Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Waiting On Wednesday:The Aeronaut's Windlass by Jim Butcher

"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 Aeronaut's Windlass by Jim Butcher
Expected publication: September 29th 2015 by Roc

Since time immemorial, the Spires have sheltered humanity, towering for miles over the mist-shrouded surface of the world. Within their halls, aristocratic houses have ruled for generations, developing scientific marvels, fostering trade alliances, and building fleets of airships to keep the peace.

Captain Grimm commands the merchant ship, Predator. Fiercely loyal to Spire Albion, he has taken their side in the cold war with Spire Aurora, disrupting the enemy's shipping lines by attacking their cargo vessels. But when the Predator is severely damaged in combat, leaving captain and crew grounded, Grimm is offered a proposition from the Spirearch of Albion—to join a team of agents on a vital mission in exchange for fully restoring Predator to its fighting glory.

And even as Grimm undertakes this dangerous task, he will learn that the conflict between the Spires is merely a premonition of things to come. Humanity's ancient enemy, silent for more than ten thousand years, has begun to stir once more. And death will follow in its wake.


Butcher is another of those authors where I've missed my spot on the bandwagon, but have multiple titles lingering on my must-read list. With a new series just getting started, I'm looking forward to the chance to get in on the ground floor.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Fantasy Review: Trial of Intentions by Peter Orullian

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.

The Unremembered, the first book of Peter Orullian's Vault of Heaven saga, was a largely generic epic fantasy that hit on a lot the major tropes. That made for a comfortably familiar read, but what made it memorable was his writing style, the strength of his characters, and the amount of detail invested in his world-building. It wasn't necessarily a ground-breaking work, but it was a welcome new flavor of fantasy that was darker, deeper, and more mature.

I went into Trial of Intentions hoping for nothing more than an advancement/enhancement of everything that I enjoyed in the first book. I wasn't looking for anything dramatically different, and was actually worried that he might try to drag the story in a new direction, either to satisfy his critics, or to assuage his own displeasure with the original edition of his first book. There had to be some serious temptation there for him, I'm sure, but I'm pleased to say he's remained true to his original vision.

The one thing that did shift a bit with this volume was the structure of his writing - probably the only thing that I found to be a (minor) disappointment. Orullian had said that his Author's Definitive Edition of The Unremembered was shorter and more focused, with fewer POV shifts, but he seems to have taken a step back here. Not only were there a lot more shifts than I remembered, but the chapters are much shorter. Yes, short chapters are a definite pet peeve for me, and that artificial driving of the story from one abbreviated POV to another was a challenge to me in terms of settling into a flow. I took me about twice as long to read this volume as the first, and much of that was my own difficulty with that flow. Outside of that, the story is once again well-written story, with even stronger dialogue than the first, and even more incredible visuals. With Trial of Intentions designed to be a suitable starting point for new readers, a little info dumping and exposition is pretty much mandatory, but Orullian fits it well into the overall story. It's really nothing more than the subtle reminders you expect from the second or third book of any fantasy saga . . . there's just a little bit more of it.

The characters came alive early in the first book, and they continue to thrive here, with even greater depth and diversity. Orullian forces us to question much of what we thought we knew about Tahn, Vendanj, Wendra, Mira, and even Grant. He 'broke' many of them with the climactic events of The Unremembered, and they're not allowed to just settle back into their old ways. They've been changed by their experiences, and they continue to evolve as they come to grips with those changes. Tahn makes a momentous decision early on, choosing not to speak the words as he aims, instead taking the decision to 'save' innocent children entirely upon himself. Wendra chooses as well, deciding to unleash the full fury of her song in a war against the Quiet, not caring that the Far are falling all around her as well. Even Mira makes something of a choice, deciding to embrace her betrayal, even as she seeks redemption for herself as queen. I thought I knew where a lot of these character journeys were headed, but Orullian can never be accused of taking the easy route.

The world-building and the mythology are developed much farther and much deeper here as well. Of special interest for me was the deeper look beyond the Veil, and the deeper understanding of The Quiet. We've already fought the Bar'dyn, and already trembled before the magic of the Velle, but Orullian shows us that there are other people trapped beyond the Veil - including races that may be different, but which are far from monstrous. It's a clever undoing of the stranger/outcast fantasy trope, and it's a refreshing new angle that builds upon what's come before. In terms of mythology, he tosses some early surprises at the reader as well, first revealing some interesting ideas or theories regarding the Covenant Tongue, before driving us into a confrontation between the Sheason and the Velle - one that seems to destroy the legendary book. The world gets both wider and deeper here, and that's precisely what I look for in my ongoing epic fantasy reads.

