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Friday, April 30, 2021

The Silver Sword (The Ea Cycle, #2)The Silver Sword by David Zindell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This continuation of Zindell's epic fantasy is straight out of the Quest book, but that's not a bad thing. In fact, it's so questy that it's an utter Grail (even if it is far in the future, full of magic, and is on another planet) Quest.

Sometimes these kinds of things tickle all the fancies.

At least, it did for me. Especially after the Grand Library, two dragons (with one actually spewing fire) and all kinds of moral tests that demonstrate that not everything is treachery and sometimes being a friend is the thing that saves the world.

The best thing about this:

So many adventures -- and they all FEEL like a real progression at every step. The characters are absolutely valorous and the setbacks prove it. The grand ancient evil villain FEELS right.

The so/so:

It's all very familiar. Done well, exciting, and even glorious, but it's still very familiar. Good if that's what you're hoping for, not so much if you want something that breaks so many molds -- Like Zindell's SF series. :)

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The Lightstone (The Ea Cycle, #1)The Lightstone by David Zindell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm mainly reading this epic fantasy series because the author wrote one of my absolute favorite epic SF series of all time and there just isn't enough of his works to go around. In other words, I simply needed more.

Of course, I don't mind epic fantasies at all so this was kind of a no-brainer.

First off, it has all the earmarks of the genre, with special emphasis on nods to the fantasy fields in general. A pretty standard Quest, some new-age ideas, and serious surface-nods to Lord of the Rings, David Eddings, and even WoT. I was even chortling at the idea that Harry Potter got a tiny nod, too, but it was the hark-harkback to the Silmarillion that really charmed me.

That's not to say that it was only good for the worldbuilding. I enjoyed everyone in the holy-grail quest and couldn't help but compare it happily to The Witcher, but this, of course, had a much straighter line to follow. As anyone might expect with a Quest, there may be many, many stops along the way, but the core rarely gets totally derailed.

I enjoyed it all. Simple, dire, and I got a kick out of all the characters. Fun, but not the best epic fantasy I've ever read, either. I appreciate it for its inclusions rather than how original it is.

Was it close to his other series? No. A few cool nods to the idea that they might all be on an alien world after traveling the stars, but this does not have anything of the scope of Requiem for Homo Sapiens.

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Thursday, April 29, 2021

To the Center of the EarthTo the Center of the Earth by Greig Beck
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Well now, what did I just read?

Was it a slightly updated version of Jules Verne's Journey to the Center of the Earth with modern characters and equipment? With fantastical underground scenarios and adventuresome events?

Or was it a weak soup of characters that I could never get into even enough to enjoy their horrible deaths?

Hmm. I suppose it could be both?

This is an example of a pretty interesting and hopeful re-creation of a classic that I admit I was pretty enthusiastic about, despite some slight trepidation, all the way to their first descent into the bowels of hell.

And then it kinda fizzled. What descriptions of those bowels there were, it never felt like there was enough. The treatments of the characters as they died, or even the basic wear and care of said characters, was almost nonexistent -- even compared to a very low-bar mass-produced slasher flick.

"Ah, he died, ah well, kthxbye."

Fortunately, there were two teams trying to race down to the bottom, so we had plenty of fresh human stock for the cave-grinder.

It's really a shame tho. There WAS some promise. And if you don't care about characters at all, this is probably a fine, adventuresome, read.

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Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Enzymes: A Very Short IntroductionEnzymes: A Very Short Introduction by Paul Engel
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sometimes, a short, sharp, shock of science is what the body (and mind) needs.

What this is not:
A heavily popularized and humor-laden super-general introduction to enzymes, those wonderful little biological computers performing macros across nature.

What this is:
A general factual overview of enzymes with a few carefully selected examples (from food digestion to detergents for our laundry) with a fairly complete over-overview of the major scientific players in the field.

It doesn't go into any kind of serious detail except in the general layout of the molecular engines and how they were *mostly* accidentally discovered through plain curiosity and discovery, but it does point out that almost every huge breakthrough in genetics came hand-in-hand with enzymes.

Hell, even I knew that DNA and RNA can't cut or splice themselves without enzymes. :)

This is a perfect book for those of us not in the field who nonetheless have some knowledge OF the field. It isn't bogged down by interesting anecdotes or narratives, which, depending on your point of view, is either a Very Good Thing or a Very Disappointing Thing.

For me, I liked it. It's up-to-date, even out the is year, and it gets right to the point.

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The Once and Future WitchesThe Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Witchy feminist historical fantasy, anyone?

Why yes, that sounds great!

And indeed, the writing itself is beautiful and immersive, and engaging, especially at the point where the women's suffrage movement meets a nascent coven. I loved how the earlier dark Salem history dovetailed at dozens of points with the New Salem history, how dire so many of these stories were. After all, the real witch hunts were WITCH HUNTS.

And let's face it, that's what we've got to work with here among a larger backdrop of family, found family, and forged-in-blood witchy family. I got into the characters and loved the 1890's New Salem backdrop, the desire to be heard butting heads with the politics and squabbles between all the different groups that OUGHT to have gotten along.

(Side note, the black movement USED to work tightly with the women's suffrage moment until the women betrayed the blacks, saying that their cause would be stronger without them, and this was noted, briefly, but not explored. Indeed, there is also ANOTHER history that was majorly glossed over... and that is the fact that MEN were always a huge part of the Women's Suffrage Movement, too. And this is where I began to have a problem with this novel.)

