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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Sci-Fi Review: The Forever Engine by Frank Chadwick

Time-travel is always a tricky thing, and sometimes the use of an alternate reality (or alternate history) can do as much to accentuate the problems as it can to provide a safe path for the story to take. What I mean is that it is often relied upon as a crutch or an easy-out, bypassing all the paradoxical complexities. Where it works best - and that is where The Forever Engine finds itself - is when the crutch is turned on itself, using time travel as the excuse to explore the alternate reality.

Frank Chadwick is a name that may be familiar to some readers, and probably more gamers. He was one of the originators of the modern steampunk genre with Space 1889, and this novel is his opportunity to play out the world he helped to create.

Jack Fargo, our hero, is a modern-day history professor, called back by the Army to assist with a top-secret science experiment. An accident in London catapults him back in time to 1888 . . . but not to our 1888. Here, the South won the Civil War, steam-powered airships fill the skies, man has already been to space, and there are dinosaur remnants walking the Earth. Trapped in a history he's unprepared for, with political alliances he can't really trust, Jack finds himself forced to work as hard at picking friends from foes as at trying to find his way home.

The characters here were a bit thin for my liking, and the narrative itself could have benefited from a little more description, but it was still an enjoyable read. It's a large-scale, steampunk adventure tale, complete with witty banter and sarcastic asides that help provide a bit of an edge. There are no real surprises here, and little in the way of actual suspense, but Jack's triumphs and escapes are no less enjoyable for being predictable or convenient. There is some legitimate attempt to drive home Jack's divided loyalties, having become invested in the cause, but still desperately missing his daughter back in the present, and I think that conflict is what kicked his character up a notch.

It's not the strongest steampunk tale I've read this year, but The Forever Engine was enjoyable enough to keep me reading late into the night. It's kind of like a glossy b-grade adventure movie with a big budget - you know the flaws are there, but you're having enough fun to overlook them.


Paperback, 352 pages
Expected publication: January 7th 2014 by Baen

Monday, December 30, 2013

2013 - A Year in Review

I don't generally concern myself with stats and numbers, but it's always interesting to look back on the year and see how life progressed through the shelves.


Reading Stats
According to my Goodreads Year in Books, I polished off 136 books this year, consuming a whopping 41,538 pages in the process. That number is certainly inflated, given that I had 6 books I neglected to finish, and 8 low-rated books that I either skimmed through or skipped ahead, but somewhere around 100 pages a day sounds right.

The longest book I read this year was A Memory of Light by Robert Jordan & Brandon Sanderson. I don't remember it as being a particularly long book, so that's a bit of a surprise, but I certainly remember the weight of carrying that hardcover around for a week.

In terms of ratings, I find them rather arbitrary, and often struggle to assign a number, but it seems I was pretty consistent in my struggles. There were 8 top-rated books to balance out the 8 low-rated books, which makes sense, with 60 that achieved 4 stars, and 53 that achieved 3 stars. All-in-all, I'd say that's a pretty good year for reading.


Blog Stats
Looking back through the year, it looks like my busiest months in terms of traffic were (3) July, (2) September, and (1) November. In a surprising lack of correlation, my busiest months in terms of postings were (3) January, (2) October, and (1) April.

As for the most popular posts of the year, there were 3 that outpaced all others by a significant margin:

3. '10 Fun Things to Do During the Zombie Apocalypse' guest post by Melanie Karsak

2. 'On Selecting Fearsome Journeys' guest post by Jonathan Strahan

1. My review of Magician's End by Raymond E. Feist


Most Memorable Moments
I'm almost reluctant to talk about my most memorable moments, because . . . well, there have been a lot of them, and I know I'm going to miss talking about some big ones. As unfair as it seems to condense an entire year of experiences into a top 5 list, these are the ones that stick most vividly in my mind (in reverse chronological order).

Being invited to host a Q&A with Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child was definitely a memorable experience. A part of me wishes I had taken the opportunity for a phone interview, but I'm not sure I could have remained completely professional, much less taken proper notes. These guys have been favourites of mine for a lot of years, so I'm glad I was able to bring them by.

It may be a little vain, but finding myself quoted for the first time in a press release and an Amazon blurb was immensely satisfying. That honour goes to Hells' Door by Sandy DeLuca, which was published by DarkFuse - who have also gone on to quote me with The Black Church by Toby Tate.

There's absolutely no way I could even think about 2013 without mentioning Mark Lawrence. Not only was his Broken Empire trilogy one of my favourite back-to-back-to-back series reads this year, but it brought a signed copy of Emperor of Thorns to my shelves, and a new friend to the world of social media.

Going way back to the Spring, being offered an ARC of Guy Gavriel Kay's River of Stars from not one, not two, but three different sources - just as I'd given up hope of snagging a copy - was definitely memorable. It was SQT from Fantasy & SciFi Lovin' Reviews who first came to the rescue, with Kay's publicist coming in close on her heels, and his Canadian publisher coming next. Not only that, but Mr. Kay even sent a book recommendation my way, which is shipping from Amazon as we speak!

Finally, although it was late last year that I posted my review of Harry F. Kane's Shudder, getting to know Harry as a friend throughout this year, swapping stories, offering each other critiques & commentary, and sharing publishing tips has been, without a doubt, one of the most positive and rewarding experiences to come out of blogging.


Well, looks like that's about it for this year (although I do have 1 last review coming tomorrow). Thanks to all - readers, bloggers, publishers, and authors alike - and here's to an even bigger, better, and more memorable 2014!

