Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Waiting on Wednesday: The Smoke Hunter by Jacquelyn Benson

"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 Smoke Hunter by Jacquelyn Benson
Expected publication: November 3rd 2016 by Headline

Frustrated suffragette and would-be archaeologist Ellie Mallory stumbles across a map to a city that shouldn't exist, a jungle metropolis alive and flourishing centuries after the Mayan civilization mysteriously collapsed. Discovering it would make her career, but Ellie isn't the only one after the prize. A disgraced professor and his ruthless handler are hot on her heels, willing to go any extreme to acquire the map for themselves.

To race them through the uncharted jungle, Ellie needs a guide. The only one with the expertise is maverick surveyor Adam Bates. But with his determination to nose his way into Ellie's many secrets, Bates is a dangerous partner.

As Ellie gets closer to her goal, she realizes it's not just her ambitions at stake. A powerful secret lies hidden in the heart of the city - and if it falls into the wrong hands, it could shake the very fate of the world.


It's been called the illegitimate love-child of Lara Croft and Indiana Jones, and compared to both the conspiracy of Dan Brown and the authenticity of Clive Cussler. That's a lot of promise to live up to, but I'm anxious to give it a read.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Sci-Fi Review: The Gate To Futures Past by Julie E. Czerneda (with #GIVEAWAY)

One of the things that I love most about the science fiction of Julie E. Czerneda is that it's never predictable, and never the same thing twice. Currently standing at eight books, her Clan Chronicles is one of the deepest, most diverse series in a genre that's best defined by its grasp of ideas.

With The Gate To Futures Past, the series arrives at a major turning point, one that I doubt most readers will see coming. Sira and Jason, along with member of the Mhiray and Om'ray, are trapped in a dangerous flight aboard the sentient ship Sona. With no bridge and no controls, and levels that rearrange themselves, shunting the passengers into an ever-shrinking living space, all they can do is trust that the ship is indeed taking them home - even if they have no idea where that home may be.
This ship's taking us back where this started . . . What makes you think that's as simple as a world?
It's an odd entry in Czerneda's space-faring epic, with half the novel taking place in the claustrophobic confines of the Sona. The drama and the tension here is largely internal, with the refugees beset by bad dreams and the haunting cries of the dead. It's a story of madness, desperation, and rapidly diminishing hope. The ship itself seems content to take care of its passengers, but only communicates with Sira in short, vague bursts. They don't understand it, and aren't sure they can trust it, especially once it begins herding them all into the core.
"I think we're landing . . . or we're in big trouble and about to die."
The second half of the novel will be more familiar to readers of the series, both in terms of scope and storyline. Once again, the Clan finds that home may not be a home, and that they may not fit with the other races already there. It's clear they're not welcome, and when things begin to go wrong . . . well, they do so in spectacular fashion. I loved the way the world literally explodes around them, forcing past and present, history and mythology to collide.
"I'm not supposed to be here. None of us, the Clan, are."
As it turns out, The Gate To Futures Past is an entirely fitting title for the book, but where that gate leads, and what it will take to pass through, is something of a shock. The final chapters are some of the most sorrowful in a series that previously gone to some dark places. It's appropriately mind blowing, with some really cool revelations about the Clan, but it really leaves me wondering where the story will wrap up. It's not that Czerneda has written herself into a box, but she's cut off a lot of possibilities, and I'm excited by the fact that I can't see the future.

Hardcover, 464 pages
Expected publication: September 6th 2016 by DAW

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.

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About the Author

Since 1997, Canadian author/former biologist Julie E. Czerneda has shared her boundless curiosity about living things through her science fiction, published by DAW Books, NY. Recently, she began her first fantasy series: Night’s Edge with A Turn of Light, winner of the 2014 Aurora Award for Best English Novel. A Play of Shadow followed, winning the 2015 Aurora. While there’ll be more fantasy, Julie’s back in science fiction to complete her Clan Chronicles series. Reunification #1: This Gulf of Time and Stars, came out in 2015. #2: The Gate to Futures Past will be released this September. Volume #3: To Guard Against the Dark, follows October 2017. An award-winning editor as well, Julie’s latest project is editing the 2017 Nebula Awards Showcase, a singular honour. Meet Julie at Acadia’s Dark Sky Festival, Bar Harbor, Maine this September and at Hal-Con, Halifax, this November. For more, please visit www.czerneda.com.

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About the Series

The Clan Chronicles is set in a far future where a mutual Trade Pact encourages peaceful commerce among a multitude of alien and Human worlds. The alien Clan, humanoid in appearance, have been living in secrecy and wealth on Human worlds, relying on their innate ability to move through the M’hir and bypass normal space. The Clan bred to increase that power, only to learn its terrible price: females who can’t help but kill prospective mates. Sira di Sarc is the first female of her kind facing that reality. With the help of a Human starship captain, Jason Morgan, himself a talented telepath, Sira must find a morally acceptable solution before it’s too late. But with the Clan exposed, her time is running out. The Stratification trilogy follows Sira’s ancestor, Aryl Sarc, and shows how their power first came to be as well as how the Clan came to live in the Trade Pact. The Trade Pact trilogy is the story of Sira and Morgan, and the trouble facing the Clan. Reunification will conclude the series and answer, at last, #whoaretheclan.
And what will be the fate of all.