I enjoyed this entire novel from start to the witchy three on several huge levels.

Unfortunately, I've been unfortunate enough to have had read approximately three dozen novels in the last four years that explicitly demonize all men.

So what, you ask? Well, I'm a man. If I'm reading novels like this that may very well accurately portray extremely bad behavior of men, it does not follow that ALL men are a part of this heavy-handed propaganda piece. If I was to buy into the pervasive message in this, or MANY other books currently being written in this vein, then I'd have to assume that all men are evil and must die horrible deaths. No, not all women are angels here, but they are, after all, always and ever the victims of men, over and over and over again. Let's call it what it is. This is a 3rd stage feminist piece. The few men who seem to be decent are either neutered, foolish, or gay. The only deep characterizations are women.

As a man reading this, I have to read it through a rather uncomfortable lens. If this was the only time -- or even the eighth time, I could blow it off as a bit of cultural steam release and just shrug and pretend to be a woman while knowing this really harms men in general -- especially men who WANT happiness, peace, and equality.

But then I remember Alix E. Harrow's other wonderful book and it DID seem to have well-rounded characters all over the place. When I compare it to THIS book, I get the impression that this hardcore feminist slant is a publisher request. After all, SO many books are being published with this political push. So I don't blame the writer. Her novel is quite gorgeous. The storytelling, the myths and histories, and the children's rhymes work so well toward the full, magical end.

But for me, as a man, it was positively PAINFUL to read if I wanted to take anything personal out of it. That is... unless I wanted to go for total self-negation -- or even suicide. I hated every man in here. And this doesn't seem to be an isolated experience.

So it really begs the question, doesn't it?

Are we really to the point where there are no good men characters in recent literature anymore?

But yeah, other than that, I thought this was a pretty fantastic and beautiful novel.

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Monday, April 26, 2021

Million Dollar Demon (The Hollows, #15)Million Dollar Demon by Kim Harrison
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Great Hollows Re-read is done and NOW I get to read the ARC for the new book!

And let me just come right out and squee for ya'll.

The setup in book 14 got us prepped nicely for a big newcomer vampire showdown, and like all good westerns, we have our reluctant Hero, Rachel, Demon with a Splat Gun, suffering along with her friends and allies as a crazy son-of-a-gun from out of town has come into Cincinnati to make life a living hell. Or an Un-living Hell. Undead hell? She's crazy, anyway, and refugees are pouring in from everywhere.

Where do they turn? To the OTHER crazy woman. The one who just happens to do the right thing even if she scares the living crap out of everyone else.

And our story succeeds on all levels. :) No more spoilers. It is a FUN, wild ride, pardner.

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Sunday, April 25, 2021

The Witness for the Dead (The Goblin Emperor, #2)The Witness for the Dead by Katherine Addison
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I got the ARC! So of course I had to re-read Goblin Emperor to get myself prepared for the sequel.

BUT. It's not really necessary to have read the first book in the series to enjoy this one. I mean, sure, we get to know the cleric Witness for the Dead in the first book, but only in the capacity for solving the overall mystery.

This sequel does not have the same cohesive worldbuilding and plot as the first, but that's all right, too. What we should expect is a continuation of the humanist feel, an exploration of the world, its peoples, and plenty of side mysteries plagued with politics both big and small.

It's comforting. It's even something of a gentle ramble.

I admit I like the first book better and I'm afraid I expected more out of this one because of it, but it was still quite interesting. The most important part is the feel -- and it felt comforting. It is, after all, a journey.

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American Demon (The Hollows, #14)American Demon by Kim Harrison
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Great Hollows Re-read 4/25/21:

Now, I just read this book last year, but it still deserves a good re-read on the heels of the rest of the series.

And frankly? It works as well as the rest of the series -- which is to say, it's fun as hell and exciting and unfair and delicious and heartbreaking all over again.

Zombies, crappy Elves, Demons in daylight, and murderous dreamers are all pretty great, and I'm a big fan of the new magical Balance, but it's always the characters that make these books shine. Still. :)

As for the end zinger, with no spoilers, I do believe it'll be a new quest arc now that Ivy's problem and the demon's demesne issue is settled. It really threw me for a bad loop both times I read it. *sigh*

Orignal Review:

This book is proof that a well-beloved UF series with an official "ending" does not have to End.

What am I saying? Nothing much. No ret-cons needed. We just have a new beginning with the same old characters we love.

But wait, isn't our witch (ahem) just a LITTLE TOO OVERPOWERED? Especially with that last book going NUTS with the changes, more changes, and even bigger changes?

Nope. Because the world moves on. Nothing is so impressive and amazing that others can't s**t all over your parade, deny it ever happened, or make your life a living hell just because they're ignorant and/or a jerk.

Huh. That kinda sounds like a slice right out of real life, no?

And THAT is why this book picks up not too long after the events of book 13 of the Hollows and starts back up with Return to the Hollows with nothing more than a shrug. Our Witchy Morgan is never given the credit she deserves and all these new characters showing up gives the series new life.

And YES, Jenks is still his glorious self. Bis, too. And happy time with Trent is quite happy.

The novel gives us good mystery, good action, and plenty of smoldering lust and much more in the way of annoyance for certain jerks. In other words, it's a classic return to what made the series special. I love it.

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Saturday, April 24, 2021

The Witch With No Name (The Hollows, #13)The Witch With No Name by Kim Harrison
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Great Hollows Re-read continues! 4/24/21

Back to the official first ending of the series, with all the plot wrap-ups, huge stakes, and whiny bitch-ass undead vampires crying that they want their souls.

