that we put them there by our own free will, is just a single step further than all the other little lies we keep working so hard to convince ourselves about.

Do you like the way that we deny environmental concerns? Or the future of our energy? Or the very real idea that crop failures stemming from a cascade effect could starve us into near extinction in a single generation? How about the thought that even the most optimistic and drastic of measures in any of these realms is still going to be too little, too late?

We don't even need to look at Orwell's hate-driven society that systematically abuses its populace and then releases them once they're compliant. Just look around us, right now.

Who among us has the single overarching desire to JUST BE LEFT ALONE. Not hassled, not abused, not tormented? This is a far cry from reaching for self-fulfillment, love, and esteem.

I think we're already here. At least we're self-aware enough to know we've always been at war with Eurasia.

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God of WarGod of War by Matthew Woodring Stover
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm a huge fan of Matthew Woodring Stover and that basically sums up why I took on this book.

I mean, I played GoW one and two back in the day and I have very fond memories, but it's not particularly DEEP, you know? Oversexed, overviolent goodies. If you love slaughter, you'll love those games. It doesn't hurt that the Greek Pantheon is being its usual nasty self.

So what about this book? Is it something different than the games?

Nope. It's pretty much all the fights and pathos from the game but done in novelization form. That means I can enjoy the nutty craziness in another format and have it all laid out for me in a single sitting.

Do you LOVE bloodshed? Do you love tons of monsters getting eviscerated and s**t stained talons rending flesh? Hello! Do you love climbing the backs of titans and taking on Ares in a one-to-one combat? Hello! Do you love going completely Over-The-Top in violence and rage and regret and bloodlust?

HELLO! This book is for you. You don't even really need to know the games. Just enjoy a fun romp through the hellscape of Greek literature twisted into Pure Action Goodness. :)

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Monday, November 11, 2019

The Shadow YearThe Shadow Year by Jeffrey Ford
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I would be lying if I said this was really a YA novel, but for all normal purposes, it is written from the point of view of a kid in Elementary school and has all the generalized coming of age elements.

However, this is very much for the adults. Nostalgia, sure, harkening back to a small town NY in the early sixties, drawing from all grand features of what I'll call the genre of Epic Grownup Nostalgia with Horror. You've probably seen it around. In A Boy's Life, or SK's IT. Or Stranger Things.

There are a lot of imitators, but the writing in these have to be MAGICAL if it's going to catch my love. This one has a lot of that magic.

Oh, a lot of the mystery revolves around a prowler in the neighborhood and missing children and the strange movements in a town mockup downstairs and his kid sister's strange abilities, but that's all window dressing to some really fantastic outright writing.

I definitely recommend this for you nostalgia fans or younger folk who are curious about what life might have been like, once upon a time, when it was NORMAL to go out with your friends all day long in the neighborhood without supervision.

I know, right? That's some SICK FANTASY, right there!

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Sunday, November 10, 2019

Supernova EraSupernova Era by Liu Cixin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Let me be honest here: we need to accept one major handwavium dance move to enjoy this novel. That being said, if we just go ahead and accept the basic premise that CHILDREN under 13 are naturally resistant to catastrophic radiation exposure, or at least they'll heal up when all the adults around them die off, then we've got a pretty great early dystopian nightmare.

The nearby supernova going off, close enough to do more than annoy and far enough away to not just kill us all, is an awesome macro-scale starter for any kind of SF novel.

Ok, so after that? We've got a pretty awesome setup for a kids-rule-the-world SF worldbuilding extravaganza.

The adults tried to do everything they could to prepare these kiddos, of course, but human nature gets the best of us all.

It's PLAYTIME. The old world was BORING, after all.

It's also almost like Liu Cixin was told to write a YA novel back in 2003 and he nodded sagely, snickered under his hand, and went about writing the ultimate coming of age novel.

Only this YA went ahead and killed off the majority of humanity gave us one of the most horrific wars ever created in the spirit of fair play.

Wow.

Now what I'm saying here is: the ideas are freaking awesome, explores a ton of great avenues, and horrifies the freaking hell out of me. The characters are not all that fantastic, but this SF is very much in the spirit of old-school SF masters who want to run hard with the ball.

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The Return of the SoldierThe Return of the Soldier by Rebecca West
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Written during WWI, I honestly thought this would be more about the war, but no, we get a sneaky peek into the inner workings of a man who came home, shell-shocked, only to find himself in an untenable position.

What? Has his wife left him for another man? No. He seems to have another kind of problem. ED? No, no, no... MEMORY LOSS. Sheesh. People.

Seriously though, this is a great snapshot of a time when so many men were voiceless. Indeed, as seen through the three women in his life... his wife, his old fiancé, and a female cousin... he's still pretty voiceless. The trick is in reading between the lines, or inferring from everything that happens in this plot and sometimes in letters we're not privy to, that gives this soldier his voice.

This is a romance, folks. A fascinating one, even. Lots of gray areas. And three women who only want to see him be happy.

Of course, the issue is clear and clearly horrible to contemplate.

A very thought provoking novella.

And for those of you who love period pieces and revel in really awkward class stratifications, this is also for you. :)

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Saturday, November 9, 2019

The ChimesThe Chimes by Anna Smaill
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a rather original work revolving around music, the magical effect of music on memories, and how it takes this idea and runs full-hilt into total worldbuilding with it.

Huh?

I mean that certain music retains memories and others, including the Chimes, takes it away. Most of the world, or at least this oppressive, poverty-stricken future London, has forgotten itself. The Chimes are played to keep all the memories lost.

I love most of this. I really do. You can tell the author is very deep into her music. The main character and the group he runs with plays beautiful music, combatting the effects of the Chimes, surviving like street urchins, and finding love among all the questions and developing the tale into a quest to stop the Chimes.

I really enjoyed that.

What I didn't particularly enjoy was the slow, almost impersonal way the characterizations developed. It took a long time for me to wind my way through the musical riffs before some juicy handles presented themselves.

And then there was the way normal words were changed in spelling, for worldbuilding effect, that didn't really seem to have a reason. I didn't get the impression that this was a journal written by someone who had lost his ties with our standard language. I understood that Simon was a farmboy with some rather awesome musical talent and a side-talent for saving and storing memories. Writing, except for musical notation, seemed to be quite secondary.

*shrug*

That being said, I did enjoy the oppressiveness and the rather jazz-like discoveries and movements in plot and setting. :)

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Friday, November 8, 2019

The Buried GiantThe Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I admit that I liked this well enough. For what it is. At first it seemed more like a light fable but then it became a full-out allegory reminiscent of some bastard child of Le Morte d'Arthur: King Arthur and the Legends of the Round Table and The Pilgrim's Progress.