BTW, in case you missed it, check out my Best of 2013 list!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Mailbox Monday & What I'm Reading

If it's Monday, then it must be time for Mailbox Monday, a weekly meme that provides a virtual gathering place for bloggers (and readers) to share the books that came their way over the past week. Originally hosted by Marcia, of To Be Continued..., it has since become something of a book tour, with a new host each month. This month's host is Gilion @ Rose City Reader.

No review titles again this week, but gift cards & holiday sales continue to stock my shelves:


Night Angel: The Complete Trilogy by Brent Weeks
Paperback, 1264 pages
Published April 24th 2012 by Orbit

The omnibus edition of New York Times bestselling author Brent Weeks' blockbuster NIGHT ANGEL TRILOGY. With over one million copies in print, Brent Weeks has become one of the fastest selling new fantasy authors of all time.

For Durzo Blint, assassination is an art - and he is the city's most accomplished artist.

For Azoth, survival is just the beginning. He was raised on the streets and knows an opportunity when he sees one - even when the risks are as high as working for someone like Durzo Blint.

Azoth must learn to navigate the assassins' world of dangerous politics and strange magics - and become the perfect killer.

THE NIGHT ANGEL TRILOGY, one of the most popular epic fantasy series in recent years, is compiled into one volume for the first time. Included in this omnibus edition are: The Way of Shadows, Shadow's Edge, and Beyond the Shadows.


The Willful Princess and the Piebald Prince by Robin Hobb
Kindle Edition, 85 pages
Published October 23rd 2013 by Subterranean Press

One of the darkest legends in the Realm of the Elderlings recounts the tale of the so-called Piebald Prince, a Witted pretender to the throne unseated by the actions of brave nobles so that the Farseer line could continue untainted. Now the truth behind the story is revealed through the account of Felicity, a low-born companion of the Princess Caution at Buckkeep.

With Felicity by her side, Caution grows into a headstrong Queen-in-Waiting. But when Caution gives birth to a bastard son who shares the piebald markings of his father’s horse, Felicity is the one who raises him. And as the prince comes to power, political intrigue sparks dangerous whispers about the Wit that will change the kingdom forever…

Internationally-bestselling, critically-acclaimed author Robin Hobb takes readers deep into the history behind the Farseer series in this exclusive, new novella, “The Willful Princess and the Piebald Prince.” In her trademark style, Hobb offers a revealing exploration of a family secret still reverberating generations later when assassin FitzChivalry Farseer comes onto the scene. Fans will not want to miss these tantalizing new insights into a much-beloved world and its unforgettable characters.


The One-Eyed Man by L.E. Modesitt Jr.
Hardcover, 364 pages
Published September 17th 2013 by Tor Books

The colony world of Stittara is no ordinary planet. For the interstellar Unity of the Ceylesian Arm, Stittara is the primary source of anagathics: drugs that have more than doubled the human life span. But the ecological balance that makes anagathics possible on Stittara is fragile, and the Unity government has a vital interest in making sure the flow of longevity drugs remains uninterrupted, even if it means uprooting the human settlements.

Offered the job of assessing the ecological impact of the human presence on Stittara, freelance consultant Dr. Paulo Verano jumps at the chance to escape the ruin of his personal life. He gets far more than he bargained for: Stittara’s atmosphere is populated with skytubes—gigantic, mysterious airborne organisms that drift like clouds above the surface of the planet. Their exact nature has eluded humanity for centuries, but Verano believes his conclusions about Stittara may hinge on understanding the skytubes’ role in the planet’s ecology—if he survives the hurricane winds, distrustful settlers, and secret agendas that impede his investigation at every turn.

The book also includes the short story "New World Blues" (2012)which is based on the same painting that graces the cover of the book.


It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is a weekly meme hosted by Book Journey, and one that's focused on what's actually in your hands, as opposed to what's been added to your shelf. Currently I've got reviews coming up for:


What's topping your shelves this week?

Friday, December 27, 2013

Horror Review: Her Vampyrrhic Heart by Simon Clark

For a book that started so very slow, Her Vampyrrhic Heart turned out to be a decent read. It never quite seemed to make up its mind as to whether it was a love story or a straight-up horror story, but I think Simon Clark managed both elements quite well, despite a too-happy ending that just didn't seem to fit the tale.

Five years ago, Tom lost his beautiful bride to a powerful, ancient curse of vampirism. The young lovers were warned about it, but chose to follow their hearts over the fears of Nicola's family. Since then, Tom has been living alone in the woods, waiting patiently for his bride to return. He's not the only one waiting, however, and she's not the only one destined to make a return.

Clark's take on vampires here is a new one for me, part mythological fable and part urban fantasy, but I liked it . . . what little of it we actually got to see. This book is much more about Tom than I expected, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. A little mystery and suspense are necessary to keep such a story moving - and, for the most part, it does just that. The pacing is a bit uneven, but once you get past the slow start, it's a quick chase to the end.

While Her Vampyrrhic Heart won't be making a late entry in my 2013 best of list, it was an enjoyable enough story to while away an evening or two over the holidays.


Hardcover, 240 pages
Expected publication: January 1st 2014 by Severn House Publishers

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Waiting on Wednesday - The Book of the Crowman by Joseph D' Lacey

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

This week's pre-publication "can't-wait-to-read" selection is:

The Book of the Crowman by Joseph D' Lacey
Angry Robot (February 25, 2014)

It is the Black Dawn, a time of environmental apocalypse, the earth wracked and dying.

It is the Bright Day, a time long generations hence, when a peace has descended across the world.

The search for the shadowy figure known only as the Crowman continues, as the Green Men prepare to rise up against the forces of the Ward.

The world has been condemned. Only Gordon Black and The Crowman can redeem it.