Of course, nothing ends right here, but the first time we all read this, we were dreading and preparing ourselves with a big box of tissues. And when I HAD read it, I was thrilled and immensely pleased with the whole mix of different kinds of magic, the extreme ends they all had to take to not only fix the vamps, but fix those sucky elves, save the Ever After, and just find a BALANCE. You know?

And I finished this again with not quite as much anticipation -- mainly because I've already read the sequel -- but when it comes to the overall story-arcs and the character progressions, I'm VERY pleased.

Kim Harrison pulled it off. And coming back to this, one of my old favorite story-homes, was a real pleasure.

*rubs hands together* Of course, we're not done yet. :)

Original Review:

Such sadness. I'm really sorry to see the series come to a close, but I'm certain that all of the fans will be satisfied by the end. The wonderful Itchy-Witch has had her share of crap storms, and I'm more than willing to see her get a happy ending.

I've been dreading and heavily anticipating this novel for some time, wanting it with such cravings that might put a vampire to shame. The fact that it has finished with such a wonderfully huge bang is only icing on the cake, but I have to say that I loved it all.

Mind candy? Hell yes, but of a caliber much more interesting and emotionally engaging than the most urban fantasy that I've read. Will I always think of these books fondly? Hell yes. Will I reread them in the future? Hell yes. They deserve more than that, though... they deserve to be studied by other urban fantasy authors and emulated, even improved upon, but above all, they need to be cherished.

Thank you for the gift of these wonderful novels!

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The Goblin Emperor (The Goblin Emperor, #1)The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Re-read 4/24/21:

In preparing to read the sequel, I decided I just had to re-read the original. It's been a while and I remembered it being comforting and comfortable for all the potentially harrowing setup that it represented.

The re-read confirms it. It's subtle, careful, heartbreaking, and a good mystery, all wrapped up in a cloak of humility. Odd, that. And, of course, the exploration of racism is quite clear.

Quite enjoyable.

Original Review:

That goblin was just the sweetest child emperor I've ever known. He was always courteous and polite, even when he was abducted. He was so centered and contained even during that time he almost took the knife of that assassin. Do you remember his name? Yeah. That windbag elf. Well, I don't care what any of his peers say about this dear child. He's looking forward to the future, I tell you! He even says goodbye to the cleaning staff of his late mother, bless his soul.

This novel, in case you haven't guessed, is a delightful take on normal people raising an Emperor. It is NOT, however, a tale of war, oppression, or magic. There's plenty of intrigues, but mainly it's a coming of age with a very healthy dose of fish out of water syndrome. On a personal note, it was charming and well paced and very, very political. It had elements of stab you in the back, of course, but the focus was mainly on trying to do a good job in a situation where no one seems to trust you. Believe me, I was very charmed.

This delightful novel was part of this year's Hugo nominations, and in spite of the controversy, I'm reading each novel deeply and seriously because I respect and cherish the Hugos. Anyone nominated will carry prestige because we, the readers, want it to be so. The moment we start devaluing the award in our own minds is the moment we lose a little light in our life.

As for being a contender, this novel definitely is. If I read this outside of the controversy or the nomination, I would still be gibbering and drooling about it, because, after all, it turns our archetypal conventions over to cook more evenly.

The writing is clear, the story is suspenseful, and the mystery around his father's death and his own assassination attempt keep everything moving nicely. Most importantly, I felt real sympathy for our dear Emperor. If you think that the story is short on wonder or depth, think again. Everything is vividly imagined and deeply drawn, down to the airships or the clockwork bridge or the guard who sang our young Emperor to sleep.

This novel is a breath of fresh air with a huge heart, and that's saying a lot for a novel about a goblin.

Brad K Horner's blog

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Thursday, April 22, 2021

The Undead Pool (The Hollows, #12)The Undead Pool by Kim Harrison
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Great Hollows Re-Read 4/22/21:

Better on the re-read. I honestly got into the wild magic goddess stuff much more this time, especially considering where it winds up and what the actual costs really are.

And considering what just happened, those costs are huge.

That being said, this entire book, its mystery, was quite fun and interesting. True undead vampires getting the full sleepytime treatment, leaving their children to play and be naughty across the city? Leylines getting wonky?

Very fun stuff.

Of course, it gets even more interesting with all the thought-construct invasion bits. )

Original Review:

I'm always looking forward to more Hollows books, and now that they're beginning to wrap up, I'm getting very sad.

That being said, I was torn at the beginning of the read. I could tell where it was heading or thought I could, because of the elven magic developments. The goddess, et al., while interesting, had me thinking that it might get a little cliche. I'm very happy to say that I was very wrong. I didn't expect what I got, and I reveled in the major developments, including the one at the end of the novel. Maybe the novel wasn't entirely up to the same standards as I've grown to love in the series, but I absolutely loved where it went and how it messed with our heroine. I found myself just wishing that I could read the novel forever and ever, never wanting it to end. For that, perhaps I ought to give it a 5-star rating instead of the 4 I did. Then again, I'm changing it to 5 because the real 4.5 ain't an option. :)

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Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Look Mom I’m a Poet (and So Is My Cat)Look Mom I’m a Poet by Andrew Shaffer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Let's face it: this is simply light humor wrapped up in poetry that appeals to a certain kind of observer of human nature:

In other words: you've gotta like it dry.