If you like this kind of thing, with a pair of old people meeting up with another pair of old people to go on a long meandering journey of lost memories and misty time only a few years after King Arthur's death, stumbling along a grey shadow world to, at last, defeat a mythical dragon that poisons the land of the Brittons and the Saxons, then I seriously think you ought to read this book.

It's well done in a very old tradition, briefly touching upon what might appear to be modern fantasy but really isn't anything of the sort.

This is old fantasy. Some of the oldest traditional fantasies we have, dressed up in plain speech and designed to touch the modern reader without going into any kind of mealy-mouthed religiosity, instead keeping things very much on the surface.

The reveals were fascinating to anticipate. The journey filled me with ill-defined dread.

The end, however, to this allegory... well, it's kinda average.

Expected. Old-school.

I mean, Sir Gawain is an old knight here. Sir Wisdom is an interesting, if horrific, plot device.

Does this deserve all the accolades? Maybe, but only if you're in the old school literati wanting a good treatment of old subjects done in a modern way. Everyone else might be a little bored. Or disgruntled at the lack of big giants rising up out of the ground with huge armies actively trying to defeat its greatest foe. Any of that will merely be recalled in the deep past or anticipated for the future.

This one is mostly only about the old folks.

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Thursday, November 7, 2019

Gideon the Ninth (The Locked Tomb, #1)Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I think this one holds a lot of promise. The wordbuilding, alone, is enough to leave me giddy. It's not super deep, mind you, other than the interesting features of the Houses and the fact that this seems like some sort of epic fantasy by way of hard SF so far in the future that there's no real difference, but it's these very elements that capture my imagination the most.

Gideon, herself, is often kinda annoying. Her Necromancer tormenter/friend is even more annoying.

Mind you, their kind of annoying is very much in line with a lot of modern YA but I may be getting tired of the over-the-top torture sessions. And when I mean torture, I mean sheer brutality and nastiness in spirit. These two only start really getting along after they realize the REST of the houses are worse in the bats**t insanity.

Is it a feature of being necromancers? Maybe? Maybe not? Either way, it's tolerable and sometimes even edifying when they sort that crap out.

The one thing I have absolutely no complaint about is the bones. No bones to pick with the bones. Or the battles. The puzzles. The reveals. I loved all of them. I'm a big fan of all the necromancy in general and the fact that they have it all with spaceships too is a real treat.

I'm definitely continuing with this. A little good interpersonal resolution has gone a long way for me. :)


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Tuesday, November 5, 2019

The Amber SpyglassThe Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Re-read 11/4/19:

I'm regularly astounded at how well-beloved this series is. I mean, let's look at this for a moment: we're surrounded by liars who are heroes, murderers who are the best of folks, drunkards who are the most noble, and a God who is feeble, the push of the devil is a rather positive thing, and we're meant to root for the big battle against Enoch, one of two of the only men in the Bible to ever have been raptured up to heaven. (Of course, he was promoted well beyond his ability and became the Metatron, the big bad false God-in-Standing, so we're not meant to feel like we're ACTUALLY satanists here as we read this book.)

What? Wait, WHAT?

Oh, that's okay, folks. It's fine because this was written by an agnostic atheist. He only believes in enjoying life on the material plain, in making heaven right here on Earth, not falling for the one-off and rather harmful joke we've always been told. After all, Heaven Doesn't Exist. Hello! Be good here and now while you're still alive, dummy!

But let's review this:

The series is one of the most well-beloved series by almost everyone for all time.

Why?

Because it's liberating? Because it puts a sharpened stick in the flaming pile of poo of an idea that says that sex in the idea of Original Sin is BAD? Or is it because most of us are sick to death about religion? Or because he manages to subvert everything and still manages to give everyone a bit of good in the tale and refuses to make the whole story about Atheists versus Deists?

I simply do not know.

I do know that the rolling elephants were f***ing stupid.

I didn't mind the whole trip down under, however. :)


Original Review:

I thought it was hilarious to have Enoch, my favorite, rare renegade man amongst angels play the villain. It was especially precious to have a reversal of roles for our favorite angels in heaven and a not so thin veiled christ figure in the shape of a lying little girl flying down to sheol to free all the purgatoried souls.

I giggled some more when those little wheeled beasties crushed the nuts of an otherwise smooth storyline.

Honestly, it wasn't my favorite book of all time; neither was the whole series; but I did really enjoy the whole Madeline L'Engle fantasy touch. As opposed to the painful C. S. Lewis touch, Pullman has an even lighter touch, with a generous dose of darkness to help us swallow a completely virtuous pre-teen serial murderer who loves his mom and an imagination-less serial liar who takes the role of christ.

This isn't to say I didn't like the novels, mind you very much. It makes me wonder what would happen if Chuck Palahniuk rewrote these novels. Hmmm.

Should I suggest it?

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The Subtle Knife (His Dark Materials, #2)The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Re-read, 11/5/19:

I think I still enjoy the emphasis on the extended worldbuilding in this book more than the flavor of the characters. Lyra is somewhat diminished, unable to shine in the Big Happenings of the first book, relegated either to lying (unsuccessfully) to a relative suburbia world, losing her way, and relying an awful lot on Will, her new friend.

Will, on the other hand, is only really interesting when he holds a knife.

*shrug* I found all the villains in our tale much more interesting. And the worldbuilding, of course. Lots of sympathy for the devil stuff going on here.

That being said, I'm not sure I really enjoyed this particular alternate-reality hop's direction. Sure, the place is about as subtle (from our world) as the knife from my kitchen drawer, but I also admit I enjoyed the concept of the knife quite a bit.

I really enjoyed the worldbuilding in this book more than anything else.


Original review:

There's less action and a hell of a lot more story-meat in this book. I'm enjoying it immensely, especially for all of the John Milton tones. It also has a beautiful synthesis of anthropology and religion that I can't help but giggle at.

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Monday, November 4, 2019

The Golden CompassThe Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Re-read, 11/4/19:

I think I might have been a bit unfair to the book in my original review. Or maybe I was a bit disgruntled with YA literature in general at the time. Or maybe I was getting tired of the whole chosen one with the miraculous oracle bit driving the plot forward.

But let's back up a bit here. In the particulars, I liked running around like an urchin. I did like all the Daemons. I liked growing up among all the academics. I liked running around and being a very English nuisance and getting involved very civilly with evil folks and right proper decent parliamentary folk.

And what could be better than to top it all off with a trip to the north where all the Scandinavians are! Um, I mean bears. And witches. And evil research facilities that OUGHT to have been where Santa's elves made some non-dusty toys.

Yeah, it was pretty entertaining. Very quick-paced. Somewhat annoyingly light on the character-building so everyone seems like pieces on a big game board with a big narrator pushing them around by a rather cool compass... but okay for all that.

