Saturday, July 4, 2015

From the Shelf to the Page: This Week in the Ruins

A fantastic week, including my wildly popular Canada Day feature, and a look back at my favorite books of the year (so far):

Stacking The Shelves and Mailbox Monday are a pair of weekly memes that are about sharing the books that came your way over the past week, and which you've added to your shelves - whether they be physical or virtual, borrowed or bought, or for pleasure or review.

My cold turkey approach to requesting any new review titles is going well. I actually did request one new title this week (a September release) but haven't been approved yet, so that doesn't count. :)

I did, however, use my Amazon credit to pick up a few books. After having friends and fellow blogers rave about the latest installment in each series, I finally gave into curiosity and snagged copies of A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan, Blood and Iron by Jon Sprunk, and Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone. Better late to the bandwagon than never!


It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is another weekly meme, this time focused on what books are spending the most time in your hands and in your head, as opposed to what's been added to your shelf.

Iron & Blood by Gail Z. & Larry Martin
A fun Steampunk adventure that demonstrates yet another voice for Gail, immediately distinguishing itself from her epic fantasy or urban fantasy.

Esoterrorism by C.T. Phipps
Ragnarok always puts out great stuff, and this sounds like it could be a lot of fun, so we'll see what kind of magic and monsters it has to offer.

Forge of Darkness by Steven Erikson
I was disappointed in The Crippled God, so I passed on this when it was first released, but I picked up the paperback in anticipation of Fall of Light and I'm enjoying it immensely.

What's topping your shelves this week?

Friday, July 3, 2015

My Best of 2015 (so far)

Well, here we are, officially halfway through 2015. It hardly seems like 6 months (and 60 books) have passed, but that's where we are. This year has marked a different approach to the review pile for me, one in which I put entertainment ahead of obligations. As a result, a good portion of those books were abandoned to the DNF pile, but I'm pleased to say an even larger portion absolutely knocked my socks off (or would, if socks lasted on my feet for more than a split second longer than it takes to get home from the office).

Anyway, 6 months . . . 60 books . . . let's keep that theme going and count down the top 6 books of the year (so far).

6. The Unremembered: Author's Definitive Edition by Peter Orullian

Read: January 29, 2015
Released: April 7, 2015
Publisher: Tor Books
My Rating: 4/5 Stars

What I said about it: The Unremembered is not a book that's going to greatly challenge you or thrust you far outside your comfort zone. It's not a ground-breaking work or one that's destined to shatter genre expectations. Enter into it with an appreciation for familiar fantasy tropes, however, and you will find yourself well-rewarded with a darker, more mature sort of epic fantasy that has a lot of flair and a lot of depth to be enjoyed.

5. Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear

Read: February 9, 2015
Released: February 3, 2015
Publisher: Tor Books
My Rating: 4/5 Stars

What I said about it: Elizabeth Bear has crafted an unassuming sort of story that's equal parts science fiction, steampunk, alternate history, western, pulp adventure, romance, and thriller. Surely, it seems like it should be too much, like there should be too many things going on, but it all comes together in just the right proportions to make for a fun read that will have you turning pages late into the night.

4. A Play of Shadow by Julie E. Czerneda

Read: January 20, 2015
Released: November 4, 2014
Publisher: DAW Books
My Rating: 5/5 Stars

What I said about it: A Play of Shadow is everything I could have hoped for in a sequel, complete with the one thing the original book lacked, and that is a villain . . . or villains. Yes, there are two core conflicts here, one involving Jenn and another Bannan, and they serve to round out the tale. Rest assured, however, that while this second volume does add to the tale, it doesn't sacrifice any of the sweetness, the magic, or the wonder of the first. Definitely recommended.

3. Knight's Shadow by Sebastien de Castell

Read: May 22, 2015
Released: June 2, 2015
Publisher: Jo Fletcher Books
My Rating: 5/5 Stars

What I said about it: Thoroughly entertaining and emotionally intense, Knight's Shadow is the kind of historical fantasy that makes everything else pale in comparison. Sebastien de Castell gets inside our heads, inside our hearts, and under our skin. This is a powerful read, one that's full of surprises, and satisfying in absolutely every respect. If there's a problem, it's that it raises the bar so high, leaving Tyrant's Throne with some big expectations to fulfill . . . but that's a good problem to have.

