Saturday, April 12, 2014

The End is Nigh edited by John Joseph Adams and Hugh Howey

This is Book 40 started, book 35 finished

The End is Nigh edited by John Joseph Adams and Hugh Howey
Published by Broad Reach Publishing, March, 2014

I picked this book up as my March prime selection since I’ve read various collections edited by Adams in the past and I like Howey as an author.  In the end, I’m glad I did.

This is a collection of short stories about the apocalypse – about many different apocalypses – about just about every conceivable type of apocalypse out there.  There are religious based ones, pandemics, asteroids, nuclear wars, aliens, The Singularity, and everything else out there.

This book is the first in a trilogy – or a triptych – in which book one is set before the apocalypse, book two during and the final book in the aftermath.  Most authors committed to three short stories comprising an overall story arc across the three books.  So, then there are continuing stories to look forward to across the three books.

What I like about this collection is these aren’t the usual stories but are often skewed versions of the stories one would expect.  For example, “HEAVEN IS A PLACE ON PLANET X” by Desirina Boskovich is a story set in a world where humans wait to be teleported en masse to a far of heavenly planet by benevolent aliens before they destroy the earth.  There all dreams will be fulfilled.  Until then, no one is allowed to change their lives or behaviors in any way as they wait for the clock to count down – or they will be instantly vaporized.

“IN THE AIR” by Hugh Howey is a story of the world when the government decides it’s time to activate the nanotech seeded in most everyone on the planet to instantly win a war that hasn’t been declared yet.

“PRETTY SOON THE FOUR HORSEMEN ARE GOING TO COME RIDING THROUGH” by Nancy Kress addresses the next level of human evolution and how it first appears in today’s elementary school children.

"SPORES" by Seanan McGuire is the story of genetically modified fruit rushed to market.

The authors are a mix of new, upcoming authors and established ones.  The stories themselves were all highly entertaining and not the usual mix of decent stories with one or two really good ones that are often found in a short story anthology.   Instead, these are all really good stories with a few fantastic ones in the mix.  I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I will be reading the next two books as they are released.

5 stars

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Event Horizon: Book Two in The Perseid Collapse Series by Steven Konkoly

Event Horizon: Book Two in The Perseid Collapse Series by Steven Konkoly
Published by the Author, March 2014

We’re back in the world of Alex Fletcher and the EMP blast/Atlantic tsunami/possible meteor strike/possible Chinese Attack on the US for a further romp through a US tearing itself apart.  If you haven’t read the initial novel in this world, The Jakarta Pandemic, and the first book in this series, The Perseid Collapse, you should – they’re good.

In this world, there was a major pandemic last year in 2013 that killed millions around the world.  It’s not an End of the World sized event 99+% is killed but a pandemic like the ones we've been warned about over the past years that could cause a partial societal and economic collapse.  In the 6 years after the pandemic, the US is more internally militaristic than it is today, there are more prepper types of varying degrees around and more anti-government militia types as well.

So this book opens with Alex trying to find his son and son’s girlfriend in Boston before it completely falls apart in the wake of the EMP blast and tsunami and get them back to the relative safety of their family safe house in rural Maine.  Meanwhile, Boston is being overrun by a paramilitary anti-government intent on protecting it from the government’s black helicopters.  On top of that, Alex is being reactivated in the US Marines to help make Maine a safe zone to start reclamation.   AND a Maine militia lead by a serious nutjob is intent on carving out his own post-Apocalyptic kingdom on top of the not quite corpse of the United States.

I've mentioned it in my reviews for the other two books and it’s worth mentioning again, if I have a complaint, it’s that Alex as the main character is a super prepared ex-special forces marine who’s  a little too well prepared to feel real.  Now, that’s a bit par for the course for thriller protagonists; he’s not a perfect little gung-ho Mary Sue character who can kill all the bad guys without breaking a sweat.  Konkoly is a much better writer than that.  But, Alex Fletcher is a bit of superhero.

While the first book in the series had a lot of character building, this one is majorly action packed.

Konkoly’s secondary characters can be killed and his characters get hurt.  They suffer mental anguish.  For the most part, they are decently rounded out characters.  I only started reading this series because it has an apocalyptic bent to it, but he is a thriller writer and has been at it for some time now.  I may well start reading some of his other works, but I’m definitely looking forward to the next book in this series.

4 Stars.

Brave Men Run & Pilgrimage by Matthew Wayne Selznick

These are Books 30 & 32 finished

Brave Men Run & Pilgrimage by Matthew Wayne Selznick
Published by the author, 2005 & 2014

I read the first book in this duology back in 2008 and when I saw there was a new book out, I reread the first one before reading the second.   It’s a pretty good story for all that it’s YA.  This is the story of a 15yo misfit, Nate, in 1985 who realizes why he’s a misfit when a group of people go public with their superpowers declaring themselves Sovereign.  Nate’s abilities can be summed up as being cat-like dexterity, strength and speed with an ability to see in the dark.  He has oversized eyes and a vaguely feline face.