I guess I tended to remember this book in a slightly lesser light than it really deserves, considering how many YA novels are like it these days.



Original review:

After reading the first nine-tenths of the novel, I was expecting nothing other than a YA adventure novel. When I finished it, I saw the interesting bits finally come alive. The writing is smooth and the characters, while rather one-sided and painted with broad strokes, works well here. I can't complain, because most book's characters rather fall into the same category and so I must focus on ideas and how those ideas are pulled off. The locales are charming, and even though we're missing some depth, it's to be expected by the type of the novel it is. I did find myself wanting the viewpoints of the parents more than our lovely silver-tongued liar, but I think this is just my own frantic desire for understanding a character's psychology. Good book, and I'm looking forward to more adventure.

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Sunday, November 3, 2019

Alien: The Cold ForgeAlien: The Cold Forge by Alex White
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Let's put this book into context, shall we? I didn't expect too much because it is, after all, a horror in an SF setting just like the movies. We have a cross between Alien 3 and Alien 4 without so much of the goofy, with Weyland corp still being the bad guy, and very few actually likable characters.

Stir, mix, let steep in some xenomorph stew, wait for the stupid humans to do something nasty, perverse, and generally unlikable. *Hello, efficiency expert in a top secret lab!*

And then let things get out of control.

Honesty here: I was pretty bored by the formula leading up to the alien breakouts, with a slight exception to Blue, who suffers from a massive degenerative disease and who also uses (or abuses) a synth. Maybe I wanted something rather more ... original ... before everything went to hell. One thing I can say about the newer canonical movies is that they broke new ground even if they kinda broke the cannon (and some credulity).

But, in the end, I did end up enjoying the human monster twists, the glorified horror, and the bloodshed. Should anyone expect anything more from movie-universe tie-ins? Maybe not.

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Saturday, November 2, 2019

Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of ConsciousnessOther Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness by Peter Godfrey-Smith
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Strangely enough, this book -- which could have turned into a free-for-all metaphysics/philosophy speculation-fest -- actually turned out to be a relatively careful, thoughtful science book that poses, but does not attempt to prove, that octopods may be the real deal.

Intelligence does not need a spine. Hell, to me, this should be rather obvious.

I appreciate how the old scientific prejudice and just plain annoyance with the creatures might have skewed clear thinking about squids. I also understand that very little in the way of extensive research has been done on them.

But what really fascinates me is the hints at what they really could be. Their short lives notwithstanding, they seem to have perceptual powers that are astounding. Every inch of their skin seems to be hyper-aware and the chromatophores (skin pigmentation changes) are wildly expressive and responsive.

What I think, and what the book is careful not to speculate on, is pretty fascinating: deep communications are going on in the visual medium. Indeed, since octopods' neural structure is across their entire bodies, we can make some really interesting suppositions. Like full-concept transmissions, learning, teaching ... perhaps even more ... between these short-lived creatures. Maybe consciousness.

Me? I love this. The author doesn't take it there, but leads us to this doorstep. It's up to us to dream. :) I love dreaming. :)

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Friday, November 1, 2019

Permanent RecordPermanent Record by Edward Snowden
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a highly-readable and thoroughly fascinating account of Snowden as a child, his ethical foundations, computer ethos, and his original desire always do the right thing.

For any of you who don't know his name, you'll find a thousand accounts that turn him into a hero and a thousand that turn him into a traitor. I totally recommend reading his own words. He was always careful and thoughtful and did what he did for what he thought was the very best of reasons.

By any stretch of reality, he simply gave true accounts, backed up with real data, to the most responsible and courageous reporters he could find.

What is the crux?

Proof of worldwide surveillance for everything that has ever gone online, stored forever. This means there is no privacy, and no accountability. Any two-bit dictator might later use ANYTHING you might have EVER said from your childhood all the way to the things you said this morning. Any joke, anything you thought hidden anonymously, any vile, atrocious, mean statement. Anything you might ever be ashamed of. And let's not forget anything that your computers might control, such as cameras, microphones. Or your cell phones, even while powered off, always being able to track you.

Your footprints and your very metadata as a person is online. Stored forever.

The U.S. government lied about this.

Ed Snowden, as a sysadmin with high clearance, also had access to utterly amazing amounts of confidential documents, knowledge of the high tech systems, cryptology, and the programs that, with a little intelligence, could be rendered from their original compartmentalizations into a seamless, rather obvious goal.

This knowledge conflicted with is ethics, his very sense of what is right, and so he did the bravest thing he could have done. Become a whistleblower. Let us know the state of the world we live in. The truth.

Since then, many people have reviled him. Many have been blown away by the sheer courage and selflessness of his actions.

I, for one, believe in the Constitution, most of which dealt with securing the privacy and the basic autonomy of its citizens, limiting seizure and the state's power. When you think about it, this huge information-gathering complex that records everything for later sifting is nothing more than absolute seizure. It has made an absolute joke of the constitution.

I believe in my right to privacy. It has nothing to do with whether I have anything to hide. Do you think because you have nothing to say that you ought to give up your right to ever write again? How about burning all your books because you don't feel like reading? Sound good to you?

So yes, I'm one of those people who call Snowden a hero. I've been following this for quite some time and the whole thing leaves me speechless.

He is one good man standing up for what he believes in. I cannot begin to tell each and every one of you how much I care that he stays safe.

This book breaks it all down quite wonderfully, explaining everything. I totally recommend it for everyone. It might sound rather dystopian in parts, but the real world is already there.

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SlashSlash by Hunter Shea
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm of two minds on this one. I love horror in general but there are a few kinds of plot devices that don't work too well for me. Of course, there are some major exceptions to the rule, but I'm gonna cite one movie franchise that never kept my interest no matter how many times I sat through them: Friday the 13th. Jason. Meh. He made me lose my love for hockey and all straight-up slasher types.

But what about Scream, you ask? Well, we all know that was a PARODY and a great SEND UP, far outclassing the original fright-snoozes.

So what in the blazes does this have to do with Hunter Shea's novel?

It's a somewhat generic slasher "film" in an old abandoned resort. The best part is the build-up, the impact and the insanity of the Final Girl who had survived one attempt, only to off-herself and leave her friends scratching their heads, preparing themselves for their own eventual slaughter.

I really wanted to get into this. I'm a fan of this author. He does creature features wonderfully, crazily, and induces many an evil chortle in his readers. This one is of the same quality. It's a great send-up for an oft-tread storyline.

But me? I was bored silly, not able to connect to anyone but the Final dead Girl. Maybe that's to be expected, but I have seen it done well elsewhere.

