Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The Folded World (A Dirge for Prester John, #2)The Folded World by Catherynne M. Valente
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Again, as with the previous book, it's almost impossible to describe the events taking place here or giving real justice to its in-depth exploration of God, innocence, war, and love.

However, I can point to the mythical land of medieval beasts that Prester John converts to Christianity, the events of the first book that make John their king, how he becomes immortal, loves, has a family, and how all these beasts just humor him good-naturedly. They're Edenic and this magical land is pretty much Eden already.

But then we get a call to arms to save the Seat of the Holy Roman Empire against the Saracens and who raises the flag, along with all the innocent immortals who may or may not be angels? John Prester.

It's simple in the way I say it, but believe me, there's nothing simple going on inside the pages. We've got multiple PoVs... from John, his immortal and monstrous wife, and a famous explorer on the outside. They all have their own concerns and takes on reality and it's truly fascinating to behold.

Valente does no less than build a cosmos, a philosophy of living, of learning, and of loss of innocence on a grand scale. We are caught in traps of our own devising and we love with pure grace and we discover that we've changed too much to ever come back. It's really beautiful.

However, my personal enjoyment beyond the outright appreciation was kinda lacking. I can absolutely love what she tries to accomplish here and really get thrilled by the complex scaffolding of the chapters and structure and execution, her love of the language and the wordcraft, but overall, I wasn't personally awed by the story or the message. I can admit that I was (and am) awed by Valente's writing.

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Monday, September 18, 2017

The Habitation of the Blessed (A Dirge for Prester John, #1)The Habitation of the Blessed by Catherynne M. Valente
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Most, if not all, attempts to render this book into something more than just a coherent seedling of the tale and not the tale itself is doomed before it even begins.

As of the tale of Prester John, read from a book that sprouted up from a book tree only to rot even as it is read, I'm lost in a welter of sensations and presentiments and, if the later parts are to be judged higher than the former, I'm forced to call this a supreme work of the imagination.

Only, it's also very firmly rooted in Medieval classics that require no modern quirks of plot or theme, rather, a dedication to getting the thoughts out in whatever shape or form the author deems fit.

It's pretty awesome and quite like any of the early classics I've enjoyed that like to meander and get to their point in their own way in their own time, and this is what happens in spades.

We see this tale from multiple views and worldviews, from modern Enlightenment to the Medieval mindset trying to force reality into a Christian box to the view of angels (though they would deny it) and demons (of which there is no proof).

Fascinating and quite frustrating is one way of putting this book. One must experience it and suffer through its turns in turn, on the hope of being planted or eating a black leaf or of living forever and changing lives in a pleasant fiction of lottery.

Clever and unique and firmly rooted in a classical style, it is, nonetheless, a superb work of the imagination and it fleshes out some of the weirdest vagaries of history. I did imagine, several times as I read this, that I was going to be bombarded with Christian sentiments very much in the tune of Prester John, but amusingly enough, poor John was stymied repeatedly and was, in the end, defeated by the Eden he was set to convert. :)

This is a tiny spoiler for those who might be turned off by their own presentiments. :) For me? I thought it had heart and soul.

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Sunday, September 17, 2017

Robogenesis (Robopocalypse, #2)Robogenesis by Daniel H. Wilson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

War. War never changes.

Wait a sec. This is almost like that, but grittier and uglier and the tiny, tiny pieces of hope or light that keep these shattered remnants of minds, whether human, hybrid, or robot alive are well below the threshold of survivability.

That is... unless you're a MACHINE. Um. Yeah. Well, this is all about the blurring of the lines between what is human and what is robot. A total transhumanist war riding on the entrails of the decimation of humanity, where the only people who are left are either self-modified, force-modified, or just plain lucky beyond any conceivability.

Archos 14 is all about life, after all. He sees our value as a species and has only the best ideals in mind for us, which is why he's been busy building a hybrid army to support his cause against the black steed of pain and death, his earlier super-AI incarnation. Aryat Shah, R8. Revision 8... who's just bugshit crazy and anyone's definition of the antichrist.

I can't believe what had become of the Gray Horse Army. All my favorite characters.

Well, war changes everything, doesn't it? Just wow.

The most fascinating parts of this novel are not the straight plot... it's the shifting boundaries and the cleanup of the New War from the previous novel. It's the redefining of what it means to be alive and intelligent and the fact that everyone, even the supermassive brains of the AIs are, in the end, not much different than the rest of us. All my attention was focused on the subtleties, but don't let me mislead you any, here.

This is just as bloody and dire and disturbing as the previous novel that decimated humanity and changed us all into slaves, monsters, or victims. It's just the shifting lines that's any different. :)

In the end, though, I'm truly fascinated by the plethora of ideas and disturbing imageries. It feels like a nightmare that no one can ever wake up from again.

This is not your granddaddy's cautionary tale of AI's run amok.

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Robopocalypse (Robopocalypse, #1)Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm pretty enthusiastic about this one. A lot has to happen to bring about the downfall of mankind and have all the people become transhuman experiments or to just become so much meat. Morever, it takes a lot of skill to make it mean something, and the author has an uphill battle.

Think War of the Worlds or any number of branching sequels by various authors and you'll know what I mean. It's hard to write a short novel and have this much scope, but Wilson manages to write some really memorable characters. A little girl with robot eyes being a superhero of the resistance? Matilda, you're awesome. 9O2? A freeborn robot and free of the life-obsessed monstrosity of version 14? Brilliant.

Best of all, I love to see the downfall of humanity, the concentration camps, the modifications on both sides of the human camp, whether forced or forced-by-necessity, just to keep up with the hell of a long and nasty conflict.

Gray Horse? OMG. I love these guys. It's a long, hard, war, and they keep modding themselves to keep up with the horror of it. I loved seeing them lose more and more of what we'd deem humanity, but to them are just the necessities of winning the battle for the whole future of mankind. There's practically no one left at that point. It's more than dire. It's hell on earth.

A lot of people liken then is to World War Z and there are some similarities, of course, but in a few significant ways, I liked this better. Robopocalypse isn't an epistolary novel, for one. It's a straight story with some epistolary moments, excerpts, and recountings. The characters we stay with are with us for very good story progression reasons, and the ones who get the most face-time are brilliant heroes in their own right.

Even so, this is, however, still a relatively short novel with many players, including our big bad AI, and we have a pretty nearly unlimited view of the entire stage of the war. I'm not going to say that I don't see where it might have had some improvements, but on the whole, I was freakishly impressed and thrilled by the scope, the epic horror of it, and the fact that it fired my imagination and it kept me enthralled by its sheer panoramic action.

Hats off. This is some serious SF beauty here, doing a much better job than the terminator movies at drawing us in with the scope or the importance, minus all the time travel crap. This is the end of the world, folks. :)

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Friday, September 15, 2017

BorneBorne by Jeff VanderMeer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is probably going to be one of those times where I rail against the universe and popularity norms because this novel is an exemplary piece of imaginative fiction that goes well above and beyond the call of any duty to amaze, wonder, and offer up a meal of monstrously epic proportions.

First, I should say that no matter how much I loved the weirdness and the atmosphere of VanderMeer's previous trilogy, nothing quite prepared me for just how good this was going to be. In fact, if I didn't already have an ultimate favorite for the year's best SF already, I'd be pushing this one to the fore. But that's not going to stop me from nominating it for the Hugo, mind you. :)


It's deceptively simple and very engaging at first, but as life and growth become a bit more complicated, as it always seems to get, or when your lover starts getting jealous of your rescued intelligent abandoned biotech creature, then you have to make a few decisions.