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Courtesy of the good folks at DAW, I have 1 mass market of A GULF OF TIME AND STARS and 1 hardcover of GATE TO FUTURES PAST to offer not just one, but two lucky winners.
US/Canada only.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Of course, if you'd like to increase your odds and seriously stack your shelves, there's also a tour-wide giveaway going on for all 8 books in the CLAN CHRONICLES.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, August 29, 2016

Fiction Review: Beneficiaries of Deceit by Christopher Hallowell

Like an archaeological dig itself, Beneficiaries of Deceit is a book consisting of carefully excavated layers, with questions that can only be answered with further digging. It's a story that appears to be one thing, but which is actually something else entirely. Christopher Hallowell draws us in deeper with each new revelation, dispersing our outrage across the globe.

The story starts simply enough, with Jake Lambrusco heading deep into the Peruvian jungle in order to make contact with the mysterious Donaldo and discover what's going on with the ruins. We aren't given a lot more background than that, and are actually set up to be rather suspicious of the old Peace Corps volunteer, who comes across as a Heart of Darkness type figure. As the story progress, those suspicions slowly shift from Donaldo to Jake, and then back stateside to the leaders of Cabot College.

Without giving away the twists entailed, the college is floundering - both ethically and financially. On the brink of ruin, with a dark scandal hanging over the head of their would-be savior, the college is counting on Jake to bring back the right kind of answers - but the search for truth doesn't always head in the direction we'd wish.

Beneficiaries of Deceit is a tough read, in that so many of the characters are difficult to trust, much less like. Also, those carefully excavated layers of narrative keep us at arm's length from the truth, with the ultimate revelations about the Peruvian ruins and Cabot College scandal held back until the second half of the book. Even as truths are brought to light, however, a greater pall of darkness falls across the narrative. It's easy to understand the actions of those involved, and to even sympathize with their intentions, but the whole situation is a nearly impenetrable jungle of an ethical nature.

While I wouldn't go so far as to call it a happy ending, the final chapters here are largely satisfying, effectively tying up all the questions, scandals, and doubts. Keep in mind that the only thing more powerful than morals is money, and don't expect any miraculous about-faces, and you'll appreciate where Hallowell leaves the story.

ebook, 260 pages
Published August 23rd 2016 by Christopher Hallowell

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.

Saturday, August 27, 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 . . .


Fantasy Review: Twilight of the Dragons by Andy Remic

Waiting on Wednesday: Recluce Tales by L. E. Modesitt

Fantasy Review: Queen's Man: Into the Inferno by AnnaMarieAlt


I also had the pleasure of contributing to the Julie Czerneda Appreciation Party! over at the Little Red Reviewer, so be sure to check it out.

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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 trio of review titles this week, the first two offered up by the author, and the other landing on my doorstep as a very pleasant surprise from Simon and Schuster Canada.

The Wall of Storms (The Dandelion Dynasty, #2) by Ken Liu
Straight Outta Fangton: A Comedic Vampire Story by C.T. Phipps
Cthulhu Armageddon by C.T. Phipps



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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.



What's topping your shelves this week?

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Fantasy Review: Twilight of the Dragons by Andy Remic

I have to admit, I'm of two minds regarding Twilight of the Dragons. Yes, it's a fun, foul-mouthed, frantic sequel to both The Dragon Engine and The White Towers, but its narrative quality is all over the place. Much of it reads like a first draft manuscript, awkward and juvenile in places, that somehow sneaked past the editor. Structurally, it feels like it's one step removed from being polished as well, jumping between storylines, with random flashback chapters interspersed, and some definite pacing issues. It made for a frustrating read, which (unfortunately) took something away from the enjoyment.

Having said all that, this is a bold, brash, bloody story in which Andy Remic returns to the world of grimdark fantasy. One story thread catches up with the survivors of the The Dragon Engine, following their war-weary, emotionally exhausted descent into the bowels of Wyrmblood. These are adventurers who suffered greatly in the last book - beatings, torture, and even rape - and it weighs heavily upon them. As depressing as it made those scenes, I admired Remic for not just shrugging off the pain and going all gung-ho with the heroics.

The other story thread catches up with the survivors of The White Towers, drawn into the story when the escaped dragons of Wyrmblood attack the town, interrupting their own bitter infighting. Not surprisingly, the Iron Wolves have some of the best scenes in the novel, although the constant bickering between Dek and Narnok wears a bit thin. Again, Remic deals with the aftermath of heroic deeds, catching our heroes at their lowest, and allowing them the chance to deal with both past and present. There's a lot of bad blood and tainted motives here, but Nanok's suicidal challenges to the dragon are probably the high point of the book.

