Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Across the Nightingale Floor by Lian Hearn


Publisher: Highbridge Company

Date: September 12, 2003

Blurb (Amazon): A tour-de-force novel set in ancient Japan filled with passion, fantasy, and feuding warlords. The first volume in the highly anticipated Tales of the Otori trilogy.

Sixteen-year-old Takeo's village has been massacred by an evil warlord, and he is about to be slain by the men who murdered his parents and neighbors. At the last moment, his life is saved by a nobleman, who claims the boy as his kin and begins his education.

But nothing is as it seems. Takeo discovers that he has rare powers that are useful to those around him. As he grows into manhood, he must decide where his loyalties lie: with his noble master and adoptive father; with the Hidden, a secret, spiritual sect whose beliefs are forbidden; or with the Tribe, the assassins and spies who consider him one of their own.

A story of treachery, political intrigue, and the intensity of first love, set in a world ruled by formal ritual and codes of honor, Across the Nighingale Floor crosses genres, generations, and genders to captivate fans of all ages.

You know what it is like to have a love affair with a book, right? Well, Across the Nightingale Floor is my new love affair. I have been eyeing this book for some time - the title is intriguing and the cover has a sword on it. Why wouldn't you be intrigued by this book?

Lian Hearn created a beautiful and complex world with this first installment in the Tales of the Otori. Set in ancient, feudal Japan, Takeo is orphaned in a night of flame and saved by an enemy of those who set fire to his village. Shigeru Otori takes Takeo with him, giving him his new name, a name that resembles Shigeru's murdered brother. Takeo has given his loyalty freely and completely to Shigeru, who treats him as a son.

But unfinished business from Takeo's past, and even his heritage, will come to haunt him. His mother was of The Hidden, a group of worshipers that are often persecuted for their believes. Takeo learns to hide this part of himself, burying it deep with him. However, without the proper training he cannot hide his blood heritage. Takeo's father, an unknown figure in his life, was of The Tribe, a highly trained, specially skilled group. They are little known, but what is known is of their skills as assassins.

Lady Kaede's predicament is that she as been a useful hostage of a feudal lord. And now she has been ordered to marry an Otori to seal a truce and a compact of loyalty. However, these are not her desires. That coupled with her reputation to being death to any man who acts upon his desire for her, surrounds her with a certain mystique.

I listened to the Audible.com version, performed by Kevin Gray and Aiko Nakasone. Having two performers for this book really added to the quality. Both had even, easy-to-listen-to voices with expert pronunciation of the Japanese names.

++++: Everybody could be dangerous including the ladies, love is not a weakness, people die eventually, there's a heron.

-: One minor negative point: There is a love scene that I wish the author had given us just a bit more.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Giant Thief by David Tallerman


Author: David Tallerman

Publisher: Angry Robot Books

Date: January 31, 2012

Blurb (Amazon): Meet Easie Damasco, rogue, thieving swine and total charmer.
 
Even the wicked can't rest when a vicious warlord and the force of enslaved giants he commands invade their homeland.  Damasco might get away in one piece, but he's going to need help.

Big time
. 


Giant Thief was a fun roller coaster. I dug into it, thought it was predictable, and then the author hit me with something unexpected. I read on. The story felt predictable again, and whack!, another unexpected turn. Clever, ain't he?

David Tallerman put together a tale of war, revenge, betrayal, loyalty, and thiefery. Easie Damasco is our narrator, telling the tale through his jaded, self-absorbed eyes. Right off the bat, the dude is being hung, is abruptly saved from that fate to be press-ganged into a battle he has no interest in. Through coincidence, he has to take charge of one of the many giants forced into the war. Being quick in thought, he directs the giant, Salt Lick, back to the main camp with a scheme to steal from the main bad guy, Lord Moardrid.

But Easie gets more than he stole for - and is pursued relentlessly the rest of the book. He finds old friends.....well, once-upon-a-time-alliances and forms a few other tentative friendships. He repeatedly breaks promises, constantly thinks about himself, and has no real regard for others. So why did I root for the guy? Little by little, Easie has to witness the outcome of his selfish behaviors on others. In the end, will he try to fix them?

In short, I had fun with it and hope there is a sequel in the works. I enjoyed all the Hispanic names, which gave this book the flavor of Europe.

+++: Fun, easy to get into, pace keeps moving, I like that people call Easie on his idiocy, not everyone is a good guy.

--: The last few lines by Easie Damasco at the end of the book kind of left a sour note - hadn't the dude learned a few lessons? Salt Lick deserves some decent clothes.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Rook by Daniel O'Malley

A woman wakes up in another woman's body. Oh, and she has amazing superpowers. Awesomeness ensues.

Publisher:Little, Brown and Company

Date: January 11, 2012

Blurb (From Rookfiles.com):
“The body you are wearing used to be mine.” So begins the letter Myfanwy Thomas is holding when she awakes in a London park surrounded by bodies all wearing latex gloves. With no recollection of who she is, Myfanwy must follow the instructions her former self left behind to discover her identity and track down the agents who want to destroy her.
She soon learns that she is a Rook, a high-ranking member of a secret organization called the Checquy that battles the many supernatural forces at work in Britain. She also discovers that she possesses a rare, potentially deadly supernatural ability of her own.
In her quest to uncover which member of the Checquy betrayed her and why, Myfanwy encounters a person with four bodies, an aristocratic woman who can enter her dreams, a secret training facility where children are transformed into deadly fighters, and a conspiracy more vast than she ever could have imagined.


The Rook is told through two different peoples' eyes, Myfawny (sounds like Tiffany) Thomas, and Myfawny Thomas. Sounds crazy? Well, the main part of the story comes from New Myfawny Thomas, the person in the body during our opening scene in the rain with the weirdos with latex gloves. The rest of the story comes in the form of letters and entries in a large binder by Old Myfawny Thomas, Rook of the Checquy, a seemingly mousy and somewhat pathetic paper-pusher.