2. The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu

Read: April 2, 2015
Released: April 7, 2015
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
My Rating: 5/5 Stars

What I said about it: The Grace of Kings is, in a word, stunning. Normally I try to avoid making comparisons with my reviews, but here it's fitting. Ken Liu's debut possesses all the epic grandeur, intelligence, and dignity of a Guy Gavriel Kay novel, accented by the complexities, intricacies, and smirking humor of Steven Erikson's Malazan Book of the Fallen. It's a huge, sprawling epic, with a cast of characters that are challenging, but so well-rounded and distinct as to be immediately memorable.

1. Beyond Redemption by Michael R. Fletcher

Read: June 16, 2015
Released: June 16, 2015
Publisher: Harper Voyager
My Rating: 5/5 Stars

What I said about it: When I first snagged an ARC of this about six months ago, I was definitely intrigued . . . but hesitant. Building an epic fantasy around madness, faith, and delusion sounded very cool. I was optimistic, but I also had my doubts. We're talking high-concept here, and I was worried that the narrative would suffer from the strain of trying to sustain the threads of madness. In fact, I'd almost talked myself out of taking that chance when, on a whim, I decided to give the first few chapters a cursory read. A few vulgar, violent, vehement exclamations of approval later, I was well-and-truly hooked. Beyond Redemption absolutely blew me away. It is indeed dark, grim, and gritty, but it's wild imagination is just as often manifested in moments of bleak, black humor. As for what it's about, this is the story of three men - one who would make a god, one who would steal a god, and one who would kill a god.

What's up for the second half of the year? Well, looking at the review pile, I have high hopes for Bradley P. Beaulieu and Kameron Hurley; I hope Robin Hobb returns to form after last year's disappointing read; I'm curious to give N.K. Jemisin and Gregory Maguire a read for the first time; and even though they're 2016 releases, I've got my fingers crossed I'll see ARCs from Steven Erikson, Mark Smylie, Robert Jackson Bennett, and Jeff Salyards.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Horror Review: One, Two, Three Kiss by E.J. Kimelman

Part urban fantasy and part apocalyptic horror, with a healthy dose of dark eroticism mixed in, One, Two, Three Kiss is a unique sort of serialized novel. It starts out oddly, with the submission of a research report to International Dimension Investigations, and intersperses the narrative chapters with a follow-up interrogation, but it all works. It lends the story a ring of found-footage truth, and as much as I've tired of that genre on the screen, on the page it can still work very well - as E.J. Kimelman demonstrates here.

As a dangerous new drug consumes the city, turning junkies into a monstrous mash of vampire and zombie, Darling Price continues to search for her best friend. It's not just the need to find a friend or even to solve a mystery - there's something deeper and darker to her obsession. She hungers for her best friend, and that's just the beginning. As the three stories go on, and Darline learns more about who she is and what's happening to the world, the story gets both weirder and more compelling.

It's a hard story to talk about without spoiling things, since Darlene's evolution is really at the core of the story, but there's a lot here to like. We've got vampires and zombies, shapeshifters, immortals, and even witches and warlocks. I've gotten rather tired of the whole zombie craze, and sick of the romantic vampire movement, but Kimelman injects new blood (and other bodily fluids) into both. This is a story about becoming "the most powerful being in the universe, stronger than any God, more magical than any witch or warlock, more eternal than any vampire" and stopping "the zombies not just in their domination of the universe but in time and space." It sounds epic and trippy, but she really pulls it off.

As for the erotic element, I was curious how it play into it all, and really worried it'd just be another sexy vampire tale, but she balances it well, using the sexuality to both contrast the violence and illustrate the more seductive extremes of power. It must be noted that One, Two, Three Kiss is waiting for a fourth kiss, and ends on a cliffhanger, but that's what serialized novels do - make you desperate for the next chapter.