If you were one of those readers on the fence about The Unremembered, then nothing here is likely going to change my your mind. Having said that, I enjoyed Trial of Intentions, and I will be first in line for a copy of the third book when it's released.


Hardcover, 720 pages
Expected publication: May 26th 2015 by Tor Books

Monday, May 25, 2015

Museums, Ghosts, and Imagination by B.D. Bruns (Guest Post & Giveaway)

Having begun my writing career in narrative nonfiction, sharing where I've been and what I've done was the whole point. Luckily I've been to fifty-plus nations and done a lot of wild things, so writing about them was easy. But when I recently switched to fiction I had to figure out how my experiences could benefit this new genre. Making the exercise even more interesting is that I switched from humor to horror!

Ultimately, the best kind of horror is equally dependent upon an author’s experiences and imagination. Guillermo del Toro, who brought us the scary movies Pan’s Labyrinth and The Orphanage, was an orphan himself. Stephen King famously wrote Misery because crazy fans were overwhelming him and his poor secretary. But one need not be abducted by aliens to write a convincing horror thriller. After all, have you ever asked someone if they’ve ever seen a ghost? When researching for a book I wrote years ago (Comstock Phantoms) I interviewed dozens of people who had ghostly encounters and each story could be accurately summed up as, “I was doing whatever… AND I SAW A GHOST!” Please note that this is neither a scary statement nor even a scary premise. Of course, most people are not born storytellers, thus it circles back to imagination.

So, really, how does personal experience fit in? Allow me to indulge in a review of mine from Midwest Book Reviews: “In the House of Leviathan neatly demonstrates the fact that the best kind of horror/thriller combination is spiced with an author's experiences: in fact, the idea for this book came to B.D. Bruns as he was sailing off the coast of Italy, and is based on his love of museums and old things.”

Indeed, I visited a thousand year old paper mill. Obviously making paper isn't interesting enough to normal human beings to be the driving force of a thriller. But some of the things I saw in that deep, dark cellar certainly were. The area was inherently fascinating, with complex chutes and canals of stone that looked like an M.C. Escher nightmare. In the darkest corners were huge, violent shredding machines with nail-tipped wooden mallets. Rotting rag heaps had kept the air dismal and and dangerous. These interesting and surprising things hidden in the stone below ground were used to make paper for the Vatican—itself a dramatic location.

That museum showed me a unique setting with a hundred ways to die horribly. Drowning, infection, mauling. Why choose one when I can have them all? But what would be the odds of all the worst ways to die happening at once? Well, why not stack the odds by having a conscious, negative force making worst case scenarios all the more likely? Thus was my first thriller novel born of a personal experience and a bit of imagination.

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About the Author

Adventurer B.D. Bruns has traveled to over 50 countries to gather material for his bestselling books. He’s won 19 national and international book awards, including three national Book of the Year awards. Bruns’ first fiction book, The Gothic Shift (2014) won the International Book Awards Best Short Story Collection. He also contributes to Yahoo Travel, BBC, CNN, The Daily Beast, and The Travel Channel.

Bruns’ travel adventures span from entering the Pyramids of Giza and swimming in the Panama Canal to climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro and touring Torture Museums in Estonia. He has attended ceremonies from the descendants of cannibals in the South Pacific and has been consulted by a ghost tour in Malta. After residing in Dracula’s hometown for several years, Bruns moved to Las Vegas with his Romanian wife, where they live with two cats, Julius and Caesar.

For more information, please visit www.bdbruns.com or connect with Bruns on:

Facebook: www.facebook.com/bdbruns
LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/bdbruns
Twitter: www.twitter.com/lovebruns
Google+: https://plus.google.com/+BrianDavidBruns/posts
Goodreads: www.goodreads.com/briandavidbruns
Shelfari: www.shelfari.com/briandavidbruns
LibraryThing: www.librarything.com/author/brunsbriandavid

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About the Book

In the House of Leviathan
by B.D. Bruns

"An absorbing story that sacrifices light predictability for depth and solid development, making In the House of Leviathan a standout." - Midwest Book Review

From 3X Book of the Year winner comes an edge of the seat paranormal thriller in the exotic Amalfi coast. An exorcism was the first thought but last desire of Giuseppe. His contentment working with his sister at their ancient paper mill in 1860s Italy is shattered when he witnesses Old Man Grapaldi summoning the Devil. Omens from the sea threaten the village and bizarre, violent happenings at their mill threaten his family. With their church rocked by inner turmoil and so many good men succumbing to dark secrets, Giuseppe himself must overcome his fears and his physical handicap to save his beloved sister.


