Monday, February 17, 2020

Giovanni’s RoomGiovanni’s Room by James Baldwin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is one slick piece of writing. Like whiskey, this tale of universal love, desire, and the boxes we put ourselves in burns as it goes down, but like most fires of love, when it comes back up, it's very messy.

Of course, I could be talking about any kind of romance novel, but this one is special because it is written by a master of prose, it came out in the '50s, and it is a classic of gay literature. Or is it?

I don't know.

The writing transcends sexual orientation, the color of his skin (black), and dives right into the heart of what it means to be trapped. Trapped by love, by expectations, by poverty, by the community, or by your own pig-headedness.

Suffice to say, it's rather universal. I'm sure lots of people might raise their hands and say this is one of THE seminal pieces of black literature or gay literature, but I just see it as great literature. :)

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ResurgenceResurgence by C.J. Cherryh
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm usually the one to start raving at the wonderful worldbuilding, complex politics, and absolutely fantastic detailed alien psychology and how it conflicts with human psychology in these Foreigner books. Normally, I'd be excited as hell to pick up the next book and find out if the mainland is finally getting its crap together, see if the refugee humans are settling in, whether the human island is safe at last, or ANY NUMBER of possible combinations, including more space-travel, a third alien incursion, or long-separated humans arriving to make a mess of everything that everyone else has worked SO HARD to find a balance with.

And it's a testament to a writer who can STILL make such complexities INTERESTING over such a long haul.

Hell, even this book kept my interest the entire time, with all the focus on a little naughty animal and giving him away to a shelter, endless cycles of tea, meeting with a barely-remembered mischievous lord from a conflict-ridden province, and a seemingly endless number of passages of straight exposition to remind us, readers, the lay of the political landscape.

Okay. Maybe I got a little tired of the exposition. A lot of it is necessary, to be sure, but it could have been summed up or put into the story in such a way that it didn't drag on so much.

And then there was the other problem I had with the book:

Nothing happened.

In the other recent books, there was at least the storming of the Assassin's Guild or retaking the capital or running through the countryside. This one? Some guerilla action near the end? Action that didn't progress much of any plot? It's almost like this book was supposed to be twice as long with something really JUICY happening during the second half, but the publishers chopped it in half without looking at the contents.

Plenty of build-ups. No payoffs.

And yet, I still ENJOYED the writing. It's always like coming home when I pick up this series. I know and love everyone. I just wish I didn't catch them all on their day off.

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Sunday, February 16, 2020

GlimpsesGlimpses by Lewis Shiner
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was already on board with this novel when I knew it was an exploration of music nostalgia and What-Could-Have-Been with certain albums by giants, from Jim Morrison, Brian Wilson, or Jimi Hendrix.

Let's skip big events in the whole time-travel setup and move right into ART. Culture. The meaning of what particular pieces could mean for us all. How music still has the power to change the world.

If ONLY some of these ALMOST albums had been made...

Yeah. I was right there. Totally on board.

But if that had been all there was to this novel, I'm absolutely sure that it wouldn't have been half as good or as emotional or self-reflective if we hadn't gotten to know Ray... the man working on the old demo sessions, his failing marriage, his alcoholism, and his relationship with his dead father.

This IS a nostalgia novel, by all means, but it's also a rather awesome novel of obsessions, working through issues, and learning to grow. And I don't think that could have happened without his music obsession. The whole time-travel, helping the young musicians work through their own problems or nudge them in just the right way to help them MAKE those lost albums and even make some money by "restoring" them in the present-day early '90s is only a side-story.

I loved the mirroring of self-to-artist and the push to grow despite all the baggage that holds us back. It was not only charming... but edifying. :)

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Saturday, February 15, 2020

Tin MenTin Men by Christopher Golden
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I did like this book very much for several reasons: the device of using robots for remote interactions... or rather, full-out “peacekeeping” wars sponsored by the United States... brings up a very cool topic of responsibility, immediacy and especially morality.

When you’re more powerful than anyone and you don’t ever need to fear losing your life, there’s very little to hold you back from being a bully.

No matter your initial rationale, the slide is real. This is where the book begins, but thanks to a new kind of attack that upsets the balance of power, we get a pretty awesome Mil-SF adventure with lots of intrigue, fighting, and questions of might vs right.

So why do I only give this three stars?

Politics.

I would have loved it if there had been some real and detailed locations with real political factions and real multi-layered reasons for the fighting. Instead, we just get “anarchists”. WTF. It’s like the ultimate cop-out and generic bogeyman in writing, and yet, the novel starts out with honest humanization of the people in these occupied territories. We get the idea that these Tin Men are too removed and would be better off actually understanding the people they terrorize.

It starts out so strong.

And yet, the antagonists simply devolve into a pretty faceless mob that started out with genuine grievances and end as only “The Enemy”.

Let’s save the leaders, mourn our dead, and hate the anarchists! ......

What happened to the discussion of power differentials? Bullies? I guess the anarchists killed them.

*sigh*




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Sit, Stay, Love (Rescue Me #2)Sit, Stay, Love by Debbie Burns
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is pretty much a cookie-cutter romance with a haunted ex-military man and an unsure, perhaps even low self-esteem woman who fall into each other's arms while training ex-dogfight rescues.

I admit I read it mostly because it tugs on those doggie heartstrings. The rest was sugary-sweet and TOTALLY wish-fulfillment dreamstuff.

I could go into all the amazing HEA coincidences and even more amazing windfalls, but I really can't be all that surprised by ANY of it. Not really. It's a fantasy. A fantasy that includes tons of doggies, a wonderful rescue named Franky, a cat that behaves just like a cat, and a really comforting family-oriented house-fixing.

For what it is... it's comforting. Did I get bent out of shape by it? No. It was a fine Valentine's Day read.

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Friday, February 14, 2020

The StandThe Stand by Stephen King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was slightly anxious to jump into my second read of The Stand, but after having read most of his other novels, often having read them twice, I figured I was up for the challenge.

Of course, the challenge is not in the length. It's easy to assume that might be the case, considering that it has well over a thousand pages, but no. It's Stephen King. It rambles, it rolls, and it often rocks. And for many people, the assumption is that this is King's best, most epic work, so there's obviously a LOT of forgiveness going on here.

What? Do I sound like I'm leading up to a bit of CRITICISM of The STAND?

Maybe. A little.

For a book originally released the same year as Niven/Pournelle's Lucifer's Hammer, reworked more than a decade later with an extra novel's worth of text, it is still an apocalyptic SF following a long tradition that echoes On The Beach. It's darker than most that came before but pretty on cue for Niven/Pournelle's vision.

One thing that King does really well is characters. I have to admit I'll always give him the biggest prizes for his people. I really appreciate the huge distinctions between decent folk and the other kind. It's obvious he supports a wide, wide cast of all kinds of people, strong and weak of each sex, crazies on both sides of the good/evil divide, and he makes no bones about letting people die for all sorts of good or plain lousy causes. It's FUN. I mean, why else would you want to read a book where 99.4% of the population dies horribly in a super-flu only to watch them go nuts on themselves and whittle down the gene pool even more?

So what's my problem?

Some themes haven't aged well.