About the Author

Emily Kimelman is the author of the best selling Sydney Rye Series including UNLEASHED, DEATH IN THE DARK, INSATIABLE, STRINGS OF GLASS, THE DEVIL'S BREATH and INVITING FIRE. This series feature a strong female protagonist and her canine best friend, Blue. It is recommended for the 18+ who enjoy some violence, don't mind dirty language, and are up for a dash of sex. Not to mention an awesome, rollicking good mystery!

Emily splits her time between the Hudson Valley and traveling the world with her husband and dog, Kinsey (named after Sue Grafton's Kinsey Milhone), researching exciting locations for the Sydney Rye Series. You can follow along on their adventures through Instagram, Facebook, and on Emily's blog.


About the Book

One, Two, Three Kiss Box-Set: An Apocalyptic Urban Fantasy
Transmissions From the International Council for the Exploration of the Universe
by E.J. Kimelman

The International Council for the Exploration of the Universe exists to consider and conduct investigations into the dimensions of the Universe; to examine how far humans are being depleted by zombies; to investigate natural methods, such as by breeding, etc., of keeping up the stock; and in cases of certain future failure of supply to suggest the necessary remedial measures. For the most part it deals with the humans common to all dimensions, but a special sub-committee considers the vampires, and a second the shifters; disembodied spirits are not investigated.

In the first transmission....

A new, dangerous street drug is spreading through Crescent City. A hallucinogen that causes violent attacks, incredible strength, and leaves its victims in a permanently altered state.

Darling Price's band, Higgs and the Bosons, is on the verge of their big break. If only she could get her act together and play the way she did before her best friend and musical inspiration, Megan Quick, fell fatally ill, then disappeared.

With only weeks to live Megan wasn't even strong enough to visit the bathroom by herself, yet, somehow she climbed out of her window and left.

Even though it's been months, Darling can't stop looking for Megan. Still hoping to find her alive is insane. Her obsession is pissing off her band mates and Darling is worried it might trigger her hallucinations. She hasn't been sick since Megan and she ran away from their foster home to Crescent City at the age of 13.

They took a blood oath, pressing bleeding palms together, promising that no matter what they'd stay with each other. So how could Megan leave her? It's a mystery Darling can't solve and refuses to let go of.

Since Megan's disappearance Darling has started to feel a gnawing hunger. No food or drink or drug can quench it. It's a hunger she's felt before, but has convinced herself wasn't real. Because what Darling feels, and the vivid memories from her early childhood, are all impossible.

As the drug spreads through the city and the world begins to unravel, Darling's lack of musical inspiration becomes the least of her problems as she comes to recognize that all of her assumptions about the universe may be wrong.

In the second transmission....

Darling Price thought her best friend, Megan Quick, was dead. Months earlier the doctors said Megan had only weeks to live. Than she disappeared. So when Megan saves Darling from a crowd of flesh crazed zombies, exhibiting strength and speed beyond the bounds of biology, Darling is at once exhilarated to see her friend alive again but also frightened by her.

Darling comes to understand that Megan's new found life comes at a price, one she hopes Darling is willing to pay so that they can be together again.

With zombies over running the streets, immortal beings controlling her emotions, and lost memories flooding back to her, Darling must make a decision that will decide the course of her life forever. At the same time Darling begins to understand that she is not just some regular girl. She may have powers of her own that go beyond the bounds of known biology.

In the third transmission....

Darling Price can feed off the power of others. Through this transfer of energy she can heal from any wound, including a zombie bite. With the help of Dimitri, an 800 year old vampire, Darling searches for answers about her parents and her powers.

As she gets closer to the truth the world continues to crumble around her. Dr. Issa Tor, a powerful warlock, believes that Darling can help save the world but when she goes to his society looking for answers she just finds more questions. Time is running out for Darling and the world she has learned to think of as home.

Available at Amazon iTunes BN


Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Reading Canada with SFF Legends (eh?)