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Thursday, October 31, 2019

Cycle of the WerewolfCycle of the Werewolf by Stephen King
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Simple, fun, if not too scary, this classic King tale of a ... you guessed it ... werewolf ... is written quite beautifully, even poetically. The short book also has some pretty wonderful illustrations that really showcase all the seasons, the small town feel, and even the sense of rebirth at the end. :)

Simple, yes. Delightful? Definitely.

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Of Saints and Shadows (Shadow Saga #1)Of Saints and Shadows by Christopher Golden
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Moving back in time to the 90's, I read this wonderful little book and a few of its sequels and did my squee because the story really broke the Anne Rice vampire mold. Not only that, but it went firmly into the baby UF territory long before the whole movement took off and had thousands of lookalike vampire/werewolf/witch/whatever private investigators dealing with all the things that go bump in the night.

This author blazed not only that trail, but boldly screwed with all our expectations about where a tale OUGHT to go.

So what IS this book?

A murder investigation that moonlights as a later Dan Brown book that combines sympathetic vampires, evil renegade Catholic sorcerers as the Enemy, and a humungous media blow-out that was made popular, to a lesser degree, by Anita Blake and later with Sookie Stackhouse.

What I really get is a rip-roaring fun vampire read that tackles not only self-perception in a really big way, but hoards of demons blowing up Venice.

DELICIOUS.

And I'll be honest, the first time I read this I kinda thought a particular discovery that later lends itself to a complete revolution of thought might have been a bit too... FAST... in this novel. But thinking about it much more has led me to think it is ABOUT TIME. These are long-lived vamps, after all. None of Peter's concerns and exhortations were new. Indeed, they had all been thinking about this very problem for a century. Just because no one but Peter, the black sheep, had a breakthrough, it doesn't mean that they couldn't learn super-fast when the TRUTH is right in front of them in all its glory. :)

So I've revised my original estimation UP. More than that, I wish this had it's own TV series. It could be BETTER than Discovery of Witches, on the same level or much, much bigger.

It certainly has tons more guns, more slathering monsters, and a much more delicious cast of baddies. Oh, you naughty Vatican, you. :)

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Tuesday, October 29, 2019

The Burning White (Lightbringer #5)The Burning White by Brent Weeks
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There are few books, let alone series, that I would agree to re-read at the drop of a hat.

This is one of them.

I have so much fun, so much respect for the sheer audacity, the roaring plot-lines, the twists and the reveals, even the funny-ass quips, that I usually ignore or gloss over any ACTUAL problems I might have had with the writing. Or the original choice to make so many of our MCs so freakishly morally ambiguous. So full of glaring faults and so equally full of fantastic heroism.

When we finally get to this last book in the Lightbringer series, I'm hopelessly in love. There is nothing that could stop me from devouring this book and crying and raging and even scratching my head and then railing against it.

Huh? Railing against the book? Well... yeah. If anyone knows the Jonah story, and I assume everyone does, Weeks takes all aspects of it and weaves it heavily into the series. Swallowing characters into deep prisons, railing against fate, finally finding peace, if not forgiveness, for all the things that have been done? It's all here. But first we're made to WORK for it. And when I mean work, I mean we get to enjoy having our favorite morally grey characters get tortured and grow as people by the end.

I admit I am a super sucker for these kinds of storylines. I usually get pissed off at long series with characters who are essentially timeless and never learn s**t. If anything, the Lightbringer is ALL about learning. But most of the time it's "Oh, damn, no, that's horrible... I can't believe it's actually this bad... but no, it's worse... nooooooo.....". To have an end to this series that is actually uplifting and hopeful, if not perfect, is a REAL TREAT.

So what do I think about *spoiler* *spoiler* *spoiler*, or the fact that so much of the plot is resolved by way of *spoiler*?

I say I'm fine with it. It's not like we weren't prepared for it from the very first book. Or that the real burden is on true ethical behavior. You might say that the purpose of this book was to throw out the whole adage of "many shades of grey" and give it the full polychromatic treatment. And I loved it.

And now that I've finished this, I've gotta find the time to do all five again in a row! And start crying again. Yeah, I know... fanboy.

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Saturday, October 26, 2019

The Rosewater Redemption (The Wormwood Trilogy, #3)The Rosewater Redemption by Tade Thompson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

All three of these Wormwood books are perfect for Weird fans. Not that you have to be weird as a fan to enjoy them, merely that you must enjoy Weird fiction, be tolerant of cthulhu-like alien entities who provide rather miraculous services in return for a foothold in humanity. Wait. Isn't this just an alien invasion story?

Sure, like Fight Club is just a story about self-help groups.

We get a solid return for main characters in the previous two, get thrown into time-travel, end-of-the-world, last-stand alien repulsion, and, surprisingly, a rather large part of the novel deals with gay rights.

The subtext is solid, but it never gets in the way of the over-arching tale. Which is big. It spans across a lot of countries and across a theoretically huge amount of time, and although there IS time travel in this, it doesn't take up a lot of page-time.

I loved the big story. I enjoyed seeing old characters come back. I wasn't as impressed with the amount of character-building in this one as compared to the first or especially the second books, but it felt like a pretty good send-up to me.

The most impressive part of these books is the all-out genre-bending courage it takes to make them. I'm a big fan of Tade when it comes to this. His two novellas gave me a huge wonderful taste and three out of five novels pretty much solidified it. Imagination is key. They're full of it. :)

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Friday, October 25, 2019

GyoGyo by Junji Ito
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

MUAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

Junji Ito is a MASTER of B-level gross-out horror. Of course, this is manga, and extremely simple in characterization, but that DOES NOT MATTER AT ALL.

We go from a fish -- with legs -- and a horrible stink freaking out a young couple... all the way to THE END OF THE WORLD.

Yep. Two volumes. Gross-out-horror. Over-the-top. FREAKISHLY delightful.

You remember those classic B-Movie horrors from the fifties? Do you wish you could forget them? Or how about if you could kick all the censors out the door and take any particular nasty idea and run with it, leaving no perversity unexplored, until all you have is a farting, walking mass of the undead controlled by *spoiler* *spoiler* *spoiler*.

MUAHAHAHAHAHAHA

A perfect halloween gross-out read.

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Night Watch (Discworld, #29; City Watch, #6)Night Watch by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I think I misremembered this one. This is a re-read. I didn't remember it being quite this good when I put the stars down in 2013 for when I read it almost a decade prior.

But you know what? This might be one of my top favorite Pratchett novels.

It may have something to do with the SF element. Maybe it has everything to do with a time-traveling Vimes being a mentor to himself, a big, bad, patriotic battle in the heart of Ankh-Morpork, and some classic Discworld history and a very young Havelock Vetinari entertaining the crap out of me.

If you weren't there, then go away. Wise words.

Fortunately, WE can be there on that fateful day!

Again.

There wasn't a single thing I didn't like about this novel.