We've already had a long, long run of about fourteen billion novels, tv shows, movies, and even music albums giving us the whole Christ motif. Epic battles of Good Versus Evil. Just because King does the same thing but slightly better than the smug, self-righteous masses doesn't mean that my enjoyment isn't marred by the eye-rolling heavy-handedness of the whole schtick.

"But what about Flagg!", you ask?

Yep, he's pretty wicked and cool. I still just got the impression that Walter/Man in Black/Martin was just playing a silly video game in a shadow-world where nothing mattered but his desire to watch all the bugs scurry around and eat themselves. In Wizard and Glass, he's simply whimsical about the world that died. His whole part in the tragedy is played off like a homage to Baum. He's never more evil and crazy than he is in The Stand, but then, he's nothing more than a projection, a shadow. And this version of the Earth, at least in the terms of the Dark Tower, is also nothing more than a shadow.

It's sobering. The biggest themes in The Stand basically say trust in God. Don't think. Just do whatever silly thing comes to you in a vision. All things serve the Beam. Yup. If it wasn't for this and most (but not all) of the supernatural elements that conveniently or explicitly tied up this work in a genuine Deus Ex Machina, I probably would have given it a glowing five stars. It is OVERFLOWING with great characters and situations.

It didn't age as well as I had hoped.

Unfortunately, I prefer MOST of SK's other works over this one.



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Tuesday, February 11, 2020

FirewalkersFirewalkers by Adrian Tchaikovsky
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The first review on GR! :)

I was pretty thrilled to get the copy on Netgalley. So much so that I had to read it the same day. Am I nuts? Or am I just a Firewalker at heart?

Gritty, depressing, and like a Hobbsian nightmare, these people live in a hothouse city on life support, barely kept alive because it is the base and the tether to the orbiting space station. Its people barely scrape by while the Roach Motel that takes in all the dignitaries and the rich are kept in Air Conditioned luxury.

Sounds rather familiar. Doesn't it? Well, Firewalkers are the ragged teams of poverty-ridden go-getters that fix the things that not even the robots can fix. They are the ones that get things working, but they're expendable and most of these young kids never come back from the near-apocalyptic desert surrounding the town.

The context is emotionally painful and takes up a large portion of the character building, but it's when the novella takes off into the wild that I was most thrilled.

I loved the tight team. I LOVED all the discoveries. No spoilers, but damn, Tchaikovsky has a huge fascination with creepy crawlies and programmed personalities, no?

The adventure is large, the stakes larger, and the end was super satisfying. I'm super glad I got my greedy hands on it.

'Nuff said.

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Agency (The Peripheral #2)Agency by William Gibson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you were a fan of The Peripheral when it first came out, I'm certain you will also be a fan of this sequel. Reading the other is NOT required, however.

In fact, for a great deal of this novel, it's just a fun ride with an AI and a lot of time spent with drones. The AI is NOT your average superpower, but an uploaded mind/AI hybrid based on ad-hoc technologies designed to be a normal, average APP. :) Of course, when the App gets alpha-tested, it slips its leash and the rest, as they say, is history.

Or is it?

Because the world of the Peripheral, and this one, is a story of additional time-lines. Of a future that has gone busted but still tries to reach back and solve some of the major problems of ours even though they won't be able to make a change on their own. Yeah. I know. Selfless behavior. WEIRD. But it makes for a very interesting tale.

And I admit I got a little lost in places. The cool details and the bits about WHERE we went all wrong in 2016 are both humorous and sometimes a bit odd, but overall it blends quite nicely with our prejudices.

The places where the story is full of action and intrigue are my favorites. I was MOSTLY interested in the cool future and current tech. Everything else was pretty much on par with all modern William Gibson, however, and old fans will still enjoy it. :)



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Monday, February 10, 2020

Daisy Jones & The SixDaisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Big disclaimer here: I am a huge fan of music. So anything like this kind of novel is going to get me revved up without having to come close to being well-written or gorgeous or anything. Kind of like horror. You know it might be painful, but you dive right in because this is what you've always done with certain genres that you're giddy about.

And there's PLENTY to be giddy about in Daisy Jones and The Six.

For me, it felt like the HUGE drama of Fleetwood Mac, with Buckingham and Nicks front and center as Billy and Daisy. It also felt like the creative drama in Pink Floyd between Gilmour and Waters. There was even a bit of the feel of Led Zeppelin's tragic Bonham.

But you know that tragic crazy love story that isn't a love story but a CREATIVE story that gets dragged through the mud with all the longing and the drugs and the Rock-and-Roll? The sheer power of art doing things that should never have gotten this big except by sheer dumb luck and talent?

THAT is the real core of this story.

Forgive me. I've got a hitch in my throat. It's just *waves hands over face* too emotional.

:)

Yes, this is absolutely, balls-to-the-wall, Rock Nostalgia. I was freaking four years old when this fictional drama would have been going on. BUT I DON'T CARE. I love music and I'm sure a great deal of you out there ARE AS WELL.

This is also YOUR book. :)

Get your s**t together and read it.

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Sunday, February 9, 2020

OsamaOsama by Lavie Tidhar
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Osama is one of those novels that keep on surprising me long into the reading. It FEELS like a noir with some really cool easter eggs. What sets this one apart from most noirs is the fact that this is in an alternate dimension.

Coolness already. But when we're dealing with an easter egg like an enigmatic novel named Osama, based on a revolutionary vigilante hero Osama Bin Laden, things get... weird.

Never too weird or too quick, this mystery only gets deeper and stranger when we dive into the worldbuilding. Fascinating, in-depth worldbuilding. Rather obscure turning points in history, deeper explorations of culture, and here's a really good tidbit: Vigilante justice conventions. You know. Like comic-cons, with panels, guest stars, discussions, but all about real-life vigilantes. Like Osama, who is a hero here.

One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter.

But most of this novel takes place in England! It's freaky! Disturbing. Very reminiscent of Man in the High Castle. But in some ways, it's BETTER than PKD's novel. It has more to say, better pacing, and a super-addictive noir style for all you mystery fans.

Of course, when we start bleeding into another universe... all bets are off. Things get very interesting indeed.

Hello, world. :)


I'm quite impressed with this novel. Lots of food for thought.

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Mr. ThursdayMr. Thursday by Emily St. John Mandel
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I definitely get the feeling that this is Literary SF.

You know, the kind that uses average characters but pumps them up with mini-stories and obsessions and drives that are very grounded in the real world and do it much longer than the Genre-standard but then add ONE SF element to make it spin in an entirely different direction?

So. The good: I like subtlety. The three characters are caught in a weird loop and I'm pretty certain that it's all about those damn butterfly wings. Everything that is done to prevent the thing actually causes the thing, but this point is extremely subtle and others might disagree with me.

That's the thing about literary stuff.

The bad: A lot of literary stuff focuses on normal folks with normal obsessions or workarounds in lives that have gone wrong. It usually conflates them to a grand degree but we're supposed to fall into the depth of the normal, average scenes to get invested in these characters. Mandel succeeds with this for the most part but I personally get kinda annoyed at the whole Literary scene for pulling these stunts in the first place.

And then when we DO get the third part and it's all SF, we're supposed to wonder at this one little comment at the bar, regarding the time traveler, that makes me think he MIGHT be some kind of future corporate legal thief of the past, but then I think he's just in love, but then he just starts questioning everything he's doing...

And the payoff is kinda lame.