This year, in honour of our nation's 148th birthday (and the 50th anniversary of the Maple Leaf), I decided to invite some legends from the Canadian science-fiction/fantasy/horror community to stop by and share their thoughts on fiction north of the 49th parallel. We may not be as vocal or demonstrative as our neighbours to the south, but based on the overwhelming response to my request, it's clear that we are indeed a patriotic bunch - and proud of our unique literary niche!

Ed Greenwood - Creator of the Forgotten Realms® fantasy world, Ed has published over 200 articles in magazines like Dragon & Polyhedron, and over 170 books that have sold millions of copies worldwide. He currently resides in an old farmhouse in Ontario with more than 80,000 books.

"Canada is rife with great fantasy and sf writers, but I'd like to highlight one sf stalwart, Julie Czerneda, for her new fantasy series: TURN OF LIGHT and its sequel A PLAY OF SHADOW and thankfully more to come! And of course a giant among Canadian writers of the fantastic: Guy Gavriel Kay, who writes masterpieces; TIGANA and A SONG FOR ARBONNE are deserved classics!"

Nancy Kilpatrick - Nancy is a writer and editor of dark fantasy, horror (sometimes erotic),and mysteries. She has published 18 novels, 1 non-fiction book, 200 short stories, and 5 collections of stories, and has edited 12 anthologies. She lives with her calico cat Fedex in lovely Montreal. 

"Two of my favorite Canadian authors are Tanya Huff and Nancy Baker.  Nancy's beautifully-written novels are set in Toronto, and Tanya's BLOOD series is set in Toronto and London, Ontario (and the TV series Blood Ties was based on her books).  I think both of them, Ontario raised, provide a realistic view of the cities where their books are set and that in my view goes a long way towards showing the world what Canada looks like from the view of insiders, and gives insight into the mainstream and subcultures.  Also, in the case of these two authors and the books I'm thinking about, they show clearly that, yes indeed, vampires dwell in Canada the Good!"

[I had the great pleasure of being a part of Nancy's Editing Horror Fiction Workshop back in 2007, at the World Horror Convention in Toronto, and my signed copy of her Goth Bible is a cornerstone of my library.]

Sebastien de Castell - Four hours into his career as an archaeologist, Sebastien realized how much he actually hated it, propelling him into a career as a musician, ombudsman, interaction designer, fight choreographer, teacher, project manager, actor, product strategist, and author. He currently lives in Vancouver with his lovely wife and two belligerent cats.

"Charles de Lint is, for me, the quintessential Canadian fantasist. Novels like Moonheart, Trader, and Someplace To Be Flying take us by the hand onto urban streets, whether those of Ottawa or of de Lint’s own invented Newford, where beings both mundane and magical move around each other in a tenuous dance that never sets one side as truly good nor the other evil. There’s something very Canadian about that!"

Robert J. Sawyer - One of only eight writers in history (and the only Canadian) to win all three of the world's top Science Fiction awards for best novel of the year, Robert has published 23 novels, all of them top-ten national mainstream bestsellers in Canada. Born in Ottawa, he currently lives in Mississauga.

"I’m known for the flagrant and frequent Canadian settings in my own fiction, and there are those who say I was a pioneer in doing that, especially in the speculative-fiction arena. Well, I may indeed have been an early adopter, but I had at least a glimmering that it might be successful, despite all the naysayers who proclaimed you could never sell a book to an American publisher if it was set in Canada.

See, in 1988, the year I was writing my first novel, Toronto schoolteacher Terence M. Green had his own first book come out: Barking Dogs, a gritty science-fiction drama about a near-future Toronto in which perfect portable lie detectors let a rogue cop play judge, jury, and executioner to the perps who were slipping through the cracks in the legal system. Green reveled in his Canadian setting, and his book, published by the major New York house St. Martin's Press, was warmly embraced on both sides of the border.