The very first thing I want to comment on is how well I felt the female characters were done. I don't always pay attention to this in books, but I came away impressed with what I thought were well-written females. They weren't men with breasts. They also weren't all emotional wrecks or nagging housewives or Martha Stewarts (the baking kind, not the insider trading kind). Good work, Daniel! Now, with that out of the way, let's move on to some of the things that might cause readers trouble in this novel.

I enjoyed the letter portions of the story immensely, as that's something that I really like to see in novels. It was also a clever way for O'Malley to work his way around that old "show, don't tell" chestnut. But for some, these letters might be overlong and not give enough to the current plot to keep the reader interested. The only time I had a problem with any of the journal entries were when the came directly after a cliffhanger in the current plot.

As far as the excellent background O'Malley gives us in these letters is concerned, I was left feeling like it was a necessary evil. While this story does start our character out in a place of weakness (loss of memory, under attack) it doesn't start her out low on the food chain. Instead, The Rook starts the main character off in a very high position of authority, scrambling to get her legs under her and figure out what's going on. The letters are the only way this character could possibly impersonate Old Myfawny. Thus, necessary evil. For some readers, though, it might make the novel drag just enough to make it feel too long. On my Kindle, it shows that The Rook is roughly the same size as The Lies of Locke Lamora, while other one-lead urban fantasies are about 75% of that. For me, the letters added a lot of color to the story, and explained why other people didn't immediately realize she had lost all her memories, but your mileage may vary.

The characters of The Rook were very well done. Everyone that shows up in The Rook feels real, living and breathing. Even those characters that died during some of the action scenes were people we had developed some sort of connection with. No Red Shirts in The Rook, and that's a very good thing.

I was very impressed with the ending of the book. O'Malley finished The Rook in a way that was very comfortable, and will not lead to massive fanboy ranting for a sequel. But rest assured that there's plenty of stuff going on at the end of the book that warrants one. The ending was sharp, enjoyable, and fulfilling, like a wheel of cheese.

I loved:
  • The letters between Myfawnys. But this could go in the other column for many people.
  • The superpowers. We've got 4 bodies with one mind, a crazy flexible dude, a human squid and much much more.
  • Female characters that aren't just men with breasts.
I hated:
  • The length. It was sort of necessary for all the worldbuilding he did, but it felt just a tad too long.
The Rook gets 8.75/10.  If you enjoy Larry Correia or Myke Cole, this is the slower, more British version of those, and it's great. There's plenty to enjoy here, and I suggest you go out and enjoy it very soon.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Pattern Recognition by William Gibson


The story opens with everyday happenings in the life of Cayce (pronounced Case) Pollard. She is a 30-something 'cool' finder. She recognizes patterns and trends in fashion and points a corporation to the next thing that will be desired by the masses. She is often used as a consultant for new logos - what works and what doesn't. Her special gift derives from her condition - apophenia.

But with this gift comes the flip-side. Certain logos/trademarks freak her out; they cause terror, tears, vomiting, anxiety to some degree or other. Personally, I can sympathize with Cayce's feelings concerning the early Michelin Man.

William Gibson
put together a fascinating read with Pattern Recognition, the first book in the Bigend trilogy. Cayce's hobby is following a website that is all about this most engaging film that is being released in snippets in various places throughout El Internet. Pretty soon her hobby turns more into an obsession. She partners with a new boss, Hubertes Bigend, and a computer wizard Boon Chu to track down the maker of the film footage. Bigend believes it could be the next big cool and he wants to market it. Boon Chu has his own motivations and Cayce has to admit to herself that she would try to find the maker on her own anyway.

But soon enough this quest becomes much more dangerous and convoluted that Cayce had expected. She travels from England to Tokyo and eventually Moscow to try to unravel this mystery. In the background, she is plagued with unanswered questions concerning her father, presumed deceased. He disappeared in NY on the morning of 9/11/01. However, no body was ever found. Her mother is convinced that he is gone and that she has received messages from him from the other side, messages directed at Cayce.

The reader, Shelly Fraser, was awesome. From the first disc, her voice was Cayce Pollard. She also pulled off a variety of accents, imbued her voice with incredulity, boredom, frustration, fear, and awe at the correct times.

+++++: This book goes on my ETERNAL shelf. The world building and leading up to the crux of the mystery were excellent.

-: Hmmm... can't really think of anything negative.....Maybe a few more humorous emails from Cayce's British friend Damien would have been welcome.

Shadow Ops: Control Point by Myke Cole

Publisher: Ace (January 31, 2012)

Blurb (From Amazon):
Army Officer. Fugitive. Sorcerer.



Across the country and in every nation, people are waking up with magical talents. Untrained and panicked, they summon storms, raise the dead, and set everything they touch ablaze.
Army officer Oscar Britton sees the worst of it. A lieutenant attached to the military's Supernatural Operations Corps, his mission is to bring order to a world gone mad. Then he abruptly manifests a rare and prohibited magical power, transforming him overnight from government agent to public enemy number one.

The SOC knows how to handle this kind of situation: hunt him down--and take him out. Driven into an underground shadow world, Britton is about to learn that magic has changed all the rules he's ever known, and that his life isn't the only thing he's fighting for.

The amazing thing about the way that they seem to be selling this book (Man with super powers on the run from the government) is that the actual Fugitive part of the book takes up maybe 15% of the novel. The rest of the book has Oscar Britton plotting his escape, but it's very different than I was expecting. Not bad, just surprisingly different, which was a very good thing indeed. Gotta love it when you're pleasantly surprised as a reader.

 If I had to describe Control Point's strongest feature, I would say that the book has lots of "sudden-but-inevitable" points, which shock the reader, but make complete sense when he thinks about it. It's incredibly strong for a first novel because of these moments. I won't give any of them away, because I like to torture people who give away the best parts of books, and I'm not really into self-mutilation. Just know that you might be surprised by some of the turns that this book takes, and that's a very very good thing.

One element that I was concerned with was the Native American issues that come up in the book. Some of the Native Americans have declared themselves a sovereign nation, and are using their newly acquired superpowers to defend it. I was worried that this would be a bit on the over-dramatic side (Note: that guy's actually Italian), but again Myke surprised me. It turns out that Indians can actually be characters in a book, full of life and taking actions that make sense, not just stereotypes. Way to go, Myke! I'm proud of ya, buddy!