Literary, sure, and made to make you THINK about all these subtleties, but ultimately, it's still lame.

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The Empress of Salt and FortuneThe Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm always on the lookout for writers who are getting people excited, and this one graced my radar several times before I was able to grab her on Netgalley.

This one has some really cool setting descriptions (evocative and colorful), excellent use of object descriptions (telling very understated stories that branch much deeper than first implications), and some very cool points of subtlety in the telling of a much larger story.

In a nutshell, we hear the story of an exiled princess in a Chinese-like high-fantasy dynasty and we see how she got power in a male-dominated world. But again, the story is subtle and prefers to keep a mild face throughout.

I enjoyed all of this quite a bit.

There are also some pretty wonderful non-binary characters, but it's not like we should judge this novella based on whether it is non-binary or LGBTQ...

Right?

Let me be honest. This novella is not that new. I've read some rather wonderful Guy Gavriel Kay novels recently that is just as evocative, set in similar situations, with as much High Fantasy ethos, culture, and it punched me with many subtle punches. I felt for both the females and the males. LGBTQ and straights.

Kim Stanley Robinson has also pulled off something as wonderful in Years of Rice and Salt.

I can probably rattle off half a dozen shorter works from the last two years alone and more than two dozen LGBTQ novellas that are coming nearly exclusively from several notable venues, all of which tout that we're FINALLY getting LGBTQ stories... and yet it almost feels like EVERY story I read that is published today is ONLY LGBTQ.

Am I a hater?

Hell no. But let's put it this way: if any market is glutted with a particular agenda, then one cannot accurately say that they're FINALLY getting a voice. Back around 2000, it was unusual. Now? Well, out of every recent modern book I've read, approximately 9/10 are LGBTQ. When did diversity come to mean exclusivity?

And if you ask why I'm bringing this up here and now, I want to be clear that I'm not coming down on the author. I'm going to read more of her work. The finger I'm pointing at is the industry and the fans who stoke their own anger at society by removing equality from the playing field in the name of diversity and then come back to tell us all that things have been unfair for far too long.

I have a very strong sense of fairness. This isn't the author's fault. I suppose I'm drowning a bit in the fact that there is LGBTQ everywhere I look.

That being said, returning to this novella, I really DID enjoy it, but there is already a lot of SilkPunk out here. This one is one of the more subtle of the breed but it isn't all that original. It stands on the shoulders of many previous storytellers.

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Saturday, February 8, 2020

Kingdom of Ash (Throne of Glass, #7)Kingdom of Ash by Sarah J. Maas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Well, I have to admit that I had a good time with this book in particular and the full series as a whole.

I don't think I'll ever call this the BEST series, however. It does fairly well with the characters but it does better with how all these many, many characters interact. Maas has a gift for giving a wide cast its full due.

The magics and the over-worldbuilding are handled quite well and while the originality may not be anything spectacular, it is handled in a very solid, very vivid manner. If the series was a food, it would be a big chocolate cake baked to perfection. There's nothing original about the cake, but it tastes good and it feels good and sometimes you might get a little carried away with it and you might get a stomach ache.

I'm thinking about all the many, many, many sappy romance scenes.

Ah, so be it. There's a little bit of everything in here. Bloodlust, epic battles, massive magic, gods, and a near-perfect payoff. The novel not only functions to give us all that perfect landing, but it also happens to shade itself in a TON of references to JRRT's Return of the King.

That's nice if you don't mind the blatant nods left and right to lend that certain AIR of legitimacy, and for the most part, I didn't care. It was all pleasant enough and respectful enough that I just can't get worked up about it.

No.

This series isn't one for the history books, but it gives its readers a lot of familiar tropes and does them very well. I had a good time. Of course, I may not remember much of anything that happened a year from now because there really wasn't anything that STOOD OUT compared to any of the other epic fantasies I've read, but that's OKAY.

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Friday, February 7, 2020

The Dark Tower (The Dark Tower, #7)The Dark Tower by Stephen King
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Want to see the spoilers? Go here:

Full Review



So. I've been sitting here staring at this screen for about 2 hours after finishing The Dark Tower. It was pretty touch-and-go for a bit.

I couldn't see much through the tears.

But I'm back now. It's not like this is the first time I read the book. I had a book hangover then, also, but I think I'm recovering slightly better than that last time.

I'm afraid I can't say ANYTHING about this book without going into spoiler territory. It's brilliant and it's epic, of course, and it keeps blowing my mind over and over and over again right before it tears out my heart and stamps all over it again and again and again... but by the end, I'm saying to myself,

"Go then, there are other worlds than these..."

(view spoiler)

And with that, I beg your pardon. That I do.

I needed to say something REAL about this book that affected me soooo damn much. Still affects me. It's one of the most brilliant works I've ever read, together with the rest of the cycle.

Sure, there are some things that aren't all that good, but EVERYTHING SERVES THE BEAM. And the beam, the Dark Tower itself, is GOOD. For all the things I could complain about, the really awesome aspects FAR OUTWEIGH the bad... and so much so that I'm left giddy and lost in tears.

Say what you will, but these books are something truly memorable.

One more thing:

(view spoiler)


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Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Tower of Dawn (Throne of Glass, #6)Tower of Dawn by Sarah J. Maas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It's pretty funny because I keep going into all these Sarah J. Maas books expecting to dislike it for some or maybe all the reasons I an come up with. I mean, it just FEELS like it should be ridiculed if not put on a pedestal because it's so much GIRL POWER, you know? Like it should be some kind of trendy whatnot that will be quickly forgotten once all the rabid fans have tired of it.

And yet.

Sigh. I keep liking these books MORE each time I get to the next in the series. This one, in particular, is an odd duck. It's just side-characters! Chaol, anyone? I mean, sure, he was pretty big in the story until he lost it when his favorite assassin princess blew his mind, but then he's been pretty much out of all the Big Epic Story since then. Until now.

And what do we have?

A slowed-down tale, but well-written. Don't laugh, ya'll, but this is totally a soap opera novel. Can you say Romance between the misunderstood hospital patient and the nurse with a grudge? I can. And I will. I mean, sure this starts out as a fishing expedition to get more support for the assassin's righteous war, but it quickly becomes nothing more than physical therapy sessions and a bit of deep, deep healing for poor Chaol. His healer has her issues, too, and golly she's mean, but as I said, this is a SOAP OPERA.

It also happened to be rather fun. A nice change of pace. The extra reveals regarding the much larger plotlines were solid and the side story among the wyvern tribes and the spiders was a great change from all the sweaty, sexy, nurse-action going on.

But above all, this entire book was a nice change of pace from THE REST OF THE SERIES. It just goes to show that Maas can mix it up. :)

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Monday, February 3, 2020

Song of Susannah (The Dark Tower, #6)Song of Susannah by Stephen King
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is much more wonderful the second time around. Who knows, maybe it'll jump another notch by the third or the fourth. :)

This is a series that only gets better when you're swimming in the massive loads of details that combine Stephen King's life, the amazing worldbuilding of his bibliography, and add the little idea that Stephen King has put his SOUL into the DT.

What do I mean by that? Well, by his own admission, this is his magnum opus, his breathtaking, soul-stealing epic that ties together the grand majority of his separate novels and short stories and gives us a whole cosmology wrapped in an awesomely tight story that not only shits all over anyone's ideas of standard genres, but revels in breaking EVERY genre it can get its greedy little hands on.