Black Feathers, the first book of this duology, was a great read, well-told, with a narrative style that flowed quickly and easily (check out my review). I was hooked by the end of the first chapter, and kept finding it harder and harder to put the book down. I suspect this second volume will be a very different story, but I'm anxious to see how it all gets resolved.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Fantasy Review: The Iron Wolves by Andy Remic

Holy crap, but The Iron Wolves was a hell of a lot of fun! It's as if Robert E. Howard and Fritz Leiber reached out from beyond the grave to collaborate on the kind pulp fantasy they perfected, decided to take Stallone's The Expendables as their inspiration, recruited Sam Raimi to direct the medieval mayhem, and then demanded that nothing short of the explicit, unrated director's cut make it into print.

What Andy Remic has pulled together here is absolutely genius. If you've read the cover blurb then you have some idea of what to expect but, like me, you probably wondered if he really could pull it off. Well, I am here to tell you to wonder no longer - pull it off he does . . . and then some!

Let's start with the heroes . . . such as they are. Thirty years ago, the Iron Wolves became the stuff of legends, holding back the hordes of monstrous mud-orcs at the Pass of Splintered Bones, and banishing Morkagoth, the evil sorcerer, from their world. That victory did not come without a price, however, and the curse they carry has left them broken and battered . . . tortured and twisted beyond measure - murderous brothers, a whoremaster, a drunken gambler, a drug addict with a cancer in her heart, a serial killer, and a torturer. They've become ugly heroes, scarred both inside and out, but they are the world's only help.

“I need it,” she said, and raised her eyes to Dalgoran’s. The pity in his gaze nearly floored her. She considered that pity. From the greatest man she had ever known. From somebody she considered not just her general, but also her friend. Not just her friend, but her father. She shouldn’t have responded how she did. Instead, she felt her anger building.

If that sounds like a little much for your tastes, then all I can do is urge you to have patience. Remic puts a lot of effort into developing these characters, and there is no denying how darkly fascinating they become, or how carefully they elicit our sympathy. Seriously, you might expect to be cold and jaded by the time you meet up with Trista, the last of the Wolves to make a return, but there's such sorrow there, and such beautifully tortured motives behind her serial murder of newlyweds, that you can't help but feel for her. While much of the allure of these heroes is in just how far they've fallen, it's their camaraderie, their banter, and the core of heroism within each of them that really draws the reader in.

As for the villainess, Orlana the Changer, let me give you a glimpse into her summoning:

It was death. It was birth. It was fire. It was rape. It was exquisite murder. It was cheerful suicide. It was acid in her veins. Poison in her heart. Sulphur in her soul. A sincere abortion. A child’s coffin. An army of necrotic lovers. A giggling genocide. All of those things, and yet none.

As weirdly bizarre and perverse as that sounds, it's only an introduction. This is a stunningly beautiful sorceress, the kind who really evokes memories of Howard and Leiber. She's cold, cruel, and cunning, with absolutely no regard for anything but her own motivations. Not content to have the hordes of resurrected mud-orcs at her command (monstrous creatures she summons from the pits with the sacrifice of tens of thousands of men, women, and children), she is also the mistress of the splice - even more monstrous creatures formed by the imperfect, deliberately tortured splicing together of men and beasts.

Their smell came first; it was rotten eggs, it was bad milk, it was sour cheese, it was open gangrene, it was the maggot-filled corpse of a strangled cat. Putrefaction washed over the group and they gagged, and then the mud-orcs sprinted from the darkness and they were big, and moved with agility and aggression and no fear…

In terms of world-building, there's a lot hinted at and suggested here, but Remic never weighs down the story with too much extraneous detail. What settings he does indulge in, however, are exquisitely described. Rokroth is a city where you can feel the cobblestones and smell the smoke in the air; the Tower of the Moon will leave you with a feeling of vertigo, and a nauseous terror of its insane king; Skell Fortress is a haunted ruin that will chill your bones; the Splintered Pass and Desekra Fortress are as epic as any castle, wall, or final siege you can imagine, and the Suicide Forest is . . .well . . . chilling.

They scrambled up the soil and leaves, and stood, mouths open, eyes wide, staring out at a massive glade of hanging corpses. There were perhaps seventy or eighty bodies, each hung by their own hand on short tattered ropes, wearing a disarray of clothing, dresses and shirts and trews, some in boots, some barefoot, all crusted with mud and dirt, as if they’d been hanging for years. Poppies grew all around the glade, adding bright red clusters to a very sombre place.

The story moves along at an almost frantic pace, introducing the Iron Wolves, reuniting them, and seeing them into battle by the end. Along the way we see Orlana overwhelm, overpower, and overcome every obstacle in her path, with the seduction of one man possibly her darkest act. We watch as a insane king refuses to protect his realm, gleefully murdering anybody who dares speak out against him, all the while indulging himself in the most decadent vices.

Yoon returned to the wide bed, sword dripping a trail of blood across fine rugs, to where the three oiled ladies had halted their drug-infused ecstasy. Yoon waved the blade. “Continue. And you.” He pointed with the bloody weapon at a shocked, oiled, painted lady. “Open your legs. Open them wide. I need some entertainment.”

Most importantly, perhaps, we bear witness to the kind of brutal, poetic violence that only epic fantasy seems to manage so well. Remic weaves the dance of blades better than most, delivering on some very well-choreographed confrontations, both intimate and on a grand scale. There's a lot of blood and filth in his tale, and more than a few deaths along the way that come as something of a surprise. By the time it all comes to an end, we realize that only a fraction of the tale has been told, and that motivations and end-games have yet to be revealed . . . but we're also left wondering what might possibly be next, with an ominous cliffhanger that works precisely because there are no guarantees in his world.

