Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Urban Fantasy Review: Secondhand Souls by Christopher Moore

Secondhand Souls coverFalling somewhere between offbeat/quirky and silly/juvenile, Secondhand Souls was actually a much more enjoyable read than I anticipated. Clearly I've missed something by diving into the second book of a series, but Christopher Moore recaps previous events well (and often . . . a tad too often), so I don't really feel like I've missed anything.

What you have here is a world where people are 'chosen' to become Grim Reapers - yes, plural Grim Reapers, because it really is too big a job for one person. Charlie was a recipient of the Big Book of the Dead last around, had the recommended kitty calendar, carried around a #2 pencil, and ultimately sacrificed himself to stop a Celtic banshee from destroying San Francisco. Or, at least that's what the world believes. In reality, his Buddist nun girlfriend saved him from that fate, cobbling together a new body out of lunch meat and animal parts - a 14 inch body, with a 10 inch penis. Yup, and we're just getting started. There's also a seven-year-old daughter, who used to be princess of the Underworld, but whose powers have deserted her along with the hellhounds who protected her.

Suffice to say, since his replacement couldn't be bothered to actually collect any of the souls that came so conveniently penciled in on his kitty calendar, it falls to Charlie to save the world. Fortunately, he's not alone - aiding him in this insanity are the aforementioned horny Buddist nun and profanity-charged daughter, along with a tiny crocodile wizard, a gang of Squirrel People, a retired cop, a bridge painter, the weirdly eccentric Emperor of San Francisco, and a Goth girl turned inappropriate suicide hotline counselor . . . whose best line for getting a guy not to jump is to offer him a blowjob.

The plot itself is pretty basic, with your requisite dark powers trying to take over the world, but it's really secondary to the characters and the comedy. To be honest, I think we were halfway through the story before the villain even stepped onto the stage. It's a book that bordered on tedious or repetitive at times, but the frantic swing between satire and slapsitck, not to mention irreverence and (political) incorrectness, keeps you on your toes. Secondhand Soulsis a book that certainly owes a debt to Pratchett and Gaiman, but which seems tailored more for a Hangover or Neighbors generation. Funny, funny stuff, with scenes that will stick with you long after you forget what it was really about.


About the Author

Christopher Moore is the author of fourteen previous novels, includingLamb, The Stupidest Angel, Fool, Sacré Bleu, A Dirty Job,andThe Serpent of Venice.

Find out more about Christopher at hiswebsite, connect with him onFacebook, and follow him onTwitter.


About the Book

Secondhand Souls cover

Secondhand Souls by Christopher Moore
• Paperback:368 pages
• Publisher:William Morrow Paperbacks; Reprint edition (May 10, 2016)

In San Francisco, the souls of the dead are mysteriously disappearing—and you know that can't be good—in this delightfully weird and funny sequel to theNew York TimesbestsellerA Dirty Job.

It seems like only yesterday that Charlie Asher took on a very dirty job—collecting souls and keeping the Forces of Darkness at bay. The new gig came with theBig Book of the Deadand a host of other oddities: creatures under the streets, an evil trinity of ravenlike Celtic death goddesses, and one very bad Underworld dude attempting to conquer humanity. Along with a cohort of other oddballs, Charlie faced off against these denizens of darkness—and met his own end. But thanks to Audrey, his Buddhist-nun boo, his soul is still alive . . . inside a fourteen-inch-high body made from lunchmeat and spare animal parts. Waiting for Audrey to find him a suitable new body to play host, Charlie has squirreled himself away from everyone, including his adorable seven-year-old daughter, Sophie, who enjoys dressing up like a princess, playing with her glitter ponies, and—being the Luminatus—spouting off about her power over the Underworld and her dominion over Death.

Just when Charlie and company thought the world was safe, somereallyfreaky stuff hits San Francisco. People are dying, but their souls are not being collected. Someone—or something—is stealing them and no one knows where they are going, or why, but it has something to do with that big orange bridge. Then there's the Taser-wielding banshee keening about doom who's suddenly appeared while Sophie's guardian hellhounds, Alvin and Mohammed, have mysteriously vanished.