Barking Dogs and its sequel, Blue Limbo, are available again in both print and ebook editions from Arc Manor, an innovative new American publisher, under their Phoenix Pick imprint. They’re still cracking good reads, and they paved the way for myself, Nalo Hopkinson, Hayden Trenholm, and every other Canadian writer setting our SF in this country; indeed, Toronto’s proven such a terrific setting for SF that even American writers, such as Daryl Gregory in last year’s Afterparty (Tor Books), are setting works here."

[Although I haven't had the pleasure of meeting Robert, I feel like I know him very well, having watched him wax eloquently about all things sci-fi on the long-running Canadian series  Prisoners of Gravity with (Commander) Rick Green.]

Julie Czerneda - Julie is a best-selling, award-winning author/editor, with more than 15 novels in print, including A Turn of Light and A Play of Shadow, and just as many anthologies edited. She currently lives  in central Ontario with her husband, Roger.

"I’m particularly proud, this Canada Day, of the work done by Lesley Livingston and Jonathan Llyr. They’ve been part of the sf/f scene in this country for a long time, creating, supporting, doing what they do best be it as actors or writers. Most recently, they’ve been inspiring the next generation with their fabulous series for younger readers: The Wiggins Weird, a celebration of all we love about our genre delivered with flare and whimsy and, if I may say so, a very Canadian dose of smart."

[I've had the opportunity to chat with Julie several times over the past few years, and finally got to meet her in person at a book signing for A Play of Shadow last summer. She's just wonderful person, in addition to being a wonderful writer.]

Steff - Better known as Mogsy, Steff is a frequent visitor to the ruins and one of my favorite voices over at The BiblioSanctum blog. Although she currently lives in the US with her husband and two beautiful daughters, you can't take the Canadian out of her any more than you can the geek.

"I may be a transplanted Canadian living in the US, but to borrow Bob's phrase, I still have plenty of maple leaf in my heart! I'm proud to be from Canada, a beautiful country home to so much talent in my favorite genre of SFF, including names like Steven Erikson, Guy Gavriel Kay, Michelle Sagara, Robert J. Sawyer, and so many more. And of course, I would be totally remiss if I didn't highlight Margaret Atwood, a Canadian author I admire for her incredible work as a novelist and poet. An interesting bit of trivia: Atwood wrote ALIAS GRACE, a book partially set in the town of Richmond Hill, a suburb of Toronto where I spent a large part of my childhood. I always thought that was so cool, and I guess I wasn't the only one, judging by the long holds list that book always had at our local library!"

J.M. Frey - J.M. is an actor, voice actor, and SF/F author, fanthropologist and professional geek. She’s appeared in podcasts, documentaries, and on television to discuss all things geeky through the lens of academia. She also has an addiction to scarves, Doctor Who, and tea, which may or may not all be related. Born in Guelph, she currently resides in Toronto.

Favorite Fiction: "The Autobiography of Red" by Anne Carson.
"Anne's a Canadian poet and eassayist, and a Classicist, who captures the wonderful sense of questioning identity and being intesly facinated with roots and histories that we Canadians all share; her protagonist Geryon is a creature, but not, a monster, but not, and knows everything about himself and nothing at all. It's a very thoughtful, clever work with some of the most gorgeous language ever written."

Favorite Non-Fiction: "Hitching Rides with Buddha" by Will Ferguson.
"I read Ferguson's book while I was living in Japan and it is true that Canadians become nationalistic only when we step outside of our borders. "Hitching Rides" is a wonderful tale of a Canaadian hitchhiking across Japan, but more than that it's a book about what it means to do that, to step outside and reflect back, and is a wonderful exploration of national stereotypes - our own, and those we assume about other nations and cultures."

Favorite YA/MG: "My Side of the Mountain" by Jean Craighead George.
"In grade six my teacher did a unit on "My Side of the Mountain," and after that I absolutely devoured everything Jean Craighead George. I recall being on a family camping trip the summer after grade six and just sobbing through the end of "Julie of the Wolves". George was American, but Julie was set in the Canadian Arctic, and since then I've been quite interseted in wildlife conservation and global environmental change. George's book sparked a great love in me of the beautiful nature we share with the wildlife of Canada."