All-in-all, one of the most enjoyable reads I've had all year. If you don't mind your epic fantasy with a little pulp and a little profanity, and can appreciate the redemption of deeply flawed heroes, then I strongly urge you to give it a read. It is dark and grim, muddy and bloody, but it's also permeated by a very dark sort of humour that pulls it all together, making the read a raucous one. My only complaint about  The Iron Wolves is that the sequel, The White Towers, is more than seven months away . . .


Paperback, 464 pages
Expected publication: December 31st 2013 by Angry Robot

Mailbox Monday & What I'm Reading

I use Grammarly's plagiarism detector because while imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, to some it's also the most respectable form of thievery.
_____________________________________________

If it's Monday, then it must be time for Mailbox Monday, a weekly meme that provides a virtual gathering place for bloggers (and readers) to share the books that came their way over the past week. Originally hosted by Marcia, of To Be Continued..., it has since become something of a book tour, with a new host each month. This month's host is Gilion @ Rose City Reader.

No review titles again this week, but gift cards & holiday sales have done a lot to stock my shelves:


The Influence by Bentley Little
Kindle Edition, 326 pages
Published December 3rd 2013 by Cemetery Dance Publications 

Everything is about to change...

When Ross Lowry moves into his cousin's guest house in the small community of Magdalena, Arizona, he expects nothing more than breathing room and a brief respite from his economic woes.

But something is not right in the desert.

After a raucous party on New Year's Eve, the luck of the attendees undergoes an immediate U-turn. The rich and successful suddenly find themselves facing catastrophic failure while the less well-off are unexpectedly flush with good fortune.

This is only the beginning...

Soon the citizens of Magdalena are experiencing unnatural desires.

Next their children begin to disappear and freakish creatures emerge from the surrounding wilderness.

The community is unraveling at a frightening pace.

But these are merely the early warning signs of a showdown with a powerful force of darkness that could obliterate the world forever, and only Ross Lowry sees the danger that lurks ahead...


Torchwood: Exodus Code by John & Carole E. Barrowman
Paperback, 368 pages
Published September 24th 2013 by BBC Books 

It starts with a series of unexplained events. Earth tremors across the globe. People being driven insane by their heightened and scrambled senses. And the world is starting to notice - the number one Twitter trend is #TheLoco. Governments and scientists are bewildered and silent. The world needs Torchwood, but there's not much of Torchwood left. Captain Jack has tracked the problem to its source: a village in Peru, where he's uncovered evidence of alien involvement. Back in Cardiff, Gwen Cooper has discovered something lurking inside the Torchwood software - something alien and somehow connected to Jack. If the world is to be restored, she has to warn him - but she's quickly becoming a victim of the madness, too!


Mirage by Clive Cussler & Jack Du Brul
Hardcover, 416 pages
Published November 5th 2013 by Putnam Adult 

In October 1943, a U.S. destroyer sailed out of Philadelphia and supposedly vanished, the result of a Navy experiment with electromagnetic radiation. The story was considered a hoax—but now Juan Cabrillo and his Oregon colleagues aren’t so sure.

There is talk of a new weapon soon to be auctioned, something very dangerous to America’s interests, and the rumors link it to the great inventor Nikola Tesla, who was working with the Navy when he died in 1943. Was he responsible for the experiment? Are his notes in the hands of enemies? As Cabrillo races to find the truth, he discovers there is even more at stake than he could have imagined—but by the time he realizes it, he may already be too late.


It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is a weekly meme hosted by Book Journey, and one that's focused on what's actually in your hands, as opposed to what's been added to your shelf. Currently I've got reviews coming up for:


What's topping your shelves this week?

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Sci-Fi Review: Claus and Jack by Tony Bertauski

Claus: Legend of the Fat Man by Tony Bertauski
Kindle Edition, 1, 329 pages
Published July 20th 2012

Synopsis:

Some legends are forged in fire. Others are born in snow.

In the early 1800s, Nicholas, Jessica and Jon Santa attempt the first human trek to the North Pole and stumble upon an ancient race of people left over from the Ice Age. They are short, fat and hairy. They slide across the ice on scaly soles and carve their homes in the ice that floats on the Arctic Ocean. The elven are adapted to life in the extreme cold.

They are as wise as they are ancient. Their scientific advancements have yielded great inventions -- time-stopping devices and gravitational spheres that build living snowmen and genetically-modified reindeer that leap great distances. They’ve even unlocked the secrets to aging. For 40,000 years, they have lived in peace.

Until now.

An elven known as The Cold One has divided his people. He’s tired of their seclusion and wants to conquer the world. Only one elven stands between The Cold One and total chaos. He’s white-bearded and red-coated. The Santa family will help him stop The Cold One.

They will come to the aid of a legendary elven known as… Claus.


Review:

Two twin brothers born minutes apart grow together but one is different - "cold" as in cold hearted. As Jack grows he is picked on by others even his own brother. They go their separate ways.

Nicolas Santa and his wife are on a voyage in the Arctic regions near the north pole when a horrible storm tears them apart. The search for their warm embrace to be together once again.

A race called Elven are found they are hundreds of years old they are short little people with beards. With their help will husband and wife be together again.

