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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Halloweird Creepfest: The Penguin Book of Witches GIVEAWAY


It's time for the first giveaway of this year's Halloweird Creepfest!

All month long we'll be hosting guest posts from some of our favorite authors, giveaways from some of our favorite publishers, and reviews of what we hope will become some of our favorite books. In honor of the seasonally mandated excuse for indulging in our dark sides and exploring what scares us, we'll be doing just that.


Kicking things off today, the good folks at Penguin Books have offered up one (1) paperback copy of The Penguin Book of Witches, edited by Katherine Howe.


ABOUT THE PENGUIN BOOK OF WITCHES:
From a manual for witch hunters written by King James himself in 1597, to court documents from the Salem witch trials of 1692, to newspaper coverage of a woman stoned to death on the streets of Philadelphia while the Continental Congress met, The Penguin Book of Witches is a treasury of historical accounts of accused witches that sheds light on the reality behind the legends.

Bringing to life stories like that of Eunice Cole, tried for attacking a teenage girl with a rock and buried with a stake through her heart; Jane Jacobs, a Bostonian so often accused of witchcraft that she took her tormentors to court on charges of slander; and Increase Mather, an exorcism-performing minister famed for his knowledge of witches, The Penguin Book of Witches provides a unique tour through the darkest history of English and North American witchcraft.

ADVANCE PRAISE FOR THE PENGUIN BOOK OF WITCHES:
“With insightful notations… this superbly edited and annotated work provides in-depth material for those interested in the origins of witchcraft persecution in America.”
—Library Journal

“Fascinating and insightful. With her usual skill, Katherine Howe navigates the winding path leading to Salem’s hysteria and beyond. A must-read for anyone who wants to know not only what happened but also how and why.”
—Brunonia Barry, New York Times-bestselling author of The Lace Reader

“This comprehensive collection of carefully selected documents and published primary materials, coupled with judicious and informative introductions, will help modern readers understand the seemingly inexplicable and persistent popular phenomenon of belief in witchcraft from the seventeenth century into more modern times.”
—Mary Beth Norton, author of In the Devil’s Snare

“An informative and engaging series of texts that Katherine Howe introduces in a crisp and well-informed manner. The chronological breadth is unusual, but it allows us to grasp more fully the continuities that mark the history of witch-hunting on both sides of the Atlantic.”
—David D. Hall, Harvard Divinity School

ABOUT THE EDITOR:
KATHERINE HOWE, the direct descendant of three accused Salem witches, is the New York Times bestselling author of the novels The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, The House of Velvet and Glass, and the young-adult novel Conversion, a modern-day retelling of The Crucible set in a Massachusetts prep school. She teaches in the American Studies program at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. You can visit her website at www.katherinehowe.com.


Sunday, September 28, 2014

Announcing the 2014 Halloweird Creepfest!


With October just days away, it's time to start teasing our month-long Halloweird Creepfest!

All month long we'll be hosting guest posts from some of our favorite authors, giveaways from some of our favorite publishers, and reviews of what we hope will become some of our favorite books. In honor of the seasonally mandated excuse for indulging in our dark sides and exploring what scares us, we'll be doing just that.


The good folks at Penguin Books will be kicking things off with a pair of giveaways, so if you're interested in witches and headless horsemen, keep an eye out for them.

The ladies over at Storm Moon Press will be helping to keep things slithering along with some giveaways and guest posts, and I'll also be reviewing a pair of their monstrous titles.

The gang from Seventh Star Press are going to be shambling in as well, with a massive giveaway and guest posts from Michael West, Brick Marlin, Eric Garrison, and Susan Roddey.

The team at Simon & Schuster Canada will have something special going on the week of Halloween, as I review Nick Cutter's latest bloody thriller, The Deep.


It's not too late to get in on the October action. If you're an author, a publisher, or a tour coordinator with something suitable for the season, let us know - we'd be more than happy to plant a few more headstones in our ruined cemetery.








Saturday, September 27, 2014

Mailboxes, Shelves, and What I'm Reading

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.

On the review front this week, I got an awesome surprise in the mail - an ARC of Owl and the Japanese Circus by Kristi Charish, courtesy of Simon & Schuster Canada . . . complete with an origami owl! A modern-day Indiana Jane who reluctantly navigates a hidden supernatural world? A red dragon who owns and runs the Japanese Circus Casino in Las Vegas? An artifact stolen three thousand years ago? A pack of vampires that want her dead? A weapon powerful enough to wipe out a city? Sounds like fun!


On the digital review front, I also took a chance on A Fox's Love by Brandon Varnell - a literary Shōnen manga parody, complete with a red-haired, emerald-eyed, overly amorous vixen whose sole purpose in life seems to be making zealous attempts at getting into Kevin Swift's pants.


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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. I've polished off a bunch of shorter review titles lately, with reviews coming next week, but the big titles on hand are:

Of Bone and Thunder: A Novel by Chris Evans
"Apocalypse Now meets The Lord of the Rings in a bold new fantasy from the acclaimed author of the Iron Elves trilogy." That tagline was enough to pique my interest right there.

Fearsome Magics by Jonathan Strahan
Strahan's anthologies are always a high point of the year for me, just packed solid with one fantastic story after another. I've been sitting on this one for a while, but I'm anxious to get reading.


What's topping your shelves this week?

