Friday, November 24, 2017

Bloodhype (Pip & Flinx #2)Bloodhype by Alan Dean Foster
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is my first real hiccup when reading the series in chronological order, but fortunately, it's not too bad. We still get huge action and stakes and uneasy alien alliances and a close up of the really big bad we've been teased with for the first eleven books.

But here's the funny bit: Pip and Flinx are minor characters!

It's not bad in absolute terms, just bad if you're wanting a real Flinx adventure where he's center stage.

Enter a really nasty and lethal drug, piece-of-work dealers, super-spies who are aliens, privateers, questionable alliances with nasty reptiles, and a ton of action. On its own, I'd just classify this as a Humanx novel with a short but important cameo. It's very golden-age SF. :) Light, fun, fast.

Sometimes, that's exactly what we need. :)

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Thursday, November 23, 2017

The Way of Kings (The Stormlight Archive, #1)The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is my second read and it's noticeably better this time. I even knocked it up a full star, remembering my original complaints about how LONG it is and how so much of it could have been excised without any real difficulty only to realize, at long last, that I was and am quite invested in all these characters.

Kaladin, for example, had the classic tragic feel, a man brought so low that he can never find the light of day again, working with super-expendable slaves meant to draw fire as they carry bridges across a vast network of chasms on a fractured plane while armies fight for the chance to get valuable magic stones. The battles are ongoing and seemingly without end, and the bridge crews have a very short lifetime. Kaladin is earmarked right off the bat for great changes and a meteoric rise, and most of the novel is spent with him depressed and suffering and we get more and more reveals for his backstory.

Believe it or not, he's my favorite character and all that buildup has a very satisfying conclusion. Very. It's just getting there, the first time, seemed like such a long slog.

Since then, I've read the second book and getting back into his tale again, this time, is a completely different ride. Far from complaining, I've found myself really enjoying the hell out of the step-by-step rise and slide, rise and slide and finally his explosive level-up. :)

Dalinar Kholin is a Brightlord who has visions and is also rather honorable in comparison to all the other Brightlords and he lets us, as readers, get an expansive overview of the cultures and big army movements and a feel for the whole kingdom. It's good and he's set to make big changes based on the ancient text of The Way of Kings which is meant to help defeat the Void Bringers, impressive monsters from the deep past that no one really understands anymore, plus he's having visions. Even this feels like pretty standard fare except the for the level of detail and the interesting explorations of the visions, the battles, and the politics.

Lastly, we work with Shallan, and out of all three characters, I suppose I was most taken by her. Scholar and liar and murderer, she's out to save her family by getting in good with a notorious heretic to steal her Soulcaster. She's got a very sharp tongue, an even wittier artistic talent, and serious willpower. I admit to falling for her both times I read this. :)

Of course, these stories end with grand reveals and situation reversals and complications because it's the first book in what is planned as an ENORMOUS FANTASY EPIC. :) They level up, but we're not to expect anything close to a full resolution. Just a taste of even bigger and badder to come. :) Fine? Fine. :)

But it's the worldbuilding that really shines in this Sanderson Epic. He's known for this stuff, after all. Magic rules. Interesting applications. Implications. Blowout awesomeness. And he's delivering over and over, too. It's a good enough reason, alone, to read this stuff.

But all together?

Wow. Just wow. Got my heart pumping and imagining such beautiful visuals... :) If I had to compare this to other huge volumes of epic fantasy, I think I would still put it up there with the very best, but it's really the full weight of everything that has happened and will happen, as in expectation, which really puts this on the radar.

I probably wouldn't have ever bothered with Sanderson at all if he hadn't done such a fantastic job finishing the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan after his death. But because he rocked it, I've been a big fanboy and so many books later, I'm still a big fanboy. Mistborn was great. Elantris was great. I've enjoyed everything else, too, but it's this book and this series that's meant to be his magnum opus. 1000+ pages each book, that shouldn't really be a surprise, right?

Patience is required, but the payoff is seriously here, too. :) Even in this first volume. :)


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Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Running from the Deity (Pip & Flinx #11)Running from the Deity by Alan Dean Foster
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I expected something light for Flinx's ongoing adventure and kinda expected the big galaxy consuming monstrosity to feature big because of the title, so what I did actually get is rather funny.

Running from the Deity? LOL Who is it? FLINX.

Oh, Flinx, what have you done?

Really, what could have been kinda corny or a flashback to C3PO among the Ewoks was actually rather cool in a Flinx-specific kind of way. He's not a bad kid, after all. He's just kinda stupid sometimes and he never watched Star Trek. Or maybe he did and he took all the wrong lessons from Janeway or something.

What could be the harm? Just heal some locals while I wait for my ship to fix itself. NO BIG DEAL.

Right. Well, the aliens are cool which is kinda a standard thing for ADF and the implications and runaway events are suitably wild and Flinx just can't keep up with the crazy.

Light fun, indeed. I'm quite happy with this series. :)

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Monday, November 20, 2017

SpoonbendersSpoonbenders by Daryl Gregory
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This should be right up the alley of all you folks who like epic family stories. You know, the whole generational thing with patriarchs (who happen to be expert con-men), children with special (albeit mild) psychical abilities, (read NOT X-MEN), and the difficulties of living in Chicago between the sixties and mid-nineties.

Mind you, we're dealing with mostly realistic stuff here. Tons of it is illusion tricks but this family is special, anyway, between truth-sensing, clairvoyance, and a minor trick of telekinesis. All in all, it's a story of failed romance in a normal family for the truth-sensor. Or being overburdened with foreknowledge when most of this life just sucks. In another case, it's being able to cheat the hell out of a pinball machine. Sometimes it even carries over to roulette. :)

This poor family has issues. Debunked publicly by a skeptic, forced to live normal lives, getting into crap MLM schemes, getting in trouble with the mob... there's a bit of everything going on here.

In reality, though, the focus is on the characters and the family and it plays out very satisfactorily by the end. I love a good heist novel even more than a familial epic, but fortunately, we've got both here. It was fun and requires a bit of patience and natural fascination for the minor psychical stuff as well as family epics, but if you've got that, this is well worth the read.

This happens to be the first novel of Gregory I've read. It's not bad. I'm curious how the others pan out now. :)

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Sunday, November 19, 2017

The End of All Things (Old Man's War, #6)The End of All Things by John Scalzi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The End.

The Old Man's War series was one hell of a ride, from decanting brains out of old people into nice young military types to decanting brains into spaceships against one's will, from never-ending expansion to civil war between Earth and the Colonies to the possible collapse of all human space against the rest of the aliens we didn't try to get along with.

It's pretty epic.

But you know what I like most about this whole thing?

Scalzi's light-hearted humor.

Sure, there's a lot of great competence porn and even better SF ideas and deeper philosophical statements studded throughout a wild space opera adventure full of down-to-earth characters and politics and great funny moments, but it's the voices of the characters that made it shine. They're light and easy reads that always manages to say something important.

This novel is actually four novellas and they all do a bang up job wrapping up the whole shebang. Will humanity survive its follies? We've managed to piss off practically everyone and ourselves, so is there really a hope for us?

No. I guess not. :) But then there's Wilson so I guess we're not that bad. :)

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The Squirrel on the TrainThe Squirrel on the Train by Kevin Hearne
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Oh, gravy.

With a side of meatballs and women with medication. For any of you who've been reading the great Iron Druid UF series, you already know that one of the most delightful characters in the books is Oberon. He's a dog. He's been granted some immortali-TEA and he's always telepathically talking with Atticus and begging for meat.

And this is the second novella that makes him the main star, written from his PoV.

So, wait, this immortal dog solves side-story mysteries set in this universe where gods from all the pantheons are pissed at Atticus for one thing or another?