Tony Bertauski author of Annihilation of Foreverland. Takes the story of Santa Claus to a whole new meaning of Christmas. With a heart warming story that's better than a Hot Cup of cocoa. This Christmas be sure to check out this masterpiece of the fat man we once or still believe in. Tony Bertauski as the song goes "you'll go down in hisss-torrr-y"


Jack: The Tale of Frost by Tony Bertauski
Kindle Edition, 1, 329 pages
Published July 20th 2012

Synopsis:

Sura is sixteen years old when she meets Mr. Frost. He’s very short and very fat and he likes his room very, very cold. Some might say inhumanly cold. His first name isn’t Jack, she’s told. And that’s all she needed to know.

Mr. Frost’s love for Christmas is over-the-top and slightly psychotic. And why not? He’s made billions of dollars off the holiday he invented. Or so he claims. Rumor is he’s an elven, but that’s silly. Elven aren’t real. And if they were, they wouldn’t live in South Carolina. They wouldn’t hide in a tower and go to the basement to make…things.

Nonetheless, Sura will work for this odd little recluse. Frost Plantation is where she’ll meet the love of her life. It’s where she’ll finally feel like she belongs somewhere. And it’s where she’ll meet someone fatter, balder and stranger than Mr. Frost. It’s where she’ll meet Jack.

Jack hates Christmas.


Review:

Tony has done it again, this time taking the "Tale of Jack Frost" and making it his own. A Sci-fi Christmas delight of brilliant work.

Cloning, What's going on at the Frost Plantation. Christmas liked a little too much, but Jack who hates Christmas has been missing for years and now he back and wants revenge. But does he really want to end it all?

If you read Claus then you know what you are in for. An imaginative twist on the Christmas Tale we all watched as kids. And part 3 is coming soon..... oh boy


(as posted by Donald on Goodreads)

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Cover Reveal: The Macabre Masterpiece by Justin Bienvenue

Hell is not just a place, here it is a definition of what personifies evil. The elements of blood goes way beyond any medical preference or charitable donation. Many of horror's most-wanted and deadly creatures run wild here, waiting in anticipation of their next victims. The chills one will experience from the creepiness will turn their imaginations into nightmares. The term"gripping the edge of your seat" could prove to be very case here when the suspense hit's you like a bolt of lightning. Feel the fear and witness the horror and madness.

This is The Macabre Masterpiece: Poems of Horror and Gore.


They Without Morals

Who dares disturb those who sleep in deep slumber?
Deriving us from our caskets and tombs
Whoever you are it is but a wonder
And onto you I curse and cast doom
You have ruined our peace and tainted our dirt
Do you have not any shame?
For this I summon onto you the deadliest hurt
And inflict blasphemy to scorn your name
Now let’s see you get into heaven
Knowing you’ve angered those already there
I plague you with the deadly sins of seven
Until your distraught and can no longer bare
A cemetery is a confined place for the dead
You did not come to pay your respects
For every step in which your feet have tread
You shall feel the mortifying effects


An Afternoon With Death (New to this edition)

He sipped his morning cup of joe
As the pot continued to brew
He still had time till he had to go
Plenty of caffeine before the day was threw

As noon arrived he met with him
They sat down on a bench in the park
He knew that his chances were slim
And soon he would find his place in the dark

He tried to plea his case but to no avail
His time was most certainly up
Less of a pitch and more of a fail
So much for that last minute cup

He sips from his hot cup of joe
before grabbing the metal flask
A job that only he will know
During the day death wears a blue collar mask

αωαωαωαωαωαωαω

My name is Justin Bienvenue, I was born in and reside in Massachusetts. I am a friendly and outgoing person. Always enjoy meeting new people. I graduated high school in 2006. Since then I have held two jobs before working full-time at home as an author. I am also currently looking work aside from writing. As an author and poet. I have two published books, A book of Horror Poetry entitled “The Macabre Masterpiece: Poems of Horror and Gore” published in 2010 and a Western Horror “A Bloody Bloody Mess In The Wild Wild West” just recently published. While I mainly enjoy writing poetry I have recently expanded my horizons and started writing stories, narratives and short stories. I enjoy writing and it always makes me satisfied to have others enjoy my work. I like to be creative and different, always trying new things. I have a background in creative writing which really helped me develop my writing and expand my imagination. When I’m not writing I also enjoy playing games and watching sports such as football, baseball and basketball. I am a big football fan and my favorite team is The New England Patriots. I also enjoy the outdoors, always playing sports whenever I get the chance and going for walks to gather my thoughts looking for my next best creative idea.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Beauty in Ruins - Best of 2013

Looking over my Goodreads shelves for 2013, it appears that I was quite stingy with my 5 star reviews. How stingy? Well, out of approximately 130 books, I only handed out 5 such reviews for genre titles published this year.

Before we dive into the starred reads, however, I wanted to talk a moment about pure pleasure and sheer enjoyment. There are 3 books that stand out in my mind as providing more literary fun and delight than any others. These are the books with passages that I kept insisting on reading aloud to my wife. They are the books I keep asking if friends have read. These are the books I would gleefully slip under any tree, confident that the recipient will come back with a fist-pump, a hand-slap, and a smile on their face. They are (in chronological order) . . .
  1. The Marching Dead by Lee Battersby
  2. Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl by David Barnett
  3. The Iron Wolves by Andy Remic
With that said, onto the 5 star reviews . . .

Under the category of Science Fiction, my 5 star review went to Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl by David Barnett. I wrote in my original review that this was an exciting, adventurous, and exceptionally well-told story, filled with equal parts amusement and astonishment. From the concept to the characters, I enjoyed every aspect of it and came away wanting more . . . much more. Not only that, but in a glimpse of sheer prescient genius, I said it was sure to be a fixture of best-of lists come the end of the year . . . and here it is!

In terms of 4 star recommendations, I have to acknowledge Three by Jay Posey and Black Feathers by Joseph D'Lacey.