Jack Handy dry. A touch of the absurd, a touch of the profound, and a whole wallop of the goofy.

But then, I like a good dry witticism. Or several dozen. And this one easily brought a smile onto my face for the 45 minutes it took me to read it.

Worth it. Totally worth it.

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Colors of Chaos (The Saga of Recluce, #9)Colors of Chaos by L.E. Modesitt Jr.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a very solid book in the Saga of Recluce series. I found myself sympathizing more and more about Fairhaven and the White Wizards in general, and especially about the regular people on the wrong side of the Order/Chaos conflict.

Of course, when we're dealing with Chaos mages, the one thing we've learned over and over again is that there is ALWAYS a balance, and as we follow the young Ceryl on his rise in the ranks as his cohorts die horrible deaths or as he sees his nation decline through bad policies or reliance on a power that STILL needs to be balanced in the end, it is, in effect, a tragedy.

An old civilization overcome by greed and mismanagement, overtaken by a simple magical correction. Ceryl, of course, tries to mitigate the disaster, and I admit I enjoyed almost all of it.

Other than that, it was really fun to see one of the previous novels from an expansive and detailed opposite point of view. We've always been treated to the order side of things, sometimes mixed with a judicious amount of chaos. This time, we have chaos mixed with a judicious amount of order. Nothing could be more precious than this.

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Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Ever After (The Hollows, #11)Ever After by Kim Harrison
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Great Hollows Re-Read continues!

I'm personally rather amazed at how hard-hitting this particular novel is even when I know what's about to happen. Not even the off-screen stuff is enough to kill my mood on it. When we see practically EVERYTHING going to hell in one way or another and we're forced to triage and take care of whatever we can and feel horrible about not being able to do a damn thing about the rest, it feels like a huge, ugly slice of life.

I cried many times during this re-read. It's that kind of book. It's not just the deaths or who is doing the dying. It's the enormous stakes and the betrayals and the violence and the utter cowardice of so many... demons, elves, and humans.

Let's face it. Even demons feel powerless when the Ever After is getting hoovered.

Add to that a few kidnappings, the genocide of a few ancient magical species, a deadly vendetta, and even a rather funny and delightful gargoyle prophesy, and we've got a very tightly-strung novel that just can't stop breaking my heart.

And there's one particular scene that breaks my heart more than all the rest. Right, Trent? Rachel? Those damn rings.

But damn the conclusion... all of it... was sooooo damn satisfying.

I'm still rather in shock.

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Monday, April 19, 2021

The White Order (The Saga of Recluce, #8)The White Order by L.E. Modesitt Jr.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Recluse Saga encompasses a huge amount of time and place, building an enormous history across a continent. Each novel keeps building upon the others although they're hardly written in chronological order. Indeed, we've jumped from the end to the middle to the very end to another middle and right to the very beginning and each story is complete in itself, but all still explore an ever-broadening theme of chaos/order balance.

Enter in The White Order. The White mages are affiliated with Chaos, while the black is affiliated with Order. The greys are rare and odd and usually extremely powerful. Overall, the push of all these novels have been seen from Order side as it does or doesn't work with Chaos. This novel, however, is the first to start with Chaos and explore the intricacies of fire and chaos magic.

Fun? Interesting? Yes.

However -- After maybe 6 of the 8 books, I'm forced to admit that the calm, rational boy who turns into the calm, rational, self-sacrificing man with huge powers IS a THING for this author. They're all sort of... blending into the same composite character. Don't get me wrong, it's a good template, and delightful as long as I'm ignoring the fact that it's THE SAME CHARACTER as the others, but my credulity is starting to stretch. Do only men like this have such power? Well, obviously not. The baddies and the misguided don't behave like this.

Okay. So. I'll just ignore that bit and enjoy the full story and progression and adventure and the worldbuilding. It IS enough. More than enough. Damn cool, even.

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Sunday, April 18, 2021

A Perfect Blood (The Hollows, #10)A Perfect Blood by Kim Harrison
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Great Hollows Re-Read!

While I didn't like this one as much as the ones right before it or the ones after it, the Hollows as a whole is a truly fantastic series.

So what didn't I like so much, if I liked just about everything else about it?

A certain bespelled silver charm.

The whole decision to wear it or have to deal with all the BS in the less powerful human or interlander world really stuck in my craw. So much of what happened in this book might have been slightly less horrific and internally conflict-laden or ... just WRONG ... had Rachel just CONTINUED to own up to what she is. You know, like she had owned to it in the previous book. This backsliding was just painful to watch.

Of course, then we wouldn't have met a few great characters along the way and enjoy (I use the term lightly) a bit of incarceration, but that's beside the point. It just feels wrong to the character and everything she had gone through.

I know, I sound rather hard on the book, but that doesn't change the fact that I had a great time with the rest of it and the quality didn't decrease. I'm particularly enjoying Trent's developments. The investigation and the bad guys were pretty great, too. If it wasn't for the neutering bit, I probably would have raved about this book with all the others.

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Saturday, April 17, 2021

DevilsDevils by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There's no doubt about this. This is one of the classics. Also known as The Possessed, this Dostoyevsky is right up there with The Brothers Karamazov and Crime and Punishment, but in my head, it's not QUITE as good as the other two.

That isn't to say this isn't a true classic, however. As I was reading it, I kept pointing at the text and saying, "Hey! That's TOTALLY Fight Club! They're totally dissing social norms in the same way, flirting with disaster in increasingly epic ways." and "Hey! That's a total reference to intellectual nihilism and a whole 'God is Dead' vibe a whole DECADE before Nietzsche!"

