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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?


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?


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.


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?


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?


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. :)


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.


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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Saturday, January 11, 2020

Dead Astronauts (Borne, #2)Dead Astronauts by Jeff VanderMeer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Good news, VanderMeer fans!

Just look at that cover and imagine, if you will, a book just like a massive acid trip filled with disjointed alternate realities, or reality versions, where men and hybrids, monsters, demons (or daemons), foxes, Shrodinger's ducks, and spawning pools populate your colorful biotech apocalypse.

And then know that the real trip lies within these pages, not on the cover.

I say good news for other reasons, however. It's not merely a nightmare of continuity issues, melding and morphing bodies, strained, molded, and transformed identities made from beasties, cold scientists, and long-lived leviathans who have forgotten their own stories.

The core of the text DOES have a major theme, if not anything more than a remotely identifiable plot. Of course, you might find one if you are a massive wall-charter, handy with yarn, have access to revisionary transparent overlays, and you maintain a hearty respect for novels that triples as a prequel to Borne, a contemporary, and a sequel.

I happen to love the theme. By the end of the novel, I'm rocking hard to it. It's tragic, obvious, and it truly condemns the three reality-hopping astronauts from the beginning of the tale. (The same dead three we see from Borne.)

Or, of course, any prospective reader would do just as well to sit back and relax into the brilliant, wild, and totally freaky imagery. Just trip balls. Open your mind, man.

I would love to see someone do a scholarly analysis of this s**t.

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The Facts of LifeThe Facts of Life by Graham Joyce
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Theoretically, this is considered magical realism and inched into the World Fantasy Awards, but to be honest, it's not like that at all. I consider this regular, traditional fiction.

Good fiction, mind you, but in almost no ways can I consider this novel about post-WWII life in Coventry among a group of sisters passing along a boy to share... MAGICAL. I mean, yes, the writing is quite good and fun. I really enjoyed how we passed this poor kid along from sister to sister. And they're all nutjobs, not least his real mom.

I thought this was REFRESHING. Eclectic. And, as the title seems to hint at, a pretty interesting primer for LIFE, itself. It touches on just about everything we need to get by in it. :)

I like this. I really do. But Fantasy? No. Nope, nope, nope. Gotta love Lady Godiva, tho!

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WakenhyrstWakenhyrst by Michelle Paver
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have a lot of good things to say about this book. It has a great atmosphere, going the full gothic feel, stifling Edwardian English culture right before WWI, and it always sticks to its course, landing the ending with a near-perfect pitch. It is written very well.

It fulfills every promise of the standard gothic mystery formula.

And I also have something bad to say about this novel: It fulfills every promise of the standard gothic mystery formula.

The big surprise is that there is no big surprise.

Don't get me wrong. It's very good for what it is, but I've been spoiled by really great surprises in mysteries throughout the years and when I don't get wowed, I get a little curmudgeonly. While I have nothing bad to say about this, I also have nothing extremely awesome, either.

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Friday, January 10, 2020

Doctor RatDoctor Rat by William Kotzwinkle
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book defies easy description by the plain simple fact that it transcends itself, over and over.

I mean, it starts out with Doctor Rat, a grant-subsidized scientist performing experiments on other animals in a way that seems like a diatribe against animal experimentation, but along with his poetry and his singing, he goes well beyond that kind of tale by out-doing the sheer evil of the Nazi scientists in WWII, becoming an anti-revolutionary bastion, and out Darth Vadering Darth Vader.

Did I laugh my head off at the point where he had his commentaries about human musicians pulling a David Attenborough on the whales while they waxed rhapsodic about how smart they were? Yes!

But when we get to a full revolution (remember, this book came out in 1977) of the animals versus the humans, with Doctor in his finest, most horrific mode, this book becomes a full world-war as tragic, scary, and bats**t insane as any of the best war documentaries. It's bloody, full of truly terrible biological warfare, and when whole battalions of elephants get... hey! Well... no spoilers... it's... brilliant. Disgusting. And amazing.

This satire goes WELL beyond its humble beginnings and skewers everything it touches.