Yup. And it's delightful, light, goofy fun. With a really sketchy squirrel that defies all physics. Screw the murder mystery that his human is working on with an old pal detective. No one cares that the murdered guy looks like Atticus. The SQUIRREL is so much more important!

:) Fun, fun.

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Saturday, November 18, 2017

Lies and Legends (The Last City, #3)Lies and Legends by Logan Keys
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Third book, people!

And werewolf! lol Yeah, yeah, we have tons of zombies and now a vampire army. But who are the good guys, here? Machines are turning people into body-modded murder machines and/or vampires and the bad guys are on both sides of that normal fence.

This world is in total chaos and the idea of what's normal has been tossed on the garbage heap of history. What I love most about this are the powers. You know what happened to Tommy in the last book.

Well, his powers weren't the only ones being developed. More of these peeps are getting beast and it's really starting to get wild. Dreams! Dreamwalking! Too cool, right?

We've gone from a very bloody apocalyptic YA with beastly kids all the way to REALLY beastly kids learning a ton of nasty details about their condition and the condition of the condition. :) There's a bit of hopping from one medical "problem" to another, but it's the nature of the reveals that makes this book a page-turner. Not to mention the blood. Can't forget the blood. It's the fate of "humanity" that's at stake here.

I think I love the dark turns best. Oh, it's getting dark. And there's a rather interesting surprise at the end. :)

Bon appetite!

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Shards of Honour  (Vorkosigan Saga, #1)Shards of Honour by Lois McMaster Bujold
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Re-read 11/18/17:
Actually, it's my third read. It was only a few years ago when I read it last and since then I've plowed through all the other novels in a row. It's so good that I have to do it all over again.

That being said, I think this novel is growing more and more on me. I loved it before and I love it even more now. Yes, yes, it's a romance on the battlefield and we have tons of action on a wild planet and in space with outright space battles, but it's the interactions between all these fantastic characters that makes this shine. Cordelia. Aral. Bathari.

Bujold doesn't hold back on anything. Do you want a loss of honor and the hope of regaining it? A political mess? How about respect at the deepest levels? How about disillusionment with our homes and putting all our cards down on a gamble for the rest of your life and happiness?

Truly, there's a lot more depth to this book than most people might credit it. And here's the best part: if you're already invested in the series and know all the locations and references dropped, it still makes a perfectly coherent whole in the world building. :) Everything was worked out to perfection. :) Even the characters we meet fleetingly here get much bigger roles later, and revisiting them, in the beginning, is so gratifying.

Some books only get better with time. This is one of them.

#utterfanboy


Original review:

I thought the careful and considered match between Aral and Cordelia was charming. It was deeper, emotionally, than a lot of romances, sci-fi or otherwise. Much has been said about how strong a female lead Cordelia is, in both the stories and by the fans, and I have to admit they're correct. She's got a solid grip on reality, and despite the situation, she steadfastly judges her situation based on what is done and not what is said. That's always a great sign of sanity.

The adventure part had me going, but the disillusionment about her home and the open-eyed acceptance of the madhouse of Aral's home said more about Beta Colony than it said about Barrayar. All in all, delicious more for its accumulated weight of surrounding stories than for it, in itself, but it was definitely a charming space-operatic love story.

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Friday, November 17, 2017

The Clockwork DynastyThe Clockwork Dynasty by Daniel H. Wilson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Sometimes I find a book that I *want* to love more than I do when I actually read it. It's a shame this has to be one of those since I've really enjoyed the other three novels I've read by D. H. Wilson. I mean, what's not to love? Ancient clockwork robots hanging out and consuming each other for the anima to keep them going a bit longer, all of whom are hidden from sight from the rest of us fleshbags. Sounds a bit like Highlander, others have said. Robot Highlander. And sure, it shares that as a core, but there's a lot more going on here.

For one, there's the core worldbuilding with the words that bring these golems to life. These guys follow the idea of the word and it defines their whole long lives. There are hints that they might be 5 thousand years old. There are even more interesting hints that they may be much, much older. Ancient. As in pottery robots. The line dropped early on mentioning that there's nothing preventing history from moving in cycles, indeed the truth is there, that higher technology very well could have been discovered and lost many times over the millennia, and this novel is a cool exploration of just that idea.

Another great idea is the focus on the Tao for these machines. Each of the robots has its opposite (read non-western), often complimentary idea/word. It works like soulmates, like the Taoist symbol, like The Way. Attraction and strife, loss and waywardness follow when the other number dies or is consumed. Of course, this idea is rather subtle despite the obvious symbolism of the artifacts, but it fits with the characterizations and the themes of the novel. Cool stuff!

I even appreciated all the wide sweep of history from 300 years to present, all Highlander-like.

I suppose the only real issue I had with the novel was the characters. I didn't really get invested in any of them. The surrounding ideas and situations, even some of the emotional bits of the characters were rather good, but that isn't as consistent as I might have liked. A lot happens, but the characters felt stiff. Even the 12-year-old doll who suffers a life as an immortal child has been done tons already and I was just looking at it with somewhat jaundiced eyes. Hell, the previous book I just read had the same kind of character, and of course, I remember at least four other similar immortal girls from different series, including Rice. It's been done. Yes, she's angry. She changes over time and has a complicated relationship, sure, but her reasons for spurring Peter aren't really... good. You know? Maybe it's just me.

And then there's the overall story. Simple, but relies on fancy staggered reveals and hops from the present to the past over and over. It can be done well and Wilson does it pretty well, but I suppose it really requires a deep investment in the characters to function perfectly. It kinda fell flat for me, in other words.

I've liked his other novels much more, but I can appreciate the ideas in this one. I just wish I liked it more, overall.


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Let Me InLet Me In by John Ajvide Lindqvist
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow. I know this is one of those sensational books coming out of Sweden and all and there's already two movies made which I haven't seen but STILL I hadn't gotten around to reading it until now. And now? Wow.

Seriously creepy. I mean, if it wasn't for the pedophile PoV creeping the freaking hell out of me for a grand swath of the beginning, I'd still have been digging the early eighties references, the crisp and delightful prose (even if translated), and the details of life around Kiss and Rubic's Cubes. Even better, it captures the life and times of the children very well. Bullying, especially. And then there's a 200-year-old 12-year-old girl who, out of loneliness, courts that pedo until she makes friends with an outcast 12-year-old-boy. Did I mention this is a vampire novel?

It's easily one of the most delightful and disturbing vampire novels I've read and not just for the pedo stuff. It has a very Swedish sensibility and the willingness to go all out with the difficult subjects and do it with fantastically drawn characters that are both flawed, trying, and full of heart. Even the ones we don't like are relatable in some ways.

The novel has the breath of life in it. It's not technically good. It's just plain good.

I've heard others describe this as a much, much better Twilight, but other than the fact that it has children and vampires and it's very popular, that's about it for the comparison. Sure, I could nitpick, but the feel, the subject matter, the crazy divergences in character, the location, the time period... all of that is wildly different. Just saying. :)

I got wrapped up in this tale and rooted for the kids like crazy, too. I can't say that about Bella and Edward. I mean, there was this one scene in Twilight I liked: the one where she gets all bent out of shape because it looks like Eddie thinks she stinks. That was about all I did like tho. But this novel? Well, I consistently got creeped out, got invested with the characters, and loved the level of detail. The story had one hell of a good ending, too. I call this one Superior. :)

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Thursday, November 16, 2017

Sliding Scales (Pip & Flinx #10)Sliding Scales by Alan Dean Foster
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was just thinking to myself what could we possibly do to Flinx that hasn't been done before and I started to draw a little blank. Fortunately, we've got STANDBY PLOT FIXES. Amnesia!

Oh, wait.