In other words: this is a master storyteller's story. Few writers could get away with publishing this OR getting away with all the things he gets away with.

Do you really think that Roland is hoofing it to a huge dark tower in the distance?

Well, yeah, he is, but first, we've got to deal with the multiverse, super high-technology with AI's, multidimensional travel, the forced entropy of every universe, and the fate of a rose, an author, a ball in a bowling bag, and the number 19. Sound strange? Well, add a shootout, car accidents, the trials of motherhood with multiple personalities, and the snickity snack of cutlery and the call for long pork!

Does that sound strange?

This book mostly takes place in modern New York City.

Kinda interesting for a Ka-Tet used to a high-tech/fantasy wasteland that is really just a western, no?

But the most interesting part is something I will not spoil for those who have not read it. This joy is a really, really big joy. The references to King's life, his works, his favorite music, and his fears are all probably the things that gave me the most shivers. The most awe. And definitely the most laughter.

Is this series the most personal of the author's works?

Yes. And we are Well Met. Well Met indeed.

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Nils: The Tree of LifeNils: The Tree of Life by Jérôme Hamon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was initially drawn to this because of the drawings. As I read, I still think the very best part of this graphic novel IS the art. It tells much more story than any of the words.

Is that bad? Well, possibly, if the words don't amount to that much character building or emotional connection. Indeed, the greatest portion revolves around technical worldbuilding that's about as creative as any number of Japanese video game ideas or even feeling like a Nordic version of Final Fantasy or one of the early Miyazaki films (Nausicaa).

I really WANT to like all of that. I've always liked these kinds of themes. Tree of Life, yo! Spirits of the dead and of Life itself!

So what happened? Why didn't I like it more?

I believe that you must love the characters, ease into them, establish them firmly before trying to go all out with the cool tragedies or big magics. There was little enough meat, here, to enjoy. Things happened and then other things happened and then a really big twist that came out of freaking nowhere changed the entire tone of the entire comic and while the RESULTS were cool, the JUSTIFICATION was really bad.

I'm almost of the opinion that we could practically wipe out all the TEXT and have all the artwork carry the entire tale. It was very strong. Maybe not perfect, but really gorgeous art.


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Sunday, February 2, 2020

Empire of Storms (Throne of Glass, #5)Empire of Storms by Sarah J. Maas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Color me surprised. Or rather, shocked. Or frozen. Or a bit inflamed.

Either way, I am surrounded by a bunch of water and it's full of dead bodies.

There's a lot of cutesy romance that I didn't mind all that much or much at all, but I really liked the political wrangling, the subterfuges, the glorious battles, and magical maelstroms. And believe it or not, I really enjoyed all the female side characters. It's just the BOYS that are somewhat annoying. And before you call me on calling them BOYS, I'm well aware that there are few of them under 500 years old.

... they're still boys.

The plot is probably my favorite part. Honestly. This might be the best of the series. :)

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Saturday, February 1, 2020

The Dark Tower: Battle of Jericho HillThe Dark Tower: Battle of Jericho Hill by Robin Furth
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This volume comes with a TON of sadness.

Gorgeous art, as always, but it's hard to see all of one's friends die on the battlefield. This should have been the end of all the gunslingers and Roland as well.

At least we now have the final, horrific bridge between his hard youth and the beginning of his long wandering and his quest for the Dark Tower.

*shiver*

This one was well met. Well met, indeed.

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Friday, January 31, 2020

A Hat Full of Sky (Discworld, #32; Tiffany Aching, #2)A Hat Full of Sky by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Looking back on all the Tiffany Aching books in Discworld, I have nothing bad to say about any of them except that they are sometimes.... not that special.

Damned by faint praise!

In actuality, the whole thing is very charming, often clever, and it is definitely an eye-opener for our 11-year-old witch. But as for learning the witchy trade? Yep, it's fairly cool and definitely a trip for the heads-that-be, but other than having a hive-mind baddie that wants a very special wish, the whole thing is a light adventure in dealing with classmates and bad teachers.

I still enjoyed it, though. This is Pratchett! He's almost always funny! :)

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Wolves of the Calla (The Dark Tower, #5)Wolves of the Calla by Stephen King
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There are a few things that are taking up residence in my head that I can't get into here without blowing the lid off the series as a whole, but woooo-weeee, cowboy (or girl!) it's a doozy!

*giggles and rubs his hands together and is NOT at all surprised that the extended TV show that was supposed to DO THIS SERIES JUSTICE had been pulled*

So, who out there wants to see a wild mashup of westerns, fantasies, horrors, and science fiction?

*crickets*

What? Just me? No. Obviously not just me. But let's add one little detail, my friend number 19. Or should we also add my other friend 99? Or is it 1999? As in, we're gonna party like it's 1999? Or shall we draw back the curtain in the emerald tower and take a good long look at that Dodge Caravan?

Muahahahahahahaha

I LOVE a good in-joke. I especially love great popular references used by a great writer who is just as much a FAN of popular culture as he is a creator of so much of it. Gimmie that Snitch! Oh, it must have been made by this fellow named Harry Potter...

Honestly, I didn't really have ANY clue as to what this book was REALLY supposed to be about when I first picked it up years ago. A big battle on the way to the Dark Tower? Yeah, sure, it is that, but when you start making the world super thin and the todash keeps sending you to New York City and you wish you had a godlike florist to protect the universe from zombies, vampires, and thugs who terrorize bookstore owners, you've got to start wondering why the WOLVES on the edge of End-World are such a mystery. And they are.

And I cry beg your pardon, but I LOVE me a good cyborg, thank ye sai.

The first time I read this book, I thought it was pretty fine. A bit long in the tooth with padre Calahan, mayhap, but once I'm in on the joke, I like it ALL just fine, now.

Bravo, Mr. King. Bravo.

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Wednesday, January 29, 2020

The Dark Tower: Fall of GileadThe Dark Tower: Fall of Gilead by Robin Furth
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow. Just wow. The title says it all if you are familiar with The Gunslinger. With the Dark Tower, entire.

We never did get the actual tale, just some horrific tidbits, personal tragedies, and the basic idea that the last beautiful city of Mid-World had finally fallen. The last bastion of order and justice.

Well, THIS is the graphic illustration of that glorious fall.

We all see the face of Roland's father in his last moment. We do not forget the faces of the fallen.

Gorgeous art, as always, and the last stand is almost too painful to bear. I'm SO GLAD I got to see it. These comics are doing serious justice to the full story.

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Queen of Shadows (Throne of Glass, #4)Queen of Shadows by Sarah J. Maas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The series is pretty solid.

I won't be one of the hoards that swear by it, however, because, let's face it... it's pretty standard stuff. Return to the magic-less kingdom, join the revolution in progress, have interpersonal stuff, and then fight.

Sound familiar? Now just shake it up with more and more and more interpersonal stuff and pray the big fight scenes will pan out in a big way. :) And for the most part, they do. :)

No complaints here. It's a solid fantasy. Not precisely or extremely original, but if you're into the characters, the whole thing is very fun.

Me, I'm of the opinion it's slightly above average. Fun but not mind-blowing. Still enjoyable enough to keep going, though!