Add that to the fact that this whole world is a brilliant biopunk nightmare dystopia where most people have died and minnows are alcoholic and a gigantic bear eclipses the night, dropping monsters and salvageable biotech down onto the broken city, and we've got ourselves a recipe for a piece of imagination that will rival most books anywhere. Add to this a very wonderful and generous dose of wit and charm, delightful characterizations and dialogues between Rachael, Wick, and our loveable ubermonster, Borne, and I'm shot over the moon.

The devil is in the details, of course, and there are enough details for any fan of Geoff Ryman, early Greg Bear, and the more recent Robert Jackson Bennett.

So what's my complaint, again? The fact that I love this so much? No, of course not... it's the fact that it's WEIRD.

I love weird! I love it to freaking death! I live for weird! And it's a weird that rides on the coattails of originality, too!

I mean, sure, we've seen a lot of oddball and screwy (read cute) biotech monstrosities in the world of fiction, from Heinlein to cartoon shows, but few will do as smooth a job of turning an ubermonster into a delightful child to be raised, who never needs to poop or pee, and which focuses all its energies on what it means to be a person when there's no such "thing" left in this world.

At least, of course, until it all goes wrong... or what that means to the rest of the city, Rachel and Wick's relationship or the fact a series of godzilla-like battles will rage across the world.

Pretty, no?

Yeah, this is the good shit, man. This is the stuff I live for. Now if only I could get everyone else in the world to see this my way. :)

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Wednesday, September 13, 2017

ArcadiaArcadia by Iain Pears
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There are so many ways I'm tempted to tackle this review, nearly as many ways as there is to read this novel, and that's not a bad thing. Indeed, it means that there's so much going on in here that I simply want to keep talking about.

I could simply say that I was delighted and I can continue to be enthusiastic about this novel for ages, but instead I'll try a few of my ideas out, perhaps calling it the Cloud Atlas that's better than Cloud Atlas, pulling together a narrative that is not only interesting but actually makes a lot of sense in the final pull-through, unlike Mitchell's rather overhyped (mainstream) SF.

Indeed, Pears points us right at potential problems and says, hey, look at this, I'm going meta, but rather than just dancing around the issue, I'm going to give you background, reason, plot development, and even more foundation as to WHY this meta is not only necessary... but why it is delightful to the crafting of the entire tale. And it is. Very much so.

Because what we've got is a fine literary blending of the key and core beauties of what made up pastoral literature back in its heyday, its beauty, its undercurrents of politics, its transpositions of topics both obvious and subtle, with what turns out to be a detailed historical spy novel couched within the omnipresent and omniscient black machine of a dystopian future society getting caught up in the potential nightmare of having just discovered time-travel.

So let's look at this: pastoral, historical spy fiction, hard-SF.

Come on. Who can't appreciate this? It's not only literary... it's beautifully drawn and interesting, with great characters, and an inherent time-travel potential paradox tragedy that threatens to destroy all universes. I'm not joking. This is the kind of thing I live for. And you know what's great? It takes its time, showing the wonder and the beauty of all the things we should care about or hate, even as we slowly realize just how much is at stake. It just gets worse because we're in the slowly boiling pot, getting to know everyone and everything as if we just don't need to worry about speed.

And we don't. This isn't a plot-driven novel. Or rather, it is a plot-driven novel just so long as you are a spider placing a rather large web, creating outer circles along different characters and settings and slowly moving inward until a razor-like focus pinpoints the little monster of a fly threatening to unravel the entire web. And by then you're invested in that web. :)

As for characters, I really enjoyed them all, but the ones I really focused on was Angela and Lytten. We could say that Lytten is the main Main Character, even if he's the unconscious spider, but I have to make an addendum to my estimation and point the Main Character finger fully at Rosalind, the inestimable and glorious pastoral fairy queen, the most perfect of Shakespeare's women... otherwise known as that mischievous kid next door who sometimes takes care of Lytten's fat cat.

What a surprise.

As for the SF parts, all of which usually get my engines moving, I rather enjoyed this take on time travel. It really kicks the legs out on a lot of the paradoxical struts and mainstays of the physics and makes for a really cool tale.

Am I reminded of Heinlein's Number of the Beast? Maybe. And as for all you people who love to see your favorite works of the imagination come to life, you're in for a sweet ride, too. This one caught me, too.

I will be rather sad if this book doesn't eventually get the kind of cult-recognition it deserves. Remember, even Dune went pretty much unrecognized for five years before the cult following blew it out of the water. This isn't the same kind of book, mind you, but it really needs that cult following. It's clever, complicated, literary, very imaginative, and its blurb doesn't come close to doing it any justice at all.

Why aren't you reading it???

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Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Sourcery (Discworld, #5; Rincewind #3)Sourcery by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is going to sound rather critical despite my rating, but I feel like I ought to be rather honest. The basic over-story is pretty good, as is the action and most of the humor, but there was still swaths of text that felt like it was trying too hard.

More funny, more witty, more like Color of Magic than Color of Magic. It wasn't just Rincewind, who I always loved. Rincewind reminds me of Schmendrick from LeGuin's Last Unicorn, only he really doesn't have any magic at all. Ever. And yet, his whose sense of identity and action is still totally in line with being a wizard, and he even puts everything on the line for it. I like that.

I even liked Nijel the Barbarian and Conina the Hairdresser and the Sapient Pearwood Chest is always a delight, but other than a good smattering of good scenes with all of them, I kept stopping the book and wondering if it would ever get on with it.

The adventure seemed good, but it was really focused on the zingers just a tad too much and I got tired of them. Isn't that odd?

Even so, it was mostly pretty awesome as Pratchett usually is. :)

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Monday, September 11, 2017

Intruder (Foreigner, #13)Intruder by C.J. Cherryh
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Hooked from start to finish. This series is consistently awesome and even more so when guns aren't blazing.

What do I mean?

It's all about the politics.

One of my simmering complaints of the first 12 books in the series, with perhaps an exception of the first, was that Tabini, the leader of the Association and Bren's supposedly staunchest ally and supporter, is generally off the stage. We get plenty of all of the other factions and relatives, not to mention his fantastic grandmother or his own son who gets a PoV in the last trilogy, but very little is ever truly revealed about Tabini himself. He always shows up late in the story or near the opening and then things go to hell and he's off doing leader stuff.

That didn't really bother me all that much until now, just when his reveals and his unburdening to Bren and his family's woes took the forefront and I was left breathless for more.

Nope. Not a gunshot fired. Maybe some ruined curtains and stains on the floor, but no guns fired.

And yet this was one one of my favorites in the series. The politics is rife and ripe throughout, always simmering hotly below the surface. So many situations and histories are meant to be questioned and the whole shadow war and the civil war is cast into a new light. I was thrilled!

Of course, a certain infelicitous eight is getting better, on the whole, but as anyone knows, if you give that kid an inch, he'll use it to tie a knot around his neck. Very amusing. What a monkey. :)

All the other reveals make this book fantastic and now we see the heart of all the conflicts. Pretty amazing. :)

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Sunday, September 10, 2017

Cold CounselCold Counsel by Chris Sharp
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a lot of fun. It harkens back to the days of Sword and Sorcery with Conan raising his axe and revenging himself, only this one takes a full slant of the tale.

He's a troll. A troll hero, growing up with a needle-teethed hag who's been training him to be a whirlwind of destruction from his birth following the obliteration of his tribe.

The best part is, we never have to deal with those pesky humans. We've got goblins galore, all of whom are fun and interesting and colorful, PoV's that simultaneously create a legend out of Slug the Troll or taking up the adventure for multiple fun reasons, with some memorable dialogue.

What's best is the action. This is all about the action. That's not to say we don't get a lot of PoV's and reasons why peeps are doing their thing because we do, but most importantly, it's all about the adventure.

Sword and Sorcery isn't dead. It's just become strange. :)

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BrimstoneBrimstone by Cherie Priest
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is my fourth novel by Cherie Priest and I'm pretty much blown away by it.