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Thursday, October 24, 2019

Rules for VanishingRules for Vanishing by Kate Alice Marshall
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've been developing a spot in my heart for horror that is bent to YA. It's not that difficult. Most of the horror movies I watched as a kid were all full of kids getting eaten, slashed, or otherwise completely f***ed up. You might say I always thought horror stories were MADE for kids. Just look at campfire ghost stores, man, and you'll know what I mean.

So what about this? It's high school and all the kids here are ripe for the picking. In a lot of ways, it's great for the older kids with kids in high school because they can vicariously watch all the little s**ts get eaten and if you're the same age, you feel EXACTLY the same way.

So what makes this book different?

It reads like an awesome and equally f**d-up adaptation of Silent Hill. Movie or game, it doesn't matter. It's freaking weird and deeply involved and horribly convoluted and awesomely deadly. Me? When I first watched Silent Hill, I freaked and fell deeply in love. The same thing happened with me on this book.

So why the 4 stars rather than 5? Because of the ending. With all that awesome going on in the middle of the book, far surpassing the solid opening, I wanted something THOROUGHLY ambiguous and thought-provoking. Something that fit the premise and execution of the rest.

Please don't dumb down an otherwise smart book. Please? PLEASE. It's like a fantastic runner pushed all her limits to the very edge of human endurance, only to ask for a wheelchair nearly at the end of the race when there was clearly no need.

TRUST YOUR READERS. Awesome is awesome. Let them have the full meal. Sheesh.

Otherwise, this was a fantastic book. :)

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The Hellbound HeartThe Hellbound Heart by Clive Barker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I got to listen to an interesting full-cast version that totally and utterly makes me realize that the movie is just as good. Or better.

Isn't that odd? Ah, but watching Hellraiser also gives me the chance to revel in Doug Bradley's awesome performance as Pinhead.

Ah, but the rest of the movies after? Such suffering. Such beautiful suffering. Hold back your tears, they are a waste of such wonderful suffering.

On the bright side, this little story is a pretty great romance! I think I'll re-read it for Valentine's Day!

We always need to repurpose stories. Never let any of it go to waste. Right, Julia? Right, Frank? Now let's give this story a little skin, shall we?

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The Turn of the ScrewThe Turn of the Screw by Henry James
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Oddly enough, I had a pretty good time with this turn-of-the-last-century ghost story. Something in me wanted to be worried, however, and after reading a number of rather... critical... reviews, I came into this expecting some rather... dated... concepts.

Yes, yes, the whole Victorian "you are what you wear" and "you are as you appear" concept is especially grating, and despite the rather usual non-minimalist prose, I enjoyed being dangled about on multiple red-herrings and preoccupations. I can even forgive our Governess's relative inexperience and ignorance of the utter batshit insane obsessions of a pair of tots.

Kids are fantastic at fooling adults.

Oh yeah. Fantastic.

Creepy little...

ANYWAY! I enjoyed the ghost story, the possession, the preoccupation with letters, gossip, and afternoon delights. I didn't find it at all stuffy, but it's NOT much like a modern ghost story at all. Elements, sure, but it's very much a period piece. :)

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20th Century Ghosts20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Oddly enough, this collection was something of a hit or miss with me. When the stories hit, they hit hard and wonderfully and had me chortling with glee. Best Horror Story was easily my favorite. I really liked a number of the others, as well.

What really got me, though, were the stories that, while emotionally engaging and had me chomping at the bit for more, just STOPPED. Anyone who has read these particular stories will know what I mean. Some of the best ended right where we should have gotten a full blow-by-blow and it was FINE in some cases. In others, it was like... wtf? What kind of end is that? Is he going to get blamed for a murder he didn't commit or not? Huh? lol

All in all, the writing is solid as hell and fun and while the endings come and go, the beginnings and middles are all pretty much tops. :) I had fun, regardless.

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Tuesday, October 22, 2019

The Luminous DeadThe Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A very surprising read. Half horror and half SF with high-tech suits on an alien world, this novel is rife with obsession, spelunking, and a ton of the little inconsistencies that would drive any normal cave diver insane.

And then there's all the dead down below.

Nearly thirty, all spelunkers like Gyre, sent down to be eaten by this horrid, horrid cave. And it's a rigged game. The lies, the obsession of the woman underwriting each one of these expeditions is the half the novel. The other half is the horror adventure.

I don't know what I expected. Perhaps a bunch of undead at the bottom of the pit? But no, this is entirely a survival novel with tons of scares, mistrust, insane amounts of bravery, accidents, and misgivings. Interestingly, it's also a kind of a f***ed-up love story. Abusive, sure, but also rich and honest and desperate.

Put it all together and the novel is highly entertaining and sometimes quite scary. I'm happy. :)



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Monday, October 21, 2019

Notes from a Small IslandNotes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I want to say this is the ultimate travelogue of a fascinating and exotic foreign country, but in point of fact, it's ENGLAND, and while it is fascinating and exotic even to people who are familiar with the English language, it is still ENGLAND.

I don't know about anyone else, but I liked the disconnect. I especially liked all bits that made fun of the oddball naming conventions not limited to food or towns. But for other countries somewhat familiar with the English language, we all know that England is the REALLY ODD practitioner of the language. Messed up. Bangers and Mash. Truly, this book is NOT x-rated.

But, all told, this book is mild, humorous, personal, and it shows the love for the country. Not only that, but Scotland gets a little love, too! :) Truly, I feel like I did a lot of traveling across the English countryside. Most of it on foot! But at least I got a lot of beer. :)

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Sunday, October 20, 2019

Hidden in Sight (Web Shifters, # 3)Hidden in Sight by Julie E. Czerneda
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

More and new aliens, interesting rock-tumblers and aquatic races, populate this particular book. It's almost like these books are more a vehicle for exploring new biologies and ways of thinking driven by biologies than anything else, but no, Esen and Paul are on the run again.

What? Again? Yeah, well, there is a not so subtle vibe of Farscape going on, including old enemies turning into uneasy allies.

A bit more interesting for me, however, is the reintroduction of a long-lost sister, the difficult dynamics there, and the full resolution.

All told, the third in this series was solid, entertaining, and definitely worth the read if you're interested in a mild exploration of possible aliens mixed with adventure.

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Friday, October 18, 2019

The Night SisterThe Night Sister by Jennifer McMahon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This one has some rather interesting plotting, almost like it's a call-out to a family saga, an 80's horror by way of the sixties, and above all, a homage to Hitchcock.

In other words, it's a firm suspense with mostly off-scene nods to carnage. It's all about the build-up, the plethora of details that might lead us in all kinds of interesting directions, and the character-building.