Well, fortunately, it's not even a tenth as bad as it may seem. Truly. I mean, Flinx does have a HONKER of a brain tumor and getting it knocked about is sure to scramble SOMETHING. In this case, I simply didn't mind in the slightest. It's because of the setting. Our favorite evil lizards and our poor Flinx have been getting on swimmingly. More or less.

Stranded on a somewhat neutral slithery tentacular alien world being inducted into the lizard political machine, the memory-less Flinx gets taken in by an artist colony.

Yeah! Isn't that cool! And you'll never guess who the artists are.

This one is still a great adventure, but alien exploration and subtle commentary on art as well as a reflection for ADF are quite apparent and delightful... or at least to me. :) I never expected to like the lizards more than that charming elderly couple a few novels back, but I am well mistaken. :)

It was also rather cool to see another side of Flinx, freed from the weight of his cares for once.

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Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Flinx's Folly (Pip & Flinx #9)Flinx's Folly by Alan Dean Foster
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I had a really great time with this one mainly because it *felt* like a nice departure from the rest of the plotlines.

It really isn't, of course, but perception is everything. You remember that love interest a few books back? Yeah, well six years have passed and she's coming back into the picture. 18-year-old Flinx has grown more powerful, more painful, and a bit wary of his never-ending quest. Or is that just his headaches? Probably just that. Or the assassins. Or the death cults who blame him as their founder. Or the gigantic galaxy-eating evil that's invading his dreams and making him go mad. Or the brain tumors in his head.

You know. Details. Minor ones.

But at its core, this is really all about romance, jealous new-ex's, and one long line of *OOPS*. It's great. :) Plus we get some *other* old characters coming back and I love them, too. All in all, this one's a totally enjoyable romp. :)

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Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The DispossessedThe Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The first time I read this book back in the early nineties, I would have given it a four star rating because I was slightly annoyed with the prose and the steadily boring pace where nothing really big happens (mostly) except a general living of a life. This is despite our following a very interesting character escaping his pragmatic moon to gift his very advanced physics that would lead to not only an ansible for faster-than-light communications but also faster-than-light travel.

The world-building is pretty amazing on both the political and socio-economic levels, the discussion of what men and women are to each other and just how amazingly different (and similar) it is between both worlds. The novel easily tackles six different heavy themes and does it with heart and no hammer in sight.

On one hand, I know the author couldn't have tackled the whole gamut of two worlds without a very light touch, but it was this same light touch and frustrating lack of progress, the descent of the sense of utopia into desperate and dire dystopia, that eventually made me distrust this novel.

It frankly took me two hundred pages, the first time, to even get into the novel. It requires a learning curve.

Now that I'm reading this as a full adult with a lot of ideas under his belt, I eased into the read much more, expecting certain things and realizing it was primarily a novel of ideas and deep commentary. It's not just a political mirror or even a mirror between true communist idealism and anarchism. It's also a damn unique exploration of sexuality and how sexuality necessitates certain kinds of thinking, how a social structure informs it and how it can kill a real germination of ideas.

I'm talking about two halves making a whole here. Men and women are just a half of it. The two political makeups of the moon and the planet aren't whole until they finally find a mix. It's Taoism and a mix of opposites and equals creating something more than the sum of its parts.

And that's what is so tragic about this novel. There's distrust, revulsion against new thought, a nearly impossible wall between the sexes (and the obvious exception to that rule in this novel is noteworthy also because it occurs with the Dispossessed scientist). If people opened up their minds to new ideas, so much of this would have been avoided.

During my original take, I was going to college at the time and I saw a lot of the same approbations and stifled thought in the academic arena. The Dispossessed brings up the plight of ourselves in science, the fact that certain ideas get heavily entrenched and new ones are mercilessly cut down at least until a new generation takes over.

It all comes back to a germination of ideas. The call in the text to keep the flow of information going was really breathtaking, if not that unique. I think of the internet and how that has been such a boon to science now, but even in '92 when I read this, the weight of bureaucracy was immense. I'm sure things aren't all that different now. Aren't we still enamored with string theory and colliders and aren't we all getting rather upset that it hasn't been panning out as we would have liked? Well, alas, this isn't the forum for that but this book makes very good points all over the place.

I ramble.

The fact is, I'm increasing my rating on this book merely because it is gorgeous in conception and form. It carries on multiple narratives on so many aspects of our lives here and now and also within the fictional boundaries of political systems that don't exist anywhere except in our minds. She even goes on to conceive a world without cause and effect, where all things can and will be explored at the same time. How often can we have a cogent discussion about that, rooted firmly in the events of normal lives, and yet not have the text explode in handwavium and weird science? She keeps things real. And brilliant.

I'm going to ignore my stylistic complaints and even the fact that I couldn't really get into it for hundreds of pages because the trip is more than impressive by the end. It's more of a monument to thought.

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Monday, November 13, 2017

Reunion (Pip & Flinx #8)Reunion by Alan Dean Foster
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Flinx is on his self-discovery kick (as usual) and thanks to a bit of a logic hijinx on an AI, he's hot on the trail of the group who created him and people like him. Those gene-eng bastards! Enter new locations, strange planets, awesome man-eating plants and animals, and big surprises on grand scales.

Sound like formula? Well, yeah. It is. It's pretty much a standard for adventure, but these books are following the same trail like clockwork. :) Is that a problem? I personally don't think so. In fact, I think ADF has a really great thing going because Flinx as a character is leveling up. His powers, man! And all the hints of really really really BDO's out there using him for their own purposes? The grand-scale stuff is pretty awesome. Think Star Wars where most of the screen time is dealing with people and small stuff and simple survival and mini-quests and then plop everything into a huge WTF event like blowing up the death star to wrap everything up.

Yup. Pip and Flinx have that pretty much down. The big difference is always going to be in the truly cool way all this is weaving together on the macro scale. Loving it, even. :)

I'm not going to spoil the title of this one but it's perfect on many levels. Macro and micro. An old character comes back to raise mighty hell. I was pretty damn impressed with the end. :)

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Sunday, November 12, 2017

Penric’s Mission (Penric and Desdemona, #3)Penric’s Mission by Lois McMaster Bujold
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

These Penric novels are getting very good. Bastard be praised. :)

We've seen Penric grow as a person and a cleric/sorcerer and now he has eleven years of Desdemona inside his flesh. I love how he's struck off on his own (for very persuasive reasons) doing spywork for a Duke.

So of course, it perfectly follows that this should be a tight and fun novella about magically healing a soldier's wounds and beginning a romance with the soldier's sister. I can see it! :) Plus it gets rather exciting but not for the whole romance thing. There's still some other kinds of action going on here. :)

For everyone not in the know, this takes place in the universe of Chalion by the wonderful Bujold, focusing delightfully on the life and inner life of a disciple of the Bastard God. He was unwilling at first, but it is really fascinating to read how a boy learns to make friends with twelve demons who've been skinwalking for over two hundred years in other disciples.

Flash forward a bit and Penric is fine in his own skin. He has a great working relationship with his demons (collectively called Desdemona) and dare I say it, a good friendship. Penric is also insanely powerful, but he generally keeps that to himself. He's rather a quirky and nerdy delight. His idiotic fumbling with women can only get better when the demon starts talking to her. :) I loved it.

No spoilers, but I had a great time! :) It doesn't necessarily need to be read with all the other Penric novellas, but I like a sense of progression. :)

Thanks to Netgalley for a copy of this ARC!

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Mid-Flinx (Pip & Flinx #7)Mid-Flinx by Alan Dean Foster
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As light adventure goes with a young man (now 20) who only desires to be left alone and far from civilization thanks to the bad side-effects of his empathic-telepathy, the whole novel has the feel of a side-quest.

Not really a searching-for-oneself thing, either. He just happens to be doing his own thing when jerks appear. You know the type. More money than sense. Deep rage and disrespect. A desire to put a minidrag in a zoo and look at this weak-looking kid here with one now kind of guy.