Oh, and it makes a good case to stop castrating rats. Just imagine... if this one rat had not been castrated, then so much tragedy could have been avoided...

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Thursday, January 9, 2020

The Winter PeopleThe Winter People by Jennifer McMahon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is my second book by McMahon, and like the other, we live in a modern world and a historical one, both intertwined in very interesting ways. The mystery slowly unfolds and makes us ask more and more questions, leads us down well-worn paths that may or may not be red-herrings for the horror genre in general, and satisfies in all the ways that matter.

Good characters in bad situations, surviving as best they can while suffering tragedy after tragedy.

The plot, nearing all the way to the end, was quite good and fine for me.

The end, however... was not.

Do I really want to see a tale like this end like this? No. Not at all. It's too... *something something* that saying out loud would spoil too much and ruin others' reading experience.

At least I enjoyed the grand majority of the tale. :) An ending like this is still not enough for me to knock it more than a single star.

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Wednesday, January 8, 2020

The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger BornThe Dark Tower: The Gunslinger Born by Robin Furth
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

You know, even if I wasn't already a die-hard fan of King in general and a super-fan of the DT in specific, I have to say that the quality of this artwork is EASILY enough to deserve a 5-star rating while totally skimming the text.

That being said, I DID NOT skim the text. :) And what did I find?

I didn't find The Gunslinger. Nope. I found KID GUNSLINGER. You know, a wealth of details about the dark YA version of Roland and his youthful Ka-tet. Not to mention a wealth of information only gleaned books later on, including more magic, more history lessons, and really delicious hints of the REALLY big stuff to come. Like, much later. lol

So what am I hinting at here?

Ah, nothin'. It's fantastic no matter how you look at it. It's chronologically sound. You get started at the very beginning of Roland when he fights his teacher. You get his first quest that goes extremely sideways. You get Susan Delgado. All that angst from an older man as he trudges through the wasteland, alone, having seen all his friends go the way of the clearing at the end of the path, has not happened yet.

I LIKE seeing this side of things first. It doesn't show me just how HUGE and EPIC the rest of the DT is, not like the end of The Gunslinger, but it might just be enough to hook any kind of new fan by way of a different medium.

Either way, the books still need a great reading. :) Before? After? I don't think it'll ever really matter.

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The Antelope WifeThe Antelope Wife by Louise Erdrich
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm working my way through award winners, sight unseen, and this one happens to be one of them. I didn't know what to expect except that it was probably one of a long line of the new breed of Magical Realism.

What makes it special? Well, I LOVE the whole Twins theme going on. White beads and black, indeed. Mix this with a very large sense of time, weaving in and out of Native American history up near Minneapolis, mixing Germans into the mix, some dog ancestry (separate from the humans, thank you very much,) and we've got a tale that slides across a couple of hundred years.

The magic is mild, the characters are sometimes very interesting, but above all, the core theme is the mixing of cultures. It's the mixing of whole lives, for good or ill.

I totally recommend this for anyone who is interested in diverse cultures, who like to have a different kind of read from the usual fare, and who like a bit of poetry woven into a worldview. I honestly had a pretty good time with this. It FELT magical even when there wasn't all that much magic going on. It got me out of my skin.

Oh, and the times we were in a dog's PoV was pretty awesome. :)

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Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Come Tumbling Down (Wayward Children, #5)Come Tumbling Down by Seanan McGuire
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I had to jump on this and devour it as soon as possible. I'm sure you other fans of Seanan will understand.

Remember Jack and Jill from Every Heart and Sticks and Bones? This absolutely continues that plotline, and if you wanted to know the fate of that ****ing ***ch Jill after her sister brought her back to life... AGAIN, then you probably shouldn't wait, either.

What a fun, cold slab of fun this was. :) Want a little lightning? I'm sure it will be willing to rouse you.

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The Book of Koli (Rampart Trilogy, #1)The Book of Koli by M.R. Carey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've been enjoying M.R. Cary for quite some time now and I jumped on the chance to review his new series through Netgalley.

So was it everything I might have hoped? Yes! And maybe.