His arch-nemesis at school, the ultra-jock Byron thinks he’s also a Sovereign and approaches Nate for help trying to sort it all out.

There are evil government types, new girlfriends, best friends, mad scientists, long-lost father figures and insensitive school administrators – everything a YA story needs to succeed.   Where this stands out is this book allows Nate, as narrator, to speak like a 15-yo; he can be completely self-centered, he can be naïve, he can have flashes of maturity in his decision making in-between stupid decisions made through inexperience.

The first book ends without a Happily Ever After and Nate is still confused over how to think about this place in the world and about his parents.  It was a good stopping point when it spent years as standalone book.  Although I have to say I found it annoying that it was called ‘A Novel of the Sovereign Era’ and then there we no follow up novels – just a follow-up collection of short stories by other authors.

The second book starts a year later.   People are unsure they like the idea of super-humans and there’s a backlash movement growing.  Nate’s father needs held handling his abilities and needs to go to the Sovereign enclave in Montana to find it.  Nate needs to find his father to help deal with his own abilities and his out of control emotions as well.

At 16, Nate is horny, he’s constantly mad at his mom, he’s constantly mad at authority figures; basically, he’s a 16yo boy.  He’s still voiced as a normal boy but he comes across much less sympathetic in Pilgrimage than in Brave Men Run.  I found myself wanting to shake him – a lot.

The anti-Sovereign backlash as a secondary storyline is interesting but also is very reminiscent of an X-men sub-plot.  What I liked about the first book was Selznick took what is essentially the premise of the mutants in the Marvel Universe and made them feel personal and at the same time new.  I saw the parallel from the beginning but it wasn’t over emphasized so it didn’t detract.   With this storyline added in, I felt like I was reading about the anti-Mutant forces gathering outside the Xavier School.   

The climax had some startling elements to it and the story took some turns I completely wasn’t expecting.  I didn’t really understand the ending, however.   If this is the last book, it’s a bad place to end; if it’s a trilogy and not a duology, then it’s a typical place to end.   I hope I don’t have to wait 6-years to find out.

4 stars for Brave Men Run
3 Stars for Pilgrimage

Sunday, March 23, 2014

The New 52 – Aquaman, Green Lantern & Justice League Dark

These are Books 28, 29 & 31 finished

The New 52 – Aquaman, Green Lantern & Justice League Dark
Published by DC Comics, 2012

Amazon had a sale on 8 of the New 52 volume 1 comic collections.  I read the Justice League reboot last year and enjoyed it.  That reformation of the JLA was highly entertaining so I was picked up the other 7 offered.  I've read 3 now with 4 to go down the road.  Now the DC universe was never my favorite; I knew it as a child but quickly replaced it with Marvel as a teen since the Marvel universe just felt more fleshed out, less about goodness and flag waving.

But, I always loved the Green Lantern as a boy and I always kinda hated Aquaman (and who ever heard of a Dark Justice League?)  In the JLA reboot, Aquaman wasn't the lame hanger-on superhero I remembered from the 70’s – he was pretty bad-assed. And Green Lantern was more than a bit of a douche.   I was curious about what changed them so these seemed like the natural books to start with.

Aquaman.  OK, he was cool.  I like that there was quite a bit of acknowledgement paid to his rep as a lame hero who talks to fish, can’t fly and really can’t do much out of water; having the police and normal people disrespect him was amusing.  I also liked that he was portrayed as neither fully a man of the sea or of land.  One thing that was majorly different from the DC comics of my childhood is that people die in this book – and baddies from the deep just trying to survive aren’t simply misunderstood.

He was portrayed as a fully emotional being with desires of his own.  He’s also pretty bad ass.  This is a superhero I can get behind.  He’s no Wolverine or Storm, but I like this version.   So 5 stars on this reboot for surprising me.

Green Lantern.  Is I said, I loved Hal Jordan and Green Lantern as a kid and I wondered why he was an arrogant prick in as a member of the Justice League reboot.   Well, this book did nothing to explain that.  It started up the reboot with Hal losing his standing as Green Lantern and Sinestro gaining it.  There were lots of references to a major story arc causing this turn of events with quite a bit in the story around the Guardians but nothing was really explained.  It felt like the story started up in the middle; there was no reboot and no back story.  I would have to back and find a proper starting point to understand why all this is what it is.

Part of what confused me more was that the JLA Green Lantern was Hal, not Sinestro …. So I’m still missing something.