Fast forward to a few space hops, some soul searching and visions about a great evil on the other side of the galaxy that only Flinx (and a few artifacts) can fix, and a ginormous man-eating jungle.

Chase, chase, chase, horrible deaths, chase, interesting humanoid aliens, chase, love interest, chase, and eventually a few new surprises along the way.

Flinx sure as hell can get into some interesting fixes!

Aside from a few over-story developments that really seems to make this series hold together in a really BIG and COOL way, this is still just a pretty decent adventure novel in strange locations while meeting strange people. More than that, it's nothing much. BUT it's decent and fun and I sure as hell want to see what the big thing is. :)

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Peacemaker (Foreigner, #15)Peacemaker by C.J. Cherryh
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow. It's almost impossible to describe what these books to do me, but I'll try. For anyone who's been a fan of this long series, you've got to be in love with exploring an alien society and love, equally, how difficult it is for humans to understand, navigate, and pull through in a world dominated by a species that thinks differently on a fundamental level to us.

The grand sweep of 15 books has built, layer upon layer upon layer, to our own deep understanding, and between the absolutely fascinating politics and the hope for peace finally becoming a real possibility and not just a house of cards, I'm stunned by the weight of the collective story.

Epic? Enormous? It can't even begin to describe how we've gone from an alien society locking off a castaway humanity on a small island in their homeworld, a humanity that, after misunderstandings built up, caused a war that they lost, is now required to hand over technology at a rate deemed *non-destructive* to the natives. A single translator/diplomat on the human side oversees this. The latest was Bren.

Fast-forward through 15 books, many political upheavals, hundreds of hidden dangers and pitfalls, broken communications and promises on both sides of the species, and throw in the returned human starship after generations of living among aliens, and another alien threat out among those stars. The Atevi are thrust into high-technology, getting the capability for orbital insertion before cell-phones or cars on the road, and see just how the traditionalists hate humans.

And here... on the eve of real peace in book 15, I'm sitting in stunned wonder at the long, exciting path that all of this has taken. I never imagined that translation, diplomacy, alien politics and psychology, and even just the oddities of tightly-controlled technology, can turn into something so... grand! Truly. The worldbuilding is one of the most awesome I've ever read, and I'm certain I would have gotten tired of it long before if it hadn't been for how much I'm invested-in and love the main characters. Bren primarily.

I know you guys can't see this, but I'm forced to wipe a tear from my eye. It's kinda overwhelming. I can honestly say that I've never read anything that has been able to quite pull this off... not just the fact of it, but the quality as well. :)

Am I a bit gonzo about this? Perhaps. I have a lot of investment in the series and I've seen it pay off in spades, so I consider this a partnership of sorts. A very happy partnership. I can't simply let the tales fly through my mind like normal popcorn fiction, easily forgotten even if I had a great time during the fluff. This kind of series has very, very deep roots. I'm intellectually invested in ways I can't even begin to describe with efficacy.

Do I recommend the whole series? Hell yeah. Double Hell Yeah.

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Saturday, November 11, 2017

Flinx in Flux (Pip & Flinx #6)Flinx in Flux by Alan Dean Foster
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

High-energy action and adventure in the form of a boy and his dragon meets his biggest nemesis yet. A young girl.

I mean, it's not all as bad as that, of course, and Flinx has had plenty of girls after him but he's never been in quite the right frame of mind since he was being chased by assassins, trying to save the universe, trying to discover who his father is... that kind of thing. And he also has his first love in the form of his minidrag, so there's always that...

But still, these things do finally catch up with a boy. ROMANCE. *gasp* *shock* *swoon*

Well, not so much swoon. I've read better romance... all over the place... but it's decent. I suppose the best parts are where we get to spelunk, meet new alien races, foil eco-gene-terrorists, meet up with uberpowerful friends, and discover that things are going to hell in a handbasket right on the outer reaches.

All in the day, right?

As an adventure, it's still top-notch. I can't even tell that it's YA but it has all the hallmarks and it's always an easy and fun read. In other words, it's good for the whole family and even crusty old SF hounds like me. :)

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Pyramids (Discworld, #7)Pyramids by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I think I may have enjoyed this one a bit more the second time around, but not enough to change my rating. :) Indeed, I had a lot more fun with all the quantum irregularities surrounding the Pyramids out in the boonies of Discworld.

There's a lot of great ribbing for conspiracy theorists who go on and on about the dimensions of the real pyramids and the mystical importance, even going so far as to make these monuments (at least here) into time-recyclers. It's very funny and Death isn't pleased. Fortunately for Death, however, what he doesn't know won't kill him.

It was also rather funny seeing a "handmaid" who'd never "serviced" a king and an "assassin" who'd never killed anyone fumble around their conversations with one another.

But really, I think I had the most fun with the camels. They were a very nice touch. I always thought there was something of a math genius in all of them. Quantum accounting aside, I thought this was a very interesting and funny novel, giving us a nice background for the Assassin's guild while not precisely overburdening us (at all) with characters we'll grow to love later.

That being said, I had a good time and probably a bit more than the other one-off Discworld novels that came before it. :)


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Friday, November 10, 2017

The End of the Matter (Pip & Flinx #4)The End of the Matter by Alan Dean Foster
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This one seems to have had fewer twists and turns than the previous one but that's perfectly okay. Instead, we have the continuing quest to find out just where Flinx came from. His mother, having been found in the previous volume, only leads to a missing father. Just how messed up could *that* quest get?

Pretty messed up.

First of all, Flinx has an amazing talent for killing random people for good reasons at extremely unfortunate times. We could blame most of that on Pip, but Flinx is always putting himself in unwelcome positions. Enter assassins. Multi-world, organized, extremely powerful assassins. Add an idea where to find the mysterious personage who tried and failed to purchase the kid he was on the slave block, a weird-ass alien who is the main target for said assassins, and we've got a cool recipe for adventure. Again. I'm surprised it works as well as it does. Or maybe not. Maybe I should just trust ADF from now on. :)

So yeah, an ancient civilization or two, lots of ruins and a jungle, an armada of dangerous and deadly aliens, and a rogue black hole ravaging tons of systems. That also happens. And spoilers aside... Woah. Hell yeah. Woah. COOL, MAN. :)

So sure, we can call this YA but it's pretty awesome for us SF freaks, too. Good astrophysics, great backstory, lots of worldbuilding, and great characters and baseline story that tends to go nuts with even bigger things happening all around him. Can we blame Flinx?

No. Really, we can't. He just happens to have a preternatural talent for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. He has his own goals. They just happen to have AMAZING unintended consequences. Yay! ADVENTURE. :)

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Thursday, November 9, 2017

Mythos: A Retelling of the Myths of Ancient GreeceMythos: A Retelling of the Myths of Ancient Greece by Stephen Fry
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I don't know about any of you, but this one's a winner. Far from feeling like another dry recounting of a number of our favorite Greek myths, Fry's down-to-earth humor and traditional (modern) storytelling have turned these gods into something most relatable.

I've read Edith Hamilton and Bullfinch's recountings and I've had the pleasure of countless other sources, but here's where Fry shines: he cherry-picks the very best stories and tells them so charmingly and naturally that I wouldn't be surprised if most people would go out of their way to start their friends and family out with this, first.

He does sacrifice breadth in favor of depth, but of course, that's a fine thing. These are some of the most amazing stories of the bunch. They're all told with intelligence, heart, and humor.

Do I have a man-crush? Maybe. A little. But Fry has always been charming as hell. A must-read!

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Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Orphan Star (Pip & Flinx #3)Orphan Star by Alan Dean Foster
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Is it just me or are these novels just getting better? Sure, it took a few years before ADF pumped out the second published novel (or third, chronologically,) but the story sure as hell popped along.