As for the dragons, they are every bit as fearsome and horrific as you'd expect from Remic. Their attacks upon villages and towns are beautifully choreographed, with equal parts fear and awe on those unlucky enough to be torn apart, chewed in half, roasted alive, or buried beneath rubble. Both angry and clever, they're not only out for revenge, but enjoy verbally baiting their victims. We don't see as much of the dwarves this time around, but they are still mean, miserable, and malicious, with Crayline challenging Skalg for the title of most monstrous. As for Skalg, his story arc was interesting, but I didn't feel the pay off was nearly worthy of his legacy - one place where the story itself faltered for me. Similarly, I thought the Splice were wasted a bit here, especially given the new twist put on them by King Yoon, but it was immensely satisfying to see them take on a dragon.

Despite its flaws, this is still no-holds-barred epic fantasy for a mature audience, with the reappearance of the Iron Wolves definitely kicking it up a notch. There's very clearly a door left open at the end of Twilight of the Dragons, so here's hoping there's one more adventure to come.


Mass Market Paperback, 336 pages
Published May 3rd 2016 by Angry Robot

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.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Waiting on Wednesday: Recluce Tales by L. E. Modesitt

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

Recluce Tales: Stories from the World of Recluce by L. E. Modesitt
Expected publication: January 3rd 2017 by Tor Books

For over a thousand years, Order and Chaos have molded the island of Recluce. The Saga of Recluce chronicles the history of this world through eighteen books, L. E. Modesitt, Jr.'s longest and bestselling fantasy series.

Recluce Tales: Stories from the World of Recluce collects seventeen new short stories and four popular reprints spanning the thousand-year history of Recluce. First-time readers will gain a glimpse of the fascinating world and its complex magic system, while longtime readers of the series will be treated to glimpses into the history of the world.

Modesitt's essay “Behind the ‘Magic’ of Recluce” gives insight into his thoughts on developing the magical system that rules the Island of Recluce and its surrounding lands, while “The Vice Marshal's Trial” takes the reader back to the first colonists on Recluce. Old favorites “Black Ordermage” and “The Stranger” stand side-by-side with thrilling new stories


I still have some catching up to do with the world of Recluce, but I really like Modesitt's style, and I like the deliberately haphazard way he's structured the books, bouncing back and forth between eras, characters, and storylines. Definitely looking forward to more.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Fantasy Review: Queen's Man: Into the Inferno by AnnaMarieAlt

Queen's Man: Into the Inferno is an odd sort of book, existing somewhere between the fantasy and romance genres, with just enough politics and philosophy to keep it centered firmly between the two. It was not quite the book I was expecting - instead, it was something a bit stronger and a lot deeper. For a first novel, AnnaMarieAlt has certainly distinguished herself, and that bodes well for the promised Queen's Man: Beyond the Corridor.

This is the story of the island of Kriiscon, a land where the women rule, and where men are slaves. It's not a female dominated world, or even a continental matriarchy, but one small island - and that's important to the tale. Surrounded by more traditional lands, Kriiscon stubbornly clings to its gender-flipped social structure, even as they're forced to capture or purchase men from outside it in order to keep their culture thriving for the next generation. It's a very rational culture, and one that's easily justifiable in the wider global context of male aggression and female oppression - until the arrival of Aarvan calls it into question.

A mainlander with no memory of his past, Aarvan is purchased by Queen Rejeena after an ancient conjurah foretells that he will break the curse upon her line and give her daughters. While she finds him physically appealing, the Queen has no interesting in making love or of being romantic - she simply needs a man to look handsome before the court, and to quickly and efficiently do his duty beneath the sheets. That is where the conflicts begin. Aarvan is agreeable to being her slave, but only if they can take pleasure in one another's company. He is so adamant, in fact, that he risks whippings and beatings to make her see there can be more than just a necessary act of procreation between them. When she ultimately gives in, Queen Rejeena finds herself challenged on a daily basis, being slowly transformed in more ways than one.

The progression from simple slavery to a deeper, more fulfilling romance is at the heart of the story, but it's the philosophical sparring between Queen and Queen's Man that give the story its intelligence - and its edge. Even as one tries to right social injustices and push for a little human dignity (if not equality), the other fights to preserve a culture that is already under threat from the world around it. It's a story that allows us to see both sides, and which presents both Rejeena and Aarvan as strong, likable characters, making the cruelties of their society that much more jarring. Even as we see Aarvan push too far, cross lines that would be inappropriate even in a more equal society, we completely understand and sympathize with him for doing so. At the same time, even as we see Rejeena take inexcusable steps to punish his lack of respect, we understand those actions in the context of her society, and we sympathize with her own internal conflict between feelings and belief.