Going forward from that confusing point, Sinestro as a Green Lantern was interesting.  I always liked him as a villain and this story arc fighting the Yellow Lantern Corps was pretty good.  Hal without his ring was angry and ineffective and seemingly unable to do anything in the world as a normal person and when Sinestro offers him a ring, he behaves a bit like a druggie getting a fix – that is to say that superhero is his normal.

This volume, although it started from a very confusing point, it opened up some intriguing storylines suggesting some major battles between the different color Lantern Corps as well as against the Guardians’ new Corps of whatevers.    What started as a disappointing read redeemed itself as I continued into the book.   2.5 stars.

Justice League Dark.  OK, I’m not familiar with the characters this series brought together to form a magical Justice League and most of them seem pretty fragile and borderline insane.  That said, I enjoyed what I read.  I’m pretty sure I won’t read more in this series, but I can see where is could be fun to do a series based on magic and the supernatural instead of aliens and super powers.   3 stars.

Tigers & Devils by Sean Kennedy

This is Book 32 started, book 27 finished

Tigers & Devils by Sean Kennedy
Published by Dreamspinner Press, 2012

This book was given to me to read in one of my Goodreads clubs.  I've looked at this one over and over for the past couple years but never picked it up; it just looked like some dumb sports jock gay romance and that didn't do much for me.   Well, I read it and I should have read it a long time ago.  This is just a highly entertaining book.

It gets extra points for being Australian – so unfamiliar slang and English spelled the way everyone but Americans do it for increased charm.  The main protagonist, Simon, isn’t himself a jock, he’s just a football fan who runs into a star player from an opposing team and they start to date.  At first, he’s actually rude to Declan, thinking him nothing more than a drunk jock closet-case.  The rest of the story unfolds from there.

In a way, this book really does have the standard romance formula: Simon meets Declan.  They fall in love.  They overcome adversity to stay together but a simple misunderstanding causes them to almost break up.  They sort it out.  The End.    The difference is in the way the story is put together.  It doesn't feel at all like a romance at all.   While the two have sex, there isn’t a play by play included.  The book is more concerned with the mechanics of professional sports, the impact of gay players on the game, other players, the fans and a gay man fitting in with the players’ WAGs (Wives and Girlfriends).  Simon is the Director for a local Melbourne film festival and a side story is this non-profit and the use of Declan’s celebrity by the festival’s board to increase media coverage.

Much of the story is about celebrity, expectations and how people treat celebrities and their partners.  There are awestruck family members, other celebrity athletes who turn out to be people, opinionated fans, the media and management types who ‘manage’ things.

There’s a lot going on in this book.  It’s a romance but not a romance.  It’s a sports book but not a sports book.  I enjoyed it much more than I thought I would at first.  I immediately went out and bought the sequel.

4 stars.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Ex-Girlfriends United by Matt Dunn

This is Book 29 started, book 25 finished

Ex-Girlfriends United by Matt Dunn
Published by Sourcebooks Landmark, 2011

This is the third book I’ve read about Ed and Dan and the second in their trilogy.  I probably shouldn’t have read them out of order as I much preferred the first and third book over this one and quite possibly in part because I knew the next chapter in their story.

Overall, this is a great Lad Lit series.  It’s funny in a typically British way.  Ed and Dan are mates.  Ed is happily monogamous and Dan is the handsome playboy love-em-and-leave-em type.  The first book opens with Ed being dumped by his girlfriend of 10 years, Jane, for letting himself go and for becoming boring.  That first book is about him getting back in shape and learning to be interesting again to win her back.

In this book, Ed is with Sam (that’s Samantha), his ex-personal trainer after asking her out in the last book when he realized that Jane was something of a shallow woman that he really doesn’t like any longer.  Dan can’t seem to get any dates at all as every woman seems to know everything about him already.   The book centers around Ed working up to asking Sam to move in with him and trying to help Dan first clean up his image after they find a website devoted to outing crap boyfriends.

The book is funny and Dunn is a very entertaining author.  This one just isn’t his best work.   It’s just not as f as the others I’ve read.    I suggest reading Ex-Boyfriend's Handbook, the first book in the series.  Love it, enjoy it, then read this one.

3 Stars

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Owner’s Share by Nathan Lowell

This is Book 28 started, book 24 finished

Owner’s Share by Nathan Lowell
Published by the author, 2014

This is the sixth and final book in a series.  I've stuck through it waiting for the series for quite some time through publisher issues, health issues and I was very happy that this book was finally released on my birthday.  Hurray for me.

One of the things I loved about the first 3 in the series is their lack of plot.  They were just a fascinating tale of a young man’s day to day life on a large cargo vessel; the mundane aspects of his life were written in such a way that they were fascinating.  Every time I thought a plot was about to break out, it never did.   They were great.

