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
Murder?

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.

Honestly?

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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