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Tuesday, January 28, 2020

The Dark Tower: TreacheryThe Dark Tower: Treachery by Robin Furth
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I can't say enough good things about these comics. The art is freaking wonderful. The stories in the first two volumes are great adaptations to King's Wizard and Glass, but this one takes it all much further, elucidating on the bare sketches of events leading up to the Fall of Gilead, the seat of Midworld and Roland's now-lost home.

This treatment of the original hints in the source is emotional, dark, appropriate, and fills me with great dread. Treachery, indeed. Roland's no less than his mother's. And let's not forget Farson and all his men, shall we? This is what we get for trusting anything that is evil.

We're strong enough to make it, right?

RIGHT. Say hello to my little friend, the Crimson King. :)

Story: excellent. Artwork: brilliant. :)

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The Dark Tower: The Long Road HomeThe Dark Tower: The Long Road Home by Robin Furth
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There is so much to love in these Dark Tower comics, and while I've only read two at this point, the artwork is absolutely brilliant. Shocking, evocative, colorful, crazy, and simply gorgeous.

The stories have so far retold and filled in aspects of Dark Tower #4, Wizard and Glass, which is Roland's young days and his initial tragedies, but I should point out that there is MORE story and less. Aspects are filled in that are freaking amazing while a lot of the palaver and mystery from the original book are streamlined nicely in the comic. :)

That's all great. No problems here. I would, however, recommend reading these AFTER you've read the original books. The spoilers are mild for the most part, EXCEPT in one specific way.

After the comic, proper, there are short stories. These shorts carry us back to the days of Eld and give us a glorious look into Arthur, his Ka-Tet, the birth of the Crimson King, and even some rather fantastic insights into the North Central Positronics Corporation. The bestiaries are quite nice, too. :) In other words, we are glutted with great information. It really DEEPENS your understanding of King's worlds. :)

I am tempted to say that these extras are somehow more important and impressive than the glorious artwork.

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The Wind Through the Keyhole (The Dark Tower, #4.5)The Wind Through the Keyhole by Stephen King
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Re-Read 1/28/20:

Reading this in the official order of the Dark Tower series is a smart move. While little in Wizard and Glass or Wind Through the Keyhole can be appropriately called Plot Forward, the tales and tales and tales within tales across campfires are freaking appropriate. Murder and evil dudes are not all that a western is. :)

It helps that the tales in-between are pretty awesome, and these in Wind fit the bill perfectly. I think I liked Tim's tale more than the Skinwalker tale that framed it, and Roland's Ka-Tet was just another frame, but a pleasant one. :)


Original Review:

I've been a long-time fan of the Dark Tower series and I admit I was hugely curious to see a "middle" story pop out, long after the last book had been written. I was pleasantly surprised to find fully fleshed and embedded stories, three deep. It could have turned very complicated and burdensome, but it just worked. I really wanted to see a novel, even a 4.5 novelette, deepen and expound upon Roland's strange "more real than real" land, but while I was disappointed in that regards, what I did find were characters I really enjoyed and a "soft" exploration of the world and its honor, (or lack of).

It was a fairy tale (for a kid who's Pa had been gored by a shapeshifter) within a fairy tale (to pass the time while weathering a hellish storm) within a fairy tale (for us). It was by no means a series of epic tales, although it was still couched within the longer progression of the Dark Tower, so you could make the argument.
Could someone enjoy this book without reading the rest of the series? I think they can do so, very much. There was little enough spoilers for the rest of the tale, nor elements that needed to be built up and explored very thoroughly indeed or it loses the climatic flavor.
The novel was simply fun and enjoyable. :)

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Monday, January 27, 2020

Wizard and Glass (The Dark Tower, #4)Wizard and Glass by Stephen King
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Upon re-reading this novel, I feel like I have become Susan Delgado, trapped behind the glass. Mayhap I'm banging my hands against the walls of the thinny, mayhap I'm rustlin with some of the timbers just whispering to a spark.

I love and hate this book.

The first time I read it when it came out, I was like... GREAT! We get to see what happens to Blaine and the Ka-Tet! How far do they get to the Tower before all turns to Ka-Ka? After 500 pages, I knew. After 700, I despaired. After 1,850 pages, I just wanted to click my heels and go the f*** home. Is this an end? Is this a GOOD end? I leave that determination up to all you good folk on the outer edges of Mid-World.

Me, however, I DID NOT like what I did for the Dark Tower. A little bit, yes. Some parts were fantastic and necessary and a real wooo-wooo moment for fans of SK in general. But let's just say you probably should start out a big honker of a tale like this at the BEGINNING of a big honker of a bigger tale. Instead, we have 10% story progression and 90% flashback.

Don't get me wrong, however! The 14-year-old Roland and his youthful Ka-Tet is a great story all on its own, ushering forth a doomed romance, gunslinging, magic, a LoTR Palantir, and enough WWII machinery to burn away Mid-World. This is the time before the World Has Moved On and the conflagration that set this choo-choo a-humping.

For itself, the tale might have been better at the very beginning, or better yet, spread throughout the first book of the DT, giving us a back-and-forth of young-man Roland and Terminator Roland as he hunts down the Man in Black. Yes, the first book would be huge, but at least things would be in their proper places.

As for Roland's later Ka-Tet? Sure, we could have another campfire story, but it would be a LOT shorter and we wouldn't have to rely on the Thinny to spread a week's tale into a single night. And also that... thing... that Baum thing... wouldn't feel like such a fizzled bomb.

Good, fun writing, all told, never boring, but the structure of this... well... I think Stephen King forgot the face of his father.

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Saturday, January 25, 2020

Heir of Fire (Throne of Glass, #3)Heir of Fire by Sarah J. Maas
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Better. This book turns the series from a near-UF clone (with easy-pacing and even easier (read: cardboard) characters) into something with REAL MEAT.

Celaena, now having left the Kingdom of Evil to regain her lost past and the Words of Power to save everyone, period, finally grows into her own. Not just an investigator and reluctant killer and former slave... but we now we get the OTHER trope mentioned at the end of the second book. No, no. Don't sigh. Yes, she's a princess. Yes, most of her family is dead. Yes, the remaining family is pretty nasty.

Fortunately, the way it is revealed and the full story surrounding it happens to be INTERESTING. Involved. Detailed. This is where the series falls into line with all the other Epic Fantasies I've known and loved. I want to be immersed in the worldbuilding, shocked by the reveals, impressed by the convoluted plots, and wow'd by the impressive new learned skills.

And you know what? I was. To all the above. And now I actually feel satisfied with my investment in Celaena. Not so much with the lite Celaena from the previous books, but the deeper, more angry and pro-active Celaena in book 3. I LIKE her. A lot.

And all the magic stuff works, too. Fire? Yep. Wild magic? Yep. Even the princeling parts are rather interesting. I'm on the fence about Manon. Might be a real interesting mirror. Maybe antagonist. Maybe ally. So why do I just think this is How To Train Your Dragon?

This is definitely the best out of the series. So far. Good payoff.

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Friday, January 24, 2020

Crown of Midnight (Throne of Glass, #2)Crown of Midnight by Sarah J. Maas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Better. Better than the first book. By a lot.

Yes, the first one is perfectly decent and FUN when it comes to the whole mystery subplot, physical competitions, and a BIT of the romance angle, but the second pushes most of that aside. It focuses, instead, on INTRIGUE. Court intrigue. Celaena is kinda weak in that, as an assassin, she does remarkably LITTLE killing, but I can appreciate how she sticks it to her prig of a King and does everything she can to subvert anything he cares about.