We have three different times to explore. A mystery that develops during the 50's, where the homage to Hitchcock blooms nicely in a once-cool motel turned dilapidated tourist trap well off the main highway. The two teenage girls have their thing. It gets dark. And then there's the whole thing about one running off, never to be heard from again.

And then there's the late 80's, where the children in the family find something rather scary.

And then there's 2013 when a gruesome murder of one of these adult children starts a friend of the family upon her own little investigation.

The plot is actually rather awesome. I felt the suspense, enjoyed the focus, loved the way so many details got their new reveals on the page.

No spoilers, but I definitely had a good time with this. It's not a gross-out book. It doesn't try to outdo anyone on the market. It does, however, focus on the things that matter. It's a great yarn. :)



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Thursday, October 17, 2019

Changing Vision (Web Shifters, #2)Changing Vision by Julie E. Czerneda
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I think this books was a bit better than the first. Being the last of a species, cultivating long-term friendships, and following your heart and curiosity is a pretty awesome way to start a book, IMHO. :)

Of course, things get hairy and complicated, and I won't spoil any of that, but I do want to mention something.

I'm reminded -- a lot -- of Farscape's Moby Dick and Odo from Deep Space Nine. In a lot of deep ways. You know, for you SF tv fans who know these stories inside and out. If you like either, you'll like this series. The combination is comfortable, enjoyable, and very familiar.

So while I may never call this groundbreaking, I can call it a solid, character-based SF with a cool biological basis featuring many kinds of aliens.

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Wednesday, October 16, 2019

The Lesser DeadThe Lesser Dead by Christopher Buehlman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

More of a 3.5 on the stars, I first have to say that I really enjoyed both the narration and the voice of the character in the telling. He's very strong, very persuasive, and interesting all on his own.

Sure, being a vamp in 1978 New York City sounds kinda familiar and such, and so much of what happens is the usual kind of vampire tale, getting down to the nitty gritty of survival, an origin tale, and a potential big bad. I won't say the content here is all that amazing. If you've read a lot of vampire tales, this will feel like any time-period's penny dreadful.

However.

The coda at the end successfully skids my noggin in such a way that I am able to enjoy the full tale in an entirely new way. Without it, I may have rated this as a regular 3 star. There's nothing all that new... except when the entire tale becomes something altogether different. I liked that a lot.

Was I scared at all? Hmm... not really. But I did have a fairly good time. :)

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The Devil in SilverThe Devil in Silver by Victor LaValle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

For any of you fans of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, here's an updated and fully horrorized version, complete with updated (and unfortunately real) conditions in mental health facilities, updated standard practices for lazy law enforcement, and even a supremely depressing commentary on a modern Dead Souls.

I honestly think this works out just fine as a very nasty horror without adding the special patient that the inmates call the Devil. We don't even need him running around with a bull's head, although the literary part of me LOVES how he's the Minotaur in the middle of the Labyrinth.

The true horror is the conditions of these silver mines. The institution kills its inmates. Be it neglect, poverty of the body and spirit, the way no one cares once you get in. Or the way it's so freaking easy to get committed. It's not about mental health treatment, especially with bare-bones budgets, minimal training, and substandard conditions. The people on the outside with any power are lining their pockets and don't care because their lives never intersect with those on the inside. The people on the inside, even the caretakers and doctors, are nearly as powerless under the grind of the machine as the people being drugged to the gills.

For they're just being warehoused. Drugged into stupefaction. And while this book doesn't go into the overflow problem and how many sufferers are just shunted into prison, the picture here is clear.

Kesey said it clear and LaValle reiterates: we're all stuck in the machine and can't see a way out of it.

This is good horror, but it's better commentary on us. Definitely a must-read for Kesey fans who want a big upgrade for our modern world.

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Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Beholder's Eye (Web Shifters, #1)Beholder's Eye by Julie E. Czerneda
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I wasn't quite sure what to make of this book at first. Maybe it was the audio version throwing me off, but for such an ancient alien being shapeshifting through one alien form to another, I got the distinct impression of youthful ignorance.

Then again, I suppose that was intentional.

Fortunately for me, things weren't boring. We had a meet-cute and a serial murderer and lots of planets to travel between. I definitely had a better time when the serial murderer was involved, but getting into our youthful hero's biology, it's way of consuming and granting memories, of being a kind of energy being afraid to reveal herself among any kind of sentient life... was rather cool.

I've read a lot of these kinds of SF throughout the years and this one doesn't go far off the track, but the things it does well, it does well. A lot of thought was put into the nature of this alien and it shows. In fact, this is what will draw me back to the series.

Hey, folks, mass conservation is APPLIED here! Wooo!

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Monday, October 14, 2019

Who Fears Death (Who Fears Death, #1)Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a hard book to get through for one primary reason: the violence toward women. It's never easy to read. Getting sick to my stomach mars my enjoyment of what is an otherwise fantastic and rich fantasy with all the standard tropes of apprenticeship, tragedy, and sacrifice.

If I could get beyond the rather horrible institutionalized brutality, (and I kinda have to in order to finish the book,) then what is left is a rather great dystopian fantasy, totally post-apocalyptic, that shows hints of our old world with computers and dead civilization and a complete pendulum-reversal where spirits and possible gods and magic from Africa has rebounded.

It was strange, but I only later came to realize that all races were included in this book. The names are changed but the significance only comes later. I just got the impression at first that these were all different tribal groups with vague, if emotionally-charged, underpinnings. The winner always bashes the loser. Needs to constantly bash the loser. Has written a book to confirm the need to bash the loser.

But when the reveals come on us, it's rather satisfying. And disturbing. And atrocious.

Overall, however, this is a pretty fantastic book of fantasy and horror, very African, lots of big magic and violence and a tiny bit of hope. The rules to the magic are not overly-developed and still leave a lot to be discovered, but it's sufficient and strange and full of the wilderness. :)

I'm glad I read this. And that's not just because it was a World Fantasy Award winner. It's just so damn hard to read about all this kind of violence.

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Saturday, October 12, 2019

The Forgotten Beasts of EldThe Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia A. McKillip
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I may be an odd reader for this book, but it captured my imagination best in the first half of the book and less so in the second.

That being said, I thought it was a well-written, sometimes mildly poetical romance with all the old, familiar fantasy tropes. Mythical creatures are really mostly a side-issue. It's really about hearts. Big surprise, right? It is a romance. :)

All said, I enjoyed it well as a mild entertainment. Maybe my jaded reading eyes have just seen too much like this to get overawed. But prop where prop is due: the fantasy realm by the mid seventies was mostly going the strange route and hadn't been revamped to the kind that feels more like THIS.

We've seen a lot of this since then, however. Enjoyable, regardless.



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Friday, October 11, 2019

The Library at Mount CharThe Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Re-read October 11, 2019

Just in case you might think that a book like this might lose its flavor or lessen my enjoyment three years after the last read, or it being the third read with the third-read blues, check your expectations at the door.