Charlie is just as flummoxed as everyone else. To get to the bottom of this abomination, he and a motley crew of heroes will band together: the seven-foot-tall, two-hundred-and-seventy-five-pounds-of-lean-heartache Death Merchant Minty Fresh; the retired policeman-turned-bookseller Alphonse Rivera; the lunatic Emperor of San Francisco and his dogs, Bummer and Lazarus; Mike Sullivan, a bridge painter in love with a ghost; a gentle French-speaking janitor named Jean-Pierre Baptiste; and former Goth girl LilyDarquewillow ElventhingSevero, now a part-time suicide hotline counselor.

With little Sophie babbling about the coming battle for the very soul of humankind, time is definitely not on their side. . . .

Irresistibly zany, rich in humor, heart, and spirit,Secondhand Soulsis vintage Christopher Moore.

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Saturday, May 21, 2016

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

In case you missed it, here's what happened in the Ruins this week . . .

WTF Friday: Ordeal by Wol-vriey

Fantasy Review: Red Tide by Marc Turner

Waiting on Wednesday: The Dragon Lords by Jon Hollins

Fantasy Review: The Wheel of Osheim by Mark Lawrence


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.

For Review:

Night Things: Undead and Kicking by Terry M. West 
Expected publication: July 17th 2016 by Pleasant Storm Entertainment, Inc.

Imagine a world just like yours with one startling difference: every creature of legend has stepped forward from the shadow and they now exist shoulder to shoulder with humankind! New York City has become a macabre melting pot. Vampires, werewolves, zombies and ghouls are now the new immigrants and they are chasing the American dream. The Night Things have become part of the system. But many humans feel the creatures are dangerous ticking time bombs.

Carol Haddon is a former professional fighter living in New York City. Now a social worker, she has devoted her career and life to assisting the Night Things. She is killed after a senseless and brutal attack on her office. Carol is reanimated by the mad genius, Herbert West. West discovers that Carol carries a very unique DNA that could change things dramatically for the zombie population of the world. Johnny Stücke, the mysterious leader of the Night Things who has emerged in the media after Z Day, a citywide zombie attack a few months prior, takes Carol under his wing after her life as a mortal is stripped away. Carol’s creation has also attracted the attention of Herbert West’s greatest enemy, Edmund Wraight. An experiment of Herbert West’s gone horribly awry, Wraight is an ageless, violent, and hungry creature who was once known as the infamous Jack the Ripper. And he must stop West before the scientist unlocks the secret hidden in Carol’s blood.

The Taming by A.M. Rycroft
Expected publication: June 14th 2016 by Mighty Quill Books

A dark fantasy novella for fans of sword and sorcery, and non-mainstream vampyre fiction.

A friend’s death still haunts Thystle Moran. Through an informant with questionable motives, she learns that the events leading up to his tragic end were no accident. Driven by guilt, Thystle seeks vengeance, but an act of betrayal by a fellow vampyre and the distractions of a young woman threaten her quest. Can Thystle get her revenge before the killer gets her first?

Kindle Freebies:




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.

With my beta-read all wrapped up, it's time to dive deep into the stacks and catch up on my reading. Right now I'm juggling a few titles for review over the next 2 weeks:

Children of Earth and Sky by Guy Gavriel Kay [May 10th 2016]
After giving up on the digital pre-press ARC that just wouldn't format for my e-reader, I picked up the hardcover this week, and I'm starting from page 1 so I can enjoy it properly.

The Fireman by Joe Hill [May 17th 2016]
So far, this is fantastic. As much as I loved the idea of the Dragonscale plague, I wasn't sure Hill could sustain nearly 800 pages, but his father's influence is strong in this one.

Freeze/Thaw by Chris Bucholz [May 17th 2016]
The Shade, a set of micro-satellites designed to stop global warming, worked. A little too well. With a tagline line that, I'm definitely excited to see where this goes.


What's topping your shelves this week?