I also enjoyed the decisions that Britton made throughout the novel, especially the difficult ones that had negative impacts on his relationships with other characters. Britton isn't your typical hero (insert something about hero we needed rather than deserved), and because of that, he makes the hard decisions and worries about the fallout later. This leads to some logical-but-surprising decisions and some pretty nasty fallout, which made for a break-neck pace and excellent reading.

Since I don't want to sound like a complete fanboy (I'm afraid I'm going to fail at that), I suppose I'd better talk about some things that bothered me. The biggest issue I had with this book was that Britton's inner conflict seemed to drag on just a tad too long. There was great pacing around this, which disguised it, and it makes sense in terms of the story, but I found myself wishing he'd just make a decision about who he wanted to be with these newfound superpowers and stick with it. Okay, back to fanboy mode! Even this little problem didn't bother me that much (honestly, I had to look for something I didn't like, and this was the only thing that came to mind quickly).

I loved

  • Britton's surprising character decisions
  • The extreme fallout from those decisions
  • The awesome, and terrifying powers of Scylla
I hated

Score: 9/10. GO! READ! NOW! AND MYKE? I WANT AN ARC OF BOOK 2, BUDDY...

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Dinosaur Hunter by Homer Hickam


I was browsing the shelves at the library and this book leaped out at me, mostly because I like the word 'dinosaur'. Then the cover cinched it - there's a pick of some long-dead dino bones on it.

The Dinosaur Hunter is a fast paced mystery set in modern-day Montana. Mike Wire is an ex-cop from LA who retired to the cowboy life after taking a bullet to the abdomen. Heck, I would be tempted to do the same thing. As a hired-hand for the Coulter family (Jeannette and her teen son Ray), he gets all the tough, dirty, manly chores around the ranch. Ray is a typical ranch kid - practical, hard-working, and a good shot. Jeannette is a no-nonsense kind of lady.

Then when this dino-hunting paleontologist shows up on her door step asking permission to traipse around the ranch, she is tempted to drop-kick him off her land. But Dr. Pickford prevails, is given permission, finds some big dino bones, and calls in his crew to dig it up. His crew consisted of two very capable, and rather pretty, young ladies - Laura and Tanya.

Pretty soon Ray and Mike are volunteered by Jeannette to assist in the digging, which they both enjoy. Ray's girlfriend Amelia also joins him in the field. While Mike takes up a light flirtation with Laura and Tanya, his heart belongs to Jeannette (unbeknown to her). Then Dr. Pickford finds another dino site. Excellent - another opportunity to sprinkle in more dino facts.

Just to further entice you - there's tattooed Russian bad guys, tough ornery neighbors, an ex-porn producer, and a BLM bureaucrat bully that gives everyone grief. Homer Hickam spun together an energetic, kick-you-in-the-teeth, leave-you-in-the-dust cowboy mystery.

+++: Dinosaurs, tough ladies, tattoos, cowboy sense of humor.

--: All the ladies are desirable, several of the ladies want to bed Mike Wire, everyone who isn't a cowboy (environmentalists, feds, cops) are portrayed as bumbling idiots.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Hexed by Kevin Hearne


I am really enjoying this series. I think you need to enjoy this series too. Period.

Kevin Hearne has continued his witty urban fantasy The Iron Druid Chronicles in Book 2, Hexed. Atticus is ~2100 years old and looks like a college student with tatts and a big Irish wolfhound named Oberon. Oberon stole the show in Book 1, Hounded, and he continues to be one of my favorite characters in Hexed.

Atticus owns a book/herbal/tea shop in Tempe, AZ. I love the southwest setting. Atticus has an eclectic group of friends; a vampire lawyer, a werewolf pack, a group of ghouls, and little old Mrs. MacDonagh up the road. There is of course his apprentice Granuaile, a smart, attractive redhead. Let's not forget Lakshmi (spelling may be wrong, please forgive me), the Hindu witch.

Picture the toughest, most hectic weekend you have ever had. Now throw in some demon-spawning witches, a dozen or so Maenads, a giant, bone-crunching insect, and a very nosy neighbor. Oh, and let's say Coyote comes calling and wishes you to kill a fallen angel that's eating school kids. Also, your blood-sucking vampire lawyer won't chat with you until you agree to help him kill a deity. Add a dash of rough sex and you have one hell of a good book.

The witty, sarcastic remarks had me laughing out loud. The ludicrous situations had me wondering how Atticus was going to get out of this one. The laughter at his expense, especially when he is nude, had me giggling. I have to admit that the cover art is a draw for me; simple, intense, sexy.

The voice actor was phenomenal. Luke Daniels had not only the Celtic names, but also some German, Russian, and Polish thrown in for fun. I love his voice for Oberon.

+++++: Intricate plot, fun characters, Oberon the dog, mythical beasties and deities, shape-shifting, the use of a towel as a weapon, and I have to wonder if Kevin Hearne plays Titan Quest.

-: I really hope that the author does something more with Granuaile. In this book she had a few good lines, got to show off her brains a bit, but showed off her good looks even more.

Nebula Nominations Are Out. Who Should Win Best Novel?


Nebula Nominations, Best Novel. Who Should Win?

Also, in the interest of seeing all the wonderful people who were nominated for novellas, novelettes and short stories, here's the link to SFWA's official announcement. I've also posted them below.

These will be voted on by members of the SFWA, and the award ceremony weekend will begin May 17th.