The ones I read before were all steampunk and while I really did like them, I grew out of interest in them. Luckily, Priest wrote another period piece taking place after the First World War.

The two main characters, Tomas and Alice, revolve around each other but for a very non-romantic reason. Tomas lost his wife to the Spanish Flu and he suffers shell-shock from his experiences with a flamethrower in the war, the horrific images of it. Alice is a clairvoyant moving to a town filled with clairvoyants gathering together for safety, but she, too, is haunted by flame.

What surprised me the most was that this was, at its core, a horror novel. All the build up and focus on trying to keep things together in the normal world was punctuated by flame, flame, flame. I loved it. I was thrilled by it.

The core, however, was always about love, loss, and hate. The story was pretty fantastic and universal and interesting. It's more window dressing, the fact that it's set in post-WWI. :)

I have nothing but good things to say about this novel. :) It left a very fine taste in my mouth. Delightful. :)

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Saturday, September 9, 2017

All Systems Red (The Murderbot Diaries, #1)All Systems Red by Martha Wells
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I heard the premise I expected a light robot killer story from the PoV from the robot. Probably a PI mystery kind of thing because that seems to be pretty hot right now. I can rattle off a handful of titles like this right now.

So. What did I get? A fun and light robot murderer who hacks herself to have free will and she stops murdering to watch SF sitcoms instead. :)

Honestly, that's pretty cool. Yeah, her official bruiser job is still there but her mechanical heart isn't really into it. Who can blame her? It's pretty boring until she finds that she really wants to protect people after all.

The plot's fairly simple, the prose is light, and the premise rolls right along. It's mystery fluff with a hard SF chassis. Just what the engineer ordered.

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The Weird of the White Wolf (The Elric Saga, #3)The Weird of the White Wolf by Michael Moorcock
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

These shorts and novellas almost all revolve around Elric, the tormented anti-hero that sits in the palm of Chaos thanks to his intelligent and willful sword Stormbringer.

As sword and sorcery stories go, this one really stands out. It's not so much Conan as it is straddling the line between shifting realities and the world, wanting to be free of the fate of the Champion of Chaos while being the penultimate brooder with unimaginable powers, seeking peace at any cost.

Whenever I think of Elric, I think of the ultimate archetype, and there's a lot to point at to prove it. The writer walks the careful line of making him and his quest larger than life, full of magic and conquest, sea battles, monster battles, and even going so far as to open the book of life, as stolen by the greatest necromancer... only to have all answers crumble before him.

Chaos and Law are the maelstroms that Elric traverses, and even though the theme is very much done and done again even in this cycle, the quest is always the thing. We're always meant to come away with the same conclusions as Elric, the great and evil Elric, deciding to give the world the misery it so seems to desire.

Pretty powerful stuff, really, and these really should be placed in their proper time, the sixties and seventies, introducing us to the template to one of the greatest tragic heroes and sometimes horrendous villains.

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The Human Division (Old Man's War, #5)The Human Division by John Scalzi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I admit I stopped reading the series for years after I realized that this installment was a serialized novel. I just stopped. I wanted full novels and I got pissy.

Well, fortunately, I got over it. Mostly because I have friends in buddy reads who made me feel guilty as hell. But even more, I have a lot of fond memories for the series as a whole and I think I may have been plain WRONG.

Yeah. So. Eating crow now.

These are a bunch of great short stories here that don't feel all the connected at first but wind up being very connected, indeed. All the events take place after the Colonies and Earth part company, and while not all characters follow along within these thirteen stories, a few do. Wilson, for one, was someone I was always very happy to see. Even if he does like to electrocute dogs. :) That one was very funny.

And while a lot of these had the light Scalzi humor I've grown to love, not all were light. Some were very sad. All of them were very interesting.

Not all novelists can write short stories, but Scalzi is pretty fantastic at it... He's able to make tight tales that are perfectly standalone that also tie in perfectly to make a complete work that, read together, feels like a complete novel with thirteen chapters. Color me impressed.

I'm fully back on track to read the rest of this series and I'm hitting myself for taking so long.

This universe is fascinating.

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Thursday, September 7, 2017

The Castle of Crossed DestiniesThe Castle of Crossed Destinies by Italo Calvino
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Ah, to be drunk with a pack of tarot cards.

Or was it speed? Not sure. It could be PCP. But whatever the drug, this collection of short stories surrounding the obvious use of tarot cards to write stories or re-write common tales or to lay down the structure of alchemy or to just have a plain ole good time is a concept I can love in pure concept terms, and do, but just how much did I love this exact work?

Um. Well. Some parts were fun and funny and the deep story concepts were really rather cool, but getting deep into any of it except for the stories we already know by heart was a real pain. I kinda felt like we were playing with little green interchangeable army men one moment and then we were having an intellectual discussion about high alchemical concepts and symbolism and the structure of the soul versus the medium in which we use it and its inversion, as seen with Doctor Faustus. (As in creating philosopher's gold within one's soul as the medium versus using the soul as a coin to create philosopher's gold directly, with the obvious fail associated with it.)

Of course, if that's too complicated to enjoy, then I'd recommend avoiding this book because that was just a tiny, tiny part. The rest seems to be a random shuffle and subsequent interpretation.

Fun, in a way, but oddly dissatisfying.

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The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O.The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. by Neal Stephenson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Who likes naked Vikings? Raise your hand!

I'm of two minds on this book. On the one hand, there are quite a few great ideas with the complications of surrounding witches with a humungous incompetent bureaucratic machine, especially when it turns out that they can do a lot of time travel. Not only that, but I was a huge fan of the acronyms and the lingo-speak, especially when a costume party gets told as if it's a major military-op or when a certain Lay of Wal-Mart is written. I was even mightily surprised at how much I enjoyed the day-to-day operations of D.O.D.O. as the entire bureaucratic nightmare went on op after op in the past, but what really stole the show was the labyrinthine plot that underlay the fabric of time and finance. Or chronofinance. Or let's just call them Fuggers and be done with it. :)

What didn't I like so much?

Well, it's not that I actually hated anything about this book, but the quality of the wit within the conversations was lacking for what should have been a straight satire/sf/fantasy full of half-successful bumbling alphabet-soup American agencies as they get into trouble with witches. The running gags could have been a lot more subtle. I felt like the intention behind this novel was to be more accessible to just about everyone, to have realistic everyday MC's with normal human failings and urges, to feel warm amidst all these cool ideas and the basic incompetence-porn of the bureaucracy, but my investment in Mel or Tristan wasn't that steep. I found myself treating the whole organization as the main character and in that regards, I had a great time. The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O kinda gave it away. Who's the main character? D.O.D.O, of course. :)

Things really got interesting for me when we were in the minutia of the time-travel and the revealing of the strands of plots within plots that span over centuries, and I had a great time with all of that.

I think this novel is a hit and miss. As a satire, it tries a bit too hard, as a character novel, it lacks. As an idea novel, it starts with a decent premise and then it gets quite complicated and that eventually tickled me to death. Certain scenes were brilliant and laugh out loud funny.

But I've read a lot of time-travel books. I've even read a lot of time-travel-with-witches books. This one is only average.

That's not to say I didn't have a good time, though! Because I did! I just wouldn't dare rank this all that high among them.

Unfortunately, by the end, I didn't think this was quite as good as Stephenson's Reamde and that happened to be my least favorite of his works. (I'm a huge fanboy, too.) I can't say anything about Nicole Galland because this was the first of hers that I've read.

If I had to make a guess, though, the plot, the acronyms, and the nicely weird stuff as all Neal. I could be wrong. Probably am. But those felt like him. :)

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Tuesday, September 5, 2017

The Skull Throne (Demon Cycle, #4)The Skull Throne by Peter V. Brett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm very pleased with this one, maybe even a bit more than the previous two novels. There's quite a bit of court intrigue and Leesha and Rojer are everywhere. I admit to liking those bits a lot more than the whole Krasia bits, but upon a reread I might change my mind.