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Saturday, May 23, 2015

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

A very busy week this time around as I finally found time to catch up on my reviews:
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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.

A handfull of new additions this week . . .

Iron & Blood by Gail Z. Martin & Larry Martin
New Pittsburgh in 1898, a crucible of invention and intrigue, the hub of American industry at the height of its steam-driven power. Born from the ashes of devastating fire, flood and earthquake, New Pittsburgh is ruled by the shadow government of The Oligarchy. In the abandoned mine tunnels beneath the city, supernatural creatures hide from the light, emerging to feed in the smoky city known as 'hell with the lid off.'

Jake Desmet and Rick Brand, heirs to the Brand & Desmet Import Company, travel the world to secure treasures and unusual items for the collections of wealthy patrons, accompanied by Jake's cousin, Veronique 'Nikki' LeClerque. Smuggling a small package as a favor for a Polish witch should have been easy. But when hired killers come after Jake and a Ripper-style killer leaves the city awash in blood, Jake, Rick and Nikki realize that dark magic, vampire power struggles and industrial sabotage are just a prelude to a bigger plot that threatens New Pittsburgh and the world. Stopping that plot will require every ounce of Jake's courage, every bit of Rick's cunning, every scintilla of Nikki's bravura and all the steampowered innovation imaginable.


Wanderlust by Adam Millard
London 1902. Renowned art thief and cat-burglar, Abigale Egars, is good at her job. Assisted by contraptions created by her tinkerer and mentor, Octavius Knight, she is a ghost, evading the Met. at every turn. Unceremoniously abducted from her bed in the dead of night, Abigale learns that The Guild, an insidious and powerful organisation, has implanted a device in her head, a contraption that will administer poison directly into her system at the flick of a switch if she doesn't do what they say.

Blackmailed into stealing three priceless artefacts by The Guild, Abigale must avoid being captured by her arch-nemesis, Detective John Wesley Alcorn, but he's the least of her troubles.

Wizards, magic, necromancers, it's all very real, and Abigale is soon up to her eyeballs in it. Can she survive London, Saint Petersburg and Paris in one piece, steal the triptych and return it to The Guild before the wizards take it from her?

Can she stay alive long enough to save the world?


The Fifth House of the Heart by Ben Tripp
Filled with characters as menacing as they are memorable, this chilling twist on vampire fiction packs a punch in the bestselling tradition of ’Salem’s Lot by Stephen King.

Asmodeus “Sax” Saxon-Tang, a vainglorious and well-established antiques dealer, has made a fortune over many years by globetrotting for the finest lost objects in the world. Only Sax knows the true secret to his success: at certain points of his life, he’s killed vampires for their priceless hoards of treasure.

But now Sax’s past actions are quite literally coming back to haunt him, and the lives of those he holds most dear are in mortal danger. To counter this unnatural threat, and with the blessing of the Holy Roman Church, a cowardly but cunning Sax must travel across Europe in pursuit of incalculable evil—and immeasurable wealth—with a ragtag team of mercenaries and vampire killers to hunt a terrifying, ageless monster…one who is hunting Sax in turn.

From author Ben Tripp, whose first horror novel Rise Again “raises the stakes so high that the book becomes nearly impossible to put down” (Cory Doctorow, author of Little Brother), The Fifth House of the Heart is a powerful story that will haunt you long after its final pages.


The Affinities by Robert Charles Wilson 
In our rapidly-changing world of "social media", everyday people are more and more able to sort themselves into social groups based on finer and finer criteria. In the near future of Robert Charles Wilson's The Affinities, this process is supercharged by new analytic technologies--genetic, brain-mapping, behavioral. To join one of the twenty-two Affinities is to change one's life. It's like family, and more than family. Your fellow members aren't just like you, and they aren't just people who are likely to like you. They're also the people with whom you can best cooperate in all areas of life--creative, interpersonal, even financial.

At loose ends both professional and personal, young Adam Fisk takes the suite of tests to see if he qualifies for any of the Affinities, and finds that he's a match for one of the largest, the one called Tau. It's utopian--at first. Problems in all areas of his life begin to simply sort themselves out, as he becomes part of a global network of people dedicated to helping one another--to helping him.

But as the differing Affinities put their new powers to the test, they begin to rapidly chip away at the power of governments, of global corporations, of all the institutions of the old world. Then, with dreadful inevitability, the different Affinities begin to go to war--with one another.

What happens next will change Adam, and his world, forever.