After the third one, Ishmael went off to university to become an officer of this interplanetary merchant marine with some of his shipmates and the 4th book picks up 4 years later in a new quadrant with a new company and all new characters.  The difference in books 4 and 5 is that each has a specific plot and as such have a far different feel from the first three.   There is still a joy in the mundane tasks of coffee brewing and an inordinate amount of attention paid to what the crew is eating so part of the feel is still there.

Now, with this book, Owner’s Share, we have a much longer book with a specific plot but with more of the mundane aspects taking the forefront.  It’s a truer to the original feel of the books but this time it’s much darker.  There is violence and fear and intrigue in this one that didn't exist in the series before.  The 4th book had some intrigue and some bullying but this one ratcheted things up a couple notches.  It’s not bad, it’s just much different than what I've come to expect from this series.

Then there’s the ending.  Reading the author’s blog, he hints that there are more stories of Ishmael Horatio Wang coming and that we should trust him and not give out spoilers – fine.  This book didn't end so much as give up and stop.   They worked through the plot and the intrigue, got to where he was now a successful owner of a small shipping and tourism company and then Ishmael makes decisions that are completely counter to his character and then the book and the series ends.

That’s where I was disappointed.  It felt like the author wanted to wrap things up.  Maybe he wanted to set things up for some future stories he has in mind.  But, he did it by having his protagonist act directly opposite to the way he’s functioned throughout six books – he gives up.  Worse, he gives up after succeeding.  The end.

3.5 Stars

Friday, March 7, 2014

Grantville Gazette Volume 22 & One Good Deed

Grantville Gazette Volume 22 edited by Paula Goodlett
Published by Baenbooks, 2009

Not all of the gazettes are brilliant – some are just Ok.  This is one of the latter.  It has a nice murder mystery set among the Medicis in Tuscany, another serial in the ‘Turn Your Radio On’ series about the spread of evangelical Christianity across Germany and then the start of what looks like an interesting series about a Danish startup colony in the Hudson Bay.  

The rest of the fiction and non-fiction are just OK.

3.5 Stars

This is Book 276 started, book 23 finished

One Good Deed by Andrew Grey

This is a m/m romance set in Milwaukee.  This is the story of a Serbian immigrant, Luka, who moved to the US to overcome his grief after the death of his long term partner and a local guy, Peter, who is still traumatized from accidentally killing his father as a child.

These are two wounded souls falling in love and helping each other heal.  As romance novels go, this is pretty plot heavy.

The book is charming and highly entertaining.  The sex is OK but not the best I’ve read.  The characters are all fairly well written and believable.

This is my first book by Andrew Grey but I will be reading more

4 Stars.

V is for Vendetta by Alan Moore and illustrated by David Lloyd

I'm still behind on my book posting and I'm trying to catch back up ...

This is Book 25 started, book 21 finished

V is for Vendetta by Alan Moore and illustrated by David Lloyd
Published by Vertigo, 1988

Let me start by asking why haven’t I ever read this before?  I've had half an eye on V as a graphic novel for a good decade or more.  It’s been in my kindle for about a year too, I just never seemed to pick it up.  All I can say is, my loss.   This graphic novel is fantastic in the way the comics of late 80’s, early 90’s really get me going as they explored a darker side of mankind.

Now, I've never seen the movie and I knew little about this storyline before I read it other than its set in an alternate timeline in a dystopian Britain.   This is a post nuclear war world in the late 1990s some 13 years after the war.  Britain was spared but in the chaos after the war was taken over by a fascist group.  All the non-whites, liberals, homosexuals, communists and other usual suspects were rounded up, sent to concentration camps and killed.   Now this is a repressive, homogeneous world controlled by a strong central government.

The book opens on Guy Fawkes Night with our main character and anti-hero saving a girl from being raped by government goons and also blowing up Westminster Abbey.  The book revolves around the fascist government trying to capture ‘V’, our protagonist and anarchist, and the struggle between the two extreme philosophies as they’re applied to society at large.

The story line is dark and pulls no punches.

V is a madman and genius and has a vision of the people living free; living as they will vs. living in a world completely controlled by a corrupt and rigid government.  Within the context of the story, there is little room for any other way between these two extremes.

The book ends with a very strong ending but with no clear resolution; there is no happily ever after.  There is just the next stage.   I like that it ended in a place without tying everything up in a neat bow and I like that there weren't further comics written in this series to extend it.  I’m not sure that if I read this piece by piece, as separate comics, if I would have enjoyed it as much while I waited to find out the next and the next and the next parts until is just ended.  But, that’s one of the things I like about the graphic novel format where an entire series of a significant chunk is anthologized to create a fuller novel.