At first, I realized, belatedly, that this had all the hallmarks of a YA novel. He's done some good YA in the past, so I settled into life in a dystopian future with ancient advanced tech, trees that like to hunt us, and provincial life that takes a major turn for the worse.

Standard fare, mostly, with some really fun and cool aspects that just BEG to be explored. And we do explore them. In fact, I had the best time when we got to *spoiler spoiler ipod-not-ipod spoiler*. From then on, I just chortled and had a great time. Of course, I had to get there first. Nothing too onerous. And I have to say I had a lot more time with this one than I've had with MOST of a long line of YA SF novels, so kudos!

Can't wait to read the next!

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Monday, January 6, 2020

King ClownKing Clown by Mark Lages
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is probably the most fun I've ever had from a hospital bed.

Not me in a hospital bed, mind you, but the character in the book. He has a lot of time for self-reflection. He runs with a weird little poem his dead father had left him that refers to a King Clown that subtly but inexorably changes how he sees his life.

This isn't a story of grief. It's about perception. And for what it's worth, I'm sure a lot of people would get a lot of interesting insights out of it.

Send in the clowns!

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The Gunslinger (The Dark Tower, #1)The Gunslinger by Stephen King
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A fateful, Ka-filled return to one of my first, favorite series of all time.

I love the Dark Tower.

Yes, yes, I'm a fanboy. I got the audiocassettes back in the day that had none other than Stephen King, himself, reading his own work. I've spent many years tracking down every reference to the Crimson King, the Man in Black, and Mid World across the majority of Stephen King's novels. I have this IDEA of the Dark Tower in my mind that puts to shame almost all other SF tales that revolved around multiple universes.

I'm talking about SCALE.

Oh, and this little Western that poses as a horror novel couched within a massive Science Fiction universe also happens to be a rather literary and music-filled repository that shines with stories within stories within stories.

Did I mention that I'm a fanboy? Rereading this is like coming home. Like coming home to Robert Browning:

There they stood, ranged along the hill-sides, met
To view the last of me, a living frame
For one more picture! in a sheet of flame
I saw them and I knew them all. And yet
Dauntless the slug-horn to my lips I set,
And blew “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower came.”

... And we shall not speak of that accursed movie.

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Sunday, January 5, 2020

Slouching Towards BethlehemSlouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Beautifully written essays from way back in 1967 from a journalist who successfully captured the essence of America as it woke from its idealistic dream into the deep feeling that all was not all right.

Maybe this is old news for today's world, but I can still express my appreciation for one of the best non-fiction writers of the age, exposing sensationalist murders, the seedy underbelly of the Flower Power movement, and the failed idealism of many other movements... and modes of thought not limited to merely people... but the kind tied directly to place.

Hello, America. Take your blinders off. It's time to see the world as it really is.

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Saturday, January 4, 2020

The Female ManThe Female Man by Joanna Russ
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I think I wanted to like this much more than I did. It was published in 1975 and seems to have made its rounds as something of a classic feminist novel. It brings up a lot of the usual ideas in feminism, blaming the patriarchy, blaming women who agree with letting themselves be subjugated, and wondering what their role should be if they did cast off the yoke. These are, of course, the same issues still in circulation today.

This novel hasn't taken the rounds of a radicalized political feminist movement since then or has seen the schools all favor women over men since the 1980s, so it's fair to forgive the book for not having anticipated feminism's real rise or to discover that the pendulum can swing too far in either direction. This was written from the heart of someone lost in real disaffection.

The book, from a pure entertainment viewpoint, succeeds fine if you like stream-of-consciousness writing, letting us explore four different kinds of women from four alternate worlds, all of which could have been the same woman.

I think I liked the IDEA of this better than the execution. I also take a bit of umbrage at the lack of discussion about general dual-standards. Women's studies cannot be learned in a vacuum, no matter how much one might wish otherwise, and its narrative conclusions are almost embarrassingly naive. Conceptualized women-only societies could never be this uniform or simple. People are people, and we always make things difficult. It doesn't matter what sex we are.