Novel

Among Others, Jo Walton (Tor)
Embassytown, China MiƩville (Macmillan UK; Del Rey; Subterranean Press)
Firebird, Jack McDevitt (Ace Books)
God’s War, Kameron Hurley (Night Shade Books)
Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti, Genevieve Valentine (Prime Books)
The Kingdom of Gods, N.K. Jemisin (Orbit US; Orbit UK)

Novella

“Kiss Me Twice,” Mary Robinette Kowal (Asimov’s Science Fiction, June 2011)
“Silently and Very Fast,” Catherynne M. Valente (WFSA Press; Clarkesworld Magazine, October 2011)
“The Ice Owl,” Carolyn Ives Gilman (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, November/December 2011)
“The Man Who Bridged the Mist,” Kij Johnson (Asimov’s Science Fiction, October/November 2011)
“The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary,” Ken Liu (Panverse Three, Panverse Publishing)
“With Unclean Hands,” Adam-Troy Castro (Analog Science Fiction and Fact, November 2011)

Novelette

“Fields of Gold,” Rachel Swirsky (Eclipse 4, Night Shade Books)
“Ray of Light,” Brad R. Torgersen (Analog Science Fiction and Fact, December 2011)
“Sauerkraut Station,” Ferrett Steinmetz (Giganotosaurus, November 2011)
“Six Months, Three Days,” Charlie Jane Anders (Tor.com, June 2011)
“The Migratory Pattern of Dancers,” Katherine Sparrow (Giganotosaurus, July 2011)
“The Old Equations,” Jake Kerr (Lightspeed Magazine, July 2011)
“What We Found,” Geoff Ryman (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, September/October 2011)

Short Story


“Her Husband’s Hands,” Adam-Troy Castro (Lightspeed Magazine, October 2011)
“Mama, We are Zhenya, Your Son,” Tom Crosshill (Lightspeed Magazine, April 2011)
“Movement,” Nancy Fulda (Asimov’s Science Fiction, March 2011)
“Shipbirth,” Aliette de Bodard (Asimov’s Science Fiction, February 2011)
“The Axiom of Choice,” David W. Goldman (New Haven Review, Winter 2011)
“The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees,” E. Lily Yu (Clarkesworld Magazine, April 2011)
“The Paper Menagerie,” Ken Liu (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, March/April 2011)

Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation


Attack the Block, Joe Cornish (writer/director) (Optimum Releasing; Screen Gems)
Captain America: The First Avenger, Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely (writers), Joe Johnston (director) (Paramount)
Doctor Who: “The Doctor’s Wife,” Neil Gaiman (writer), Richard Clark (director) (BBC Wales)
Hugo, John Logan (writer), Martin Scorsese (director) (Paramount)
Midnight in Paris, Woody Allen (writer/director) (Sony)
Source Code, Ben Ripley (writer), Duncan Jones (director) (Summit)
The Adjustment Bureau, George Nolfi (writer/director) (Universal)

Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy Book

Akata Witch, Nnedi Okorafor (Viking Juvenile)
Chime, Franny Billingsley (Dial Books; Bloomsbury)
Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Laini Taylor (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers; Hodder & Stoughton)
Everybody Sees the Ants, A.S. King (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)
The Boy at the End of the World, Greg van Eekhout (Bloomsbury Children’s Books)
The Freedom Maze, Delia Sherman (Big Mouth House)
The Girl of Fire and Thorns, Rae Carson (Greenwillow Books)
Ultraviolet, R.J. Anderson (Orchard Books; Carolrhoda Books)

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Dracula by Bram Stoker


Wow.

I was born 1978 and have watched my required amount of vampire movies over the years. I even enjoyed a few of them. I have read a few fictions that featured vampires and I survived. But I have to say that all the Dracula-inspired movies, books, costumes, cereals, etc. had tainted my idea of the original Bram Stoker novel. After receiving a mild challenge from a good friend to give it a try, I did. I hemmed and hawed, avoiding it for several months. Yet, once I dove into it, I realized that this was some pretty good writing.

In Dracula, Bram Stoker ratchets up the intensity notch by notch, building upon this mysterious figure, Count Dracula. Jonathan Harker has to decipher his odd mannerisms - is he truly cunning and dangerous or is the fascination with English ways just his Transylvanian good-mannered idea of showing interest in a guest? Alas, pretty soon it becomes apparent that this sociable, curious gentleman is not on the level. Jonathan Harker becomes a prisoner of the Count and must use his wits, and loose them briefly, to escape.

Meanwhile, the reader gets introduced to Lucy Westenra and Mina Murray, two best of friends. Mina seems the more practical one, is engaged to Jonathan, and has a sharp wit. Lucy is sweet but I think would be thought of as something of a flirt today. Afterall, no less than 3 men propose marriage to her at the beginning of this book. Mina is all excitement over her own upcoming nuptials, and excited for her dearest friend. I found it very interesting that Mina is using shorthand, a new invention at the time, to record her thoughts in her diary. While her role starts off somewhat cookie-cutter for the time (published 1897), she soon becomes a most integral character in the hunt for Dracula.

Bram Stoker has set up the main characters back in England and turned our heads with the curious goings-on in Transylvania. Now Dracula wants to set up shop in England and he sails there, taking several boxes (think coffins) of vampire-sleepy-time dirt. But the boat that arrives on the shores of England is not complimented near so well as when it left Europe. Dracula gets to shore in the shape of a wolf and his precious boxes of dirt are picked up by a pre-arranged crew and distributed throughout England to houses procured through agents like Jonathan Harker.

While Mina goes off to Buda-Pesth to see to a deranged Jonathan, Lucy's sleepwalking illness continues to plague her, along with a certain bat hanging around her midnight window. That shape-shifting, blood-sucking Count finds his way into Lucy's embrace, attempting to turn her into the Undead. Personally, I think he was missing his Transylvanian harem after that long voyage and Lucy was to be the start of an English harem.

So that's the setup. There will be plenty of action scenes. Lots of emotional scenes - both men and women fainting, blushing, and weeping. The mental patient Renfield added a most intriguing side-plot with his fascination with flies and spiders. And to think, this horror story started off with a country travel and Jonathan Harker's diary comments on the local food. This was a highly enjoyable classic.

++++: The bad guy had quirky mannerisms, the women had depth and real thoughts even if their actions were confined by propriety of the times, and the entire book is told through letters, telegrams, and diary entries.

--: The men sometimes get quite silly about whether or not to include Mina in the discussions and plans, concerned over her natural weakness as a woman. Also, sometimes Professor Van Helsing's lectures can get a bit a long and with his funny speech patterns, I sometimes found myself skimming his paragraphs to get the point and move on.