I still freaking love this book.

It has everything I could ever want. A mastermind plan or three. Godlike powers. A mystery, a revenge story, a freaking humorous and heartbreaking debacle including lions, dogs, and a very special man in a tu-tu, and a library that is so much more than a library.

Where both rage and love can be the energy source of suns, and bitch-slapping lionesses is perfectly acceptable behavior. Or where standing up for yourself can usually mean several dozen suicides. Sequentially. For one man.

Damn, I love this book. It has not lost any of its flavor. I could keep reading this every single year and still love it. It's definitely one of my all-time favorites. :)


Re-read October 14, 2016

I read this one back in September of last year and loved it enough to drop it into my Top 100 list. I've been thinking about it off and on ever since then. And I just had to re-read it for the Halloween season, too. It just fits oh so well! :)

Did it hold up to my beefed-up expectations? Did it lose any of the fires of ultimate agony or any of its Asshole Buddhism? Hello, No. :) I still love it.

I've never loved lions as much as I have in this book. I've never been more surprised to discover a love story, either, or an actual loving Father in Adam Black, the man who by all rights should go down in all literature as the most fucked up villain of all time.

All the oddness of this book, its sheer creativity, blows me away. All its characters become real and archetypes and real all over again, wrenched from all those endlessly tired grounds to become something new and fantastic again.

You want to see the training of gods? You want to participate in a war of gods? From their point of view? Well, welcome yourself to this book, my friend. It's not for the weak of heart. The stakes are really high. Maybe higher than any but the strangest and strongest SF or Fantasy out there, and the wrap-up is frankly an even more awesome story than all the action that came before it.

Expect an evolving story of unsurpassed creativity and courage.

And even though the deaths, more deaths, and even more deaths, of world-eating plagues and starvation, of the snuffing out of the sun and the raising of a new one, it's kinda odd... that this is strangely one of the most up-beat and hopeful of Fantasies or Science Fiction or Horror that I've ever read. :)

I might just have to make this a tradition and read it every year just for the plain joy of it. :)


Old Review:

This one is going to be a difficult review because I love it so much.

I'm not going to have Steve warm my bones under his light, anymore. I'm not going to have the thunder out of the east to have my back. But in the end, it is in Carolyn I trust. I have faith in her, and I'll have to have faith in her for the rest of my life.

Confused? Read the book. You'll know what I mean afterward. :)

My word, I can't get over how much new mythology that Mr. Hawkins crammed into such a short book, or how much of it wormed its way into my brain. I haven't been this enthused about any book like this since American Gods, and I have to admit this is a BETTER EXPRESSION than even that.

Gods walking the earth is one thing, but to actually watch them perform an infinite regression of events to create their own successors in such a way that the poor sap doesn't even realize it until long after the big battle is a scale of craft that ought to be left to actual gods, and not some person named Scott Hawkins, who, out of the blue, blew my mind by actually pulling it off.

I cried after Carolyn succeeded in getting her revenge, and I cried again after I realized what she had become by doing so. I don't need a heart coal to see me through to the end, though. I just cried like a little baby when Steve finally succeeded.

This is an IMPORTANT work. It's going to stick in my mind for a damn long time, and even now the story is continuing in my hindbrain, either resurrected endlessly, or a victim of the Black Book. Or, maybe worse than any of that, it's going to stay with me because I Never want to let the story go.

I'm recommending this for the Hugos for next year. It's not quite fantasy. It's more SF, and even Carolyn laughs at the notion of magic, so there you go. This novel is officially replacing my current top pick of Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson, too.

I am absolutely amazed by what I have just read, and I'm bumping this one up to one of my top ten novels of all time. It's just that good.


Oh yeah, and if I ever get a chance to bitch-slap a lioness, you know I'm going to be blaming this novel. Just saying.

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Thursday, October 10, 2019

The Future of Another TimelineThe Future of Another Timeline by Annalee Newitz
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I would give this novel five stars for just the cool research put into this time-travel novel, but fortunately, there's a lot more going on here than just clever interpretations of history. Or rather, alternate histories mixed in among branches of a time war.

Ah, but who are the combatants? Is the whole novel about altering history so some faction or another comes out on top? Or is it an intensely personal journey with a lot of emotional punch behind it?

Why can't it be both? And it is.

Of course, I was hooked on all the girl power and the early Punk scene. This is my jam. Give me anything that says freedom and I AM ALIVE, throw me into a mosh and spout the original meaning of an=without archy=goverment without all the BS about bombs and murders and crap, and I'm there.

And, indeed, I was here for almost the entire novel. I may not be a woman but I'm totally in the whole debate. We all need to be heard. We all need to be respected. And that's kinda the point.

When it came to people like Comstock, the real one that boasted about how many women he convinced to commit suicide when all they wanted was abortions, we can't find a more detestable villain. Or at least, I can't. But worse, there are still a lot of people who think like this. And that's also a big plot push in the novel... misogyny taken to amazing extremes.

Is it any wonder that Punk is the real hero, here? When totalitarian jerkwads are a force of history? Disempowering all women across the board? Okay, maybe this is a common enough plot thread in modern SF. Or not even SF.

But the proof is in the execution. And believe me, there are quite enough executions in this novel. :)

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Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Squid Empire: The Rise and Fall of the CephalopodsSquid Empire: The Rise and Fall of the Cephalopods by Danna Staaf
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a rather interesting overview of our favorite squishy tentacular friends in the ocean. It's not cutesy, however. It's basically a best-guess rundown of what we know about squids from the earliest instances in the ocean to the limited modern variety that remain today.

It is SCIENCE, or at least a popular reporting of it. :)

I particularly liked the instances describing their brains, cognition, and long-term memory. The odd juxtaposition of (possibly) being colorblind despite the fantastic ability to blend in with so many colors was a close second. And the accounting of escape attempts and octopod wrestlers. :)

The ecological problems that might wipe these fascinating creatures out is similar to ALL the same problems the ocean is facing. Scary, sad, and enraging. The previous die-offs went on for long periods of time, long enough to acclimatize. The current cycle is rather rough.

I'm glad I read this. It's not sensationalist. Just factual. :)

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The InstituteThe Institute by Stephen King
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's been a while since I went gaga over a new King novel.

My favorites have always been his earlier stuff, but I've never actually disliked any of his new stuff, so there's always that. :)

And then this one comes around, hooking me from the very start, and managing to improve upon Firestarter, going the full YA dystopian route while also making me so invested that I wanted to scream.

This is Supreme King. I LIKE these kids. I love the story! And I especially love the twist that makes it all so much deeper, relevant, and twists the knife in our modern society.