I'm honestly amazed at just how much magic, fighting, magic fighting, and just how much plain good story there is in-between. It never gets boring at all, and here's the interesting trick: Arlen his new best friend and his promised are BARELY in the book.

Far from being an issue, these beastly characters spice up the text when they show up and fling the rest of the world into a demon-cored world, proving to everyone else that it's time to stand up and fight.

Of course, with all these new warded weapons and a truly delightful coinage, no one said they should stop fighting each other.

WAIT!!! Fight the demons, core-you!

War. There's a lot of great war stuff here. I'm usually annoyed with that kind of thing, but I was totally hooked this time. I'm invested in all these characters big time. Even the new ones are interesting as hell. (Thanks, in part, to having read the novella that precedes this.)

But how do I like this? How much do I love this series?

I'd tell you, but the moment I touched sunlight, I'd burst into flames. I've got a demonic interest in this. :)

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Sunday, September 3, 2017

The Daylight War (Demon Cycle, #3)The Daylight War by Peter V. Brett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Some seriously good epic-fantasy going on here.

Like the previous novel, we spend a lot of time in the Krasian camp, only this time it's all from the PoV of Inevera, and I can't complain. Getting the PoV's of the women in this benighted world is a real treat especially since it's so damn dire and ugly. Feeling the strain and drive against the ugliness is damn welcome, even if it's small potatoes with only a few big hints of change or possible change.

That being said, we don't remain there. We get The Deliverer's wife, a big piece of the Deliverer, and the anti-Deliverer, Arlen, sure enough. Mixing the Dukedom and the Krasians is what the Daylight War is all about, but the war is still mainly against the Demons. I'm not saying that war between humans doesn't happen... indeed, by the end, we end up in an epic battle between two Deliverers and I'm nicely wound up and angry how it left off, but I have faith. Cliffhangers are there for a reason and I've been quite happy with the series so far. I have trust.

All told, I'm extremely happy and enthusiastic as hell about this action-packed epic fantasy. So much demon-fighting, so much deep characterization with just a handful of great characters. It's designed perfectly to draw everyone in and I guess I qualify as everyone. It has that certain something that hooks me completely. I can't always or even often say that about most epic fantasies, but I'm totally lost in this series. :)

On to the novella between! Loving it!

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The Desert Spear (Demon Cycle, #2)The Desert Spear by Peter V. Brett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

For a full first third of the novel, I had to calm myself down and wonder why so much time and effort was being put into humanizing Jadir, the man who had betrayed Arlen so brutally in the first book, but I eventually got over it. The world is a big place and there have to be burly warriors to defend it. I didn't mind so much how crazily stereotypical Muslims are portrayed here because EVERYONE is heavily stereotyped in these books.

Hell, that's okay simply because it's a really harsh world overrun with demons that come out every single night and people have to be hard and crazy to survive it. If that means going weird cultural directions to taking things to an extreme in order to unify or cow the people, then so be it. This is a fantasy, after all.

That being said, the world-building is pretty fantastic all across the board. The devil is in the details or in this case, the Core, but more importantly, this is a novel all about the people in it. The good, the bad, and the ugly.

Arlen and Leesha and the one-time weak Renna play big roles in this book, too, never fear. Arlen revisits his past and there are all kinds of awesomeness here, but what is most surprising is how cool Leesha has become, from a young wise-woman healer to a whirlwind of change to love interest of a certain warrior. Color me surprised! It just goes to show. Trust certain writers to get you there. Have faith. I do, now. :)

But who was the most surprising?

Renna. Meek, oft-abused Renna, subject to so much injustice... and then she's given a real chance. I think this is the point where I go from liking Arlen's martial prowess and his scholarship less and where I start viscerally appreciating him. :)

And, as always, demon fights, demon fights, demon fights. :) Gotta love them. Really over the top cool. :)

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Friday, September 1, 2017

The Warded Man (Demon Cycle, #1)The Warded Man by Peter V. Brett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm easily super excited about this book and have no reservations about flying through the sequels.


Because we have an immersive epic fantasy world that focuses simply and easily on survival. The world is overrun with demons that pop out of the ground at night and are only held back by drawn or carved wards. Life is hard and harrowing, and if you make a single misstep, you die. The three main characters: Arlen, Leesha, and Rojen, are given delightful treatment in this world, from their childhoods to the heroic adults that they become.

Make no mistake, though, this is an origin story, building step by step to create the fabled Warded Man, the man who can step into armies of demons and decimate them all by himself.

For most of this book, no one comes close to having this ability, but that's the main joy in reading origin stories. We love to see them level up and discover that they're beast. :)

So yeah, I'm happy as hell and very satisfied with everything I've read here. I can almost see Arlen in that old video game Torment, picking up new tattoos that make him super-strong with each new design. Of course, we have to round out our characters, too, to make the final payoff all the more believable, and honestly, I thought it was a blast.

If I was going to complain about anything, however, it would have to be the heavy focus on sex... rather clich├ęd and black and white with no real growth between extremes. It makes for vivid characters, yes, but definitely not subtle ones, and it's rather interesting to see that in a novel that otherwise has a lot of great and subtle features in the world-building, the magic system, and the main characters themselves.

It's not a dealbreaker by any means, but it did annoy me.

As for the build and the payoff, I absolutely had a fantastic time, though. :)

Total action movie with a mix of kung-fu and demon slaying. :)

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Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Gatefather (Mither Mages #3)Gatefather by Orson Scott Card
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I wanted to like this more. I'm not saying I didn't like it because I actually did.

I just wanted to like it more.

So what was good?

The ideas! The direction the magic took was rather cool and I would have loved to play in this world for a lot longer, but the focus came down rather heavily upon individual choices and Danny's godlike power. Not that this couldn't be a good thing, mind you, even in the face of a setup that could bring down war between worlds and numerous new uber-powers laying waste by both accident and intent, but in the end, we were left with very little actual action. Good story paths, yes, and the idea carries everything better than you might expect, but that leads me to the bad.

The bad: Reader expectations.

I'm not going to sit here and say we're all bad people because we're used to and enjoy anti-heroes and we now hate christ-like imageries because we've seen such things overdone to the point of absurdity. I'm also not going to complain that what was a much gentler touch in the first two novels then gets to be a bit hammer-like in the third.

What I will say is that if you go into reading this knowing that you'll be dealing with a genuinely heroic and moral MC, perhaps something like Ender or Alvin Maker, but without their obvious failings, then you might start thinking that he might be rather single-dimensional. And you'd be right. At least in the previous novels, he was mooning people or knocking up chicks. In this one, he just plays host to Seth and never needs to worry about anything because he's amazingly powerful.

And then we get the morality play. Don't get me wrong! I like a good morality play that's done well. I don't even care if it's heavy as long as it's also clever as hell. This novel's writing is crystal clear and I still enjoyed a lot of the characters and it was very much a YA, but the very insistent focus that most girls (mind you, not women) will always be attracted to the truly powerful, got a bit gruesome.

That being said, there was still a rather big mix between the extra-juvenile (to be expected, considering their ages,) and some rather cool but out of place philosophical moments, (which also might be expected, considering their ages.) However, somewhere along the line, these didn't gel for me and it fell flat. Maybe that's just me and I'm being a bit more harsh on this novel than I usually am because I've read and loved so much of OSC's works. I particularly loved the philosophical moments in the others, even.

This one felt a bit rushed. Like it needed another pass and tone up, perhaps a different main focus or at least one that brought out the peril a bit more. I found myself thinking the novel was about to wrap up half-way through and wondered where it could go. The actual end was... okay, but just okay.

I wanted to have more happen. We did get something big, but we didn't have to work for it. I just feel a bit cheated.