As Anthologies go, it's exceedingly rare to find a collection strong enough to warrant a 5 star review, but Fearsome Journeys: The New Solaris Book of Fantasy by Jonathan Strahan (editor) is it. As I wrote at the time, this was just a great collection of tales, well-selected, and very well put together by a man who has an obvious feel for the genre. In another of those fits of prescient genius, I even suggested that anybody voting on an award find their nomination form, jot the title down, put a huge asterisk beside it as the likely winner, and focus their reading efforts on those categories yet be decided.

While it could just as well have been a Science Fiction 4 star recommendation, Beyond the Rift by Peter Watts was another stellar anthology.


While I read a lot of really strong Horror titles this year, none struck my 5 star tendencies quite as strongly as Love & Zombies by Eric Shapiro. This was a bloody, catastrophically gory tale that made perfect use of the 'fast' zombie, an insanely black comedy that leaves you feeling guilty over every laugh and, at it's heart, a love story - not a normal, happy, romantic one, but a love story all the same. You have to be in the right frame of mind to enjoy it, but so long as you trust Shapiro to carry you beyond the zombie porn premise, you'll have one hell of a time.

As for some 4 star recommendations, I'd be remiss in not mentioning some other small press titles such as The Black Church by Toby Tate, Hell's Door by Sandy DeLuca, Beatrysel by Johnny Worthen, and Worm by Tim Curran.


In hindsight, I am really surprised to find only one 5 star Fantasy review on my list, but I am absolutely not surprised to see that it is River of Stars by Guy Gavriel Kay. This is a book I was almost reluctant to read, afraid that it could never measure up to the lyrical magic of Under Heaven, but Kay did just that. Not only was it better paced than its predecessor, but it was driven by a slightly stronger protagonist. If it lacked some of the subtlety of the first, it certainly eclipsed it in terms of demonstrating how seemingly insignificant, very personal choices can conspired to change the course of history.

This seems to be my strongest genre for 4 star recommendations, but I have to highlight some 'final' chapters with King Breaker by Rowena Cory Daniells, Emperor of Thorns by Mark Lawrence, and Magician's End by Raymond E. Feist.


Finally, we come to the Thriller genre, one for which I don't seem to give many 5 star reviews, so that makes The Diabolist by Layton Green even more notable. As much as I try to avoid making comparisons, this was one case where I felt it was warranted. It's a dark, intelligent, spellbinding novel that is destined to appeal to readers of Preston & Child, David Gibbins, and Dan Brown . . . as well as the likes of Peter Straub, John Saul, and James Herbert. It's a rip-roaring, pulse-pounding adventure, but it's also an intelligent, deeply philosophical look at the concept of evil, and how it's defined (or justified) within the bounds of faith and belief.

My 4 star recommendations here would include White Fire by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child, The Tombs by Clive Cussler, and Pharaoh: A Novel by David Gibbins.


As for the worst of the year, I won't embarrass anybody by highlighting them here, but in the interests of balancing out the statistics, I will say I handed out a pair of 1 star reviews this year, and had a half dozen titles I abandoned to the DNF pile.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Guest Post: A Journey in Words to The End of the Road with Jonathan Oliver

This morning's guest among the ruins is a man who should need no introduction to regular readers . . . but I'll give him one anyway. Jonathan Oliver is the editor-in-chief of Solaris and Abaddon, with his four anthologies for Solaris having received widespread critical acclaim and awards nominations. Last year's Magic: An Anthology of the Esoteric and Arcane was my first real introduction to his editorial magic, but it is this fall's The End of the Road: An Anthology of Original Fiction that brings him by.

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A Journey in Words

Admittedly, in literary terms, I’m possibly not the most well-traveled of readers. Most of the works I've read, and most of the works I grew up reading, have either been English or American in origin. There have been diversions along the way to read translations of such writers as Jean Rhys, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Paulo Coelho, but on the whole my reading experience has fallen into one or the other of two territories. I wish that I could read in another language, and perhaps that’s something I’ll try and rectify when I have more free time, and I wish that more non-English genre works were published in translation. Because SF, Fantasy and Horror are not purely a Western phenomenon, there are fascinating works being produced by writers and artists of many different nationalities. And, fortunately for me, some of them are being written in English.

World genre has only recently been on my radar, not least in thanks to the author Lavie Tidhar, who has been tirelessly championing the cause for years, and who recommends works and authors to me every time we meet. With my fourth anthology for Solaris, End of the Road, I wanted to produce a collection that had a wider reach. After all, I was putting together an anthology of weird travel stories; it made sense to seek authors from all over the globe. A different cultural perspective can add real depth to a tale, and I always love hearing about the mythologies and fantasies of different countries. Though I say it myself, I think the variety and depth of fiction on display in this collection shows why we should be more excited about non-Western genre fiction. And I do think the tide is turning, slowly but surely I’m seeing more and more works in translation in the subs pile and I’m seeing more world genre writers getting the attention they deserve. Social media and the internet has been a wonderful facilitator in this. Writers can now find outlets for their works far more easily than they could have ten or so years ago.

As the burgeoning diversity of the field becomes more obvious, as it becomes clear to us publishers that the treasure of genre lie not just in what we know, then I think we’ll see an expansion in genre. This breath of fresh air will truly invigorate us, and show us that story, that narrative, can go far deeper than we ever expected.

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Jonathan Oliver is the editor-in-chief of Solaris and Abaddon. He has previously had stories published in a variety of magazines and anthologies in the UK and the US. He has written two novels for Abaddon Books – The Call of Kerberos and The Wrath of Kerberos – and his four anthologies for Solaris - The End of the Line, House of Fear, Magic, and The End of the Road - have received widespread critical acclaim and awards nominations.