At first glance and in Flinx's mental flavor, it's so easy to fall into the trap of thinking this might be a YA title of '77 before we got all clunky with terms. Indeed, it feels more like a more polished and popping Heinlein juvenile, full of tough situations and some truly nasty crap going on while a basically good-hearted 17-year-old with untested mental telepathy and a fiercely loyal mini-drag tries to discover his past. You know. The little things like discovering who his parents are after having been raised an orphan.

Unfortunately for him, he runs headlong into child-porn rings, slavers, a corrupt universal church, murder (some of it his doing), and even a slave uprising... of which he manufactures. Sound too good to be true? Everything follows, though, and it's fun as hell.

That's right. I'm becoming a fanboy.

I'm not quite to the point where I'm raving or anything, but this is still a tight and fun read and it has no lossy quality compared to modern fiction at all. Indeed, it's standing the test of time and why aren't all you YA fans reading this great SF series???

It even leaves a wholesome taste in my mouth. It's odd. Weird. Even refreshing. :)

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The Pride of Chanur (Chanur #1)The Pride of Chanur by C.J. Cherryh
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have complete respect for Cherryh. I've been reading her for almost thirty years and I've made it through most of her novels, but as with most writers and their works, there are a few you can immediately connect with and a few you can't.

Don't get me wrong, I think this novel is pretty solid when I think about it in isolation with the rest of Cherryh's work, but I don't think I'd ever call it a classic. It definitely has some really cool elements, however, which is somewhat marred by my enjoyment of her other works (like the Foreigner series)... namely, the first contact and the focus on language, translation, and cultural misunderstandings. Add that to the fact we're reading this entire novel from a lion-like humanoid, it seems like it could be a winner, right?

Well, yeah, I suppose it could be... assuming Cherryh hadn't completely outdone herself with Foreigner. :)

Or the fact that there were a few weak aspects of the Hani worldbuilding, or Captain Pyanfar herself and her choices...

Or the fact I never really got into any of the other characters... Tully the human, included.

Even so, there's lots of space action and more alien action. What starts out as a benevolent turn then becomes a huge political disaster for the Hani. It just gets worse when the ramifications threaten to topple the peace between all the aliens in this far-flung corner of space. All in all, I think it is deep-down impressive as a novel of ideas, exploration, and events. It should be mentioned that it connects with the rest of Cherryh's expanded universe, as well.

I just wish I had connected more with the characters!

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Tuesday, November 7, 2017

The Tar-Aiym Krang (Pip & Flinx #1)The Tar-Aiym Krang by Alan Dean Foster
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My second Pip and Flinx novel was the first written in the series but it takes place right after book five. Confusing? Not really. I'm just reading them chronologically, so Flinx is only 17 here and he sure knows how to get into trouble!

What's most fascinating is how polished and fascinating and fast this tale is compared to the other one I had just read. It's the entry novel into the universe and I can see immediately how Alan Dean Foster hoisted himself into the SF field with such gusto and why it was popular enough to support fifteen novels. I like this one better than book 5, easily.

In fact, as a straight adventure, it's speedy.

As a science fiction full of interesting worlds and even more interesting alien species, it rocks.

Is it a hardcore SF novel ranking up with the most ambitious and best of the genre? No. But as light fun with a kid with a mysteriously powerful and/or unknown level of empathic telepathy, flexible moral compass in some circumstances but not in the ways that are really important, or simply... fun with mini-dragons... it's a real delight and an easy read.

It helps when we get spaceships and space battles, intrigue, planetary mysteries and ancient dead civilizations, and baddies who you *know* are bad. (So you don't feel bad when they get ripped to shreds) :)

This is a pure adventure and it is what it is. Fun. Not deep, just well-crafted fun. It has aged very well and I don't see any issues for enjoying it in any foreseeable future. :)

I can see why the author was chosen to pick up most of the official novelizations for Star Wars. He has the sense of wonder down pat. :)

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For Love of Mother-Not (Pip & Flinx #5)For Love of Mother-Not by Alan Dean Foster
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This isn't my first Alan Dean Foster read. I've read a few SW novels. But this is my very first ADF read when it comes to his own unique stories.

I did decide to read his Pip and Flinx novels in chronological order, first, and I'm not sure this was a precisely wise idea. It wasn't a bad idea, but I got the distinct impression that a stormcloud was on the horizon and I really didn't know what was to come. Hence, Flinx almost felt like a special snowflake. You know. A Mary Sue. Of course, there's nothing wrong with that if it's done well and it's not exactly as if it was especially pronounced here. Indeed, I just felt like we were strolling down backstory lane and getting to know an (unknown) character's life and history from early childhood through YA and gradually unfolding what makes him special.

This was great! Seriously! It was a light adventure! Not light for the characters, but definitely a light adventure for us. Alien worlds, alien characters, mysterious and somewhat sinister organizations, quirky new friends, and a quest to save a beloved old woman. (Not to mention saving himself.)

And best of all? Pip! The quasi-telepathic flying serpent that befriends Flinx early on, who spits acid and is a best bud for all the novels. :)

I'll be honest here. I made lots of internal comparisons between this and Steven Brust's Talos novels, but it's only superficial. ADF started writing these before Brust even though this particular novel came out the same year and Brust's first. But it's hard to ignore. Telepathic communication buddy novels with small dragons, whether SF or Fantasy, has a very particular feel. :)

Anyway! It's pretty perfect for wanting a light and fast and fun read, especially if you're tired of neigh invincible angry chicks with swords and world-shattering destinies. Go for something classic for a change. :)

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Monday, November 6, 2017

Skitter (The Hatching #2)Skitter by Ezekiel Boone
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm probably going to make certain people very mad I say I think I like this better than WWZ. It has the same feel even if it's not as cosmopolitan and it's not written in epistolary format. But most importantly, it has the vast character support and the feel of a world gone very wrong.

Because it's SPIDERS! Waves and waves of all kinds of spiders, quick eggs, exploding people, feeding frenzy, and many many cities are lost. It's total chaos! And here's book two. The fast feeding is almost done. Now we've got the second wave of spiders and all the survivors plodding on or deciding to end it all.

And then there's the Spanish Solution. Not having a good time? Let's blow up the infrastructure and fracture the population and cross our fingers!

These poor people are not having a good day. And the best part is... It's epic! And easy read! And it's not quite as long as all those doorstopper SF dystopian catastrophe novels I used to read from the seventies and eighties, but it certainly has the *feel* down to a science.

I honestly liked this one better than the first book. It may be due to the fact I've finally grown to like the survivors and maybe it's because I've gotten to enjoy the ebb and flow of the action and events and maybe I just like where we are in the overall story. Things are bad and getting worse and now we're deep in the new religious fanaticism and we can expect the really bad consequences of that in the third book.

I can't wait. This is great horror-SF. :) Total popcorn, even.

If I was a bit cynical, I might like to point out that this could have been written for an epic disaster SF tv show, assuming it had a decent budget. :) It feels RIGHT.

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Sunday, November 5, 2017

Vengeance of the Demon (Kara Gillian, #7)Vengeance of the Demon by Diana Rowland
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It's fascinating when what should have been a police procedural with demon summoning goes sideways.

This isn't a bad thing in my opinion. I mean, think about it. You get kidnapped to a demon dimension, learn a bunch of stuff about the arcane, and then come back many months later... should you really expect to keep your job after such a leave? Can you really hope to explain your experience, of being tortured, branded, of falling in love (again) with a demon lord, of coming into possession a massively powerful dimension-ripping tool, or even of being friends with so many demons? Or having so many enemies?

Just how should your cop buddies take this new you?

Um, where's the pitchfork?