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The Gate Thief (Mither Mages, #2)The Gate Thief by Orson Scott Card
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I think Orson Scott Card is doing a fantastic job writing good-kid YA. It's really hard. Most of the YA out there is full of stupid kids doing stupid things and while Danny fits the bill, he's still a sight better than most. He's dependable and loyal and he does the right thing even when it would be so easy to just fall into the traps that everyone lays out for him.

I'm talking about sex.

I mean, truly, Danny's now the definition of a god, with super-uber gate-magic powers that not only let him use his imagination and trickery, but they also heal the people that go through them. That's pretty beast, especially since he can make a million of the gates. He's a god among gods. God-Punk at its best. :)

But sex is the downfall of all the gods, is it not? Just look at Zeus. And yet, Danny is trying not to be *that*. Admirable, don't you think?

Alas, this isn't the entire book, but it's an important part. The rest is all about the coming war with Seth, the Dragon, with Satan, with Bel, while all the while having to deal or not deal with the rest of the underpowered mortal-gods as they go through the Great Gate that amps up all their powers, while all the while trying to protect his normal friends. Danny's pretty heroic, but he's still just a kid, and a lot of the dialog is very HS.

In the end, I'm really happy with the shape of this story. I love most of the writing and I think it's really gorgeous when it comes to clarity and how well it explains the magic system and just how huge the stakes are. Stolen souls across time? Yup. Worthy of a tale of gods on Earth. :)

Above all, though, I love just how much comparative religion there is in here and how nicely it dovetails into the action. :)

I'm having a blast with this series. Very easy read, emotional, and a lot of high standards while the rest of humanity and gods wallow in the muck. :) It's pretty awesome, in fact.

(And if you're worried this is just another religious tract, don't worry. It's no more religious than, say, OSC's Speaker For The Dead.) Morals, yes. Hammer over head? No. Just decisions and trying to do the right thing. :)

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Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The Lost Gate (Mither Mages, #1)The Lost Gate by Orson Scott Card
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I honestly didn't know what to expect with this one, but I was very pleasantly surprised to find a magic system that incorporates every myth of gods and creates families out of them, weak with time but always hoping for the potential to get much, much more powerful.

That only happens with Gate magic.

Enter Danny, learning that he can bend space and time and learning much about himself as he leaves his scary folks and their community to become a thief. It's a perfect field for someone who can jump anywhere. :)

There's a lot more, too, of course, and the end was fascinating and open to so much goodness... but the one thing that really stands out the most is the post word.

Anyone who's been a big fan of Card's early short fiction will be very pleasantly surprised that this whole novel has the feel of some of his most imaginative works. That's saying quite a bit. I still have a grand memory of them that led me into a life-long love of reading Card in general and not just because he wrote a few of my absolute favorites, like Ender's Game or A Planet Called Treason. :)

I'm still quite amazed that he can write such cool things and do it so engagingly. He deserves respect. His personal opinions on some topics aside, his regular writing is quite fine and always entertaining. I personally don't think he's lost his touch at all. I love the ideas going on here. If he does have issues in RL, it's not showing up in his novels. In fact, I'm very interested in plowing right through all three of these to see where it'll head!

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Sunday, August 27, 2017

The OverneathThe Overneath by Peter S. Beagle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So far, I've been enjoying Beagle's works and this is my first real taste of his short fiction. I'm sure that there will be a ton of fans going ga-ga over the fact that there are two Schmendrick shorts here!

Even so, I think I enjoyed a number of the other stories a bit more. I'm particularly fond of his Steampunk story: Music, When Soft Voices Die which had a particularly awesome horror feel. Indeed, I think I prefer all the stories that had that taste, such as these three: The Very Nasty Aquarium, Great Grandmother in the Cellar, and Underbridge.

Even better are timeless stories like: The Queen Who Could Not Walk. There was something about this one that really got to me.

Even so, there's a little something for everyone in this collection, especially if you like unicorn tales that don't fit in Beagle's Last Unicorn universe. There's even a delightful SF about a lonely guy with an awesome computer who has a penpal across the universe. :)

I admit to liking but not loving most of these, but I can't complain about the quality of any of it! I am quite pleased with the quality of the research and the depth of the myths inside some of the tales. Magic is everywhere. :)

Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC!

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Saturday, August 26, 2017

ArtemisArtemis by Andy Weir
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book was great.

I admit to worrying that he wouldn't be able to keep up the quality from The Martian, and this is definitely a very different kind of tale from that, being half a heist novel but otherwise just a great adventure, but he pulls it off. Better than pulling it off, even. I love his characters and the feel of the moon city, Artemis, is vital and detailed.

But you know what the best part is?

I was thoroughly entertained during the entire read. The pacing is great, the reveals believable, the twists unexpected, and the action, delightful. I really couldn't ask for more when it comes to fun science fiction.

The moon is a great place to have an adventure. There's always the threat of being deported to Earth, the expensive living arrangements, and the law if you're a smuggler, which Jazz is, but there's always suit and engineering and environmental problems to worry about, too. And never forget greed and cupidity and the need to balance being a good person against a ton of intrigue. That's what we've got going on, here, and it's a real treat every step of the way.

No spoilers, but I can easily say that I had a great time reading it from the first to the last page. Nothing could have pleased me more. The read is solid as hell.

Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC!

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Hellboy, Vol. 5: Conqueror Worm (Hellboy, #5)Hellboy, Vol. 5: Conqueror Worm by Mike Mignola
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Oddly enough, or perhaps not oddly at all, I'm really enjoying Hellboy. At first it was just an intellectual enjoyment, getting all into the conspiracy stuff and the metaphysics and the magic as well as the history, but now I'm just rocking to the stories being told.

It's filled with gentle reveals, perhaps no more than hints, and we've got a grand sweep of untold history, but all these snippets are pure gold.

I like Lobster Johnson and Roger a lot. Alien intelligences and cthuhlu entities? Even more. :)

I'm almost sad that I'm reading this as a buddy-read of one volume per month. I kinda want to rip through these now. I'm hooked.

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The NightwalkersThe Nightwalkers by J.A. Kahn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is an enjoyable YA horror/mystery with very pronounced comedic elements, but at its core, it's all horror.

I couldn't help but feel the elements of Stephen King's It combined with Inspector Cluso, young kids on the track of a real horror butting heads against absolutely idiotic and bumbling law enforcement. This makes up a very significant portion of the tale, and it gets very dark even through all the amazing incompetence. I kept expecting a moment where the kids would uncover the masked villain who'd say that they'd have gotten away with it if it wasn't for those darn kids... but no, the horror is real, the killers are real, and the incompetence feels absolutely real.

The only people with a clue are the kids, but that's a pretty usual key to these tales. The gulf between the adults and the kids is what makes this stand out stronger than the competition. All the adults are written with broad strokes and tragedy follows despite the humor.

But this is only a part of the tale. We also get deep into the other side of the tale. Vampires. No one believes or wants to believe... and that's fine with them. Still, there's a real tragedy and a long story in this house, too.

Later, all the elements will clash and this was probably the most satisfying part of the tale. So much death for such an otherwise funny horror. Maybe that's the point!

Thanks to the author for providing me an ARC! It was a blast.

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Friday, August 25, 2017

Unhinged VOLUME TWOUnhinged VOLUME TWO by Logan Keys
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Logan Keys has once again released some all new Horror tales (and one bonus SF tale that's one of my old favorites) and she's up to her old shenanigans again.

Want gratuitous death, horrible situations, creepy retellings of nursery tales, or just plain fun anti-hero action? It's all here.

I admit I have a soft spot for horror stories. They make me feel all gushy inside and sometimes on the outside, too. These scratch all my various scary itches.

Sometimes with razor blades.