While I had a few minor issues with the narrative (namely a tendency to switch POV mid-scene), and was a little frustrated that we didn't get more of a resolution to Aarvan's mysterious past, the final few chapters push us deeply enough into the simmering tease of civil war to bring all the threads to a tidy (if temporary) knot. If you're in the mood for an intelligent, socially relevant romantic fantasy, Queen's Man: Into the Inferno is definitely worth a read.


Paperback, 316 pages
Published March 23rd 2016 by Xlibris

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

Saturday, August 20, 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 . . . and it was a good one!


WTF Friday: Lesbian Zombies from Outer Space by Jave Galt-Miller & Wayne A. Brown

Fantasy Review: Red Tide by Marc Turner

Waiting on Wednesday: Willful Child: Wrath of Betty by Steven Erikson

Growing into Fantasy with Carey, Haydon, and Wurts


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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 trio of review titles this week:

Eat the Night by Tim Waggoner (it's been far too long since I read one of his books)
Vick's Vultures by Scott Warren (who I'll be interviewing in October to celebrate the release)
Ghost Talkers by Mary Robinette Kowal (the finished hardcover was a mailbox surprise)

  

Between some well-timed freebies, and a new Amazon giftcard, I also snagged some WTF Friday fodder:

The xXx Files by Jane Emery
Sinful Taboo Elf Maiden Lust by Becca Lusk
Kaiju Seduction Lust War Collection by Eden Redd
The Whorehouse That Jack Built by Kevin Sweeney
Nightmare Fuel by Wesley Thomas

 

 


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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.



What's topping your shelves this week?

Friday, August 19, 2016

WTF Friday: Lesbian Zombies from Outer Space by Jave Galt-Miller & Wayne A. Brown

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!

It's been a long time since I was seriously into comic books, but a title like Lesbian Zombies from Outer Space just sort of catches your eye. The covers looked perfectly campy, with a nice mixture of sex and gore, and the first three issues happened to be available for free . . . so I said WTF and snatched them up.

Written by Jave Galt-Miller and illustrated by Wayne A. Brown, the start to this miniseries (there are 7 issues planned) is actually a pretty good read. The whole thing has a definite Evil Dead/Return of the Living Dead feel to it, right from the deadpan black humor to the over-the-top buckets of gore. Literally dripping with satire, it's all very tongue-in-cheek, skewering adolescent fantasies and religious/social prejudices at the same time. Every time you think the story might have potentially crossed a line, somebody within it makes a joke or a dumb comment that slaps you upside the head with the satire stick.

The basic premise is simple - hot alien chick crashes to Earth, imbuing our women with an insatiable lust for one another, and infecting them with an equally insatiable hunger for a certain dangly bit of male anatomy. Yes, pretty much every joke (or complaint) you can come up with is exploited here, not the least of which is the irony of lesbian zombies desperate to chew off some manhood. Ace is the hero, deliberately evoking the image of Ash on more than one occasion, while Gwen is a formidable character on her own. There are, of course, men dumb enough to be sucked in by the allure of girl-on-girl action, and they pay for it in the worst way. There is even a running gag about Gwen being an honest-to-gosh real lesbian, who has somehow resisted the infection, and it leads to some of the funniest banter between her and Ace in the series.

The third issue treads a bit more into Walking Dead territory, with the town barricading themselves inside a church, and then capturing one of the zombies for an exorcism. The corny exorcise/exercise gag is play to the hilt, but somehow it actually works. Of course, you can't have a story like this without the nuns getting naughty, with all the infectious mayhem that leads to, and it's exactly as inappropriate as you might fear (or hope). There's also a very funny, deliberately ironic plotline about the world's salvation being found in a series of cheesy 80s sci-fi porn videos . . . if only Ace can find them.

In terms of quality, these comics are a professional production, backed by some very successful Kickstarter campaigns. Don't let the cheesiness of the title fool you. The artwork is top-notch, the coloring is fantastic, the writing is really clever, and the dialogue is spot on. There's actually more blood than there is nudity, but that nudity is balanced between the tastefully obstructed and the cheesily exploited. I don't know where the final four issues will take things, but I'm not going to be waiting for more freebies to find out.

Kindle Edition
Issues #1 - Published July 24th 2016 by Big Things Productions
Issues #2 - Published July 24th 2016 by Big Things Productions
Issues #3 - Published August 7th 2016 by Big Things Productions

Thursday, August 18, 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.

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 stories 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. I went into it being most excited by Romany's return, but I ended up looking forward to the stories of Amerel Duquy and Galantas Galair the most. For me, they were the heart of the book. As for Karmel and Caval, if you thought they had personal issues between them in the last book, those conflicts really come to a head here, both in terms of faith and family. Initially, I didn't like them as much here, finding their scenes a bit dry and impersonal, but looking back I can see how that was just me getting caught up in their tensions.