That's FINE. Entertaining, even.

And on top of that, the whole magical subplot gets better. More interesting. And the mild reveals about Celaena's history continues to slowly trickle out pleasurably. Did I mention that it happens slowly? Yes, well, that's okay. The pacing is just about perfect across the board. More, pacing is super important for any UF book.

Huh? Was this supposed to be a UF book? Nope! But it has ALL the hallmarks of one aside from being fantasy in a fantasy realm. YA feel and trademarks, first-person snark and Mary Sue, and a continuing three-way romance undergoing some strain. EVERYTHING here is familiar. Old School. Not even the magic is all that impressive.

But the writing flows. The writing flows well. It's fun and thanks to the new reveals and the history that came before in the first book, it's starting to get some real meat. Hell! Celaena finally broke down with ugly tears! We all love it when Mary Sue shatters into a million pieces. :)

Oh. And that cliffhanger. M***er****er!

Yeah. Well. I guess I could have seen that coming. Dock me a few points here.


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Thursday, January 23, 2020

Throne of Glass (Throne of Glass, #1)Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I admit I came into this series feeling a bit grudgy, a bit squinty, and a bit tapped out on the whole YA Mary Sue kick-butt fantasy angle. Of course, I probably should have started HERE with that and saved myself a lot of hassle.

So, yeah. I read it. Was constantly annoyed with the old, super-tired tropes trotted out for the runway, or rather, the clown prince's ball, and here I am, nit-picking the whole "how the hell is an 18-year-old gorgeous woman who has been in back-breaking prison for a year considered to be the MOST SUCCESSFUL ASSASSIN"? You would think that the most successful assassin would have a few years on her and WOULD NOT HAVE GOTTEN CAUGHT in the first place. But I'm setting that whole thing aside for now. Perhaps permanently. I will hand-wave it away.

Why?

Because the text is fun. The whole thing about being the clown prince's champion in this big incomprehensible but visually spectacular contest of assassins and thieves IS FUN. Getting cool digs and even a CUTE PUPPY from the clown prince and having the obligatory romantic triad between our uber-assassin and the clown prince and the captain of the guard might SOUND trite, but Maas writes it so it IS fun.

Total popcorn UF-style. And it doesn't hurt that all these gruesome murders are taking out the contestants. Or that friendship is sooo key, or that a big magical evil is on the rise. I even mentioned to a friend that it had that FEEL of early Harry Potter. You just want to see what horrible, albeit mild, thing is going to happen next... and will the clown prince kiss her?

lol

I ADMIT I had a FUN TIME. I don't LIKE to admit it. I can't see WHY I should have had a fun time. But I did.

*hangs his head in shame*
*picks up the next book in the series*
*salivates a little*

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Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Shorefall (Founders, #2)Shorefall by Robert Jackson Bennett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is AWESOME!

No spoilers, no matter how much I want to go on and on about all the great things in this sequel, but I can say a few things.

If you loved how so many wonderful magical goodnesses came out of the magic system in Foundryside, how they could all argue reality out of commission, find new loopholes, reprogram it again, and do it all while being one of the biggest magical heists in modern fantasy, you will totally FREAK OUT when you see Shorefall.

Foundryside was all kinds of awesome and I just re-read it with great joy before picking up this ARC, but I have to admit that Shorefall totally runs with all the implications built up there and gives us DREAD and eventually FIREWORKS that put all that happened in Foundryside to shame.

The big boys (and girls) are back in town. No one is safe.

This book, for all its steampunk feels, is a programmer's dream. The rules make everything shine. But you know what is brighter than this?

The characters.

What a fantastic book! I'm giving it all the praise! :)

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Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Foundryside (Founders, #1)Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Re-Read 1/21/20:

I really can't outdo my previous review. I'm still mightily impressed and thrilled to death over the magic system. The purpose of rules is to find loopholes. :)

NOW, on to the second book in the series! :) WOOOOOO!


Original Review:

Sometimes I come across a piece of fiction that tickles every single one of my funnybones. As in thoroughly delighting me. Charming me. Making me fall in love.

This is one of those.

I mean, don't get me wrong, I've LOVED Bennett's City of Stairs books and gushed on and on about those, but this one is a near picture-perfect mix of extremely detailed rules-based magic based on Scriving, or rune-like ancient language, to *persuade* reality to behave differently.

Basically, it's a hacking manual for reality. Nothing could be better designed to make me go squee.

Then give me a near-non-stop heist novel with a great thief, an AI-like skeleton key, a thief-catcher full of wonderful mysteries, himself, and a dirty town called Foundryside with corrupt Houses of writers, an old war of deadly physics-based-reality-hacking destruction ramping up into a new episode, and wonderful reveal after reveal after reveal for a meaty and delicious plot, and we've got ourselves an honest-to-Hierophant winner.

Truly. I never once got bored. Never once wanted to put the novel down. I was engaged from the first word to the very last and never wanted it to end.

This was a great story on its own, but the end really makes it shine. I could read this as a series FOREVER. And EVER. :) :) In fact, knowing Bennett's power of storytelling, I am pretty certain this is going to be one of my top-favorites for fantasy. Period.

Let me back up a little. Think of Sanderson's Mistborn for its magic system. Think about the best fantasy heist novels that jump from extremely deep worldbuilding and atmosphere and character-building into an ensemble cast that must band together against an utterly unstoppable foe behind impenetrable walls. Now get REALLY clever with the magic system. And go NUTS with history, implications, magic items that are more than what they seem, and a dark past that is waking up to take over the world.

Sound good?

Me ---> SQUEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE

Nuff said. :)

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Monday, January 20, 2020

We Sold Our SoulsWe Sold Our Souls by Grady Hendrix
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have a SERIOUS love going on for all these music novels. The more wild, the more music-mythological, the more gut-wrenchingly SWEET and SOUR taste of broken dreams and soaring to unattainable heights, the better. :)

And you know what? I don't care WHAT kind of genre we mix it with or whether it IS mixed. Music is a LIFE. And for me, I don't even care what style it is. I've been in my Metal phase. I've owned the breakaway. I've told the world to ****-off.

So what happens when Grady writes the ultimate Metal tribute, rocks it as an epic, over-the-top Robert Johnson tribute that goes the way of a Metalocalypse. You know that old Adult Swim show? The one that laughs at itself right before it goes swimming in oceans of blood and rips its own throat out in gravel-speech? Yeah. Grady does it. :)

YEEEEAAAAAHHHHHHH!!!!

This book has some of the best concept-album ideas I've read and I fell right into it as if I was listening to Mindcrime or The Wall. No sweat. This is both a tribute and a soul-stomping realistic love-note to the downtrodden and the dreams of the fighters.

I sounds like a fanboy, don't I? :) Well this just tickled me to Deathmetal.

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Sunday, January 19, 2020

The Waste Lands (The Dark Tower, #3)The Waste Lands by Stephen King
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This volume of the Dark Tower has aged like fine wine, fascinating me more than all the previous volumes with the inclusion of more and more ancient tech. The breaking down of knowledge, society, and sanity is the main thrill, seeing the high-tech descendants of a massive, glorious metropolis that has Moved On act like ignorant yokels.