Okay. So no. I like the new Kara Gillian still. And if she has to go a little renegade because you pitiful mortals just don't want to open your minds a little to see what's REALLY at stake, then so be it. Renegade it is.

Um. Even if the law is coming after you. And you can't even explain WHY you had to be a party to such a brutal murder or why it is vitally important to tear all your enemies to shreds.

Oh. Wait. You mean normal police procedurals can't get real? Ah, so be it. Well, that's why I like the direction this has taken. Events have consequences. We can't just go back to the same-ole routine. It simply doesn't make sense.

So again, bravo, Ms. Rowland! :) You're keeping it real. It's still very much a police procedural, but now we're getting into all the grey stuff. I'm really liking the characters and the changes, too, but you know what I'm really loving the most?

The magic system. I can't believe how detailed and workable it's getting. It's good enough to write a nice and long manual on. :) Perhaps a storytelling game. :) I'd love to play in this world. :)



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Fury of the Demon (Kara Gillian, #6)Fury of the Demon by Diana Rowland
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's really kinda amazing that Rowland decided to go with her gut and change the series as much as she did. Police procedurals and all have a huge place in the world now and it's fine and stuff, but I get the distinct impression that everyone's going WAY OVERBOARD with the whole genre.

Enter Kara Gillian.

The last book allowed us to explore the demon world. I was enraptured. This book brought Kara back to Earth.

Kara isn't working for law enforcement anymore, but she does have friends. What's more, she's back with demon lord friends and more power than you shake a stick at. We're also introduced to new (and fun) characters as she attempts to save a number of demon thralls, save Idris, and we even get a Roadtrip novel. (Yes, it's a thing.) But here's the best part of these books: They're all character driven. The plots are more than decent and Rowling is smart about where she takes the stories, the betrayals, and the powerups. Even the magic system is becoming WORTHY.

But at the core, it's the characters that really drive everything in her novels. The story is always going where they want to go. It flows in just that way, and it's right and good. This is something beyond my saying that I love it. I'm saying the tale couldn't go any other way. It feels genuine. Everyone's reacting to their nature or striving against it in dynamic ways. The reveals transform our way of thinking about everything.

Yes, to Zack. Yes, to Ryan. I'm starting to love these guys. It took some time, but I'm finally on board. How many times do I have to like villains in Rowland's books before I get the clue? lol Who is the villain? Well, that's most of the fun. We're dealing with demon lords here and they are indeed very crafty.

Do I miss the police procedural bits?

Nope. *shrug* If I wanted more police procedural magic, I can get it anywhere. What I don't often see is truly dynamic and huge change in these UF's, and I'm just going to have to say bravo. :)

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Friday, November 3, 2017

Touch of the Demon (Kara Gillian, #5)Touch of the Demon by Diana Rowland
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

OMG I'm actually surprised just how much epic fantasy is packed into this novel.

I mean, seriously, we're meant to expect police procedural in Louisiana with a taste or two of demon summoning, but instead, we get a full-blown epic in the Demon world (that seems rather nice, to be honest,) and tons of leveling up for Kara.

Is this what people think when the series goes sideways? Give me more!

We're leaving Earth for a brand new sidewise world! Heck yeah!

The best part is when Kara learns that her paramour can't be trusted. Big surprise? Maybe not. But it definitely makes for some excellent reading. Maybe even reboot-Kara worthy. This is some perfection when it comes to backstory and build when it comes to getting Over-Powered. :)

Maybe I'm just a sucker for all this stuff.

Correction. I AM a sucker for level-ups. No doubt about it.

So now we have tragic backstory and reason for training in the Demon Realm. Awesome. Totally Awesome. :) :)

Gotta love tragic knives and all. :) Climbing towers, making floating 2D sigils? Getting BEAST at least in terms of Earth Summoner terminology? I DON'T CARE. I LOVE IT.

Honestly, this is my favorite Kara novel. It has tons of new locations, new characters, new level-ups, and new motivations that aren't Earth-based. Do I really want something so far-flung? Yeah, perhaps I do, especially after having such a solid grounding already. :)



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Thursday, November 2, 2017

IroncladsIronclads by Adrian Tchaikovsky
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Tchaikovsky is writing up a great SF storm here, folks! I've said before that I love his SF much more than his fantasy, and this one is easily my proof positive. Right after Dogs of War and Children of Time, I didn't know if he could keep it up, but he does. And this ain't no throwaway novella, either. My only complaint is that there are only a thousand copies made!

Here's the best part of the tale... ARMOR! Think Gundam meets Special-Ops, a war-torn world with very interesting lines drawn, a world-building that is pretty fantastic AND with great reasons behind it, and very memorable characters. Right, Sturgeon?

The haves and the have-nots hearken right back to the good old days of chivalry and suits of armor. If you're rich, you have great armor, if you're not rich, you're meat. Let's get us back to those roots! :) We need to turn the world into a playground for rich soldiers like it should always have been! :)

Honestly, this is one of the best mil-sf tales I've read in a while and I may have enjoyed it even more than the author's Dogs of War. That was all about genetically altered animals and war and I may be wrong, but Ironclad seems to be a PREQUEL to that world!

War is constantly a tale of evolving means and methods and sometimes (or often) it gets really wonky. This is no different.

Above all, though, I love the characters. The stories that Sturgeon told and the reveals were great, but there was enough action in this short novella to pack a few novels, too.

Eagerly awaiting a lot more!

Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC!

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Gluttony Bay (Sin du Jour, #6)Gluttony Bay by Matt Wallace
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When constructing a Foodie epic with guns, knives, angels, demons, and all sorts of paranormal monsters coming to the dinner table to serve or be served to other culinary experts, one should always start AND end the tale with a tragedy.

Anything else is completely unheard of.

:)

Seriously, this is some action-filled funny stuff. Where else can you turn a group of chefs into military experts and pit them against supernatural baddies who don't pay their bills or capture or otherwise mess with their own?

I think it's only Sin du Jour.

It's a complete ensemble cast of quirk with a dash of a heist, a sprinkle of tragedy, a measure of hard knocks, and wildly bloody special-ops magical action. The bill must be paid.

I don't even care that this is a specialty item for you readers. It's awesome. And tasty. :)

Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC!

Oh, and I'm missing a few of these books but I've read three others. Fortunately, it doesn't really matter where you pick up unless you are getting attached to a few characters. The tale is solid wherever you pick up. :)

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Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Sins of the Demon (Kara Gillian, #4)Sins of the Demon by Diana Rowland
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Here's where we start getting some world building and I'm doing a happy dance. It's not that much, of course, but anytime I get a peek into a hell dimension (even one that seems to be as nice as this,) I get all giddy.

Mind you, this isn't even that significant to the story, but I love my little quirky loves. :)

Oh, and this novel gives a whole new dimension to relationship woes. I'm not going to spoil it, but ex's can be hell on a story. :) Poor Kara!

I also need to say that I really love her bodyguard. Eilahn is simply a delight. And a half. Kara is so lucky. And the xmas decorations? Delightful! But that cat??? Let's send that cat to hell!!! Just saying.

I'm having a great time with these books. It's still all about the investment factor, alas, but since I'm in the thick of it, I'm just rocking along without a care in the world. This is binge-watching for books and it's great great great. :)



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Secrets of the Demon (Kara Gillian, #3)Secrets of the Demon by Diana Rowland
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I've noticed a trend in myself. Urban Fantasies, in general, require a bit of time and investment in order to start really liking them. I suppose this might be very commonplace, but at least for me, it's like there's a period of adjustment before I really start loving the characters and situations.

It's not a complaint. It's just an observation.

Kara Gillian, detective and demon summoner, is starting to get under my skin. :)

I liked this book more than the first two, but as I said, it's probably because it finally seeped in and now I'm just rocking along. I had the same kind of reaction with Anita Blake and Rachel Morgan and Harry Dresden, too. :) Stick with it long enough and everything becomes bigger than life. :)

Enough reflection. Onto the reaction!