Friday, May 20, 2016

WTF Friday: Ordeal by Wol-vriey

Every once in a while, as the mood strikes me, I like to indulge in those titles that are a bit odd . . . a bit different . . . a bit bizarre . . . and a bit freaky. These are books that don't always get a lot of press, and which rarely benefit from any prominent retail shelf space.

They're often an underground of sort of literature, best shared through guilty whispers, and often with embarrassed grins. These are our WTF Friday reads!

Is there anything sweeter in this world than poetic justice? Anything more deeply fulfilling than watching some despicable human being get their just deserts? Anything more satisfying than seeing some piece of garbage get what's coming to them? Well, the moral of Ordeal is more cautionary then celebratory, but it still makes for one hell of a guilty pleasure.

Wol-vriey tells us the story of a man named Jack and a woman named Gina, two lonely lovers who meet beneath the street corner lights. Jack is a monster who likes to watch women suffer, getting off on the terror in their eyes when he rapes and murders them. His plans for the hooker with the movie star looks are just about as dark as you'd expect . . . but child's play compared to what she has planned for him.

This is a dark and twisted real, full of despicable violence and pain. Jack is a simple man with simple tastes, a monster and a villain without a single redeeming quality. As such, it's hard to feel even an ounce of compassion or sympathy for what he is forced to endure. As for Gina, she may be a monster and a villain herself, but she is also a complex human being. Her obsessive-compulsiveness is both unnerving and humorous, but it's her desperate need for love that makes her truly fascinating.

I won't spoil the fun - it's free, so give it a read yourself - but this is a book of layers, one with a really interesting contrast between order and chaos, and some deeper significance beneath the violence. It's a fun, brutal read that will also make you think.

ebook, First Edition, 20 pages
Published June 29th 2015 by Wol-vriey

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Fantasy Review: Red Tide by Marc Turner

I had the great pleasure of being a beta reader for Red Tide, the third book of The Chronicles of the Exile, and I can honestly say it is Marc Turner's best book yet. Normally I wouldn't share a review so far in advance of the publication, but I wanted to capture (and share) a few of my thoughts while they are still fresh in my mind.

Look for a more comprehensive review closer to the publication date.

Taking place almost immediately on the heels of Dragon Hunters, this is a story that reaches back to connect with some of the characters and stores of When the Heavens Fall. It's the book in the series where everything begins to come together, and where we begin to see hints of the bigger picture into which all the pieces will eventually fit.

My first impression of Red Tide was that it's a more human tale, less about gods and monsters than first two books, which fits with the conflict at the heart of the story. Pacing wise, this was a pretty even book. The first chapters are a bit slow, but there are a lot of characters to bring together, and several story lines (both new and existing) to connect. Once the story hits the half-way mark, it just barrels along, carrying the reader with it. In terms of narrative, it's a smoother book as well, with cleaner transitions between scenes and points-of-view that just better, giving the story a truly seamless feel.

For a series that has just gotten stronger and more entertaining with each installment, Turner has set the bar high for a fourth novel . . . and I cannot wait to see what it brings.

Hardcover, 544 pages
Expected publication: September 20th 2016 by Tor Books

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary ARC of this title from the author as part of a beta read opportunity. This does not in any way affect the honesty or sincerity of my review.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Waiting on Wednesday: The Dragon Lords by Jon Hollins

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

The Dragon Lords: Fool's Gold by Jon Hollins
Expected publication: July 19th 2016 by Orbit

Guardians of the Galaxy meets The Hobbit in this rollicking fantasy adventure.

It's not easy to live in a world ruled by dragons. The taxes are high and their control is complete. But for one group of bold misfits, it's time to band together and steal back some of that wealth.

No one said they were smart.

From the press release:

Jon Hollins has created a world where dragons run the show, enforcing their strict laws and collecting taxes. Fighting against this oppression is a group of misfits that has banded together to reclaim as much of the taxed gold as they possibly can without getting themselves burnt to a crisp. Or starting a revolution.