If you happened to miss my reviews of the latter two anthologies, please be sure to check them out below:


A very dark, very grim collection of tales - creative, original, and even inspired.

A very strong collection, and one that's exceptionally diverse in the range of both roads traveled, and authors included.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Waiting on Wednesday - Pillar to the Sky by William R. Forstchen

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

This week's pre-publication "can't-wait-to-read" selection is:

Pillar to the Sky by William R. Forstchen
Tor Books (February 11, 2014)

Pandemic drought, skyrocketing oil prices, dwindling energy supplies and wars of water scarcity threaten the planet. Only four people can prevent global chaos.

Gary Morgan—a brilliant, renegade scientist is pilloried by the scientific community for his belief in a space elevator: a pillar to the sky, which he believes will make space flight fast, simple and affordable.

Eva Morgan—a brilliant and beautiful scientist of Ukranian  descent, she has had a lifelong obsession to build a pillar to the sky, a vertiginous tower which would mine the power of the sun and supply humanity with cheap, limitless energy forever.

Erich Rothenberg—the ancient but revered rocket-scientist who labored with von Braun to create the first rockets and continued on to build those of today.  A legend, he has mentored Gary and Eva for two decades, nurturing and encouraging their transcendent vision.

Franklin Smith—the eccentric Silicon Valley billionaire who will champion their cause, wage war with Congress and government bureaucracy and most important, finance their herculean undertaking.

The Goddard Space Flight Center—the novel’s pre-eminent hero, it’s enormous army of scientists, engineers and astronauts will design, machine, and build the space elevator. They will fight endless battles and overcome countless obstacles every step of the way.

This journey to the stars will not be easy—a tumultuous struggle filled with violence and heroism, love and death, spellbinding beauty and heartbreaking betrayal.  The stakes could not be higher.  Humanity's salvation will hang in the balance.


Forstchen's One Second After is a book I've had on my post-apocalyptic must-read list for a while now, so this immediately caught my eye. The comparison to Michael Crichton’s Prey certainly doesn't hurt, but being mentioned alongside Douglas Preston’s Blasphemy really fires my curiosity.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Sci-Fi Review: The Doctor and the Dinosaurs by Mike Resnick

If the idea of a steampunk-tinged alternate history of the wild west doesn't catch your attention; if a band of heroes that includes Doc Holliday, Buffalo Bill, and Theodore Roosevelt doesn't make you curious; and if the idea of the infamous Cope and Marsh coming face-to-face with living, breathing, man-eating dinosaurs doesn't already have you reading . . . well, I don't know what the heck is wrong with you, but maybe you should just mosey on down that there lonely path and don't you even think of looking back.

Yes, boys and girls, that is The Doctor and the Dinosaurs in a nut shell. Actually, toss in a little a Geronimo's medicine man magic, and one of of Buntline & Edison's scientific marvels, and you've pretty much got the whole story. It's not particularly deep, and there's no significant character development, but that's okay because it's got Doc, it's got Dinosaurs, and it's a heck of a lot of fun.

As a huge dinosaur fan, I loved the scenes with Edward Drinker Cope and Othniel Charles Marsh. Theirs is probably one of the most famous rivalries in all of science, and Mike Resnick absolutely nails both their professional passion and personal antagonism. It's a ridiculous rivalry, make no bones about it (pun intended), but one that drove the field further and faster than any sort of cooperative friendship ever could. Resnick recognizes that, and even has characters comment on it once or twice, but he certainly does enjoy exploring that passionate hatred.

Doc Holliday is great, with his fatalistic sarcasm making for some of the best moments in the book, especially when he's paired with an early, pre-Presidential Teddy Roosevelt. The banter between characters is laugh-out-loud funny at times, and the moments of action are just as exciting as if there'd been any real sort of danger involved. Let's face it, we all know Doc and Teddy are going to walk away from the T-Rex unscathed, but seeing how they do it is all the fun.

If you haven't read any of Mike Resnick's previous Weird West Tales, then don't let that stop you. This is my first as well, and I don't think I could have enjoyed it any more for having the experience of the back story. The Doctor and the Dinosaurs an over-the-top sort of dime-store adventure that never tries to be anything more. Sit back, suspend your disbelief, and strap in for one heck of a wild ride.


Paperback, 300 pages
Published December 10th 2013 by Pyr

Monday, December 16, 2013

Thriller Review: The Terrorists' Apprentice by Walter Craig

For a book with a rather unassuming cover and a somewhat generic blurb, The Terrorists' Apprentice proved to be a welcome surprise. It's very much a throwback to the big disaster books of the 70s and 80s, in terms of being a high-concept, high-stakes thriller, but it smartly does away with the bloated cast and soap opera pacing. Instead, Walter Craig puts just a half dozen or so key characters at the forefront, keeps their stories from becoming bogged down in drama, and never allows the pacing to stray far from the central story.

There's a little bit of Crichton-esque science fiction here, involving the polymerization of non-carbon compounds (in this case, hydrogen peroxide), but otherwise the terrorist plot is as simple as it is ingenious. There are no complex conspiracies or double-crosses needed to ensure the plot's success, no convenient coincidences, and no forced suspension of disbelief. All Mansur has to do is get his detonator deep into the bowels of the ship, and the diesel tanks themselves will supply the fuel for the bomb. With years of planning, it's no stretch to accept that a willing accomplice can be inserted into the trusted crew, and Mansur's test voyages allow the reader to experience the natural evolution of his plan.