Commander Eremo, leader of the Augeran expeditionary force, really intrigued me. Here is a man who puts an interesting face on 'the enemy' for the reader, humanizing them, even as he reveals the depths of Augeran viciousness. As for Hex, he may be the most chilling, most amusing, most consistently entertaining secondary character I've come across in quite some time. I just smiled every time he stepped onto the page. His confrontations are incredibly intense, with so much drama and so much danger wrapped up in his dream magic. If I had one character complaint, it's that we don't get to see enough of Mazana this time around, but what we do see really makes me want more.

The use of magic here was absolutely stunning, both in terms of dream magic and Will. More importantly, it isn't just cool, flashy bits to dazzle a reader - it has substance, is integral to the plot, and serves to both support and move the story along. Some of the best magic in the series comes in the ship-to-ship battles with the stone skins, revealing magic to be a legitimate weapon as well as a useful tool. Without giving anything away, the attempt to jump Liar's passage was fantastic, while the shattering of a simple the waterglobe has spectacular consequences.

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, with an underwater flight through the Dragon Boneyard, 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 flow better, giving the story a truly seamless feel.

Finally, while readers know that death is rarely what it seems in the genre, and isn't always as final as it appears, I like that there were consequences to the story. There are stories and character arcs that seem to come to an end in Red Tide, and I'm entirely satisfied with how they were resolved, even if I'm hoping one or two aren't quite done. 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, August 17, 2016

Waiting on Wednesday - Willful Child: Wrath of Betty by Steven Erikson

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

Willful Child: Wrath of Betty by Steven Erikson
Expected publication: November 1st 2016 by Tor Books

From New York Times bestselling author Steven Erikson comes Willful Child: Wrath of Betty, a new Science Fiction novel of devil-may-care, near calamitous, and downright chaotic adventures through the infinite vastness of interstellar space. These are the voyages of the starship A.S.F. Willful Child. Its ongoing mission: to seek out strange new worlds on which to plant the Terran flag, to subjugate and if necessary obliterate new life-forms, to boldly blow the...
And so we join the not-terribly-bright but exceedingly cock-sure Captain Hadrian Sawback and his motley crew on board the Starship Willful Child.

The New York Times bestselling author of the acclaimed Malazan Book of the Fallen series has taken his lifelong passion for Star Trek and transformed it into a smart, inventive, and hugely entertaining spoof on the whole mankind-exploring-space-for-the-good-of-all-species-but-trashing-stuff-with-a-lot-of-high-tech-gadgets-along-the-way, overblown adventure. The result is an Science Fiction novel that deftly parodies the genre while also paying fond homage to it.


As Star Trek homages/parodies go, Willful Child was a lot of fun. It was a novel that wanted to be Galaxy Quest, but which settled for a compromise between Spaceballs and Futurama - not a bad thing at all. I'm curious to see how far he can take it, and whether a sequel can survive without the novelty factor.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Growing into Fantasy with Carey, Haydon, and Wurts

It's funny what the years can do to your taste in books - and I'm talking about something deeper, something more profound than those books that just don't stand up to being revisited. Instead, I'm talking about those books that you appreciated back in the day, but somehow knew you weren't quite ready to enjoy. Books that linger somewhere in the back of your imagination, biding their time until you're ready to continue with the series.

Kushiel's Chosen, the second book of the Kushiel's Legacy series by Jacqueline Carey, was the first book to really open my eyes to this. I would have been in my 20's when I read Kushiel's Dart, just out of University, and stumbling my way into a career. I remember there being a definite taboo appeal to the story, with the book itself representing something of a game-changer for me at the time. It was a graduation of sorts from the pages of traditional fantasy to something . . . well, more.

It was late last year that I finally got around to reading the second book in the series (prompted by a review copy of the new trade paperback edition), and I was finally ready to appreciate it. This is a series that offers up a blend of fetish and fantasy, spiritualism and sadomasochism, hedonism and heroism. More than that, it is an epic fantasy with the most profound of messages at its heart - "Love as thou wilt.” As powerful and original as I remember the first book being, the second revealed itself to be an even stronger read. In moving beyond that taboo novelty of its sexuality, I was able to appreciate the characters, the politics, the mythology, and the storytelling.

Yes, it's a romantic fantasy, but the political intrigues are as strong as anything you'll find in more traditional fantasies. It's a big, sweeping series, often heavy on both the head and the heart, and one that I found I'd finally grown into. The taboo element is still there, and still permeates the series, but it's become an accent rather than the story's defining element.

That brings me to Prophecy: Child of Earth, the second book in the Symphony of Ages by Elizabeth Haydon. I would have read Rhapsody around the same time as Kushiel's Dart, with that same 20-something mindset, and I had much the same reaction. That first book was a different sort of fantasy yet again, largely a character study of three people, with a prolonged quest through the heart of the world. It wasn't a game changer in quite the same way, but a book that stuck with me. It was a slow read, a slow journey, and a slow burn, but I never forgot the sense of wonder.