Favorite Drama: "Hitching Rides with Buddha" by Will Ferguson.
"I ADORE our Canadian playwrights. Anne Marie MacDonald's "Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet)", Drew Hayden Taylor's "Toronto at Dreamer's Rock", Grey & Peterson's "Billy Bishop Goes To War", Daniel David Moses' "Almighty Voice and His Wife" (Daniel taught me playwriting), Michel Trembley's "Hossana" and Michael Healy's "The Drawer Boy" are my absolute favourites. I will buy tickets to see each of them time and time and time again. I wrote papers on all those plays in school, and my MA thesis was based on MacDonald's. I cannot reccomend these plays enough."

Shaun Meeks - Shaun is the author of Shutdown, The Gate at Lake Drive, and Down on the Farm. His work has appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies, and he'll next be seen in Midian Unmade: Tales of Clive Barker's Nightbreed. He currently lives in Toronto, Ontario with his partner, model and Burlesque performer, Mina LaFleur.

"As a writer of speculative fiction, I found early on that reading authors from Canada or stories set in this country to be one of my favorite things. It's what influenced me to set 90% of my novels and short stories here. One of the first genre books I ever read that was set in Canada was Clive Barker's Cabal, which used Alberta as a back drop and I remember thinking how awesome it was that a British writer would use Canada as a setting. As of late, I've been reading more and more Canadian authors. From Kelly Armstrong to Charles de Lint to Maggie Macdonald to Charles R. Sanders. One of my favorites though has been Simon Strantzas, a speculative fiction writer who leans towards the weird. I've yet to read a single story by him that didn't captivate me and grab me with his nearly lyrical style."

Michael R. Fletcher - Michael is a science fiction and fantasy author whose novel of dark fantasy and rampant delusion, Beyond Redemption, was published by HARPER Voyager this past month. His next two Manifest Delusions novels are currently in various stages of editing while he tries to be the best husband and dad he can be.

"Dave Duncan's THE SEVENTH SWORD series will always hold a special place in my heart. I read his books back in high-school and they helped define fantasy for me. Every few years I still go back and reread the series."

Kristi CharishKristi is a scientist with a BSc and MSc from Simon Fraser University in Molecular Biology and Biochemistry and a PhD in Zoology from the University of British Columbia. She's also the author of the  modern-day “Indiana Jane” series featuring Owl, an ex-archaeology grad student turned international antiquities thief. She currently lives in Toronto.

"My Canadian Fantasy author pick is Kelley Armstrong, author of The Women of the Underworld series. Not only is she an internationally acclaimed urban fantasy author, she's Canadian and often includes Canadian cities in her books. For a summer pick, I recommend 'Person Demon.'"

Susan MacGregor - Susan is an editor with On Spec Magazine and the anthologies 'Tesseracts Fifteen' and 'Divine Realms' who has had her short fiction published in a number of anthologies and magazines. Her Tattooed Witch Trilogy is an historical fantasy (with paranormal and romantic leanings) set in an alternate medieval Spain. She currently lives in Lives in Edmonton, Alberta.

"One of my favourite Canadian authors is Robertson Davies. A writer of opposites, he masterfully  mixes the brutal with the poignant, the simple with the complex, the outward appearance with what lurks beneath. In Davies' work, the sacred breathes alongside the profane. Here is one of his best quotes: "The great book for you is the book that has the most to say to you at the moment you are reading. I do not mean the book that is the most instructive, but the book that feeds your spirit. And that depends on your age, your experience, your psychological and spiritual need." Here is another of his quotes, a perfect opposite to the first and which illustrates my point: "Nothing is so easy to fake as the inner vision." Does Davies capture something of our Canadian spirit? That mix of seriousness and humour, of depth and flippancy? I think he does."

Sean Russell - Sean published his first fantasy novel, The Initiate Brother, in 1991, and went on to write 4 sagas before making the switch to historical fiction in 2007. Born in Toronto, he moved to Vancouver after university, where he currently lives on Vancouver Island with his wife and son.