Lud. *sigh*

But my personal huge, roaring favorite has got to be Shardik. What a guardian! Glorious! And with a thinking cap on, too! :)

But when it comes to characters, King has got almost everyone beat. The two Deans, Roland himself, and the inclusion of the much-missed Jake and their new little friend makes this Ka-Tet one that will forever live in my memory. As, indeed, it already has. This is my third read and I still love it.

But my last shout-out has got to be for Blaine. Blaine's a pain. Indeed he is. Choo-Choo!!!

The Dark Tower series is definitely one of the best fantasies ever written. None others have the sheer imagination or as much SCOPE. And to think that New York City can be a microcosm of the multiverse, showing us how As Above, So Below, all things can forever mirror each other? Brilliant. :)

I would now like a rose, please. :)



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Saturday, January 18, 2020

ReplayReplay by Ken Grimwood
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As I read this, I had to go through a period of adjustment that included shock, pleasure, annoyance, and eventually acceptance.

It’s by no means a bad book. Indeed, it’s a great book that kept me riveted throughout the reading, and despite... or rather, BECAUSE of the associations I kept making as I read it, I must give this novel many more props than I might have done otherwise.

What the hell am I talking about?

This book won the World Fantasy Award back in the mid eighties, but since then, we’ve had Groundhog Day, Stephen King’s 11/22/63, and The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North.

Those stories are basically retellings of Replay. So many of the events, solutions, even the focus on Kennedy, gambling, and building brand new careers, repeating a whole lifetime over and over, learning and attempting bold crazy schemes, are the same.

Ken Greenwood did it first.

See what my problem is? I LOVED Groundhog Day, 11/22/63, and The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August!!! Hell, I tend to daydream about the basic concept, myself. I LOVE these kinds of stories. Edge of Tomorrow, anyone?

Ken’s book was just as good as the rest. Still fantastic. Well-written. The whole ball of wax. And it’s very emotional. I love it. :)


I’m forced to come to the conclusion that this is GENRE. Details can differ all you like, but the basic idea is definitely an offshoot of the usual time-travel thing, unique to itself.

Definitely a recommendation for all of you fanboys and fangirls out there.

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Friday, January 17, 2020

A Gentleman in MoscowA Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Such a charming book!

I was completely caught up in everything about it. I fell right into the Count's reasons for his house arrest (oh, comrade, you don't know how lucky you are that is all you got,) to how this ex-aristocrat rolls with the punches so easily, so charmingly, like a true gentleman. It was so important that he WAS a true gentleman, too. It made all the difference in the world. He was a nice guy, very friendly, and he genuinely liked people. And he was observant. His little world, this hotel, had everything he needed to live, including new people to talk to all the time. He was even approached to be a spy, but you know what they say about true gentlemen. :)

Maybe a bit more gorgeous, at least to me, was the grand historical sweep of Russia, including the sly commentary, from after the revolution, through Stalin's period, and into Khrushchev's time.

This novel is a serious delight. It's not often we get to have an interesting and sometimes exciting adventure about a genuinely admirable guy without it being boring, and this was never boring. :) The world was perfectly good enough to play a sufficiently capricious and nasty antagonist.



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Thursday, January 16, 2020

YsabelYsabel by Guy Gavriel Kay
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

So odd! All throughout the reading of this, I was reminded of the later-published Discovery of Witches by Harkness. Not the story or the characters or the incidentals, mind you, but the FEEL of it. And this one won the World Fantasy Award.

Could it have been a massive influence? Possibly.

Back to this book! It's a real departure from most of the Kay I've read, not steeping itself in historical memorabilia so much as building a bridge between the Celtic history of France and our modern day.

I'll be honest... I loved the feel of it. A lot. It has a genuine YA feel and it is thoroughly wholesome on top of that. Moreso, it had a nice horror feel to some of it as we got moved from the thoroughly grounded modern day things and get plopped into whole-cloth near-immortals and Celtic gods and legends that just rolled over my tongue so deliciously. The YA adventure wasn't half-bad, either! :)

This might be one of my favorite Kay novels. So far. And that isn't because of the award. It's just because it did what Kay's original trilogy that bridged worlds couldn't do for me. It made me care. :)

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Wednesday, January 15, 2020

The Drawing of the Three (The Dark Tower, #2)The Drawing of the Three by Stephen King
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I've read this book several times and I have to admit that I was at first rather blown away (read in '88) and somewhat disgruntled at the same time.

I mean, what is this? Is it a fantasy with rather odd actual doors on a beach, or is it a time-travel SF with alternate realities (and more), or is it a commentary on different New York Cities across a span of 30 years to the eighties?

Sheesh. It sounds like a real mess, right?

But in reality, with the hindsight that comes with having read the whole series and seeing how the entire shape of things comes together into one of the most original, genre-defying epics of our age, I have to give it all the props. I can't *not* like it.

Eddie Dean and O-Detta and Roland are one HELL of a Ka-Tet. A real mess, here, but what do you expect with a heroin junkie and a split-personality black woman in a wheelchair becoming GUNSLINGERS? Not just gunslingers, but the force of good on a quest to fix the whole freaking UNIVERSE.

The chutzpah! Not just Roland's chutzpah, but Stephen King's chutzpah!

Fortunately for us, this gathering up and bonding of a new Ka-Tet is still just another beginning, following beautifully from the Gunslinger.

*shivers in delight, anticipation*

And you've GOTTA see the full-color illustrations in these books!

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The Eyes of the DragonThe Eyes of the Dragon by Stephen King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I first read this about a year after it was published and hadn't thought too much about it since then, but for the young kid I was, it happened to be the first fantasy novel I ever read and the second novel... period.

It shaped my idea of what fantasy was, even if I've reformulated that about a million times since then, but let me be frank: I wasn't all that impressed. SF in all its shapes and forms caught my imagination more. In fact, it took something like a decade and a half before I went off the infrequent perusal of fantasies and did huge binge-reads of the genre.

The old castle, kings, queens, and princes just didn't do that much for me.

On the other hand, Stephen King will not be denied. I enjoyed the characters even tho they seemed to be nearly archetypal templates with hardly any differentiation from the ideals, was amused by the whole handkerchief plot, and was immensely interested in Flagg, that bigger-than-life evil bastard that spans many of King's novels.

This re-read didn't change my initial opinion all that much, but the core is still good if not purely fantastic. And this time, I got to wonder at all the kitchen-sink story elements that had been thrown into this tale, straight out of King's earlier novels. Such as the importance of storms, a-la IT, the incorporation of less than bright characters as extremely important heroes in their own rights, and elements of regret, redemption, and forgiveness for even the greatly-flawed and mostly despicable characters.

I haven't seen but a handful of characters in ALL of King's works that can be described as genuinely decent and/or good, but Peter happens to be one. That's pretty wild. :)

No, this isn't a King masterpiece, but it definitely has a lot of charm.

Can you believe it? It's King's only pure fantasy!

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Tuesday, January 14, 2020

The Sol MajesticThe Sol Majestic by Ferrett Steinmetz
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I've been a fan of Steinmetz ever since Flex, so it doesn't matter what he writes because I'll be there, enjoying the strong creativity and stronger characters.

I honestly didn't even bother to read the blurb. Silly me. But what really woke me up was the fact that I was now reading a FOODIE novel. Yes, indeed, this is a THING. Not only that, it's becoming more and more common in fantasy and SF.