I got my D&D monster manual out and started nodding along to the descriptions. I likey. It's a bit more exciting dealing with an outright (view spoiler) than the other assumption. And to think that someone is breaking up the band in such a way! It's a fun mystery.

But where the book really shines is in the continued character developments and how Kara fits in with the force. I'm really liking her Captain even if he just feels like an extreme goofball. And the reveal at the end? Totally delicious.

Yeah. I have a soft spot in my heart for popcorn fiction like this. Easy, fast, and fun. And for the rest of you out there that like hot and steamy action, it's here too. :) See? Something for everyone! :)

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Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Blood of the Demon (Kara Gillian, #2)Blood of the Demon by Diana Rowland
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I see character development on the rise.

I mean, sure, it's fun and all to come back from the dead, deal with a co-worker's murder/suicide, get courted by one the kings of hell (or whatever PC version you want to call it since demons aren't really evil, they're just morality-challenged), or just try to live your life without having to use the arcane version of Google because the price is just too high.

Or is it?

Despite everything, Kara seems to be hanging on by her fingernails as she explores the wide world of human and demon politics. Honestly, I don't really see that much difference. It *IS* a shame that she isn't getting a few unexpected powerups other than the occasional help from her demon lover's yes men, but she's still trying to find her way. A few tidbits of skills from hell does seem to be helping her a bit.... oh wait... she's on the arc I expected. :)

Fun stuff! Demons and Detectives for the romantic win! Now if only we could get rid of that third wheel Ryan... :)



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Monday, October 30, 2017

Mark of the Demon (Kara Gillian, #1)Mark of the Demon by Diana Rowland
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a stronger UF than I would have guessed from my other impressions. It's very much a police procedural with demon summoning thrown in the mix. I was actually rather surprised that it felt a little bit like a burgeoning romance, too, but there it is! Demon lovers, unite! :)

I was getting the whole Kim Harrison vibe here for a while but I was pleased to see that this is very much its own beast.... or demon. An uber-powerful demon slumming it, a serial murderer, and a mystery. Pretty simple, but I don't mind. I had fun! It's an easy popcorn read and I'm curious to see just where the blood will go. :)

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Sunday, October 29, 2017

Under the DomeUnder the Dome by Stephen King
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Ever wonder what it'd be like to turn your small town into a snowglobe?

I saw this Superman cartoon where Braniac turned Metropolis into a miniature, too, but this book ain't that. :) Indeed, the SF elements are strong in Under the Dome, but they don't mean much to the basic story other than the setup. It wasn't a Tommyknockers thing, either, although I was very curious to see if SK would go there.

Indeed, what we've got here is a bit of a Slaughterhouse Five thing. Insects in a dome, but naturalist style. Let's see all the insects eat each other!

Poor Maine. SK has done so much to hurt those poor people.

Or maybe it's just the meth makers and dealers. And here's the great part, I haven't seen such a kingpin since Breaking Bad, and that was AFTER this novel! :) Big Jim is one hell of an evil dude.

SK really lets his hatred of humanity out in these pages. True horror is in us, after all, and not in his monsters.

Honestly, I probably would have latched-on to this one of SK's novels much more had I been more of a lightweight in the whole growing dystopia thing. It only lasts a week for a whole town to go to hell, which I don't really have an issue with. We're all about as civilized as bellies are full, after all. The only thing I have a problem with is the bloat.

Bloat?

Yeah, sadly, there was a lot of multidimensional characters that may not have needed much rounding out. Indeed, a lot of them are nothing more for the fodder for the hell that's heading their way. :) I don't need much in the way of shadowy pasts or rounding out for any but the biggest characters. We might have saved on a good 500 pages in the novel, too. ;p

Not my favorite King novel, but it had its moments. Not too bad. Could have been a lot tighter, but it did have SK's trademark wander and a bible's worth of characters. Hillbilly bible thumpers go nuts, yo.

As an experiment, however, I think I'm on the side of the aliens in Slaughterhouse Five. :)

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Wednesday, October 25, 2017

We Have Always Lived in the CastleWe Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Such a classic.

Even when we know what's going on and why it's happening, it's so easy to fall into the character and root for her. I can't stand the things that people put her through, from the town, to Charles, or even to her own parents. (Although to be sure, we only get a tiny little glance at her parents from a few repeated lines.)

When reading this I was thinking of Paul Tremblay's Head Full of Ghosts for the murder (some say accident) of most of the family at dinner, but of course, this was the spiritual mother of that tale. All the little hints and reveals weren't precisely news, of course, but the real treat was in the psychological nuance.

Like The Haunting of Hill House, it's not the outright horror scenes that make the book shine, but the way the characters are unstable, what it means, and how it drives the details and the horror of the final scenes. For anyone in love with psychology, Shirley Jackson is a treasure trove of discussable characters. Hell, Shirley Jackson herself suffered from quite a few of them, herself, and brought the feels to the page in a way that few others could dream.

The townsfolk were walking nightmares, all color drained out of them. Paranoid delusions or not, I was always rooting on Merricat. Did I get very disturbed by her imaginings? Not really. People can be real *hits. Was I disturbed by her reciting of poisons or the magical incantations she made up in order to protect her house? Not at all. Again, I like weird people and she was, despite what we figure out on a careful first read, mostly just dancing to her own drum. She grew up strange and was always told she could do no wrong. After the deaths, who wouldn't get a lot stranger when every single person in the town believed you did it? Even if she hadn't, it'd drive most people insane.

Shirley Jackson is a master at turning normal people into monsters, and this book is no different.

I know a ton of modern horror writers who give this author major props and I have to say, it's all very well deserved. :) Bravo!

Now if only we as a people hadn't driven this author into agoraphobia, seclusion, and persecution... until she died, alone, before she had even turned fifty. She wrote about what she knew, after all.

Chilling.

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Cyclops RoadCyclops Road by Jeff Strand
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

ROAD TRIP!

Ah, but what kind of zany awesome awaits us?

Cyclops? HELLO?

Really, it's not my favorite of Strand's novels, but it's still easy and entertaining and it takes on a whole new riff of RPG gaming meets road trip. All the great prophesy and gaining new adventurer cliches are perfectly intact, including tragic backstory, weird and vague plot points (on purpose, mind you,) and pure streamlined adventure.

Why kill the cyclops? Better question... why is some 44-year-old who had just lost his wife a week earlier then quitting his job and helping out some stray woman that kicked some robber's butts? The answer is... WHY THE HELL NOT? Depression and denial make people do the damndest things. You know, like bloodsports. And climbing down ancient trap-filled wells. It's perfectly reasonable!

Did I say zany?

Oh, yeah. And entertaining. I really like Strand's stuff. It brings out my inner twelve-year-old. :)

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Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Haunted NightsHaunted Nights by Ellen Datlow
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This new collection of Horror (or I should say strictly Halloween stories,) was probably the best surprise I got this month. I generally don't expect all that much about made-to-order stories based on a theme, but every single one of these was consistently awesome. Some were rather extraordinary.

Something else that comes as a rather nice surprise was the fact that I've been following most of these authors anyway, so I'm getting a feel for what they'd do naturally and I can even get a sense as to whether their stories are up to snuff. And if you've been reading this far, you can tell I think so. :)

BUT. And here's the odd part... some of my favorite authors aren't getting their top marks in this collection! Seanan McGuire's story, "With Graveyard Weeds and Wolfsbane Seeds", actually fell near to the bottom of my list of favorites! *gasp*

"Dirtmout" by Stephen Graham Jones, was absolutely gorgeous and atmospheric and creepy as hell. This is where I knew I was going to rock to this collection.