The Weekend Question

I know that there are some of you out there that read more than one thing at once, and don't have a problem with it at all. In a way, I applaud you, because I have never successfully joined your ranks. When I start a book, I'm in for the long haul. Front to back, start to finish, I'll only be true to one book...



Unless something new and beautiful catches my eye.

I'll try to tell myself that it's wrong to put down a book in the middle for another book. I should be true to the author, true to myself, and read the thing all the way through, no stopping.

But sometimes that other book just looks so damned good.

It starts out harmlessly enough. A quick peek at Amazon to see what other people are saying. Maybe a hurried trip to the author's blog during a lunch break.

But pretty soon, I'm looking for sample chapters of that other, newer, younger book, while my Kindle sits idle on the screen with the old man toweling himself off in front of a snake (you know the one).

I promise myself that's as far as I'll go. Just some sample chapters, nothing serious. I just want to see what the author had to say on twitter, and then I'll be all done. I'm in control here. I can stop at any time and go back to my old book.

But inevitably, late at night, all alone, I'll fire up Amazon and my passion will take control. That one click button will flirt with me one too many times, and the desire to savor every single word of that gorgeous new book will be too much.

After a couple hours of hot, sweaty reading, I tell myself that I'll still put in a few hours here and there with my old book. But just thinking about the old book brings up comparisons in my mind.

This new book just has so much going for it. Look at all that silky smooth prose. And my old book could never give me action like this new one can. The more I think about it, the more excited I'll get, until I finally can't contain it anymore and I find myself reading the new book front to back in less than a day, pausing only to use the bathroom and get some snacks to keep my energy up. My thirst for the tight plot of the new book can't be quenched until I've read her all the way.

Eventually, out of shame and a desire to be able to stand tall and be proud of myself, I'll go crawling back to the old book. I'll promise myself that it will never happen again, and start to plod along with the old book until it's finished.

So, anyone else out there experience something similar to what I'm going through? With books, that is? Anyone else cheat on their books?

Friday, February 17, 2012

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver


How would you balance family, jobs, a small farm, and trying to eat local, organic 99% of the time? Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is about the Kingsolver-Hopp family giving it a try on an ancestral Virginia farm. Barbara Kingsolver wrote most of the story, with her husband Steven Hopp playing Mr. Science Guy and her oldest daughter Camille chiming in with recipes and a 19-year-old's point of view. Their youngest daughter, Lily, was too young to sign a book contract, but there are plenty of stories about her and her chicken empire.

The book was a nice narration of why the family decided to leave their friends and jobs in the desert southwest, to give up their various addictions to corn syrup and junk food, and make a go of feeding themselves locally (growing it themselves or buying within a 100 mile radius). The goal went beyond just localvorism; this family wanted to eat only organic plants and organic, free-range, happy meats, eggs, and milk products. In addition, eating local means eating with the seasons. Try to picture winter with no fresh fruits and veggies. If you are of an older generation, all this probably sounds close to how you grew up. But, alas, my generation has never known what it truly means to eat with the seasons.

I loved how it was a very human story; there were items each member found they could not go without - like coffee and certain spices and chocolate. These things had to be imported from another country and sometimes another continent. Going without fresh fruit during the winter was difficult for the daughters. When they had friends over, or ate out with friends, they often just simply had to set aside these goals and enjoy the company. The story followed this family and what drove them to this year-long experiment; the principles behind it, the continuing motivation, the wonder and joy of growing, harvesting, storing, cooking, and eating one's own food. The real clincher for me was the way the authors refrained from imposing their beliefs about food on the reader.

I listened to the audio version, which was performed by the Kingsolver-Hopp family. Each of them had even, pleasant voices and were able to add the appropriate humor and stress as desired.

+++++: Lots of great info about small farming, localvorism, eating organic, raising turkeys. The audio version includes recordings of their chickens to create some ambiance. The book provides lots of links for further information.

-: My Main Man (M3) is still not convinced that we need turkeys. Sigh......

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Endymion Spring by Matthew Skelton


Matthew Skelton has put together a fun children's tale about a young boy and his sister discovering an ancient and magical book - one that contains vast knowledge. Endymion Spring is set mostly at modern-day Oxford, England, with the story occasionally jumping back to the time and place of Johannes Gutenberg, the creator of the movable-type printing press.


Blake and his sister Duck are in Oxford with their mother while she does some research. They have left their father back in North America and the kids have this anxious question throughout the book concerning their parents long-term relationship: Are they going to get a divorce? This added tension to the overall story as Duck and Blake Winters try to unravel this mystery surrounding a scrap of book that has landed in their hands.

Blake has to contend with a speechless homeless man full of answers, an animated origami dragon made from mysterious paper, a book that refuses to open except by the innocent, and an ancient, malevolent book-collecting society. Plus his nosey sister, Duck.

But once they join forces, and IQs, the mists start to clear and the danger increases.

I listened to audio version performed by Richard Easton. He used his voice quite well for the action scenes, catching the adrenaline of the moment.

+++: The flashback scenes to the 1400s were my favorite bits of the book. The mystery itself was well laid out. Enjoyed the references to Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti.

---: The book was a bit predictable - but it is a children's book. The voice actor for the audiobook was enthusiastic throughout the book - which sometimes left me feeling like he had been near-shouting for the hour-long car ride.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb

The Farseer Trilogy

Robin Hobb

Pub Date: 1996 (Assassin's Apprentice)

Publisher: Spectra


Blurb from Amazon (Assassin's Aprentice): Young Fitz is the bastard son of the noble Prince Chivalry, raised in the shadow of the royal court by his father's gruff stableman. He is treated like an outcast by all the royalty except the devious King Shrewd, who has him sectetly tutored in the arts of the assassin. For in Fitz's blood runs the magic Skill--and the darker knowledge of a child raised with the stable hounds and rejected by his family. As barbarous raiders ravage the coasts, Fitz is growing to manhood. Soon he will face his first dangerous, soul-shattering mission. And though some regard him as a threat to the throne, he may just be the key to the survival of the kingdom.


The Farseer Trilogy
wasn't what I expected, and that's absolutely wonderful, because I expected something cliche.