As put together, I think this is brilliant.

5 Stars

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Dead Americans and other Stories by Ben Peek

This is Book 24 started, book 4 unfinished

Dead Americans and other Stories by Ben Peek
Published by ChiZine, March 2014

NOTE: This book was provided by the publisher, through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

This is a collection of short stories by author Ben Peek that are an odd collection of fantasies – some with historical figures and some without.  They’re a bit dark but nothing that qualifies as horror.  I didn’t read the entire collection; I found the writing style to be somewhat tedious and overly done.  I didn’t care about the characters and I didn’t find their situations particularly interesting.

I read the first 4 stories which make up the first third of the book and I found myself distracted in each of them – looking forward to that particular story to be over.

It may be that this particular collection or this particular author just isn’t my thing; but I usually enjoy short story collections.  In this case, the stories didn’t have specific grammar problems or anything simplistic I could point to, it’s more the overall writing style that did me in.

2 Stars

Red+Blue (Opposites Attract) by A.B. Gayle

This is Book 23 started, book 20 finished

Red+Blue (Opposites Attract) by A.B. Gayle
Published by Dreamspinner Press, 2012

As romance novels go, this is somewhat more than the standard boy meets boy, boy does boy, they have a misunderstanding, break-up, fix it and live happily ever after.  But, it’s not much more than that.  Ben is a tall, fit 24-year old actuarial trainee starting out in a small insurance company just as the Great Recession is starting.  Jason is a slightly older, more flamboyant employee at the company and Adrian is the 35-year old son of the company’s owner.

First this appears to be a romance about Ben and Jason, but it’s not.  Then it appears to be a gay-for-you romance between Ben and Adrian, but it’s only half right.  Adrian’s gay but closeted.   The story itself is fast paced once the boy meets boy and boy does boy portion starts.  The misunderstanding part is where the story loses itself a bit.

Adrian was in a gay relationship before in Europe with a cousin but now he’s home and firmly in closet with an evil girlfriend and evil father to boot.   Until he resolves his issues that puts him in the closet, we don’t get to know what they are – so there’s this missing feeling throughout the book as to why he is who he is.  Ben has some family issues that are mentioned then later dropped from the story.  When the evil girlfriend is no longer needed (she is also Ben’s boss), she just disappears from the story.  Same with Jason; halfway into the book he gets sick and moves home to the other side of the country.

I wasn't expecting high art and the book was brain candy enough that I read and was entertained by it, but these convenient adding and subtracting of characters and information detracted from the story.

3 stars.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi

This is Book 22 started, book 19 finished

The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi
Published by Tor Books, 2011

I’ve read post-Singularity/post-human science fiction before but this is one of the best examples of it.  It’s fast paced, it give absolutely no quarter to the reader and it expects you to keep up with it instead of leading you along.  Little is explained in this book as far as the technology infusing this culture; it’s just there and a part of the story and the reader is expected to infer the tech as the story unfolds.

This opens in a prison with an uploaded prisoner being played with/tortured/rehabilitated through a series of scenarios that make little sense but paints a mental image of a Escher-esque multi-dimensional space until he’s broken free and on a ship that may or may not be sentient and may or may not be charge of the human piloting it.

On some levels, this is a detective thriller with Jean le Flambeur, the thief, performing a service in exchange for his freedom and being pursued by detective Beauretlet in a science fiction wonderland.  But it’s not that.  It’s much more.  Most of the book is set on a Mars full of near immortal humans and sentient and near sentient machines.  There are characters galore with various interesting vignettes and technobabble to decipher.

There are thematic currents on what is means to be human, our ultimate purpose and what death is all jumbled in with playful hedonism.   Perhaps the chaos will be better explained in future books but I somehow doubt it.

This is possibly not for everyone in that it’s not Star Trek and while it does entertain, this book insists that you pay attention as you read.  If you read in small bits here and there, you may end up lost and it’s too good a book for that.

4.5 stars.

1635: The Dreeson Incident by Virginia DeMarce

This is Book 21 started, book 18 finished

1635: The Dreeson Incident by Virginia DeMarce
Published by Baen Books, 2008

As I’m making my way slowly through the entire Ring of Fire alternate universe, I find myself sometimes enthralled, sometimes disbelieving and sometimes even a bit bored by it all.  In this book, I found all three.   I apparently skipped over the book the first time I read the main books in the series as I would have remembered it.  It connects the end of the Ram Rebellion to the start of the upcoming war against Brandenburg, Saxony and Poland.

The main piece I noticed I missed the first time through was the election in which Crown Loyalists – the nobility – take over the government.  It occurs in this book but by skipping it, when I got to 1635: The Eastern Front, it was fait accompli and the effects from that had already started rolling.  There were other pieces I didn't realize I was missing – mostly details in different character’s lives – that occur in this book but the election is the primary piece.