“Mockingbird by Sean Stewart.  Brilliant novel!  Not set in Canada but by a Canadian author.  Almost more a literary book than an SF novel but a wonderful piece of writing!"

Nick Cutter - Nick has written several novels under a pair of different names, as well as a few story collections, and even a movie. He's written for magazines and newspapers, too. He currently lives in Toronto with his fiancee and our baby boy, Nick.

"One of my favorite Canadian books? Tough call. I'll go with Doug Coupland's GIRLFRIEND IN A COMA. It's the first Coupland I ever read, and for my money, still his best. There's a real heart to that book---you've still got all the postmodern pyrotechnics he's known for, but it's wedded to a real, beating, vibrant heart. Great book!"

K.V. JohansenK.V. writes mostly epic fantasy ... character-driven epic fantasy ... with shapeshifters, demons, gods, and ... Moth, around whom even the gods get a bit nervous. Her main scholarly interests are ancient and medieval history and languages, and the history of children's fantasy literature. She lives in Kingstn with a wicked white husky-mix dog.

"No hard choices or dithering are required to name my favourite Canadian author. I first discovered Donald Jack when I was in elementary school, and his Bandy Papers series has gone on being something I go back to all my life. That after Jack’s death I became the editor of the final, posthumously-published volume, Stalin Versus Me, remains rather awe-inspiring. The series, for those who don’t know it, follows the adventures of Canadian ace Bartholomew Wolfe Bandy from Three Cheers For Me and the trenches of the First World War, into the air (he transfers to the RFC after capturing his own colonel in a daring raid on his own lines) to the spring of 1945. Definitely not children’s books -- I read them for the humour and the adventure as a child, learnt from them how comedy and tragedy could be two sides of the same face, and only gradually, as I matured, picked up on the satire and the subtlety of Bandy’s enduring defiance of institutional and human stupidity (and learnt a lot about writing, too). Despite winning the Leacock three times, Jack never got the literary recognition he deserved for these -- the depth of the stories is too often overlooked or glossed over. In Canada it sometimes seems we can only cope with one label per book and these were labelled ‘humour’; they couldn’t possibly at the same time be Serious Canadian Literature or serious books about war, or a prose style, its irony balanced on a knife-edge, worthy of study. There are brilliant dogfights; there is biting satire; there are passages and quiet, simple scenes -- Bandy sitting on the hospital bed simply holding Katherine’s hat, wordless -- that leave you in tears. The Bandy Papers are Canada’s All Quiet on the Western Front or The Good Soldier Švejk and deserve to recognized as such. Everyone should read them. "

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Fantasy Review: Shower of Stones by Zachary Jernigan

Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this title from the publisher in exchange for review consideration. While I make every attempt to avoid spoilers, please be aware that an ARC synopsis, press release, or review request may disclose details that are not revealed in the published cover blurb.

Like its predecessor, No Return, the second novel of Jeroun follows two converging story lines - the first featuring the triumvirate of Vedas, Churls, and Berun, and the second featuring the scientist/magician Pol. It's a narrative format that echoes the first novel quite nicely, creating a natural flow or connection between the two, but that's really where the similarities end.

As hard as it may be to believe, Shower of Stones is a darker, more complex, more philosophical novel. Zachary Jernigan really takes us beneath the surface of that first narrative to confront what it means to be human, to be in love, and to hold onto hope for a better tomorrow. That's not to say that this is a shiny, happy, hopeful fantasy - far from it! - but we're climbing towards the possibility of a future, rather than towards an end.

The opening chapter or arc of a novel really serves to set the tone for what comes after, and Jernigan sucked me in immediately. He takes us deep into the history of the world of Jeroun, to a time before Adrash was the only god in the sky, and fully fleshes out a mythology that was only hinted at in the first book. We meet the gods (demigods?) whom Adrash created to keep him company and to provide a sense of a family, and witness firsthand as his depression and his madness drive them to wage war upon a world and attempt to drive him from the skies. It's a fractured, damaged, incestuous family dynamic that evokes memories of Greek mythology, but which is something entirely new and exciting.