And a late addition to the stacks - I hit the used bookstore before heading out on a hike today and scored some L.E. Modesitt Jr., Graham Masterton, and Bentley Little. I'm lucky if I can make it in a few times a year, and I'm always afraid it'll be my last visit (the owner is 79 years young!), but no matter how long it's been he always remembers me, always remember what I'm looking for, and always knows what new additions might catch my eye. You can't get that kind of service online. :)


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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.

Trial of Intentions by Peter Orullian
Having caught up with Peter's Author Edition of The Unremembered, I'm glad to finally be diving into the follow-up, which I can tell you opens with a little tragedy and a lot of action.

Palace of Treason by Jason Matthews
It's been 2 years since Jason graced us with Red Sparrow, and I'm excited to see Captain Dominika Egorova of the Russian Intelligence Service stepping to the forefront here.


What's topping your shelves this week?

Friday, May 22, 2015

Fantasy Review: Knight's Shadow by Sebastien de Castell

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.

I know it sounds like hyperbole and hype, but Knight's Shadow truly is a must-read book, a title that I quite literally could not put down. I found myself wandering the parking lot at the office all week, reading through lunch and breaks. I kept it on the seat beside me and read pages while waiting in line at the drive through, Last night I even followed my son around the mall, reading as we walked and he played.

If you read my review of Traitor's Blade, then you know I had some challenges with the first book, and some reservations going into this, but you can forget everything I said. Not only has Sebastien de Castell completely won me over, but he's managed to top The Grace of Kings as my favorite read of the year.

Seriously, it's that good.

With the first book, I found that the flashbacks and history served to overwhelm the story. What happened before, especially regarding the fall of the Greatcoats, was simply more fascinating than the developing story. Here, de Castell really pulls away from those flashbacks, having Falcio, Kest, and Brasti talk about the past, but keeping us firmly rooted in the present. It shifts the focus significantly, and allows for a much better flow to the story. History is still important, and there are still mysteries to be revealed, but they accent the story, rather than drive it.

As much as the characters were the strongest aspect of Traitor's Blade, I felt the book suffered a little from its focus on Falcio. Alone, isolated from his fellow Greatcoats, and developed as much through his past as his present, he conspired with the flashbacks and pacing to drag the story down. Here, we get much more of an ensemble cast. Yes, the other characters are very much defined by how they interact with Falcio, but they share the scenes. More importantly, they have significant moments of their own, allowing them to grow, to develop, and distinguish themselves. Valiana gets significant character development as well, transitioning from spoiled would-be Queen to one of the bravest and most valiant of the Greatcoats, while Darriana takes a long time to reveal herself, but proves to be most of the most intriguing and pivotal characters in the story. Even the Dukes and Knights get their moments, with several of them becoming legitimate characters, rather than just tropes or plot devices.

Once again we have a nice mix of adventure, thrills, dark humor, and even darker cruelty. I laughed aloud at several points, especially the scenes involving the Knights. I'm not sure any class gets skewered quite so effectively throughout the entire series. Just check out this scene in which Brasti politely requests that Knights help Kest determine who to kill first.

"Right. Well, if any of you are wife-beaters, child-killers, perhaps murderers of old people, could you just sort of raise a hand or nod? It would make it a lot easier for us."

"Brasti, that’s ridi—"

But to my utter amazement, one of the Knights started to raise his hand, just for a moment before he saw his fellows look at him. No one ever said you had to be brilliant to wear armor.

I also found myself regularly cringing and cursing de Castell for what he put his characters through, especially Falcio. The battle of Carefal is one of the most powerful I've ever encountered in a fantasy novel, especially in how it impacts the Greatcoats and changes their entire perspective. I won't say much more than that, as the worst examples are pivotal spoilers, but I challenge you to read through the entire Greatcoat's Lament without pausing to catch your breath, punch a wall, and rail against the world.

Finally, what really elevates Knight's Shadow above its first volume is the advancement of the mythologies and world building. We find out much more about who the Greatcoats are, who they were, and who they're destined to be. Similarly, we come to understand just who and what the Dashini are, and what role they have to play in the broader conflict. With the mystery of the King’s Charoites resolved, the story advances to embrace the wider conflicts and betrayals of a world on the brink of war. Every time you think you have it figured out, de Castell reveals another hidden motive or betrayal, turning the entire tale on its head more than once. It's brilliant, it's effective, and it's entirely satisfying.

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.

"Tell them the Greatcoats are coming" indeed.


Hardcover, 600 pages
Expected publication: June 2nd 2015 by Viking

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Great Self-Published Fantasy Blog-off - The Second Five

With my review commitments once again on track (if not completely caught up), I've had time to sit down and dedicate my reading to second batch of titles in the Great Self-Published Fantasy Blog-off.