At the time, I think I skipped it because so many reviews were unfavorable.  They generally said that the book was just a slow telling of family histories and nothing much occurs – and that it’s fairly unreadable because of it.  Well, there is quite a bit of Grantville family history and a lot of character backstory and, compared to other books in the series, not as much happens to rearrange socio-political gameboard of 17th century Europe.   But, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

The backstories at times read like so many separate short stories from the Gazettes simply because of the multiple storylines going on at once – but they were mostly very interesting and well-done.  They filled in gaps I didn't realize were there in the overall humanity of Grantville.  There were parts where the backstories and the current interpersonal relationships did get longwinded and somewhat repetitious; this was especially true with Vera Hudson playing the role of disapproving town gossip and general harpy.

In general, though, they were necessary.  They showed everyday life; something missing from the grandiose storylines in this series.

The book does end on a large note with a sweeping change to the Germanies and their philosophic future.  It’s not as large scale as defeating Denmark or redrawing the political landscape in the Low Countries, but it will do.

3.5 stars.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Byzantium by Stephen R. Lawhead

This is Book 19 started, book 17 finished

Byzantium by Stephen R. Lawhead
Published by Harper Voyager, 1997

To a degree, writing a review about this book will only show that I’m somewhat biased in my opinion of it.  This was my 4th time reading it since it came out 17 years ago.  Once every 4-ish years isn't too obsessive.  But, I adore this book.  It’s massive in scope and it could have been a tragic failure of overreach but instead is just a beautiful accounting of life in 10th Century Europe and the Middle East.

The book opens with an almost magic relationship between Aidan, a Célé Dé monk and priest, the world around him and his God.  It’s a more mystic relationship than most are painted as and very well done.  As he begins a pilgrimage to Constantinople with his fellow monks and subsequently set upon by Vikings, his religion falters as he’s taken as a slave.  Throughout the novel, one of the recurring themes is Aidan’s relationship to his God as his fortunes fall, rise again only to fall lower and rise even higher.

He is taken to Skania and from there eventually to Constantinople via Russia.  He is a slave.  He is a spy.  He is an advisor to an Abbasid Emir.  Eventually, he becomes something few attain, he becomes a free man.

The book itself is a great adventure and the themes are of loss and pain and failure and redemption.  I’m not a particularly religious person at all but I liked the religious threads running throughout.  They are appropriate for a tale of a monk and for a tale set in Medieval Europe.

There is a lot I want to say about this book but I don’t want to give away any major plot elements.  It’s a wonderfully done book.  There are some gruesome parts and there are some beautiful parts and at 900 some pages or 12000 locations, it’s a major read but it’s definitely worth the effort.

5 Stars.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Other Dead by Kevin Eastman, Joshua Ortega, Digger T. Mesch and Qing Ping Mui

This is Book 18 started, book 16 finished

The Other Dead by Kevin Eastman, Joshua Ortega, Digger T. Mesch and Qing Ping Mui
Published by IDW Publishing, April 2014

NOTE: This book was provided by the publisher, through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

This is a graphic novel combining the first 4 comics in a new zombie series, The Other Dead.  In this series, the twist is that animals, not humans, become the zombies, turn into crazed killers and attack all humans.  

This is another series riding the wave of zombie popularity.  To my mind, this one misses the mark.  It’s just not well done; it’s trying too hard. 

First, the characters in the book are mostly unlikable and uninteresting.  I found myself not really caring about any of them.  There is little character development - they are mostly there as place holders - and the dialogue is trite.  There is a President Obama character who just decides to head down to Louisiana in front of a hurricane with a couple Secret Service Agents and one advisor to personally check out these reports of zombies.

The idea of zombified animals has been done before in other universes and done better.  This virus affects all animals and turns them into angry killers who hunt for humans in groups.  Even animals who normally do not travel in herds become pack killers and animals that are otherwise non-aggressive become skilled hunters.  Humans are apparently immune to the virus that affects animals ranging from manatees to squirrels.   Even when one man bites a zombie squirrel to kill it, that isn't enough to pass on the virus to humans.

I enjoy a good zombie tale, but unfortunately, this isn't one of them. 

2 Stars.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Liberty 1784: The Second War for Independence by Robert Conroy

Sorry this one is a bit late ... life happened to me.  I actually finished reading this on the second and just got a chance to write up my thoughts on it....