The Farseer Trilogy stars Fitzchivalry, who at first seems to be a cardboard cutout of so many of the "poor farmer boys" from epic fantasy. But the drama, action and pain that he experiences through these three books is anything but typical. The Farseer Trilogy is the story of the red ship raiders that ravage Buck's coastline, using dark magic to turn those that survive their pillaging into little more than animals, little more than zombies.

It's also the story of Fitz's journey as a bastard child of the former King-in-Waiting, Chivalry, and the young boy's training as an assassin for the current monarch, King Shrewd.

It's also a love story with an ending that is satisfying but depressing.

It's also got dragons.

These books were full of action, drama, and lots of painful scenes. Robin Hobb really knows how to give her characters hell, and it shows. Fitz is often very close to losing his life at any given moment, and has the kind of frequent brushes with death that reminded me of Harry Dresden in Changes. A lot of very bad stuff happens to Fitz, and you're there for every agonizing moment.

This series is much closer to George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire than I thought before reading it. What I mean by that is that bad things happen to good people, good people die, and sometimes the bad guy wins. That's not to say that they're horribly depressing, or so emotional that you won't be able to read them. Quite the opposite. You'll find yourself turning pages like a madman, because you're rooting for that idiot Fitz to figure out the plot and save the day, or himself.

That reminds me that I need to mention my least favorite part of these books. Fitz is sometimes (okay, a lot of the time) a moron. Maybe I'm not a teenager, and for a good part of the series Fitz is, but some of the mistakes he made seemed pretty obvious to me, right up to the end of the novel. The information that people often tried to give him seemed easy for me to understand as well, but he just didn't get it.

Despite Fitz sometimes being dumb as a box of rocks, the story is excellent, the descriptions beautiful, and the pacing of the plot wonderful. There were parts of the first book that slowed down a little too much for me, but once the tension ramped up starting at the end of book 1, even the slow scenes had that unmistakable sense of looming dread that keeps you reading and turning pages.

I loved

  • Bad things happening to good people. This was real life, and sometimes life sucks even for the best of us.

  • The magic systems. They weren't very well defined, but in this case I think it helped, rather than hurt.

  • The ending of the series. It's sad, it's happy, it's perfect. I almost don't want to read her other books in this world, just so I can hold on to that feeling of perfect completion. Authors, take note. Hobb stuck the landing, and you would do well to study it.

I hated

  • Fitz being such a moron. Come on, some of that stuff was pretty obvious, and he really should have been a little smarter about his decisions. I'll grant that he was a teenager, so that plays a part, but he still had me yelling at the book. I guess I didn't like it, but it was obviously good characterization to get me so riled up.

The Farseer Trilogy gets a 9/10. Even with the glut of great fantasy, old and new, this deserves to be a series that everyone that wants to be familiar with the best the genre offers should read.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Dune by Frank Herbert


Ok, Everybody who has read Dune, please raise your hands!

There's a lot of us out there: It's a scifi classic, has been around for decades, there at least 2 movies based on the novel, etc. Whatever route brought you to it, I am sure you found some part of it fascinating. This is my third time through Dune and I still love it.


The story starts off on Caladan, a world dominated by water and archipelagos. The Atreides Family has been ordered by the Emperor to move to Dune and make it prosper. It being a desert planet, the water-fat Atreides have some adjustments to make. On top of that is the near constant assassination attempts of one royal member or another, the political intrigues with the Emperor, the Guild, and the rival House Harkonnen. Add in the disquiet and distrust of the native peoples, the Fremen. Shake thoroughly and attempt to harvest enough spice to keep the Guild and the Emperor happy.

Pretty soon, young Paul Atreides must hide among the Fremen due to Harkonnen treachery. He must win the trust of the Fremen, earn his place among them, and eventually attempt to take back his ducal seat. If I remember correctly, he is 12 when this all starts and the book takes place over the span of a few years.

Frank Herbert put together a most detailed story worthy of religious mystery. The plots within plots had me happily saying, 'I didn't see that coming' every other chapter the first time I read it. This time through, as an audio version, I found myself catching nuances that I had missed before. This version I downloaded from Audible.com and was performed by a full cast lead by Simon Vance, complete with occasional music and sound effects. It was incredible.

+++++: Excellent plot and character development, unlike other tales before it, large, sweeping ideas in compact niblets, cool future weapons and technology, intense scenes, the sandworms.

-: Minor, minor point - It would have been cool if the entire cast could have been around for all their lines. As it is, most times Simon Vance is reading the entire scene with different voices for the various characters, and then a few scenes are performed by a group of voice actors.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne


If you have to be reading classics, Jules Verne is great for adventure and entertainment. The audiobook version of Journey to the Center of the Earth was a treat for my ears. Over the years I had heard bits and pieces about this tale, yet had managed to avoid it throughout my public education. I was doing myself a disservice.


Unexpectedly, the story starts out in Germany with a cranky, excitable geology professor and his ward and nephew Axel. I know - I hear the name Axel and think of some young college dude who has suffered too much rugby without helmet protection. But I quickly get over my little stereotype as Axel is very concerned about his safety throughout the story. Ok - So what else is odd? Well, these two are deciphering some old Icelandic text. Once the hidden tale becomes clear, the professor is unstoppable - he must follow in the footsteps of the adventurer who put this story to paper. He must journey to the center of the earth. Crazy old fart.

So they book passage to Reykjavik, where they lay in stores and hire a local eider-down hunter (apparently more manly a job than it sounds). Hans takes care of these two throughout the story, saving their lives many times over. He is portrayed as the strong silent type, only speaking a few words of Danish.

They must now travel to the extinct volcano identified in the Icelandic tale, where they venture down and then sideways and down and sideways. Getting to the exotic inner travel spots of the Earth was half the adventure. Once they get there, numerous other hazards and wonders keep them plenty busy. I'll leave you to discover the rest of the tale.

The audio artist for this book was Chris Pebble, who had a smooth voice and good range, in addition to carrying off the bits for French, Italian, Latin, German, Dutch, etc.

+++: Adventure, geology, odd rock formations, fossils, walking, breathing extinct animals, really good audio production, tight plot, a bit of character growth.