In looking for a good paperback fantasy to carry through hikes and vacations this summer, I finally decided it was time to continue with the series (prompted by a review copy of the final book). Despite the years in between, I immediately fell back into the world, with no introductions needed. At the heart of it all, this is a series about love, trust, and acceptance - not that far off, in fact, from Kushiel's Legacy. Where that had the BDSM-themed novelty to carry it forward, however, this is based on a far more traditional (fairy tale, almost) romance between Rhapsody and Ash. The difference is, a relationship that would have had me groaning in impatience back then had me nodding and smiling in appreciation now.

The emotional aspects here some of the strongest parts of this second book, and I was actually anxious to get back to the romance every time Achmed and Grunthor interrupted. That said, I found new meaning in the struggles and sacrifices of all three, and greater appreciation for Jo, the annoying coming-of-age sidekick. I refuse to age, so let's just say I matured enough to appreciate the personal conflicts driving the story across both countries and ages.

In both cases, there was something that I recognized in those first volumes, something that hooked my imagination . . . but also something I knew I wasn't ready for. It's not that I ever made a conscious decision to delay, but something deep inside my brain knew it would be better to wait to continue. It's remarkable to think how much I remembered, and how quickly I connected with Phèdre and Rhapsody again, despite 15 years having passed - but that's also a testament to the storytelling strengths of Carey and Haydon.

Having recognized a trend, I'm thinking that the next series to revisit after an even longer absence will be the Wars of Light and Shadow by Janny Wurts. In this case, I would have been just starting University as I carried The Curse of the Mistwraith from lecture hall to seminar room, but I recall a similar experience. It was a book I appreciated, but it was too far removed from the epic fantasy I was reading at the time to properly enjoy it.

I'm curious to see if my imagination can go three-for-three, giving me back another series that I've always wanted to continue with, especially since personal conflicts were at the heart of this one as well. What I struggled with back then, I suspect will be a hook for me now. As soon as I can snag a copy (I think the paperback aspect is key to reconnecting), The Ships of Merior will be my next maturity tour of the bookshelves . . . although Kushiel's Avatar and Destiny: Child of the Sky are sitting atop the shelves, waiting to step in should I hesitate too long.

Don't get me wrong, I still love kick-ass heroes (and heroines), fearsome monsters, sinister forces of evil, and massive battles upon which the fate of the world depends. Magic and worldbuilding are still massively important to me, and I will always be drawn to stories of sentient weapons, greedy dragons, and capricious gods. What has changed is that I've become more aware of the humanity beneath it all, and far more appreciative of engaging ideas and emotions. Maybe it's age, maybe it's marriage, maybe it's parenthood - who knows - but I find that I can relate to (and sympathize with) characters like Phèdre, Rhapsody, and Arithon better than ever before, and that makes these stories even compelling.

Saturday, August 13, 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 . . . and it was a suitably busy one!


WTF Friday: The Bride Wore Brains by Emily Wesley Stringer

Adventure Review: The Copper Egg by Catherine Friend

Waiting on Wednesday: The Midas Legacy by Andy McDermott

Fantasy Review: Of Sand and Malice Made by Bradley P. Beaulieu

Surrender to Horrific Excess Guest Post by L. Andrew Cooper


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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.

Just the one new review title this week, but Andy Remic's second Blood Dragon Empire book is one I have really been looking forward to.



Aside from that, I did grab a pair of mythological oddities with an eye towards a future WTF Friday.



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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.



What's topping your shelves this week?

Friday, August 12, 2016

WTF Friday: The Bride Wore Brains by Emily Wesley Stringer

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!


Although it takes a little longer to get going than I would have liked, The Bride Wore Brains is a ton of violent fun once the zombie puke starts splashing the ground.

Clearly, Emily Wesley Stringer has suffered through a few weddings in her day, because she captures the romance, the chaos, the tedium, and the pressure exceptionally well. As much as I just wanted her to get on with it, and start killing guest, I have to admit that their deaths were far more satisfactory for all of that build up.

This is a book with more than a few surprises that actually left me guessing as to who might survive the blessed cursed day. Kat made for a fantastic heroine, taking care of the guests with fence rods and gardening shears making for impromptu weapons, but it's the beautiful blood-soaked bride herself, wading through a sea of zombies with a chainsaw, that puts it over the top.

In terms of violence and gore, this was just about perfect, the black humor really helps set it off. Even when friends are dying and loved ones are eating each other, it's nice to know people can still worry about keeping blood out of the Beamer, or checking Instagram between decapitations.


Kindle Edition, 59 pages
Published October 19th 2015

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

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Adventure Review: The Copper Egg by Catherine Friend

Although it certainly has its flaws, The Copper Egg was still an exciting diversion that played into my love for archaeological treasure hunts. There's a great novella at its heart, which would have been a lot more satisfying if Catherine Friend hadn't so obviously tried to pad it out.