I was thrilled. I mean, this is a time machine to the eras that led, 50 years later, to the end of the Russian royalty. But then, we have the whole feel of anarchism, conspiracies, social reform, and pure idealism within these pages.

That shouldn't discount the tiny details, however. All the little steps and stages that let us decline, ever so gradually, into turpitude, moral degradation, and some of the weirdest pure-intellectual/religious reasons for suicide in literature.

The fact is, this is not only a total soap-opera full of people toying with the ideas of going evil, but it's also a philosophical tract that skewers Russia, progressives, the religious, and all the major political structures of the day.

And it's also a portent for our modern world. Not to mention that it RESEMBLES our modern world.

Yes, we're all devils.

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Friday, April 16, 2021

Pale Demon (The Hollows, #9)Pale Demon by Kim Harrison
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The great Hollows Re-Read continues!

Honestly, I've just rediscovered my all-out inner fanboy and I honestly can't find a single fault in this book at all. Not only is it emotional and fun -- ROAD TRIP, YA'LL! -- but it gives us hardcore family time and discovered family time with Trent and the crew. ELF QUEST, YA'LL.

All the quest, even, from Rachel having to go to Witch Court and Trent's mysterious quest, to all the assassination attempts, the day-walking demon attacks, the dire consequences for failing any of it, OR the inevitable failure and the real consequences of Rachel's new path --

Well. There's enough going on in this book to fill two lesser books by other novelists. Loved the time in the Ever After, too. A lot of new questions to a slew of grand reveals.

I would say this is my favorite book of the bunch if I hadn't already said that about books 5 and 6 and 7 and 8. Or, wait, now that this is a re-read, I could start bringing up books 10, 11, 12, 13, and 14? lol

SUFFICE TO SAY, I love this stuff. Like, completely head over heels for it. This re-read is going EXTREMELY well.

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Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Black Magic Sanction (The Hollows, #8)Black Magic Sanction by Kim Harrison
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The great Hollows Re-Read continues, and it's consistently getting better and better. Or rather, it is never failing to travel on to greater intrigues, terrible shunning, constant hounding, and even a little romance on the run to keep things spicy.

Let's face it. Rachel is having a bad life. Good friends, sure, but it's the bad choices in men that keep on haunting her: the dying, lying, or even ex-dying/currently lying, or just plain nice-guy-can't-handle-her-shit counts as bad choices in men.

That, with black magic, aura-smut, breaking out of Alcatraz, going on the run, breaking INTO a massively fortified compound, performing a massive heist, AND keeping her best friend from committing suicide, it's a heavy tale.

But an EXCELLENT UF. Delicious, even. Flabbergastingly good. And funny and heartbreaking all at the same time.

I feel blessed to have this in my life. Again.

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Tuesday, April 13, 2021

The House of the DeadThe House of the Dead by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

More a series of vignettes and abject realism describing his time in a Siberian prison for four years, Fyodor Dostoyevsky writes something that weighs heavy on the heart even while the book does not describe any kind of plot or true closure.

That's okay. He writes fantastically plotted books later on and he draws from his intense despair and sharp eye in the human psyche in those later novels in amazing ways. This one, however, is still quite rich and lush with characters and details, immersing us in truly morbid circumstances without quite destroying us.

What do I mean? Well, Dostoyevsky is well aware of the nastiness of the human condition and having experienced some of the worst effects of being on the bottom of the rung, while also having such an intense desire to see the best in anything, find even the tiniest of sparks of optimism, this book is an awesome example of dichotomies.

I loved the joy of having meat on one of the three holidays that even convicts could celebrate. I loved the spectacle and the play. I loved the revels and the consequences of smuggling. I loved the way that the hospitals were used to hide and escape the otherwise horrible conditions, even when the reused hospital gowns weren't cleaned, full of lice, seeping scabs, other excretable decaying matter.

And then there were the convicts themselves. So many intrigues and floggings, intimidation, and crazy hierarchies. And of course, the crimes and the punishments. The whole place is a malicious spider sucking the vitality out of all its inhabitants.

It is pretty hardcore. Of course, there are many other modern examples, so much so that it is a genre as prison fiction, but this is still pretty unique and VERY autobiographical.

So why didn't I give it a full five stars?

Put simply, I didn't really ENJOY it as anything other than an analytical exercise.

Fans of Dostoyevsky should still focus on Crime and Punishment and especially The Brothers Karamazov.

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White Witch, Black Curse (The Hollows, #7)White Witch, Black Curse by Kim Harrison
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The great Hollows Re-Read continues!

Back when I first started this series, I tore through the already published books only to have to wait what seemed an interminably long time to get to this one. And after the gut punch, the memory issues, and the tragedy in the previous book, I didn't think it could get much worse.

And so we get to this book, trying to pick up the pieces while trying to hunt down a supernatural murderer that is *rather* out of everyone's league. Can you hear the banshees calling now? Of course, while this part of the plot was delicious, there was something else that slammed me up against the wall harder: finding out what really happened in the previous book and getting closure.

Kim Harrison has it all planned out and unrolls this carpet slowly. Oh so slowly. And the tears come all too easily.

I should note that this book is also a huge payoff for anyone who has read the complete short story catalog up to this point. Lots of backstory and extras for Pierce, Mia, and Ivy come home to roost here, deepening the experience for everything.