-: The only 2 female characters get left behind to tend the house, with the young beauty putting her life on hold until Axel's return with her highest aspiration being to marry him.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Among Thieves by Douglas Hulick


Among Thieves
Douglas Hulick
Publisher: Roc
Date: April 5, 2011

Among Thieves was absolutely great. A fun book from start to finish, and I'm excited for more. Wow, I guess I jumped the shark there. Let's start with the blurb from Amazon.

Drothe has been a member of the Kin for years, rubbing elbows with thieves and murderers in the employ of a crime lord while smuggling relics on the side. But when an ancient book falls into his hands, Drothe finds himself in possession of a relic capable of bringing down emperors-a relic everyone in the underworld would kill to obtain.

Douglas Hulick has a difficult road ahead of him for guys like me, guys that love The Lies of Locke Lamora, and are always excited to find more books like it. At the same time, that excitement always comes with a certain amount of anxiety, as I start to worry that the book will just pale in comparison to my favorite loveable rogue book of all time, and that I'll be left disappointed.

So, let's just get right to it, then. As far as Setting goes, I'd have to say that Among Thieves wasn't quite on par with The Lies of Locke Lamora. However, I say this in the same way that I say The loaded baked potato from Big Bob Gibson isn't quite on par with the loaded baked potato from Jim N Nicks. Big Bob makes a hell of a baked potato, and Douglas Hulick's Ildrecca is a very well-written setting that has a life of its own and that I can get a feel for in my head with very little effort.

Character-wise, Drothe is in some ways more easy for people to identify with than Scott Lynch's Locke. Where Locke is brilliant, with a mind for thieving and an almost supernatural ability to pull of huge schemes, Drothe is...well, not. Drothe is very average, at most everything. He's a pretty good fighter, but not great. He's fairly smart, but by no means brilliant. He has a magical ability, but it's a hindrance almost as much as a help for a great part of the book.

Drothe is one of those guys that is absolutely surprised every time something great happens to him. His best quality is probably that he never gives up, and keeps working at it until he gets what he was looking for. In short, he's a great character.

The book's plotting was solid. The pacing was excellent, and I felt like even the scenes that were slower were filled with a certain dread. I was just waiting for something terrible to happen that would force the main character's hand, and that made those scenes with lots of description and information very smooth and easy to handle. I don't think that there was anything mind-shattering about the plot of Among Thieves, but there weren't any holes that immediately jumped to the forefront, which is a compliment in and of itself. It was solid, and let the great characters and setting do their thing.

Among Thieves gets a 9/10. What can I say? I've got a thing for loveable rogues, and Drothe, and therefore Among Thieves, works for me.

I LOVED

  • Drothe - He's an average Joe, and that's the best thing about him.
  • Ildrecca is alive and kicking. Looking forward to seeing more of this world
  • Thieves! There are thieves! Did I mention that people steal things? Yeah, like the thieves.
I HATED

  • Do I HAVE to put something here? Well, I thought that Drothe's boss was a little wooden. So yeah, there's that.

Necropolis Giveaway

Just wanted to let everyone know that there's a great giveaway around the book Necropolis by Michael Dempsey. It's a Sci-Fi crime thriller from Nightshade Books. You can buy the book here and check out the contest (first prize is a Kindle Fire) here.

NOTE: New Review will be up tomorrow. Among Thieves by Douglas Hulick.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Psst, authors. Yeah, you.

So today I saw yet another example of how to get off to a roaring start as an author (hint: that's sarcasm. Perhaps I should use bold or italics...nah, too lazy). I won't mention the book review, but whenever the author jumps in and starts questioning the review, especially the final score, it's going to get ugly fast.

So, with that in mind, I thought I'd put up some helpful tips for new authors. I've really worked hard on this (blood, sweat, tears, and a couple of my toddler's dinosaur-shaped fruit snacks), so I hope it gives every author a quick template that they can follow to look classier than Ron Burgundy every time they decide that they need to get down and dirty in a reviewer's comments.

I want to note that I actually LOVE when an author takes the time to retweet a review, or make a comment on the blog. It makes my whole day, because I know that they're nervous about their baby being out in the wild review jungle, and that makes them seem that much more human. I don't even mind (too much) when an author wants to openly discuss things. But many many MANY (do you see what I did there? That's emphasis) MANY people do, and they'll get all "laws of the jungle" on you pretty quickly if you question a reviewer's opinions (which is exactly what they are. Like assholes, we've all got one, and some stink).

So, without further ado, here's the new template you can follow. That is, if you'd like to. No forcing here, nosiree.


Hi, (Reviewer Name)

Sorry to hear that (Title of your novel)


Choose One
  • Didn’t float your boat
  • Wasn’t your cup of tea
  • Didn’t have you singing its praises from the rooftops
  • Didn’t agree with your tastes in (Genre)
  • Didn’t cause you to go door to door like a Jehova’s Witness with it
Thank you for
  • Sharing your opinions. I love to hear what readers are saying
  • Taking the time to give it a thorough review
  • Taking the time to give it a try
  • Helping me see the errors of my ways
I hope that in the future
  • You’ll give another of my novels a try
  • I’ll write something that better agrees with your tastes 
  • I’ll get you to come around to this series with the second book.
  • You burn in hell (use only if you actually WANT to start a flamewar).
Again,
  • Thanks for all your hard work  
  • Thanks for your time
  • Thanks for all the fish (only use if you are Douglas Adams' ghost)
  • Burn in hell (Extra Flame Points)
Sincerely,
(Your Name) NOTE: writing Burn In Hell here seems pretty clever, but you're over egging that particular pudding.

Announcing The Scott Lynch Read-Along!

If you're a fan of Scott Lynch, then you (like so many of us) have been loyally waiting since 2007 for The Republic of Thieves, book 3 in the Gentlemen Bastards Sequence.

If you've never read Scott's books before, then now is the time (and you're in for a treat!).