In terms of characters, Craig has done a solid job here of creating a well-rounded, well-developed cast to put at the forefront. Mansur's development from an average man into a passionate terrorist is handled very well, with his doubts and missteps a large part of what make him an almost sympathetic sort of villain. His brother is far more the type of sociopath you might expect to be behind such a terrorist plot, but amoral opportunism makes for not just an interesting contrast to Mansur, but for some crucial familiar interactions.

Mike, the LAPD offer forced into retirement, only to end up as a security officer on an Australian-Indonesian cruise ship is as close as Craig comes to playing the stock action-hero card. He's a good guy who doesn't play by the rules but, unlike his big screen counterparts, he has no problem with authority. He's not angry, bitter, or resentful of the way his career ended, just somebody looking to begin that next chapter. Yes, he's a bit more impulsive than most people would be in his situation, but you'd have a pretty boring story - and one with a rather sudden end - were it not for the hero. Sam, the vacationing divorcee nurse, is the only main character I thought the story could do without. She's fine as a character, likable and respectable, but she really just exists to force a romance into the story that didn't really need to be there. It's okay, because it works, but I don't think the story would have lacked anything for her absence.

The pacing here is solid - patient and deliberate, but always moving forward - and the suspense is all the more effective for the way in which it builds. The roadblocks and challenges that arise to Mansur's plan are entirely natural, just as his means of overcoming them is completely believable. There is a bit of a twist epilogue that I'm still not too sure about - it's either a brilliant tying up of loose ends, or a cheesy capitulation to those old disaster books - but it doesn't take anything away from the most important climax.

All-in-all, The Terrorists' Apprentice is a solid thriller with a good cast of characters. Definitely recommended.


ebook
Published October 28th 2013 by Virtualbookworm.com Publishin

Mailbox Monday & What I'm Reading

If it's Monday, then it must be time for Mailbox Monday, a weekly meme that provides a virtual gathering place for bloggers (and readers) to share the books that came their way over the past week. Originally hosted by Marcia, of To Be Continued..., it has since become something of a book tour, with a new host each month. This month's host is Gilion @ Rose City Reader.

The Thousand Names: Book One of The Shadow Campaigns by Django Wexler
Hardcover, 528 pages
Published July 2nd 2013 by Roc Hardcover

Enter an epic fantasy world that echoes with the thunder of muskets and the clang of steel—but where the real battle is against a subtle and sinister magic....

Captain Marcus d’Ivoire, commander of one of the Vordanai empire’s colonial garrisons, was resigned to serving out his days in a sleepy, remote outpost. But that was before a rebellion upended his life. And once the powder smoke settled, he was left in charge of a demoralized force clinging tenuously to a small fortress at the edge of the desert.

To flee from her past, Winter Ihernglass masqueraded as a man and enlisted as a ranker in the Vordanai Colonials, hoping only to avoid notice. But when chance sees her promoted to command, she must win the hearts of her men and lead them into battle against impossible odds.

The fates of both these soldiers and all the men they lead depend on the newly arrived Colonel Janus bet Vhalnich, who has been sent by the ailing king to restore order. His military genius seems to know no bounds, and under his command, Marcus and Winter can feel the tide turning. But their allegiance will be tested as they begin to suspect that the enigmatic Janus’s ambitions extend beyond the battlefield and into the realm of the supernatural—a realm with the power to ignite a meteoric rise, reshape the known world, and change the lives of everyone in its path.


Fire with Fire by Charles E. Gannon
Paperback, 496 pages
Published April 2nd 2013 by Baen

An agent for a spy organization  uncovers an alien alliance in nearby interstellar space—an alliance that will soon involve humanity in politics and war on a galactic scale.2105, September: Intelligence Analyst Caine Riordan uncovers a conspiracy on Earth’s Moon—a history-changing clandestine project—and ends up involuntarily cryocelled for his troubles. Twelve years later, Riordan awakens to a changed world. Humanity has achieved faster-than-light travel and is pioneering nearby star systems. And now, Riordan is compelled to become an inadvertent agent of conspiracy himself. Riordan’s mission: travel to a newly settled world and investigate whether a primitive local species was once sentient—enough so to have built a lost civilization.

However, arriving on site in the Delta Pavonis system, Caine discovers that the job he’s been given is anything but secret or safe. With assassins and saboteurs dogging his every step, it's clear that someone doesn't want his mission to succeed. In the end, it takes the broad-based insights of an intelligence analyst and a matching instinct for intrigue to ferret out the truth: that humanity is neither alone in the cosmos nor safe. Earth is revealed to be the lynchpin planet in an impending struggle for interstellar dominance, a struggle into which it is being irresistibly dragged. Discovering new dangers at every turn, Riordan must now convince the powers-that-be that the only way for humanity to survive as a free species is to face the perils directly—and to fight fire with fire.


2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson
Paperback, 672 pages
Published June 25th 2013 by Orbit

The year is 2312. Scientific and technological advances have opened gateways to an extraordinary future. Earth is no longer humanity's only home; new habitats have been created throughout the solar system on moons, planets, and in between. But in this year, 2312, a sequence of events will force humanity to confront its past, its present, and its future.

The first event takes place on Mercury, on the city of Terminator, itself a miracle of engineering on an unprecedented scale. It is an unexpected death, but one that might have been foreseen. For Swan Er Hong, it is an event that will change her life. Swan was once a woman who designed worlds. Now she will be led into a plot to destroy them.


It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is a weekly meme hosted by Book Journey, and one that's focused on what's actually in your hands, as opposed to what's been added to your shelf. Currently I've got reviews coming up for:


What's topping your shelves this week?