In the second arc, he takes us deeper into the heroes of the first book, revealing the heart and soul of Vedas, Churls, and even Berun. Whereas No Return was largely a story of mistrust and animosity, Shower of Stones is one of trust and friendship. The seeds of character development planted in the first book are allowed to take root and blossom here, driven in large part by a mysterious new character who announces himself by arriving on the back of a dragon. I won't say much about him, as his secrets are a cornerstone of the book, but I do have to say a few words about Fyra. As much as I liked the mystery and the cryptic nature of her presence in the first book, I was excited to see her become a character here, extending the heroic triumvirate into a quartet. This arc is certainly the longest of the novel, eating up far more pages than (on the surface) seems wise, but somehow Jernigan makes it work. It's a long period of talking and philosophizing, without a lot of action, but the internal conflicts really work to expose the significance of the first arc, and to bring the two of them together.

The final arc involves, of course, the final confrontation with Adrash. Again, there's not much I can say here without spoiling things, but I was pleasantly surprised by how it all played out. I thought I knew where Jernigan was taking the story, but he weaves in some twists and turns that keep you guessing right to the end. Anybody getting a bit antsy over the lack of action in the second arc is well rewarded here, as everything comes together, with gods and heroes carving out a new mythology. What's refreshing, however, is that he doesn't allow the mythology to overwhelm the human element, and doesn't allow the war between gods to push the heroes to the background. It's a delicate balance when dealing with such very different forces, but I loved the way everything intertwined and came together.

Shower of Stones is a very different book from No Return, both in terms of content and pacing, but somehow it all works. It's not as edgy or innovative as the first, but it's deeper, more well-rounded, and more . . . well, significant is the only word that comes to mind.

Hardcover, 256 pages
Expected publication: July 14th 2015 by Night Shade Book

Monday, June 29, 2015

Thriller Review: Pulse by Robert Cook

If it weren’t for the pacing issues and the one-dimensional characters, Pulse could be a blockbuster political/techno-thriller, putting Robert Cook’s name up there alongside Tom Clancy, Vince Flynn, and Dale Brown.

Unfortunately, the characters are so perfect that they’re propelled far beyond the bounds of credibility and into the region of ridiculous. Yes, it’s a nice change of pace from the psychologically damaged techno-thriller hero, haunted by his past, but characters need some soft spots and weaknesses the make them human. It doesn’t help that their dialogue is just as perfect. It’s like listening to a scripted documentary where every sentence is smart, direct, and precisely worded, but there’s no emotion or humanity to make the conversations seem natural.

As for the pacing I mentioned earlier, I’m certainly no stranger to these novels taking their time in getting to the ‘big’ event, but you need a few small events along the way to build the tension. When war does finally come to the world in the last 100 or so pages, it’s certainly a high point of the novel, extremely well-written and wonderfully detailed, but almost too little, too late. Having said all that, this is the third book in a series (beginning with Cooch), so there may be some character building I’ve missed, just as there may be some crucial details in the opening chapters where I missed the relevance to previous storylines. If either were the case, it might alleviate those issues for readers who are already familiar with the series.

The technology is extremely cutting-edge (more than enough to excite any techno-geek), and the level of detail would be perfect – Cook does a fantastic job of educating us without falling into the trap of trying to impress us with how much he knows – were it not repeated so many times. As for the overall military strategy, that’s often where these thrillers lose me, but here it comes across as both innovative and realistic. Politically, some aspects that nagged at me, but not so much that they negated anything that was happening within the wider conflict. It is, however, a refreshing twist to have a man named Alejandro Mohammed Cuchulain as the hero of such a very American thriller, subverting the stereotypical villainization of Arab/Islamic culture.

As a screenplay, Pulse would work extremely well, since those areas where I found it to be lacking would be far less obvious on the big screen. Regardless, I enjoyed the book immensely, despite its flaws - I just wish Cook had saved me so many exasperated sighs and so much eye-rolling along the way.

Paperback, 362 pages
Published December 16th 2014 by Royal Wulff Publishing