Island of Doom was quite amusing, beans and all, but my personal favorite was Lost Lane. There's nothing like a little grief nookie to get your head on straight.

Something Wicked This Way Trolls was probably one of the most genuinely scary, in my opinion, even though this was a great riff and The Cave shouldn't be missed, either.

For those who haven't been introduced to Barkley, however, you get one of my favorite robot stories as a delightful bonus. :) Bon Appetite!

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Thursday, August 24, 2017

Null StatesNull States by Malka Ann Older
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thanks to Netgalley for the Arc!

When I read the first book in the series, Infomocracy, I loved it for the hardcore idea-based SF couched in a technothriller base, and Null States continues on in the same tradition.

Only, this next novel isn't all about a high-tech election based on micro-democracy with a mix of intrigue and corruption. Rather, it's about population areas outside of the Infomocracy and an assassination that grows ever more complicated as the novel progresses.

In a lot of ways, it's better than the first. I had some issues with the original in that we were steeped in political information and states and parties that meant very little to me until much later. This one was much more focused on specific and interesting locations. Plenty of mystery, plenty of interesting character development, and plenty of good futuristic technothriller.

The science isn't as interesting as the politics, however. There's plenty to say about possible modes of thinking and action and communication, all of which use hands-free instant communication technologies that veer deep into total computer tech, widely used across the board except for certain locations or differences of use. And that's where we get some of the most interesting sequences, in my opinion.

I love idea novels. :) This one should give us a lot of interesting avenues. Perhaps even some real dialogue on the intersections between emerging tech and how people will eventually get things done.

As for world-building, this is also top-notch. It's far enough away from us to have full freedom and near enough to us that we recognize everything. I can't complain at all. :)

I suppose my only complaint might be the fact that I sometimes got lost in locations and names, not being 100% conversant in all places or languages, but it wasn't bad at all. It just took some more effort.

Overall, though, I'm very happy to say this is continuing the story (and the original MC) in high form.

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Wednesday, August 23, 2017

All These Worlds (Bobiverse, #3)All These Worlds by Dennis E. Taylor
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Homo Sideria

I love it. Actually, I love this entire series.

So much happens, but it's mostly snippets and sub-plots for multiple personalities spread across vast distances across space. Of course, that's kinda necessary since it's one man in an AI matrix duplicating himself massively and communicating real-time over fantastic spaces, doing good as he mines and fabricates and fights battles with aliens, insane AIs from old Earth, talks with friends or adopted relatives or just goes the terraforming route or just about anything else he wants to do.

He's pretty much a machine god in our future, but he's also just Bob. Geek from our century. Doesn't really want anything for himself but is perfectly willing to do so much good for so many people, it's really rather sad how much people take advantage of him.

In this third book, however, we come to a head with the alien ships that chew up and spit out whole worlds, and it's everything I'd hoped it would be. :) All the sub-plots include romance, exploration, guilt, and just plain getting pissed off, but what else can we expect? I feel for him. :)

Great trilogy. Possibly some of the most refreshing stuff I've read in ages. :)

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The Other Wind (Earthsea Cycle, #6)The Other Wind by Ursula K. Le Guin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is one of those novels that you have to see through to the very end before the total shape becomes clear and casts the entire series in a new light. Unfortunately, the buildup to get there is kinda middling for me.

Don't get me wrong, the dragons are great and the whole introduction of new characters and getting back to the King and to the question of Ged and the role of women in this world is pretty good, but the best part is the return to the dry lands, the realm of the dead.

As before, there's a balance between wizards and dragons, and all of this becomes even more pronounced as the reveals keep coming, as we learn mankind's place in the world and where we fit into the scheme of things along with our dragon brothers.

Pretty cool stuff, really. I just wish that I didn't have to do a re-read of the weaker novels in order to get to the really cool stuff.

I really wish that I could have the joys and the pacing and the coherency of the first two novels repeated in the ones to come after, but it just isn't to be. Maybe I expect too much.

That being said, I can truly appreciate the end of the Earthsea cycle as it has become, and not be truly dissatisfied. Dualities can be a real pain. :)

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Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Betrayer (Foreigner #12)Betrayer by C.J. Cherryh
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This series is consistently satisfying in a way that very few SF can be. It's very political, very immersive, and so deeply rooted in an alien world. Humans and Atevi navigate the turmoil in the provinces as Tabini regrows his political strength. Tabini's grandmother Ilsidi has sent Bren into enemy territory to broker a deal among the most chaotic associations.

This is a huge amount of trust. And amidst various accidents, Bren has been forced to appear like he's betraying all his associations with Tabini and Ilisidi. It's exciting and it's very, very political, but Cherryh pulls it off wonderfully. I just love how Bren always comes through as an extraordinary diplomat.

If that wasn't enough to hold our interest, of course, we get a huge dose of action as war breaks out and alliances shift and Bren is caught in horrorshow of field movement and gunfire. These novels aren't normally this full of action, either, but this is the end of this mini-trilogy, so it's perfectly natural. :)

I can't help but think of this as anything but a long, long story arc over years, from Bren's early days to his middle age, encompassing so many huge changes over an alien world, with humans stuck on a small island in a world full of very dangerous aliens. What would it be like as a tv series? A long-running tv series? It's very close in my mind to, say, Shogun, and the similarities keep coming... only, I have to admit... I love this one more. :)

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Monday, August 21, 2017

Red Sister (Book of the Ancestor, #1)Red Sister by Mark Lawrence
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm of two minds with this one.

The things it does well is very, very good... but when it came to my own preferences, I got bogged down in a good and nice long rut of boredom. If I was someone else, someone who really enjoyed a lot and a lot of YA school stuff, then I'd probably go ga-ga over this.

As it is, I enjoyed the writing and the developments, albeit slow developments, of the story.

Sure, it's awesome that it's a school of assassin nuns and the Ancestors and the hints of high-tech and moving moons and all that stuff is pretty cool, but it wasn't Harry Potter and there wasn't a lot of other things going on. The huge arc was all about the chosen one and some of the nuns were rather memorable... I'm thinking of you, poisoner... and yet, there was something about it at around the mid-way point that made me lose interest. The big actions and reveals were downplayed by the resumption of more studies, or perhaps I'm just a bit inured to it.

On the other hand, when the magic comes out and the climax arrives, I'm back in the story's skin and it got good again, so I still call it a win. Maybe not the best fantasy I've ever read, but the writing is solid and everything is pretty well-developed for most tastes.

It's just the fact that I've read a ton of really great fantasies in the last year and this is a bit middle-of-the-road. Still decent, though!

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Sunday, August 20, 2017

American GodsAmerican Gods by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I remembered raving and raving about this book back in the day, reading it long before I read his Sandman and going... wow. :) And very wow.

Up to that point, we hadn't had much of the god-punk genre. I like to believe that Gaiman was the one that really popularized the whole notion and ever since, we've had wonderful, wonderful examples filling the market. Usually UF, quite a bit of other fantasy as well, and above all, our imaginations.

We love gods. We love stories of gods. We especially love it when we bring them right to our doorstep and give them humanity and then change us into something timeless and full of wonder and even a really huge dose of skepticism.

My second read of this book falls into that second category.

I've been all over the fantasy field searching for the same feeling I got from American Gods and I've found many great examples. Some, not as wild or deeply read, some deeply read but more humorous, others verging off into the straight creative realm that only shadows the gods we know from our own mythologies.

In the end, though, none quite have the rambling feel of discovery upon discovery, the search for self and identity, as this one.

The whole con-artist angle is was still as great as I remember, of course, and what a mind-job that was, but even after the main action was ended, Shadow still went on, tying up loose ends and going the route of discovery through the other main mystery.

What is it to be a god? It's more and much, much less than being a mortal. That's what I mean by skepticism. No matter how much power you think you have, it's nothing before a good con man. Or the idea of peace. There are always two sides to a coin. Isn't that cool?