As a lead up to one of the most anticipated titles of 2012, five host blogs are going to be doing a massive Read-Along of the first and second books, starting with The Lies of Locke Lamora on March 3rd. Think of it as a book club that's hosted on a different blog each week. So, go to your local library, or hop on Amazon, B&N, Indiebound, etc. and get yourself a copy of The Lies of Locke Lamora. Here's my copy (beaten, worn, traveled 2300 miles over 3 moves, but it's still my one true love).



AGE APPROPRIATENESS NOTE: The Lies of Locke Lamora contains violence, foul language, and just a dab of sex. If the following dialogue offends you to the point that you would not be able to continue, then this book is NOT for you.

From The Lies of Locke Lamora, pg. 189(Highlight to read):

    "Bugger me bloody with a boathook," Chains said when they finished. "I don't recall telling you that your leash was slipped enough for fucking street theater, Locke."

What you need to know

Start Date: March 3rd, 2012

Blogs involved:

 
How does it work, How can I help?

Straight to the point. I like you, reader.


I'm going to divide this into two groups. If you're just planning on reading along and leaving comments on the blog, then you'll be in group A. 

If you want to be a great big Helpy Helperton and earn my undying respect by participating with your own blog, then you're in group B (also, I love you).


Group A

The book will be split into 5 sections. Each of the host blogs above will be in charge of  a section. When you look at my blog on Saturday, March 3rd (the official kickoff date) There you will find questions on that section of the book. These are starter questions to get you thinking as you read. Feel free to come back at any time and comment in that post about what you thought as you read. Feel free to ask your own questions in the comments as well. We want a nice big discussion going on at the host blog each week.


In the comments, you might also see links to other bloggers' websites. These are bloggers that have emailed us and asked to subscribe to the mailing list. They'll be posting our questions on their own blogs, and possibly questions and comments of their own making. If you're interested, visit those blogs as well for additional discussion topics. The ultimate goal here is to see every fiction-reading corner of the web talking about Scott Lynch and The Lies of Locke Lamora.

Group B

You are my freaking heroes, and I will probably try to email you a hug or some other ridiculous crap at some point, so be warned.
To sign up, I'm asking that you drop a quick email to myawfulreviews *AT* gmail *DOT* com and ask to be added to the mailing list. This will be the easiest way for me to organize everything. I know, it's an extra step, but you've already got a web browser open, so I don't feel like I'm asking that much. 
All the subscribers are encouraged to post the discussion questions on their own blogs (or Facebook or Google Plus, whatever), with a link to that week's host blog. 

I'll be emailing you a list of starter questions (hopefully) by March 1st

We'd like you to post on your blogs sometime on Saturday March 3rd. Feel free to post the starter questions or any other questions or comments that you think of as you read. 

We want to have a very open, friendly, discussion, and we need all the help from fellow bloggers we can get to accomplish that. Feel free to leave links on the host blog each week to your own blog so that people can see what you're doing on your site.

We want awesome discussion, so we'll try our best to make the starter questions thought-provoking, but odds are you're probably smarter than us (and in my case, almost certainly better looking). The host bloggers will, of course, be running around like their trousers are on fire, trying to answer questions, leave comments, and visit all the other bloggers' sites who choose to get involved in this crazy book orgy (would you expect anything less?).


And Now You Know the Rest of the Story 

What I'm trying to get across here is that we want you to participate. Whether that means posting a couple of comments, or going crazy and taking pictures of you and your life-size Scott Lynch doll is entirely up to you. But whether it's crazy sex-doll pics or just a comment here and there, we want and appreciate all your participation. Come one, come all, and enjoy! (the books, not the sex doll thing).

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Review: The Black Lung Captain by Chris Wooding


Author: Chris Wooding
Publisher: Be sure to check out my review of Retribution Falls, the first book in this series, to see if it's for you.

There's not too much to say about The Black Lung Captain that I haven't already said about Retribution Falls. The main difference between the two novels seems to be that The Black Lung Captain is much deeper and more of a character driven novel than Retribution Falls. This doesn't mean that there's less action, or that there's less humor. All it really means is that Wooding took advantage of the fact that he's got characters that are flawed, and gave them a chance to deal with their problems.

The humor and action are still there in abundance, and the character of Darian Frey is really starting to shine through (though he's slowly moving from loveable rogue to good-hearted hero), and I also though that it was smart on Wooding's part to focus on Crake a bit more in this book, since he's such an interesting character, and the magic that is Daemonism is very interesting as well.

This book had a huge battle at the end, much like the first one, which brings up a point of contention that I had. The book paralleled the plot of the first book, which is cool, but sometimes it did it just a little too well. Yes, there were definite differences, but I could reliably predict what was about to happen at the end of a lot of chapters simply by thinking back to what happened at this point in the first book, and it was sometimes eerily close (Trinica showing up when she does was very easy to predict this time around).

A second problem that I've noticed in this book is that the characters feel too invincible. I don't know if I've just read too much George R.R. Martin or what, but it seems like it was incredibly obvious that the main characters weren't in any real danger. I think this really hit a breaking point early on in the novel, when almost every other un-named character had quickly bitten the dust in a firefight with what I can only imagine as bigfoots, but all of Frey's crew were just fine. I'm willing to forgive this somewhat, as the books are obviously action-oriented adventure books and we can't have the main characters in what's essentially a group "buddy flick" dying all over the place. Still, it's of note that those who enjoy their fantasy and science fiction with a great dose of realism will not find it here. This is an adventure book, and the good guys (at least for the first couple of volumes) live to fight another day.

With these being my only real complaints (and somewhat weak complaints since this is the nature of books of this style and the book was still immensely enjoyable and had some twists and turns that I couldn't predict), I give The Black Lung Captain 9/10. It's as enjoyable as Retribution Falls in most parts, and breaks new ground in character depth. It also sets up some very interesting things that will probably start to happen in the third book, The Iron Jackyl.

I loved

  • The deepening of the characters from the first book
  • Harkins and the cat. It was epic
  • The love story. It was, in my opinion, very well done.
I hated

  • The somewhat easily predictable nature of the sequel
  • The invincible crew of the Ketty Jay
  • Pinn ex machina
I don't like telling people that if they liked the first book in a series, they should like this one, but it's very true in this case.