Jonathan Maberry's "A Small Taste of the Old Country" was pretty good for a history lesson and a traditional ghost story vibe and I have no complaints even if it didn't strike fear into my heart.

I really loved Joanna Parypinski's "Wick's End". It really captures the taste of sitting around a campfire telling stories about how to beat the devil... even if it's a game in a pub. I LOVE these kinds of stories within stories.

"The Seventeen-Year Itch" by Garth Nix was a good one for hospitals and obsession but it didn't really grab me that much even though it was entertaining.

"A Flicker of Light on Devil's Night" by Kate Jonez was pretty atmospheric even if it was more just a mild horror. :)

"Witch Hazel" by Jeffrey Ford was a decent witch story with twins for all you people who are naturally freaked out by those freaks of nature. :) :)

"Nos Galan Gaeaf" by Kelley Armstrong wasn't part of any of my favorites, unfortunately.

"We're Never Inviting Amber Again" by S.P. Miskowski, was, okay, pretty forgettable, too. :)

BUT Brian Evanson's "Sisters" really knocked things out of the park. I loved the fish out of water aspect. :)

"All Through the Night" by Elise Forier Edie was sweet and bittersweet and thoughtful.

"A Kingdom of Sugar Skulls and Marigolds" by Eric J. Guignard was pretty awesome as an adventure through thug territory living through the Day of the Dead for real. It was pretty brilliant.

Paul Kane's "The Turn" made me turn for real. Nice and scary and a perfect pick me up. :) Boo!

Pat Cadigan's "Jack" was pretty much a pumpkin king. Familiar, full of myth, and decent fun, but kinda middle of the road.

John Langan's "Lost in the Dark" blew me the **** away. This one is easily my absolute favorite of the bunch, half-way a documentary, a horror movie, a barroom expose, and a thoughtful and smart addition to the shaky-cam genre that blows most of the shaky-cams out of the atmosphere. I actually got creeped out and started biting my nails a bit.

And for the last story of the bunch, we got a SF! "The First Lunar Halloween" by John R. Little wasn't particularly scary but it felt like a great lunar/archeological experiment in trickery. :)

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PressurePressure by Jeff Strand
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sometimes it's really fun to let yourself go down the abyss. This is one of those super-fast reads that pretty much never lets up as it drags you through the mud. We open with a trademark suicide watch to set the tone and then sit back to see what turned Alex into the quivering wreck he becomes.

The novel is deceptively simple: he's hounded by a psychopath who thinks Alex is just like him and only needs a little push to blossom.

Of course, one push becomes a constant stream of pressure, and it's thanks to the happy times in-between that this novel succeeds so well. Its simplicity lends itself to some really great scenes throughout. It's deceptive and quite wonderful.

That, and there's the humor. There are some really twisted moments scattered throughout.

All in all, it's a super tight thriller that aims for the guts and the heart and the pure, unadulterated rage. In other words, this ain't a tale that's good for little children to read. *insert bloodcurdling scream of murder/suicide*

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After the End of the WorldAfter the End of the World by Jonathan L. Howard
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sometimes it seems that this world doesn't have enough Cthulhu adventures. It's a real fault.

Fortunately, JLH has a cure in mind.

Granted, he may have helped unfold the world we all knew and loved to send us right into an alternate timeline where Nazis got the atomic bomb and wiped out Stalingrad, leaving poor Carter and Lovecraft stranded with memories of both timelines but stuck in the new one. My heart goes out to them!

Really, this book should appeal to anyone who loves Strange Tales, Private Investigators, rampant Lovecraftian universe references, and monster romps in remote locations. This novel has it all, including some rather good explorations of what such a timeline would include, not limiting itself to some of the obvious oddities, but getting subtle on us, too.

It's really delightful and tickles most of my funny bones.

My only complaint is a personal one. A lot of people might enjoy the traditional mystery feel and the buildup by way of sidequests before we get to the bottom of the Zero Energy experiment, but I personally wanted things to move along to the goodies a bit quicker. Not a big complaint, just a preference. :)

Thanks to Netgalley for the opportunity to read this! And just in time for October, too! :)

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Monday, October 23, 2017

BlisterBlister by Jeff Strand
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I wonder if I'm a rare one to consider this a rather sweet, if twisted, romance novel. I mean, sure, some elements are demented like a horror novel... but for the most part, it reads like any other boy meets girl story. :)

I mean, sure, the girl has a flaw or two, but being horribly disfigured shouldn't really count as a huge flaw. We all have our faults. :)

Here's the interesting part: I actually liked the whole vibe of practically every single character not being particularly good at their jobs or lives. It was charming and a bit funny. Old papa failed at being a complete redneck, the Sherrif absolutely failed at being good at upholding the law, the cartoonist never had a good hold on understanding people or himself, and don't even let me get started on the bad guys. Totally incompetent! It was fun as hell.

So, far from being scary, as you might expect from a cover like this, we've got a very dark romantic comedy from the start, when the cartoonist scares off a bunch of asshole kids with a fake chainsaw and the kid breaks his arm trying to get away, to the end where it feels like everyone is going to let everything slide no matter how horrific it gets.

And then the very end happens.

And I'm like... WTF?

Uncool, man. Uncool.

I mean, sure, the end message was kinda or very romance-y ... in a way ... but still!!! WTF! I totally expected the other trend to continue, not get blindsided like that.

For amusement, I was going to give this a full five stars, but for that end, I'm knocking off one and I'm frowning furiously. ; ;

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Sunday, October 22, 2017

The Lottery and Other StoriesThe Lottery and Other Stories by Shirley Jackson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The one thing that really stands out about this collection of Shirly Jackson stories is this: the subtlety.

It's not over the top horror in any shape or fashion. Rather, it's regular folk doing regular things and as we peel back layers and layers to their surroundings or their individual psyches, everything twists subtly. The normal quickly becomes a twilight zone nightmare even if it's only a tiny little thing that's changed.

A dog caught killing chickens. *shiver* My goodness, that one killed me. Dead.

Some, like the Witch, was totally awesome and people of my generation would have just found it great fun, but I can see why the mommy freaked the hell out. Of course, the little kid was rocking hard to it and why wouldn't he?

I loved the Tooth. It was damn surreal and I was thinking along the lines of all the similar kinds of tales and novels to come after it. Body-hopping tales, indeed. :)

But more than that, I was really impressed and fascinated at the look into '40's racism, subtle or not, how badly women were treated and how badly they treated each other, and the general miasma of inhumanity everywhere.

Some tales were all about the unspoken silence that surrounded mental illness and the insane pressure to keep a lid on it and remain "normal". Things like this may not be completely horror as the genre but the tension was definitely all horror.

Shirly Jackson's stories were absolutely macabre, quite brilliant, and completely understated. It's all about looking through the darkened mirror, seeing our normal lives, living them, and then seeing just how horrible we really are. :)

Great stuff!

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Saturday, October 21, 2017

The Montauk MonsterThe Montauk Monster by Hunter Shea
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Creature Feature! B-Movie Madness! Evil bloated hairless raccoons who don't sound like Bradley Cooper!

What's not to love? It's chaos! Start out with a sleepy tourist town like the one in Jaws, throw in a large cast of characters including toss away potheads, add conspiracy theories, disease, sharp claws, and no cybernetic implants, and we've got some delicious treats falling into our couch, only to be found the next time we do a thorough cleaning. :)

This here is the closest Hunter Shea novel to his Jersey Devil that I've read! There's nothing like getting to know and enjoy a wide cast of characters who you just know are going to get torn apart or burst from within later on in the novel. Then we can have this little guessing game that goes a little like this:

Who's gonna survive this nightmare? Anyone? Anyone? Beuller?

I like the Deep Blue Sea effect, too. :)

So fun. So light. So damn bloody. :) Total trash.

(But I love it so.)

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