Book 16 started, Book 14 finished

Liberty 1784: The Second War for Independence by Robert Conroy
Published by Baen Books, March 2014

NOTE: This book was provided by the publisher, through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

This is my 4th book by Conroy and this one shows he has grown as a writer.  The writing style in this book is much different from 1945, written 7 years ago and even from Castro’s Bomb and Himmler’s War written 3 years ago.  It’s less self-conscious; it pays less attention to the Great Men involved and the History that was changed and pays more attention to the characters as people and their lives as the story unfolds.  There are still the great men and there are still great events but they tend not to be the primary focus.

The turning point for this timeline is the Battle of Yorktown.  A British supply fleet was not defeated prior to the battle so it was able to resupply Cornwallis and Washington was defeated.  This started a series of events that ended with the colonies’ surrender, Washington’s beheading in London, most of our Founding Fathers imprisoned in Jamaica and the rest fleeing west the remnants of the Continental Army not captured and likewise imprisoned.   It’s a decent turning point.

After this, the American colonies are under an increasingly tight rule from Britain with known rebels in hiding or fled.  Rumors abound of a place near present-day Chicago called Liberty that is a rebel stronghold and something of a pressure valve for the colonies as well as an irritating thorn in the British sides.  At the same time the French Revolution is also occurring but with British help for the monarchy; they are worried that these republican uprisings will boil over to Britain and are anxious to stamp them out.

This story, then, is the British determined to stamp out the American rebel stronghold before doing the same to the rebels in France and preserving their way of life.  It is told primarily from the perspective of everyday men and women on the side of the Rebels and from a British Major for the British.   The British are a bit of a caricature of the opinions of the 18th Century Georgian nobility and the American rebels for the most part are all Fine Upstanding people; but it works well.  There’s enough humanity in the British and enough foolishness and self-centeredness in the Americans to make it work.

I did like that the characters spoke like people and not like dry historical figures.  However, there were times when their language went a bit too modern and it just felt wrong.  For example, in one scene, Abigail Morgan, wife of a US Representative from our timeline and a member of the Virginia upper classes, said to a room full of other women, “Fairer and weaker sex my ass.”   That’s just too modern and too blunt.   But, that sort of thing, while there, wasn’t commonplace.

Overall, I enjoyed the book.  I found the premise acceptable.  I’m happy that Conroy stepped away from the mid-20th Century.  He knows that era well, but it’s been done quite a bit in alternate histories.   The story itself was entertaining and well written.  I will look forward to future books from him.

4 stars.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Waking Engine by David Edison

Book 15 started, Book 13 finished

The Waking Engine by David Edison
Published by Tor Books, February 2014

NOTE: This book was provided by the publisher, through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

This is a debut novel from Mr. Edison and there are some very good things to say about it.

The premise is fascinating.  In this universe, when you die, you reawaken on a new planet in an idealized version of your self-image to live another life.  At face value, that sounds great until you consider doing that over and over and life becomes awfully long and drawnout.  There are a few places where True Death can be achieved; one such place is the City Unspoken which is the setting for the novel.

The city is massive.  It is breathtaking in its architectural grandeur and also in its decay.  The descriptions of it made it come alive in a way reminiscent of Miéville’s New Crobuzon from Perdido Street Station or Bacigalupi’s Bangkok from The Windup Girl; the city itself it as integral to the book as the characters themselves.

The writing style is very poetic.  Edison has a fantastic grasp of language and does some very interesting things with it.  There is a certain grace to it that can be entrancing.  It’s wonderful to read but can also be distracting at times.  Here is a sample from early in the book:

The circle of sky hung distant, darkened but cloudless, a deep royal blue that seemed worlds away from the brooding umber sunset of the music fair he'd passed through to get here.  Fragrant smoke of a dozen flavors poured from the many openings, scrolling upward toward the promise of starlight far above like a pilgrimage of ghosts.  But Cooper could see that the darkened doorways were mere facades and nothing more - no vaulted tombs or flame-wreathed altars lay beyond their gaping doors.  Cooper realized with nervous awe that he was standing at the bottom of an immense well lined with the faces of a hundred religions, scalped and mounted.
“Welcome to the Apostery,” said a voice.  “Where we bury our faith.”
The Waking Engine

It’s so charming and evocative.   At times, it appears the language overwhelms the action in the story.
I found myself having to reread a section after finding myself enjoying the language and not the actual story.

But, that may have been one of the points.  The characters in the book are all well-conceived and interesting and their vignettes often distract from the main story line.  At times, these stories become much more interesting than what plot there is in the book.

Overall, I have mixed feelings on this book.  I loved the writing itself and I loved all the little sub-plots but, as a general rule, I don’t usually like books with a weak plot.  While, this book is intentionally designed this way, I still found myself looking away at times and losing interest.  As a first novel, it’s solid.  Edison is definitely an author I’ll keep an eye on for future novels.  I say check it out.