It's a book that's being marketed to fans of The Hobbit, Michael J. Sullivan, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Ocean's Eleven . . . and that's enough for me right there. Knowing that Orbit has bought 3 books in the series has me even more excited.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Fantasy Review: The Wheel of Osheim by Mark Lawrence

Like any great story, The Wheel of Osheim is a book of lies . . . a story of lies . . . a very mythology of lies. Names, people, places, memories, histories - all damned lies. I'm treading on the edge of spoiler territory here (I can see the gaping chasm to my left) but, as we come to discover late in the tale, the entire story of Jalan Kendeth actually hinges on a single lie that's too painful to even contemplate here.

In wrapping up his third and final chapter of The Red Queen's War, Mark Lawrence has truly outdone himself. I would actually go so far as to say that this is his best book, hands down, and that is no lie.

While he's used a number of different framing devices in spinning his tales of Jorg and Jalan, Lawrence's approach here is perfectly suited to the shaping of lies. The book opens with Jalan's comic escape from the bowels of Hell, seemingly robbing us of a resolution to the cliffhanger that ended The Liar's Key. It's several chapters later before we get the first fragment of Jalan's journey through (and escape from) Hell. As for Snorri's own journey, his is a tale that must wait until the closing chapters of the tale, a story to be shared as a distraction from the living lies that surround the Wheel of Osheim itself.

There's a lot of overlap here with The Broken Empire, with some of Jorg's darkest acts there having a major bearing here - not just on Jalan's journey, but on the world around him. Even more so than in the first two books, we really get to see Jorg's influence on the world from a different perspective, one that's shaped by the lies of those who would interpret his methods and motives for themselves. What we know to be entirely human acts of Builder brutality are reimagined here as divine acts of the gods, who are themselves an entirely different sort of lie . . . but I won't say any more on the score.

A big part of what sets this book (and this series) apart for me is the character arc of Jalan. Here is a character who has grown, evolved, matured, and emerged from his own lies as the story has progressed. We still get the drunken, cowardly fool of the first two books, a young man who repeatedly resorts to liquor-fueled lies to hide from the cruelties of the world. He's just as amusing as he was before, but much less exasperating. At the same time, we also get the hero of Aral Pass, a soldier and a leader who overcomes the lies Jalan used to shield himself from responsibility. He's still largely a reluctant hero, but also a motivated one.

Once again, Builder technology plays a significant role in the story, but it's the lies told about it and the mythologies created to explain its magics that really drive things. Lawrence throws a lot of gadgets and set pieces at the reader, veering closer to the edges of science fiction than ever before, but it's the slow unveiling of the truth that makes this so exciting. It is story that's as clever as it is exciting, with the climax surrounding the Wheel of Osheim entirely worth the three books that it's taken to realize. There are so many little details in the last hundred or so pages, it's worth rereading to see how carefully Lawrence constructed the lies of Loki and his key.

While I won't say much about them (at risk of spoiling things), the Red Queen, the Silent Sister, and Lady Blue finally get their moments to shine here. They've been built up so much over the course of the books that I really wondered what Lawrence could possibly do with them, but it all pays off. As for Snorri, he doesn't get a lot of page time here, but the role he plays in Jalan's quest, and the way his own is finally resolved, will satisfy even the most jaded of readers. Lawrence isn't an author who indulges in needless sentimentality, but there is significant emotional impact to Snorri's last, lonely steps through Hell that will resonate with even the most jaded of readers.

The Wheel of Osheim is an epic book in every sense of the word. In terms of scope, imagination, and significance it actually feels bigger than the trilogy that came before it. It's a book that captures the spectacle that Lawrence does so well, but also the human aspect. Even as we face off against some of the biggest, darkest monsters we've seen yet, those lies are slowly unraveled, allowing us to see the true face of danger . . . and the man destined to end it.

Hardcover, 656 pages
Expected publication: June 2nd 2016 by Harper Voyager

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary ARC of this title from the publisher in exchange for review consideration. This does not in any way affect the honesty or sincerity of my review.