And then there is Rachel's shunning. Perhaps the hardest thing to get through. And worse, there is no easy resolution. Her entire people are against her. This is slightly more than being canceled.

This book is hard-hitting and one of the best in the series.

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Monday, April 12, 2021

Fugitive Telemetry (The Murderbot Diaries, #6)Fugitive Telemetry by Martha Wells
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Socially distancing Muderbot? Check
Despairing about other's security systems? Check

Oh, wait, our murder bot is SOLVING A MURDER that she didn't actually commit. Ah. Check.

This novella is quite in line with the previous ones. Light loner humor, mystery, and comp-talk. This is definitely for fans of the rest of the series, but I should mention that there's nothing really new about it. I admit I liked the full-length novel more, (and the timeline suggests that this novella comes before that).

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Sunday, April 11, 2021

Dungeon Robotics (Book 8): DelveDungeon Robotics (Book 8): Delve by Matthew Peed
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This being one of those 'what you see is what you get' kind of book series, I should mention that it's a specialty item. It's on the lower end of the LitRPG spectrum, devoting itself to godlike actions and fights that are more in line with Dragonball Z by way of cybernetics in an otherwise magic-dominated world.

Cool idea, often fun in the action and okay in the characterizations (if not particularly brilliant), the series has a lot of faults but being fun makes up for a lot of it.

This later book is rather scaling back on the uber over-the-top stuff and the limits of our god-like dungeon core MC are finally coming to the fore. Of course, it's not really all that fair, having been limited by another *literal* deus ex machina, but all told, it was kinda expected.

All in all, though, I rather wish it was more polished. That more care had been taken with the characters. Otherwise, it's really a Deus-Stu kind of tale.

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Dungeon Robotics (Book 7): CollapseDungeon Robotics (Book 7): Collapse by Matthew Peed
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Still enjoyable, overall, with a sudden decision to go space odyssey while the minions take care of the home-front. Not bad, mind you, and it gets fairly amusing as it goes hard-SF and even a bit doctor strange, but what else would you expect when your MC is a GOD. Or, you know, a fairly high-tiered godlike entity of LitRPG dungeon core fame.

Overpowered? Yes, of course, but now we're finally getting some slight course corrections. A few knockdowns. After all, we can't let these upstart kids run ramshod across the universe. :)

My one complaint?

We don't really spend enough time on all the diverse cast of minions/minor deities/or high leveled mortals trying to get crap done. We flit between them a bit too much to really get into them.

Otherwise, if you're just looking for some beastly high-level throwdowns and godlike s**t, then you're probably looking in the right place with these novels. It's good for what it is.

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Dungeon Robotics (Book 6): ConflictDungeon Robotics (Book 6): Conflict by Matthew Peed
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Truly, reading these is scratching that itch that desires totally overpowered battles on epic grand scales, as told from the PoV of a god.

Of course, this is still LitRPG but it has dropped most of those roots except for the brief times when the massively overpowered dungeon core makes new "children" who will wreak more havoc on undead, celestials, demons or when he expands his territory and takes more and more of the populations under his fatherly wing.

You know, like a god. And he tests himself against ever stronger beings.

I admit I like the huge scope and the quick pace. It is, more and more obviously, like playing a video game. And yes, I'm waiting for a chorus to sing out, "no duh!!".

It's almost mindless fun.

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Saturday, April 10, 2021

The Outlaw Demon Wails (The Hollows, #6)The Outlaw Demon Wails by Kim Harrison
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One book at a time, always getting more and more invested.

Of course, by this point, I feel like I'm falling down a mountain of smut *see the definition in these novels* and the lives of Rachel, Jenks, and Ivy are submerging themselves in my aura. Am I cursed with a good story?

Yes. Yes, I think I am.

Of course, being hounded by an outlaw demon is wildly entertaining. So is Rachel's mom. Why not have a fling, girl? lol

And then there are a bunch of whammy reveals, deals with devils, and a little trip in the Ever After to make this particular novel a truly great ride.

In all, this is one of the best UFs out there. Certainly one of the most fun, and on this re-read, I simply can't change my mind about it. :)

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Friday, April 9, 2021

For a Few Demons More (The Hollows, #5)For a Few Demons More by Kim Harrison
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ahhh, Harrison.

I'm returning to the Hollows on my great re-reading adventure feeling absolutely trepidatious while reading this, book 5, knowing full well what was to come.

But, once again, I'm lulled into a sense of grand not-so-insecure security despite all the little hints here and there that things are NOT going as planned, that powerful eyes are upon her.

And then there is the wonderful murder investigation and how Rachel's all wrapped up in it.

This time, I got to analyze all the hints and the foreshadowing, the hail-mary's and the emotional bombardment from another viewpoint, and let me just say: it's still hard-hitting. So many big things come to pass, it left me breathless.

If I recall correctly, this was approximately the point in my first reading of the series where I huffed and puffed and called myself a real fan. It's the writing. Fast, fun, and then the stakes are sooo bloody good.

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Thursday, April 8, 2021

Hummingbird SalamanderHummingbird Salamander by Jeff VanderMeer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Interestingly enough, Vandermeer also writes a smart mystery. He's not just a Weird writer. Borne, Annihilation, even his early shroomy novels were heady and imaginative and always able to make us question, question, question.

This more traditional mystery, haunted by ecoterrorism, low-grade security personnel work, and family life that slowly crumbles away in the pollution of a life caught by claustrophobia, paranoia, shares some of the best features of his earlier work while remaining grounded in the real world.