It's not just horrible in how it tells us that thousands of kids remain missing every year. It's not just horrible how desensitization can affect us all. It's not even the whole justification s**t we've surrounded ourselves with since before our children could walk. Or even before we could walk.

It's all of it. And more. Because these children could be our children. Ignore the TK stuff. I'm talking about the true danger of desensitization. It's so easy to add one more thing. And another. And another.

The adults were the obvious villains, and examples, of course, but what really got me was the CHILDREN. It's so easy to turn them all into those in Gorky Park.

*shiver*

I am very, very happy to see King being this great again. :)


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Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Kafka on the ShoreKafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sometimes, good books sneak up on you.

And sometimes they lead you out into deep dark forests, and sometimes they surprise you into completely losing your ego, destroying that fantastic Romantic musical embellishment and tumbling you into places were it's okay to talk to rocks and cats and have them talk back to you. Or enact your very own Oedipal fantasy. Or just fall in love with libraries.

Or maybe this wonderfully low-key novel about a simple old man who can't read going on a journey with an interesting lorry driver is just written by a master. I've read a few others by Murakami but none are QUITE as great as this. And Kafka, himself? I've never met a more dedicated and careful 15-year-old in my life. It's kinda amazing just how much trouble he kinda gets into as he runs away from home.

I love every single character in this book. It's like sucking on a lemon drop that lasts for the entire length of the novel. It feels like great SF. It reads like great Fantasy. But above all, it reads like a classic of literature. :)

Saying much more will spoil all the reveals. The wonderful reveals. :) This journey.

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Monday, October 7, 2019

Dear Girls: Intimate Tales, Untold Secrets, and Advice for Living Your Best LifeDear Girls: Intimate Tales, Untold Secrets, and Advice for Living Your Best Life by Ali Wong
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If any of you have enjoyed Ali Wong's stand-up, I'm sure you'll also enjoy this book. Brutal honesty, expose-all humor, and some heart mixed in with all the entrapment stuff that women are into. :)

Of course, there's always a twist.

This book is set up as a series of letters to her young daughters, but its kinda a gimmick. One that works, fortunately, by giving us a familiar outlet for her comedy. Some of the sets translate the same way from Baby Cobra or Hard Knock Wife and there's new material here, too, but maybe not as much as some folks might expect. It's about as different from those two specials as the two specials are from each other.

Is it a good way to get to know her as a comic? Would it be more fun to read this before watching her specials?

I wouldn't know. I got this book on Netgalley and THEN watched the specials. By then I was already a fan so this is all bonus, baby.

Have fun!

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Sunday, October 6, 2019

The Sinister Mystery of the Mesmerizing Girl (The Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club, #3)The Sinister Mystery of the Mesmerizing Girl by Theodora Goss
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Despite what should have been a rather interesting tangent into Alice in Wonderland meets the Mummy with our favorite crew of strong women torn from the pages of Victorian-era penny dreadfuls and classic fantasy literature, this particular book kinda fell flat.

Not particularly bad, mind you, and I did kinda enjoy the whole idea of the Mesmerism meets the Theosophical Society meets the Golden Dawn meets Professor Moriarty... but the the way it was executed? I honestly lost interest despite my initial gung-ho attitude.

We're dealing with a progression of new characters while the old ones kinda languish in the pudding. Or rather, the cakes. Lots of cakes.

What might have made this pretty excellent? A total PoV switchover, ignoring the old crew except perhaps as plot crossovers and eventual induction, while going deep into the whole ancient Egyptian plot some other way. I don't know. It just felt like a missed opportunity, and yet, without it, it might have made meeting Wilde and Dorian a little weird.

Don't get me wrong. It's still up there with the first two, but not quite as fresh and shiny.

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European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman (The Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club, #2)European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman by Theodora Goss
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a very comfortable and comforting read, assuming:

A: You're a big fan of all the classic Victorian (or nearby) Horrors, SFs and Fantasies of the day.

B: You love it when minor female characters get catapulted into the limelight in frankly feminist adventures with cultured justice in mind.

C: You love roadtrip novels.


Me? I love roadtrip novels of all kinds. We even got an actual horseless carriage in this one! But mostly it was trains (Orient express!), back-country inns, and a full European vacation package.

The tangential tellings of these women's stories are delightful. And a lot less tragic. And they no longer resemble cardboard cut-outs of people! Yay!

For the literary part of me, I chortled at all the new or recurring character references. Now including a much wider cast of Dracula!


One thing I ought to mention: this is a very long novel, and while I really loved nursing a baby vampire back to sanity and enjoyed the final plot resolution a great deal, the real core of this novel is all about the JOURNEY. Like any kind of roadtrip novel. :) I took it easy and enjoyed all the sights, smells, and the spilling of blood.



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Friday, October 4, 2019

The Girl Who Lived Twice (Millennium, #6)The Girl Who Lived Twice by David Lagercrantz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Every time I pick up one of these books by a dead author I really admired, continued by Mr. Lagercrantz, I fell a deep fear, an ill-boding, as if I'm really going to regret it.

And yet, when I crack open the book, I'm always pleasantly surprised. Is it because I love the characters from the originals so much that I just don't care? Maybe.

Is it because I actually have fun with the new plots? Maybe.

Is it because I'm still having fun at all, that despite all this trepidation, I still look forward to getting the book and reading it anyway, that I am plainly ENJOYING MYSELF, that I keep coming back?

Maybe.

Or maybe it's just the Sherpa murder.

No. It has to be more than murdered Sherpas.

Honestly.

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Thursday, October 3, 2019

DesperationDesperation by Stephen King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

While so much of modern (and not so modern) horror is filled with religious terror, that unholy flipside to the noumen, there will always be a subset of horror devoted to scratching out particular aspects of it and developing it.

So, rather than going all tentacle monsters, we get down to the heart of the matter and terrify ourselves by saying that ALL is horror. :) Maybe it doesn't make for the most spectacular action tale, but it certainly bites you in the ass after a good long read.

Wait... did I just say this book doesn't have tentacular horrors from the vicinity of the Red King? Oh, sorry, no, this absolutely does. The beastie is beautiful. And the plot? It's everything you might want in a spaghetti western so long as you don't mind massive (and good) flashback-like sequences that give us the full story of this little town of Desperation.

Honesty time.

It was good but not quite as good as MOST of King. I always prefer his big supernatural bits in general, but not all of them are even in their quality. I grew bored with bits of this even tho, ostensibly, there wasn't really a REAL slow moment in it.

Maybe I just didn't care for the whole surface religious aspect (as opposed to crazy nutjob religious characters or a big twist on the source of the holy) even though, in the end, I am forced to think. The rest of it got a bit annoying.

But Good News, ye Faithful! I think you will find that this particular horror will suit your needs quite well!

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