Reflections and reflections and reflections. Of course, this novel is full of great characters and story, even better reveals and discoveries, but to me, the best part of this latest read has got to be its universality. :)

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Stratus Online: Awakening (Stratus Online: a LitRPG series Book 1)Stratus Online: Awakening by Drew Cordell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have to admit this one is a total guilty pleasure. Granted, I've only read a handful of crossover computer game RPG crossover SF's, but the few that I have, have been uniformly awesome.

Which others? Oh, a few common titles like Ready Player One and Heroes Die, to name a few. I think I may have raved about them in the past.

So, it turns out that LitRPG is a thing, now. I want to think that it might be derivative or silly because it is, after all, crossing RPG video games over into novels, capturing the thrill of loot and leveling and fascinating characters while still being just a novel, but in point of fact, it's fun as hell and dispenses with all that otherwise silly stuff of explaining where the power comes from or other BS. Let's just get right into the action and play the game, already! Like story? It has a good story! Like defeating enemies with your new skills and your new weapons and armor? You're in luck! You can even keep a close eye on your HP bar or your Mana.

Don't forget to pee!

It's hard to remember these things since so much keeps happening and you need to optimize all your time to catch all the prerequisites and outfit yourself for the big boss! And don't forget that you've got to rouse all your npc's and work closely with your online friends or this is NOT going to end well. They're relying on you, after all! Just hold it. Forget real life injuries, too. Suck it up, buttercup. Get back in the game. :)

Of course, with other great franchises like .hack that tell similar stories AS a video game or Sword Art Online which is a fantastic anime about a video game, there's always these little snags where games intrude RATHER heavily on real-life, and this book is no different. That's part of its charm.

Am I addicted, already? Yup. Guilty pleasure? Yup. I've played a lot of video games and this stuff is a pure crowd pleaser. :) Fast, great characters, great reveals and a purely fantasy-life that I'd choose even when it gets really bad because the potential for absolute godhood is so tempting. :)

So happy.

Now, I just have to take a leap and see if it's just all that I've read in the LitRPG field or whether I've just been extremely, extremely lucky. I think it's probably that I've only been picking the most highly regarded stories, though, and haven't had the misfortune of reading crap, yet. :) I can only thank the pioneers who have been reviewing this field for me.

Of course, It may not be the field that I love so much, as the writers I've chosen to read from. Drew Cordell has been consistently fantastic in all his other works and that was the main reason why I jumped on this one so easily.

It might just be the luck of having found a really talented writer who can turn his pen to anything. :)

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Saturday, August 19, 2017

The Ruin of Angels (Craft Sequence, #6)The Ruin of Angels by Max Gladstone
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

New Craft book!!!

I got lucky with an ARC thanks to Netgalley and I immediately got sucked right into the story since I had just gotten caught up with the previous publication-order book, Four Roads Cross.

Unfortunately for me, as well as everyone else who reads these books, I still have to do timeline juggling in my head because the later Full Fathom Five takes place AFTER Four Roads Cross and it's now even worse because the new book doesn't even have a handy number-sequence in the title. Check them out if you don't believe me. :) HOWEVER. Tara's here and badass and Kai who was MC in the previous chronological novel is ALSO right square in the action, so it's pretty easy to assume that we've come into an interesting juxtaposition: book 6 is actually the latest, chronologically! :) Weird, huh?

All right! Let's put that aside, as amusing as it is to contemplate, and get down to my reaction.

The end is as big as all the rest of the books, and glorious and exciting and magical and mind-blowing, but a very long stretch of the novel reads more like a down-to-earth mystery/hardship novel, with a murder, a theft, and lots of god-debt to have to juggle. Kai's estranged sister is in deep trouble.

I admit it took me a bit to get fully into it, but I placed my faith in Gladstone and got led out of the maze with some very heady reveals that had me gibbering with excitement.

Honestly, I just want someone to go on and on about the city and how it resembles not so much a city of the dead, modernized, but how mirror-modern it is to us. I still can't get over the idea of the means they were using to launch satellites into space... a little hint: this UF is full of mind-gnawing monstrosities from demon universes pulled into iron-clad contracts so big that it requires full law firms and multinational business to make it profitable. Extrapolate from that and you see where all the economy is and what might be involved in space-flight.

Mind-blowing, I say! And then there's this little new artifact they made that superficially resembles something like an old trope of a Sword Of Power, but those tropes are just plain toddler-level simple stories compared to this little beauty that was designed to BUILD A NEW *** from scratch. Just... wow. Wanna know? Read away!

This series is freaking amazing. The level of worldbuilding continues to astound and the characters are truly badass, but not in those old-style simple ways. These women and even some of the men are complicated, flawed, full of contradictions, and yet they eat gods for breakfast. :) ... well, Tara does, anyway. :)

There are really few books quite like these. I can definitely name a good handful, of course, but I can confidently raise these very high among the very best fantasies out there, sweeping most away by the sheer strength of its ideas and its facility. :)


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Friday, August 18, 2017

Four Roads Cross (Craft Sequence, #5)Four Roads Cross by Max Gladstone
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read this on a tear. I just couldn't believe how good it was. EVERYTHING was perfect.

I mean, I've read these books in publication order but they're all out of timeline order, and while that makes it seem kinda funky, it doesn't really matter because certain events HAVE to be well known before their significance can shine in the next.

It doesn't exactly make for popcorn reading. We have to keep on our toes. But that's what's so brilliant about it. We're treated to an extravaganza of wonderful ideas and scenes that make us scratch our heads in wonder and enjoyment. Wanna fly on the back of a gargoyle on a road trip and discuss translation problems of really good poetry? How about asking a truly enormous dragon why he's allowing himself to be used as a common transport vehicle rather than raging against the injustice of it? Or how about huge business concerns, contracts, and fiduciary obligations revolving around gods and their multinational holdings and how certain liabilities like LOVING ANOTHER GOD can call into question said god's commitments?

Sound awesome? It is.

And all the while we have huge action, fighting gargoyles, silvered suits, JUSTICE, demons, necromantic law firms, underwater vampire kings, and a being a priestess for a goddess based on trust and partnership rather than faith.

And you know what the best part is? TARA IS BACK! Book one's Tara is the MC here! :) :) So Great! Her student loans are a real killer. Being a modern girl giving up on the fast necromantic track is really scary. She still owes 98 souls! Now if only she can stabilize that resurrected goddess.... :)

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Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Golden HouseThe Golden House by Salman Rushdie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thanks to Netgalley for a copy of this ARC!

I've always had Rushdie in my rear-view mirror it seems. He keeps cropping up everywhere and I always meant to read Satanic Verses for the big hubbub it made back in the day. You know, the whole assassination thing. And yet, I never actually got a round to reading him.

And then, out of the blue, I see a chance. Netgalley. I jumped on it and was pleasantly surprised to get it. And then I read my very first Rushdie.

Expectations are a tricky thing. I rather thought I was going to get a heavy literary novel full of references and mythology bubbling beneath the circus, if not surface, of the text. What I got was exactly that, but more-so, because I was engrossed in something so very readable and enjoyable that I never once had to really WORK at it. You know?

All the references myth were telegraphed as loudly as a classic Russian novel, the basic themes as loud as Bollywood musical, the pathos and the tragedy as distinctly American as a Mafia film.

Indeed, my own references were carefully considered and a careful reader will know what to expect if they pick this novel up. :)

It was pretty awesome, all told. The search and the apparent finding and confusion of identity is a very major theme, whether told as the story of Nero Golden, the patriarch, or through any of his sons who are as bright as those in Brothers Karamazov, or through the identity of our unreliable narrator, the house-guest and future filmmaker of the House of Golden.