This one is a traditional mystery. But the perception within the novel is quite lush, imaginative, and rather stomach-turning. I got the sense of huge conspiracies, being totally out of one's depth, and the start weird terror of being so... OBSESSED with a stuffed hummingbird and a stuffed salamander.


I liked everything up until a certain point where running was the only option. After that, I was a bit disappointed even when things turned and turned again later on. The disconnect was real. I didn't WANT to feel disconnected. But then, by that point, everything had crumbled. On purpose, mind you, but I felt just as lost. Confused. Despairing.

Good that the writer could convey that without wallowing in it, but it killed the pace of the story.

So, in the end, I'm only giving it 3.5 out of 5, but it WAS quite interesting and shocking.

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Cataclysm (Dungeon Robotics #5)Cataclysm by Matthew Peed
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm still having some fun with this LitRPG, but I should mention a few things.

It reads like a total authoritarian nightmare dressed up as a god just trying to set things right. When the baddies are bad with the same mind-control stuff, total suppression of free will, and are locked into a never-ending cycle of worship that they believe comes freely from themselves... and THEN we compare the same with our heroic MC who -- lest we forget -- basically killed humanity in a robot uprising before he was given control over a dungeon core, here -- we might want to investigate what might be going on.

And yet, we're meant to see him as a savior, a good guy, always looking out for his people and his 'children' and doesn't mind how many continent-busting machines of war he has to use to free everyone else from another tyranny?

Maybe it's just me. Maybe sometimes I like to see ultimate power at least TRY to do something right, but every step of the way, these slave colors are completely re-writing his allies. All in the name of good.

Other than that, lots of great action and cool robot vs mega-undead action on all possible fields of battle.

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Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Cascade (Dungeon Robotics #4)Cascade by Matthew Peed
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Magic robotics, airships, orbital facilities, dungeon cores, and global thermonecromantic war.

This is what happens when a LitRPG title diverges from its leveling roots and just goes nuts with Big War.

Granted, I wish there were more character development and even some (at least minor) conflict on the personal stages with the main characters (or dungeon, who can't seem to do any wrong), but for the most part, it's still a light title that manages to be fun.

Is it just me, or are all the repeating sections, slightly modified by PoV, a bit annoying?

Never mind. Overall, the book kinda reads like a carbon copy of one or two others in the same genre, with slight fundamental differences in focus. Since I liked those, originally, I am okay with it here, but I'm marking it down in my head for being rather unoriginal.

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The DoubleThe Double by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Long before there was Fight Club or a long line of doubles, doppelgangers, strange tales of evil twins or Evil Spock, even Dostoyevsky, the brilliant classic Russian novelist, directed his hand to this very psychologically weird tale.

Strangely enough, Dostoyevsky doesn't make this particular novel as dark and cringy as most of his works. Indeed, even though it IS very paranoid and anxious and disturbing in a very Philip K Dick way, it also comes off as something of a straightforward comedy.

The main character is a person that no one wants or needs. No one respects him. He's weak and submissive and never stands out in any positive way. This is written so well that it's horribly entertaining all by itself, with us watching him squirm and do things that sadly remind us of ourselves in our weakest moments, apologizing profusely, hinting broadly, breaking down at inopportune times in a very Social Anxiety kind of way.

But then his double starts invading his life. Better than him, more productive, socially acceptable, and rather devious. I swear, I thought we were dealing with Tyler Durden.

The best part of this is the fact that we don't actually know whether we were dealing with an actual evil twin scenario or whether it was all in his head. It's not QUITE a comedy unless the reader is into really dark ones. :)

This novel was a really nice surprise. Dostoyevsky is still a master in my book.

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Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Escalation (Dungeon Robotics #3)Escalation by Matthew Peed
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book is really all about war above ground rather than anything that might happen in a dungeon. Sure, there are some nice level-up points within the side characters and the dungeon, himself, but while this is entertaining on its own, collecting the full hoards and mass-death, we are missing actual character development.

Fortunately, the book is also short and what it does offer is still fairly interesting... if totally expected.

One thing I should mention: some more editing would have done this novel justice, if not for the line-item stuff, but whole story areas that are repeated, often verbatim, if also done from alternating PoVs. I'd say, "Choose one." More isn't necessary.

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Expansion (Dungeon Robotics #2)Expansion by Matthew Peed
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

While the Dungeon MC does seem to be RATHER uber-powerful at almost every moment and he really has a "aren't I a nice guy" mentality, I'm still quite enjoying the tale and the progression.

In other words, it's almost entirely about the incidental characters and how they deal with him. Plus the ravening hoards. Can't forget the ravening hoards.

While I've read much better LitRPG books, the fact is, this one is still certainly entertaining. The kingdom grows larger! Of course, we all know who the real power is.

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Establish (Dungeon Robotics #1)Establish by Matthew Peed
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Now, this is kinda embarrassing, but almost immediately, I was already saying to myself, "Hey! This is just like Dakota Trout's Dungeon Born series!"

Only, instead, make it more automaton heavy, nix some of the humorous over-the-top rivalry stuff, and otherwise streamline the town-building around the dungeon.

And lo-and-behold, this is what I got, all the way through to the end.

Now, I should mention one little thing: I still liked it. It's all pretty formula at this point and it rests on how well the characters are set up. The RPG mechanics in this LitRPG are okay if not particularly overboard, and that may be a good or a bad thing, depending on your personal tolerance of such things.