3.5 stars.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan

Book 14 started, Book 12 finished

The Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan  
Published by Orbit, 2013

This is an historical fantasy set on an alternate Earth in an equivalent to our late 18th Century.  It is a time of enlightenment where learned men do not believe in gods and where they yearn to live in a system that isn’t headed up by a king.   This book opens on the night of a coup in which a Field Marshall and his cabal have overthrown the king and killed the sorcerers protecting him.

The book has multiple stories going at once – the Field Marshall’s story, his son’s search for a missing sorcerer, an inspector working for the Field Marshall and a laundress whose life was turned upside down by the coup.  All are well written and the transitions between one to the other are often at chapter breaks so they’re not as startling as they can sometimes be by unskilled authors.

The magic system in the book is tiered with different people having an affinity for different types of magic; there are the Privileged who are essentially traditional sorcerers, the Marked who draw their power from gunpowder and are especially skilled with guiding bullets and then the Knacked who have a single talent that can give them an edge over normal people – like the need not to sleep.  The Privileged and the Marked work in opposition to each other which adds to the overall drama in the book.

This book is well done and thoroughly enjoyed it.  However, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, the author or the publisher has chosen to use replacement swearing.  The characters all use the word ‘Pit’ as an expletive which is fine in and of itself, but they use it over and over every page or so.  It became tedious after a while as it was the only expletive used.  

I give the book 4 stars for the quality of the book itself but I have to take away a star for the over use of that single world.  Be more creative with your replacement swearing.

3 Stars.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

On Swearing ....

I'm reading The Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan.  The actual review is coming later as I’m currently only 45% through the book.  Suffice to say that I’m thoroughly enjoying it.

However, the author is using (or the publisher made him) use that standard ploy of replacing swear words with substitution words so reader knows the characters are swearing without using profane language. In this case, the word 'hell' is substituted with 'pit'. A lot. I think, the only swear word in the first 40% of the book used is 'pit'. Pit, pit, pit.

Now, I’m sure there’s a Catch-22 for publishers where some readers will scream about any swear words and how it ruins a book while others think it’s awkward not to use them when they seem to fit naturally into a conversation.  Then, what is the proper level and when is it in context?  And, many publishers seem to take the conservative, corporate way out and go for zero swearing.

The entire thing ratchets up many notches when the book in question is YA or a tween book – then many think that all curse words, like all alcohol, drug use or sexuality, is inappropriate for the delicate sensitivities of young, innocent readers.  That opinion seems to hold true regardless how the person spoke or behaved as a young person themselves.

Personally, I think that casual swearing can be a crutch and can be a sign of poor writing skills.  I also think more often it can be very appropriate with certain types of characters and circumstances.   I think the fear of swearing is a fear that if x people complain about it, that must mean that 100x more people must feel the same way – regardless of the demographics of the book’s target audience.  It’s financial based fear.   And, since most people who don’t mind the swearing also won’t complain that it’s not there, then it’s a sort of win/win.

To be honest, I don’t even mind substitutions, when they’re smart.  When a science fiction characters says, “Galaxy!” or “Space!” as an expletive, that’s stupid.  But taking the time to create something that fits into the context of the fictional universe can actually be clever.  Case in point, Battlestar Galactica’s use of “Frak!” was fantastic.

In the case of The Promise of Blood, the only reason I even noticed it was McClellan used it over and over and over at least once a page.  It’s too much.  It went from clever to tedious quickly.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

So, Two Books ….

Book 12 started, Book 11 finished

Grantville Gazette volume 20 edited by Paula Goodlett
Published by Baen Books, 2008

This version of the gazette is perfectly fine but not one of the better ones.  There’s a good opening story story about the expansion of crochet and the Committee of Correspondence into Hamburg – an odd combination but it was enjoyable.  There was also a good story set in the Russian Embassy to the USE that I don’t remember being included in the later book, 1636: The Kremlin Games.  The rest are fairly mediocre.

3 stars.

Book 13 started, Book 11 finished

The Man who Crossed Worlds by Chris Strange
Published by Cheeky Minion, 2013

This is an urban fantasy set in a decaying Earth connected to another world or dimension or reality more chaotic than ours as far as the rules of physics are concerned and peopled with a race who are like us only different.   This is a typical urban fantasy in that it’s the story of a loner and small time criminal type caught up in a larger conflict between rival gangs and the police.

It’s well edited, it’s well written.  It’s just not what I’m interested in reading at the moment.  I thought I was when I picked it up.  But I’m at 13% in and I don’t really care about the main character/narrator or the story that’s beginning to unfold.  I think, for me, it's that nothing really stands out.  It reads like just another urban fantasy; one among many ....

Maybe I’ll pick it up again later.