Even so, I can still give props to this book for being at the past forefront of feminist thought. I just had to read it as if I was unearthing some historical curiosity and ignore the fact that another sex is almost completely missing from the pages except as a creature who brutalizes, rapes, or is the object of financial security for the woman who has no choice in this world but to marry.

Good points, all, but still unjust.

Not all men spout talk of equality but then refuse to listen before eventually attempting to rape the object of their attention. The opposite idea, where women can become just as militant and behave like assassins, rather defeats the purpose of equality as well. Just as women shouldn't have to behave like men to get along in a man's world, there is no talk about how men shouldn't have to behave like women to get along in a woman's world. My issue here is that there is no common ground.

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Friday, January 3, 2020

RagtimeRagtime by E.L. Doctorow
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Historical fantasy, the old-school way. No actual magic, mind you, but E. L. Doctorow finds some of the most interesting characters of the Ragtime Era right before WWI and throws them all together in a wild extravaganza.

Add Archduke Ferdinand, Houdini, Freud, J.P. Morgan, Emma Goldman, Henry Ford, and a truly fantastic but made up Coalhouse Porter (a jazz musician with a massive bone to pick throughout the tale), and the novel becomes a who's-who of famous historical personages (including Teddy Rosevelt!) popping up throughout the tale.

I rather like this invention. I'm actually more than a little curious to see where they all go off the rails in fantasy versus the real people. If I was really serious about it, I would have to read about a dozen full biographies to untangle this undeniably fun mess of a novel. :)

Well worth the read! :)

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Thursday, January 2, 2020

Sword of Destiny (The Witcher, #0.75)Sword of Destiny by Andrzej Sapkowski
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Okay, so I've arrived very late to the Witcher party. I feel like I really ought to be embarrassed or something, too, but I've decided just to roll with it.

I... might have become a fanboy.

I mean, shoot, I've got Cavill in my head as the penultimate Geralt. Yennifer is someone I think I'll always love. I've got that whole season stuck in my head, and reading these two collections preceding the first official novel has made something very clear to me.

The first season IS these to books.

Maybe not a few of the stories, or nowhere near this form, and a couple really deepen the connection between Geralt and Yennifer, and the whole cycle in the tv show that gives us a close look at Yennifer but it doesn't show in these two books... but ASIDE from that, I loved meeting the dragon, getting the Destiny setup from new angles, and, let's face it... I LOVED the story about the mermaid and hope to hell we get that in the next season. :)

Did I mention that I'm fanboying?

I'm having so much fun with these. Now let me be clear about one thing. The fantasy element is well done but not wholly original. The characters are rife with riffs in mythology in general and the interactions are easily familiar and fun for anyone who enjoys fantasy in general.

What makes this special is the sheer force of personality, of characterization, of the FEELS. And let's not forget the fun. I'm having SO much fun. :)

I guess it's not that much of a surprise that the series is still growing in popularity. I barely even knew about the books until after the games started taking off, and I still haven't played the games yet. For shame, right?

I'm still happy. :)

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Wednesday, January 1, 2020

The Last Wish (The Witcher, #0.5)The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I may be coming at this from an entirely weird direction, at least for me, but I'm FINALLY setting my sights on the Witcher after sooooo many years of putting it off, and putting it off, and putting it off. Why the heck would I start now?

*hangs head in shame* I watched the tv show. I loved the tv show. I had too many unanswered questions.

I even have the three video games! I just haven't PLAYED them. *hangs head in shame again*

So I had this idea that this first of two short story collections set in the Witcher universe, continued with full novels later, might be a kind of hit-or-miss thing, but the truth is far from that reality.

I loved the tv show. And to my surprise, practically every story was faithfully represented! Not just the spirit of, but almost all the details, too! I could nit-pick about this and that, but when it comes right down to it, I LOVE how faithful it is to the original.

Yeah, it seems like I'm reviewing the tv show and not the book, right? So be it. No matter how I look at it, I HAD FUN. :) I fell in love with all those characters and I fell in love with them again. I read a story or two from the second collection and discovered that the first season of the tv show is taking source material from it, too. :)

This is the nicest start to the new year. :)

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