Me, if I'm going to get into a LitRPG series, I love to be info-dumped on the mechanics. It reminds me of how bad of a player I was back in my D&D days, spending 9/10ths of my game sessions preparing ahead of time, min/maxing, gaming the living hell out of the system, and then becoming a demon on the map. IT'S FUN.

But then, these kinds of books are really just stories told from the Dungeon Master's PoV so it's all good. :)

I do hope this gets much better, however.

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Sunday, April 4, 2021

The Rise of Endymion (Hyperion Cantos, #4)The Rise of Endymion by Dan Simmons
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Great Hyperion re-read.

You know, I actually PREFER it when I am flummoxed when I have to write a review. It usually means that there is often SO MUCH going on in the pages, or it must be read in context to the full four-book cycle to make TRUE sense, or it means that it just blew my mind.

In this case, all three happened. And then I was told to Choose Again. Great line. Simple. Mysterious. And easily applicable to every single moment of our lives. Ask yourself, "Do you want to be doing this? Well, now's your chance to Choose Again."

Of course, most of us never have the full scope of options available to us as these people eventually get, but in full context to the Big Creatures in the Dark Forest, just assume the scope of it reaches truly awesome epic SF scope. IF you've read Hyperion and Fall of Hyperion, you know what I mean. If you've read Endymion, it DOES just turn into a fantastic Heroic Quest, but it also fleshes out so many worlds, ideas, and the whole fate of humanity, putting into question the events of the Crux that was Hyperion.

But this doesn't quite roll out the full blowout that is The Rise of Endymion, the book that should just be considered the part 2 of the second duology in the Hyperion Cantos. Don't read Endymion without reading Rise of Endymion, in other words.

So, some questions that must be asked before they are answered:

Do we find out who/what the Shrike is? What happened to the Earth? How did so much of humanity fall under a religious dictatorship revolving around immortality, and did the quest to topple it come through? Just who are the big animals? Do we get to spend a lot of delicious time with the Ousters and an honest World Tree having the equivalent living space of millions of Earths? And is this love story amazingly heartbreaking?

Let's just cut to the chase and say yes to all the above.

Funnily enough, I really enjoyed the opening with all the architecture and learning/teaching bits. It was nicely gentle until we got to the Dali Lama. After that, however, I was biting my nails for most of the book. Between action sequences that were some of the best I've read in ANY military SF, epic scopes and truly delicious, equally interesting resolutions that are NOT obvious in the context of any military SF, and the admonition to Choose Again, I thought this was one of the better, if not best Hard SFs I've ever read.

That title would still remain with the first two books of this cycle. :)

DEFINITELY worth reading it all.

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Friday, April 2, 2021

Endymion (Hyperion Cantos, #3)Endymion by Dan Simmons
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

After having re-read the superlative original Hyperion Cantos recently, I was saddled with the thought that nothing afterward could possibly match the quality and lyricism or the sheer gorgeousness of story, worldbuilding, or character.

Alas, this still remains true after reading book three, taking place over 250 years after the events that irrevocably transformed the known universe at the end of Fall of Hyperion.

HOWEVER, this is not a lament for Endymion. Indeed, comparing it to just about any modern SF adventure, most will come up very short against the standards shown here. No, there is not a Canterbury Tales stylization. There is, however, a fabulous quest given to a new hero by the mentor Martin Selenus (the poet of old who wrote the original Cantos) that tasks Raul Endymion with nothing less than truly impossible tasks, such as helping a girl that is truly out of time, finding and returning the old destroyed Earth to its rightful place, and toppling the religious empire that has taken over the old hegemony with its promise of cruciform immortality.

Small tasks, those. And there's no reason to think he could ever accomplish one of them. The stakes are too high and the enemies amazingly implacable. Federico de Soya is one of the most amazing antagonists I've ever read, right up there with Captain Ahab, only that captain never had to undergo quite this much jellification.

Truly, no review can do this novel justice. It is an adventure, plain and simple, and is so rich with location, location, location, that it is a pure treat for the imagination. It revisits and deepens the events from the previous books, but more than builds upon them, too, painting pictures I will never unsee. Of course, the interesting chase through all the old worlds is done in very cool ways, both varied and clever, and I'll never forget how a twelve-year-old girl stands up to an entire fleet and outsmarts them not just one time, but several. The escapes are brilliant.

No, this book is not on the same ladder of brilliance as the two that came before it, but I'm proud to say that I LOVE it, anyway. It's a true work of the imagination and so exciting that I wish that I had a full SF tv-series with a huge special effects budget to do it justice.

Truly. It would be mind-blowingly awesome.

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Thursday, April 1, 2021

Jonathan's VowsJonathan's Vows by Mark Lages
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Mark Lages always circles around the traditional everyman tale. It's not something we see much of these days, but it ought to be something we're aware of.

Characters don't have to be bigger than life. They can be very, very normal and still have a lot to say.

In this case, it's the way an entire novel can be written as a marriage vow as seen by a 21-year-old contemplating all the ups and downs of a pretty full life with his intended.

Some happiness, but mostly, it's maintenance. A good dose of mutual disappointment, a liberal helping of stupid mistakes, and a splash of understanding.

The point is, in the end, that one should always go into situations with your eyes wide open, I suppose, but the power of this book lies in letting us make up our own minds.

As always, the writing and the subject material are mild, overall, and almost always conversational. It's easy-going despite the few tragedies we encounter, and never offensive. Overall, it's almost always about honesty, and that takes courage, too.

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