To be as fair and consistent as possible with my evaluation, I didn't want to just sneak these in, one at a time, between other titles. My moods and tastes do change regularly, depending on what I've just read (and whether or not I enjoyed it), so ensuring a measure of consistency was key for me in my overall approach.

As was the case last time around, I committed to reading the first 50 pages (at a minimum) of each title, with the hope that one or more books in the batch would be strong enough to keep me reading right through the end. While the last batch had 3 titles that kept me engaged (which was a pleasant surprise), I'm afraid there were none here that I felt compelled to finish.


VJ Lakshman - Mythborn
In terms of presentation, the editor's preface raised serious red flags for me. He begins by selling himself, convincing the reader that he's a man whose judgement is to be trusted, and then goes on to sell the book, telling the reader what to like about it. Tack an author's preface onto that, which sounds just a little too innocent and eager, and any experienced reader of fantasy is going to wonder what they've signed up for.

I tried giving this more than 50 pages, to kind of distance myself from those early doubts, but none of it ever came together for me. I didn't see much more than very basic world building, consisting primarily of setting, without any sort of significance. The characters all fell flat for me, as did their dialogue. The narrative was a bit simple for my taste, not quite bland but fantasy-generic, although it did have a decent flow to it. Maybe it gets better, and maybe there's more development of the world and its characters as the story goes on, but I couldn't find the hook or the spark to keep me reading.


EJ Stevens – Burning Bright
This one I feel bad about not finishing, as it certainly does have promise, and I suspect might work very well for the right audience. The problem is, it's the third book of a series, and diving in mid-series rarely works for me. I liked the characters, but there were clearly nuances to their relationships that went completely over my head. I kept feeling like I was missing something, and without a shared history to justify it, the emotional aspect of their relationships was just annoying.

As urban fantasies go, this does seem to have it all - demons, witches, and fairy creatures - but it didn't really offer anything new or unique to really distinguish it from the crowd. The first-person narrative had just the right about of snark, with some inventive curses, and the dialogue had a solid amount of flair, but that's just not enough for me. Like I said, maybe it's the characters that really distinguish it, but only if you're already invested in them. Having said that, it was very well-paced, with some great action scenes, and a building sense of tension I could already detect early on.


Anthony Stevens – Shifter Shadows
I'm seeing an increasing tendency within the genre to break a story into bite-sized chunks, as if spoon-feeding a generation that lacks the attention span to read beyond a page-turn (or screen-refresh, as the case may be). That just doesn't work for me. I find it both frustrating and distracting. It's hard to settle into a flow and get attached to a narrative when the chapters are little more than scenes, topping out at 2-3 pages in length.

Maybe that's why the story felt so disjointed to me, and why I struggled to make connections as we skipped so quickly through times, places, and people. The opening scenes were interesting, offering up a glimpse of wild people and life in the wilderness, but then the focus shifts to a couple of kids in high school, and that's where the story lost what little interest it had generated. There were some moments of violence that caught my eye, and some insights into the life of a shapeshifter, but they weren't enough to win me over.


Rob Vitaro – By the Light of the Moons
This is a book that had a very young-adult sort of feel to in terms of the language, the narrative, and the plotting. The characters felt much younger than they were really supposed to be, with dialogue that wavered in terms of maturity levels, creating an artificial sort of feel to the interactions where you could feel the author speaking through them.

The other thing that I took away from the first 50 pages is a lack of world-building and scene setting. I came away from it having very little idea what anybody or anything looked like, or where they fit into the overall world. There was some nice action described, and a few moments of humor, but overall it just felt very young and sort of bland.


Claude Blakhen – The Feather and the Swords
Right off the bat, I should point out that this is a translation, and even the most professional mass-market publisher translations can come across as awkward and stilted, robbing the story of the author's original flair and flavor. This may very well be a much better book in its original Polish, but I kept cringing at things like word choices and changes in tense.

There does seem to be some decent world-building and character-building here, and I got a sense of the larger story that I liked, but I struggled so much with the language that it really became a distraction It's a shame, because I suspect this could be a much better book than my experience suggests, but it does need a professional writer or editor to make a thorough pass at the translated text.


CONCLUSION: None of the titles in this batch engaged me enough to read through to the last page, unfortunately. I had high hopes for a few, but they all fell short for different reasons. Burning Bright probably has the most immediate potential, especially for those who have read the rest of the series, but I can't recommend it as a stand-alone title, and I think there's a solid story hidden beneath the language of The Feather and the Swords, but it needs work.

I'll be diving into the next batch following my current read, so we'll see what it brings.