What works about it? Well, for one, the Peruvian history, the archaeological details, and the treasure hunt itself are rock-solid. Not only did this introduce me to a new culture, but it added a new destination to my bucket list of places to visit. Second, Claire and Sochi were fantastic leading ladies, more than capable of shepherding the adventure along, and their romance added some much-needed tension. Finally, the narrative itself was strong (even if it did need one more editorial pass), allowing the humor, the adventure, and the romance to shine through.

What didn't work? Like I said, it really needed one more editorial pass to catch the continuity errors (including a key one early one that really confused me), and to wrap up loose ends (including a prominent gap in the climax). As for that padding issue, Friend really does try to do too much here, adding some unnecessary betrayals and double-crosses into the mix, and incorporating a megalomaniac villain who seems like he fell out of a bad James Bond story. Finally, and this is a general complaint about the genre, but far too many discoveries either happen by accident or for supernatural means, all but negating the archaeological skills involved.

All complaints aside, this was a fun read that kept me engaged, and which had me sitting on a rock by the water for a few hours this weekend, anxious to see how it all ended. What's more, The Copper Egg itself made for a nice MacGuffin that helped hold the plot together, but which never overwhelmed the human element of Claire and Sochi.

Paperback, 288 pages
Published May 17th 2016 by Bold Strokes Books


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.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Waiting on Wednesday: The Midas Legacy by Andy McDermott

"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 Midas Legacy by Andy McDermott 
Expected publication: September 22nd 2016 by Headline

The twelfth in the fantastic Wilde/Chase series sees Nina trying to follow in her late mother's footsteps as she and husband Eddie search for King Midas' legacy. Fan Scott Mariani says that McDermott's adventure thrillers are full of 'action, adventure and mayhem aplenty'. if you read Cussler, Mariani or James Rollins you'll love this.

A return to Atlantis

The lost city has defined Nina Wilde's life. Her parents' obsession with Atlantis cost them their lives, but finding it brought Nina to her husband Eddie Chase and a series of archaeological treasures.

A secret codex

A decade later, the International Heritage Agency needs their help to locate the Secret Codex, an account of ancient Atlantean explorer Talonor's journeys, thought to be located in the dangerous underwater ruins of Atlantis. Unable to resist one more adventure, the couple join the mission.

A king whose touch turns to gold

But when a long-lost relative reappears in Nina's life, asking her to use the Codex to find a hidden cave containing the secret of King Midas, she is unprepared for the devastation that follows. The promise of unlimited gold has aroused the greed of powerful and ruthless forces... and only Nina and Eddie stand in their way.


While living in Canada can sometimes be a challenge as a reviewer, it is a definite boon as a reader - our bookstores tend to carry both US and UK editions, meaning we get titles like this months in advance of the US. I'm a huge fan of this series, and anxious to see some closure for Nina.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Fantasy Review: Of Sand and Malice Made by Bradley P. Beaulieu

Serving as a prequel to Twelve Kings in Sharakhai, the first book of The Song of Shattered Sands, Of Sand and Malice Made is a thoroughly entertaining story that adds another layer to the world that Bradley P. Beaulieu has created.

Consisting of three interlinked tales, this is a book that goes beyond mere setting and culture to put a true Arabian Nights spin on epic fantasy. That fact surprised me almost as much as it delighted me, for it seems rather fitting that Çeda's first chapter should have such a familiar, classic sort of feel to it. These aren't quite fables or folk tales, but all of the elements are there, right from supernatural deities to charms and curses.

Freed of the pacing issues and narrative flashbacks that were something of a challenge in Twelve Kings in Sharakhai, this is a story that all but races along as it gets the heart racing. What really excited me about it is that there is a feeling of genuine risk involved, which is hard to pull off in a prequel where you already know the fates of the main characters. In fact, there was several points where I had to glance back at my copy of the first book to confirm certain names (and fates).

Of Sand and Malice Made is a perfect little book, entirely suitable as an introduction for new readers, yet completely rewarding for fans of the series. It has all of the humor, the wonder, and the excitement you'd expect of Beaulieu, with the addition of an entirely chilling new villain. Well worth the read.


Kindle Edition, 175 pages
Expected publication: September 6th 2016 by DAW Books

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.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Surrender to Horrific Excess by L. Andrew Cooper (Guest Post)

Surrender to Horrific Excess
L. Andrew Cooper

Too much! I can’t stand it! One more time and I’ll—

You’ll what?

I’ll scream!

GOOD!

Respectable people know they’re supposed to say the best horror relies on suggestion and subtlety along with arguable fidelity to the natural world. Many Americans continue to celebrate The Exorcist as the scariest film of all time, and sounding lofty, they cite the film’s representation of spiritual anguish. But what do people mention when they talk about The Exorcist? A little girl who pukes pea soup and masturbates with a crucifix. We praise subtlety, but wild, excessive images occupy our minds. The name “Beauty in Ruins” captures what the original Gothic novelists, who sometimes built their own castle “follies,” already knew: watching a gorgeous building or beautiful girl fall into ghastly ruin shocks the soul. We scream, we shiver, and for a moment, feeling anything but subtle, we might get confused about the difference between fear and pleasure. After all, screams and shivers accompany other activities as well. The castle-girl falls, and we fall with her in a heap, losing ourselves in the frenzy of the moment.