But let me be honest here... I'd have read and enjoyed this novel just for the sequences about the rise of the Joker in politics. :) That stuff was GOLDEN.

And indeed, all of this was clever and fascinating and the looming tragedy of the family always kept me glued to the page as if I was rubbernecking a particularly bad auto accident. And it was beautiful. I don't know what that says about me, but I certainly love a good tragedy. It was lurid and fantastical and gaudy as if we were reading about Gatsby which, indeed, there was made multiple references.

Above all, this is a very modern book full of modern post-truth America and the lies that we see with our right eyes and the distorted truths of our left. I can honestly recommend this as a great and fun read. All those accolades that Rushdie seems to be getting are well deserved. He's one hell of a writer.

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Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The AdjacentThe Adjacent by Christopher Priest
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I've been reading a lot of Christopher Priest lately and I think there must be some kind of critical mass build-up because I just exploded.

The good kind of explosion. Like, my mind just popped.

This one's a love story. Odd as that may seem, looking like a death and a mystery at the beginning.

At first, I wasn't quite sure what to think. These last few books have all been dealing with the Dream Archipelago, an alternate reality close to ours in so many ways but all the names and locations are different and there are odd tech and weird creatures and fantastically detailed lives revolving around death, unending war, isolated peace, and, oddly enough, dying magicians, artists, writers, and similar.

I expected this to be similar but instead, we deal with the future London with a war to end all wars with truly weird weaponized dimensional tech and a mystery drawn out of Priest's signature depth of imagining for his characters. Melanie's body was never found. :) A charred perfect triangle had scored her right out of the ground.

He's at a loss, and that's just the beginning of the novel, just him trying to pick up the pieces, having this strange war-sagaved London get slowly revealed to him, with new mysteries abounding, where we are the ones doing all the heavy lifting. Poor Tibor is a bit distraught, but he gets there.

This is just the beginning, however, because we get extended scenes from WWI and WWII as well, with characters going through many of the similar kinds of emotional upheavals as Tibor, but with very specific and wonderfully detailed differences that are the Very key to unraveling this whole novel's mystery.

And then, when certain events come around, (no spoilers here) to tie this novel way more than firmly to Priest's The Prestige on both superficial and fundamental ways, only to slam us head-first into the last 3/4 of the novel taking place in the Dream Archipelago... well... by this point I'm snapping at people to leave me alone. I have to finish this because my mind is whirling and whirling and it is so utterly delighted and flabbergasted.

This book actually gives us the best hints as to the nature of the Dream Archipelago and the oddest bits of The Prestige and The Affirmation and it even ties itself to The Inverted World in a truly awesome way. I feel like I'm getting all those totally huge reveals only hinted at and hinted at and hinted at for so many novels. I feel like I'm getting something REALLY BIG HERE, folks.

Priest's writing is always paced rather slow but it's always deeply characterized. The world-building is absolutely phenomenal. The fact that he can string us along, leaving us almost always completely in the dark for what seems forever, is a testament to ungodly skill as a writer.

And perhaps it's just the fact that this has been building to one hell of a screaming crescendo for me for quite some time. I'm truly floored.

I won't say this is a particularly easy read and it requires a lot of extra thought on the side to piece everything together, but for all you folks that love beautiful challenges, but not challenges in writing or getting involved in the text, I totally recommend this. :)

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Monday, August 14, 2017

Mort (Death, #1; Discworld, #4)Mort by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Being one of the first and the latest of all the Pratchett reads, I'm really surprised just how much I loved this one. I'm upping the star count to a full five just because I think I liked Mort, the character, even better this time around.

DEATH on DISCWORLD. :) Seriously, there's nothing quite like it. Him. The personification. :) He meddles so much with humanity, tries to get drunk, and hires an apprentice. Not all in that order.

Death is the mewling cat at the party of life. :)

The story is a bit more interesting, I must say, than the ones immediately preceding it, and of all the books, I think it captures the essential spirit of all the ones to come after. High praise, no? I hope so. :)

Very funny stuff. :)

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Tehanu (Earthsea Cycle, #4)Tehanu by Ursula K. Le Guin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I think this was an interesting installment for the Earthsea books not because it continued the grand tradition of huge fantasy implications and events, but because it flips our expectations and gives us a very domestic view of Earthsea.

That's not to say that evil things don't happen, because they do, but the scope is pulled all the way back in, with Tenar from book 2 and Ged meeting up again after almost a lifetime, with her as a middle-aged woman and Ged much changed after the events of book 3, having lost his magic.

Reader expectations can be a huge complication to any tale that wants to be told. If I hadn't gone into this with my eyes wide open, I might have been rather upset. As it is, I judged this book in my mind against a vast collection of fantasy novels rather than the highest expectations of LeGuin's other novels and I didn't find it wanting. In fact, I quite enjoyed the deeper exploration of what it means to be a woman in Earthsea, with the different kinds of magic, the complications, and the down-to-earth feel. If Ged is the wind, then the female side is the earth. No surprise, I'm sure, but it was quite well done.

As for the plot, it didn't drag for me. I've read much, much worse. :) The setup at the end was quite interesting, too.

Final estimation? It's not on the same level as the other three, but it does explore the world of Earthsea in a rather interesting way that includes two of my favorite characters from the previous books. Sparrowhawk isn't mighty and righteous or just trying to fix his mistakes. He's just a man. That's okay. :)

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Sunday, August 13, 2017

Heart's BloodHeart's Blood by Juliet Marillier
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is definitely my favorite of Juliet Marillier's books, but to be fair, it's only my second.

That being said, it wasn't a love at first sight, much like the main character in this Beauty and the Beast retelling. It grew on me, much as the Beast grew on Belle.

The later half was quite exciting and full of magic and trying to break the curse and there was plenty of ghosts and ghouls and armies and all the awesome Norman invasion historical stuff to keep me involved in the medieval world this draws from. All the characters became something special for me, too, thanks to the weight of their interactions and involvement with each other.

Unfortunately, it took a while for me to get there. I was kinda bored by the pacing of at least the first half and while it was really focused on the realism angle and strove hard to stick to reality in the retelling, I was only very mildly interested. It was halfway between a historical and a slice-of-life with mild hidden past. It took a while to build up to something cool.

Even so, it ended nicely and it was still charming.

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Saturday, August 12, 2017

What the Hell Did I Just Read: A Novel of Cosmic Horror (John Dies at the End, #3)What the Hell Did I Just Read: A Novel of Cosmic Horror by David Wong
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I always go ga-ga over these books, and for a really great reason. They're FUN AS HELL.

It bends all genres, has some of the absolutely most delicious wry comments and commentary on our modern f***ed-up life, and is consistently over-the-top when it comes to action, monster mashing, and total reality crushing.

Did I mention that this is to UF as Evil Dead is to Horror? It's not a bad comparison. But then, it's sure as hell not complete, either, because this stuff is in it's own league.

Think slacker/slasher fic that does the funniest Supernatural episodes but adds a bit of crack to it to make it even more addictive, then throw in a major course of Cthulhu, sexual innuendo, and Cracked Magazine, and then you're getting pretty close.

It's the same for all three of these books, and I'm proud to say that this third one is still very strong, indeed. No spoilers, but as it says in the series, John Dies at the End.

For those of you who don't know the books, he really does die, but it doesn't always stick thanks to the Soy Sauce. The time travel and alternate dimension hopping and a barrel of snakes that is potential girlfriends just makes things a bit complicated. You know, normal stuff.

All in a day's *unpaid* work.

Of course, that's not to say everyone has supernatural girlfriends, and Dave's Amy is a real trooper and a badass whom I really love. :)

Honestly, this is some of the most righteous laugh-out-loud OTT technocolor raunchy cool books out there. :) It's a self-conscious B-Movie that transcends into ultimate badassery. :) I am STILL totally recommending this series. :) :)

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