AND I LOVE IT.

So now that Steinmetz is jumping into the mashup stew, mixing a weird social SF with a more traditional Space Opera and making it focus hard on food, food preparation, the restaurant biz (Sol Majestic, baby!), and the wonderful world of the MAGIC OF FOOD, I knew that I was in for a real treat.

This particular novel brings in philosophies as a political and religious foundation and it messes with people in very interesting ways, but for the most part, as we follow Kenna, a nearly starving outsider to the whole rat-race, we're focused on survival and the blossoming LGBT love and even stronger love associated with FOOD. :) In particular, he makes dear friends with the restaurant and is catapulted into the Philosophy royalty that seems rather preoccupied with a galactic internet popularity contest... of which he has won the jackpot. :)

Add some funny but dire mishaps, business decisions threatening to destroy the restaurant and a FREAKING TON OF BROTH, not to mention a lot of growing up to do, and I found myself thoroughly enjoying the tale.

I admit, I now have a problem. I'm addicted to foodie fiction. This is probably worse than watching Gordon Ramsey because there simply isn't enough of this particular sub-genre to fill my stomach properly. I CRAVE so much more!

BTW, if you don't think that Foodie Genre fiction is a thing, I invite you to read Andrew Hiller's A Halo of Mushrooms and full sequence of books by Mathew Wallace starting with Envy of Angels. Fantasy, SF, wild adventures and all of it about FOOD. :)



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Monday, January 13, 2020

The Autobiography of Malcolm XThe Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I remember watching the 1992 movie, Malcolm X, and even enjoyed it so freaking much that I promised myself I would read the Autobiography as soon as I could. He was very much someone I could admire. Respect. Empathize with. Strongly disagree with. And finally, wholeheartedly agree with him.

Of course, to my everlasting shame, it's now 2020. I'm JUST NOW getting around to reading it.

Alex Haley helped Malcolm X turn his life into a brilliant narration, spent years talking, being friends, and after Malcolm X's assassination in 1965, also recounts the tragedy of this wonderful man's death.

But above all, Malcolm X was a real man. Courageous, smart, opinionated. He was honest about his entire life: his shortcomings, his youth as a hellion, a con, a drug dealer, and a thief. About the way he treated women and his kin, his brothers. How he went to prison, fervently hating all white men.

But then he changed. His life was all about change, honesty, and discovery. He discovered books, taught himself to read, and read voraciously. He found help and heart in the teachings of an American Muslim leader that showed him what he believed took on the heart of the matter. That the endemic racism of all whites, the prejudice, the deviltry of their actions had taken everything from the black man. Their history, their bodies, the heart. Malcolm X devoted himself to this man and through his eloquence and charm brought 40,000 new believers to this Black Muslim community, building it up with anger and definite firebrand techniques.

But it wasn't until he went on the Hajj to Mecca that he understood something new, strange, and beautiful. That out of the 22 million angry black people in America, there were almost 200 million black people living in relative peace and harmony around the world. Strangers and leaders and worldwide press were amazed and thrilled to see an American Muslim take on the Hajj and to take on the leadership of bringing the humanitarian plight of the Black people back in America to the world.

Was he in the right place at the right time? Absolutely. And it was precisely that sense of welcoming and harmony and community that Malcolm X got thrown into that changed his worldview forever. People were fundamentally decent. Blacks could work together, live and love each other in harmony. Whites, too. And it was this eye-opener that sent him back to America with a different message.

He still fought with Martin Luther King Jr. He still called everyone out and spoke the truth, that there IS something really wrong, but now tempered it with wisdom, hope, and a new kind of truth.

He was lionized in the wide world. He was vilified in America. The media blasted him for being THE angry, militant black man. Blamed him for all of society's ills. He eloquently told them they were full of shit. He stood up. He didn't back down.

His American Muslim church was torn with strife and jealousy and controversy, unfortunately, and Malcolm X, far from pointing fingers or complaining that all his funds had been stolen, continued speaking in universities, parliaments and media engagements while suffering multiple death threats from whom he thought were angry black Muslims under the instruction of his old teacher. His house was firebombed. When he was finally shot down, his wife and four children were penniless and scared.

Anyone who knew him in real life, and not through the general media, realized the kind of man he was. Fundamentally decent, smart, and unfailingly honest. Eloquent, forceful, and a real warrior of the spirit. He made lots of mistakes, but he always forged forth and admitted every one of his failings, striving always to make things right. Decent. Better.

And let's face it, the times before the sixties DID need someone to stand up against the lynchings, the institutional cons, the ignorance, the prejudice, and the brutality. To say that a black man is a militant hate monger when he's standing up to protect himself from a tidal-wave of injustice is pure bullshit.


I read this like a story because Alex Haley is a great storyteller, falling in and out of sympathy for the main character, rolling around in his joys, anxieties, and failings, getting lifted up in his great successes, and higher when he learns mercy, temperance, and a real justice beyond the simple, if all-consuming, hate of his youth.

I wonder what he would have become if he hadn't been cut down at this, the most excellent prime of his life. Most of all of our modern ideas on racism and how to solve it comes from Malcolm X. We can't ignore his beginnings. It makes the later discoveries all the more potent.

I love you, man. Simple. Pure. I love you.

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Sunday, January 12, 2020

More from Less: The Surprising Story of How We Learned to Prosper Using Fewer Resources—and What Happens NextMore from Less: The Surprising Story of How We Learned to Prosper Using Fewer Resources—and What Happens Next by Andrew McAfee
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Upon reading this, I must balance two reactions very carefully.

I agree with the basic premise that ON THE WHOLE, dire poverty across the world has reduced and a lot of this has to do with the free exchange of goods MINUS the looters who exploit the system OR external negatives such as unrestrained pollution. We DO have a lot of reasons to remain optimistic. Technology, awareness, the willingness of governments to combat looting, and general innovation HAS forestalled some of the very worst predictions of history. The fact that we're still around and still driving cars and have cleaner air and waterways is proof of this.

I LIKE reading books that lay out all the points where we have not fulfilled all our most dire predictions. That we haven't achieved our worst dystopias.

However, despite this book devoting the last third of its pages to notes and bibliography, it does appear to suffer from a lot of rather telling biases and cherrypicking.

Yes, when the forces of good are doing good, we accomplish a lot. But when the forces of evil are bent on maintaining the harmful status quo and governments are consistently rolling back the kinds of protections that kept us safe from monopolies, polluters, economic slavery, and disaster economics, there's no way we can say that we can sit back and relax.

Indeed, the author does not say we shouldn't worry. But he DOES give us a lot of good, real data mixed in with some perhaps wildly misinterpreted data, all of which paints a very positive picture.

For one, we are on a trend to use fewer resources as a whole. We're not perfect, but we are innovating and consistently finding alternatives. The same is true for energy consumption. We are finding ways to do the same thing as before but more efficiently. Free market DOES help this trend nicely, assuming that other forces aren't interfering with it... like coalitions and monopolies that use strong-arm techniques to keep innovation down. But that's the purpose of regulation and politics, the same area that seems to be always under siege.

Even with my fairly large quibbles, I AM quite pleased to be reading books that illustrate the positive aspects of our world. It isn't all complete s**t.


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