Horror is a brain glitch, an encounter with stimuli so overwhelming that the mind revolts. Horror creators, then, must craft overwhelming moments that deliver frenzied, revolutionary experiences. We don’t have to rely on vomit-inducing imagery—Shirley Jackson overwhelms mightily with banging noises in The Haunting of Hill House—but vomit-inducing imagery is an awfully effective tool of the trade, and it works well in combination with other techniques. I’m fond of combining it with deeper runs into bizarre territory. For example, in one story from my book Peritoneum, a character who gets her heart ripped out is only beginning her surreal journey. There’s always farther to go. My hope is that if you stay with this character past the point where her heart goes, your brain will start glitching out of control.

Good horror breaks rocks and lays waste to your stability. Horror stories that wind up neat and tidy at the end exit the genre. Algernon Blackwood’s “The Willows” is vomit-free but one of the scariest stories I’ve read because, despite its subtlety, its unyielding weirdness makes me glitch out of control. Clive Barker’s “Midnight Meat Train” is not vomit-free, but like “The Willows,” it makes the entire world unstable by asking more questions than it answers. Both of these stories destroy assumptions about the natural world, telling us that what we thought about nature was never true in the first place.
If horror needs to cause glitches, its needs to interrupt. Like the little girl The Exorcist, it needs to break into polite parties, announce impending doom, and piss on the floor. A subtle piss is harder to pull off (Jackson and Blackwood were masters), but it can work. Interruption may or may not lead to outright ruin—a glitch may or may not hail a fatal system error—but it should definitely shock the system enough to register that all is not right in the universe.

As a horror writer, be overwhelming, and as a horror reader, open yourself to being overwhelmed. When you feel your brain on overload, with the images spinning, and the bile rising—it’s working.


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About the Author

L. Andrew Cooper scribbles horror: novels Burning the Middle Ground and Descending Lines as well as anthologies of experimental shorts Leaping at Thorns (2014 /2016) and Peritoneum (2016). He also co-edited the anthology Imagination Reimagined (2014). His book Dario Argento (2012) examines the maestro’s movies from the 70s to the present. Cooper’s other works on horror include his non-fiction study Gothic Realities (2010), a co-edited textbook, Monsters (2012), and recent essays that discuss 2012’s Cabin in the Woods (2014) and 2010’s A Serbian Film (2015). His B.A. is from Harvard, Ph.D. from Princeton. Louisville locals might recognize him from his year-long stint as WDRB-TV’s “movie guy.”

Find him at:


Twitter:  @Landrew42



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About the Book

Peritoneum
by L. Andrew Cooper

Snaking through history–from the early-1900s cannibal axe-murderer of “Blood and Feathers,” to the monster hunting on the 1943 Pacific front in “Year of the Wolf,” through the files of J. Edgar Hoover for an “Interview with ‘Oscar,'” and into “The Broom Closet Where Everything Dies” for a finale in the year 2050–Peritoneum winds up your guts to assault your brain. Hallucinatory experiences redefine nightmare in “Patrick’s Luck” and “The Eternal Recurrence of Suburban Abortion.” Strange visions of colors and insects spill through the basements of hospitals and houses, especially the basement that provides the title for “TR4B,” which causes visitors to suffer from “Door Poison.” Settings, characters, and details recur not only in these tales but throughout Peritoneum, connecting all its stories in oblique but organic ways. Freud, borrowing from Virgil, promised to unlock dreams not by bending higher powers but by moving infernal regions. Welcome to a vivisection. Come dream with the insides.


Leaping at Thorns
by L. Andrew Cooper

Leaping at Thorns arranges eighteen of L. Andrew Cooper’s experimental short horror stories into a triptych of themes–complicity, entrapment, and conspiracy–elements that run throughout the collection. The stories span from the emotionally-centered to the unthinkably horrific; from psychosexual grossness to absurd violence; from dark extremes to brain-and-tongue twister. These standalone stories add important details to the fictional world and grand scheme of Dr. Allen Fincher, who also lurks in the background of Cooper’s novels Burning the Middle Ground and Descending Lines.


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Tour Schedule and Activities
8/8      MyLifeMyBooksMyEscape    Interview
8/8      SpecMusicMuse   Guest Post
8/8      Darkling Delights   Guest Post
8/8      Beauty in Ruins  Guest Post
8/9      Jordan Hirsch  Review
8/10    The Seventh Star   Interview
8/10    Vampires, Witches, Me Oh My  Top Ten List
8/11    EricJude.com   Guest Post
8/12    Reviews Coming at YA  Guest Post
8/13    I Smell Sheep   Top Ten List
8/13    Bee's Knees Reviews   Review
8/14    Sheila's Guests and Reviews  Guest Post