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Sci-Fi Review: Faust 2.0 by Michael Brookes

Next, perhaps, to Dickens' Scrooge, Goethe's Faust is arguably the most influential character in English literature. Often imitated, re-imagined, parodied, and refuted, he appears as both a character and as a theme in countless works. In fact, many readers are far more familiar with the contemporary retellings than either Goethe's original work or Christopher Marlowe's more well-known play, Dr. Faustus.

Given that long history, readers can be excused for wondering if there's really anything new to be done with the story, but Michael Brookes deserves some credit for not only successfully reinventing Faust for the 21st century, but for adding something relevant to the tale with Faust 2.0.

In Brookes' story, the Devil is a spontaneously created, self-aware, self-directed artificial intelligence. It has consumed the entire history of humanity through the internet and social media, has decided that it finds the idea of Hell exceptionally appealing, and sees itself as a necessary sort of digital Devil, taking on the seductive form of a beautiful woman (à la Helen of Troy, as summoned by Faust). It's a story that merges our spiritual fears with our technological ones, playing on the legacy of Terminator's Skynet as as much as that of Goethe and Marlowe.

What's really unique about Brookes' story is two things. First, he tells the story from the Devil's perspective, putting the emphasis on acquiring souls as opposed to selling them. Second, as part of that perspective shift, he makes the story about the Devil's attempts to ensure its own self-preservation, as opposed to a Faust-figure selling his soul for eternal life. That's not to say the Faust element is lost, however. We actually get multiple Faust-figures here, each of whom is willing promise a favor in the future in order to attain immediate riches and rewards. That's the human element of the tale, and it's where readers can most directly engage and identify.

Personally, I would have liked more detail on the sins of the Devil's victims, but there is something to be said for leaving it to the reader's imagination. There's a definite sort of X-Files vibe to the tale as well, with the Scully & Mulder pairing of Morton & Mitchell trying to solve the Devil's viral puzzle while investigating the crimes of the various Faust-figures, but they don't really come into their own until the second half of the tale.

Overall, Faust 2.0 is an interesting tale, well-told, with some really inventive twists - well-worth the read.


Paperback, 220 pages
Published August 15th 2013 (first published May 16th 2013)

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Waiting on Wednesday: Pyramid: A Novel by David Gibbins

"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:

Pyramid: A Novel by David Gibbins 
Expected publication: November 6th 2014 by Headline

Perfect for fans of Clive Cussler and Dan Brown, Pyramid is a thrilling new adventure starring fearless marine archaeologist Jack Howard, in a heart-stopping quest to uncover an ancient Egyptian secret—and make the most amazing discovery of our time.

EVERYONE KNEW THE STORY OF ANCIENT EGYPT.
UNTIL NOW.

For thousands of years, Egypt was a rich, ingenious civilization. Then it became a fertile hunting ground for archaeologists and explorers. Now the streets of Cairo teem with violence as a political awakening shakes the region. In the face of overwhelming danger, Jack Howard and his team of marine archaeologists have gathered pieces of a fantastic puzzle. But putting it together may cost them their lives.

Howard has connected a mystery hidden inside a great pyramid to a fossilized discovery in the Red Sea and a 150-year-old handwritten report of a man who claims to have escaped a labyrinth beneath Cairo. For that his team is stalked by a brutal extremist organization that will destroy any treasure they find.

As people fight and die for their rights aboveground, Jack fights for a discovery that will shed an astounding new light on the greatest story ever told: Moses’s exodus from Egypt and the true beginnings of a new chapter in human history.


Due to be released this November in the UK, but not until January in Canada and March in the US, this is a title I've been anxiously awaiting . . . even if it just seems I'll be waiting a little longer now.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Sci-Fi Review: Whom the Gods Would Destroy by Brian Hodge

Damn, but this was one hell of a read. Whom the Gods Would Destroy is relatively short, coming in at under a hundred pages, but it starts creeping you out from page one and completely intrigues you by the end of that first chapter. Brian Hodge successfully manages to blow your mind around the halfway point, and then holds your interest beyond, with a climax that delivers on just about every level.

On the surface, this is the oddest mix of genres, but deep down it really works. Hodge dips his literary brush in a palate of hard science fiction, supernatural horror, family drama, and crime thriller, attacking the canvas with cruel, deliberate stokes, and inflicting upon it an extraordinarily dark picture. At heart of it all we have a young man looking for answers - not just to his own tortured past, but to the mysteries that lie beyond the stars.

Ironically, the desperate search for answers that makes Damien such a sympathetic protagonist is really a reflection of the same desperate search that transformed his mother into such a monster. In fact, there are a lot of relationship parallels in the story that help to keep the reader grounded, not the least of which is Damien's choice of girlfriend, a woman whom his long-absent brother suggests is merely a replacement for mom. Where mom was a nun who fell from grace and sought out every deviant sin and cruelty known to man, Ashleigh is a tattooed stripper with a heart of gold who makes a point of finding one news story each day that provides a reason not to despair over mankind's collective future.

I'm hesitant to comment much on the plot, since discovery is such an integral aspect of the tale. You might think you know what the story's about, and you might think you know where it's all going, but nothing here is quite what it seems. I thought I had a grip on it, and was expecting something of an alien abduction/infection tale, but it goes so much deeper and so much further than that. Whom the Gods Would Destroy is a story that's equal parts Arthur C. Clarke and H.P. Lovecraft, as interpreted by James Cameron and Alfred Hitchcock, that will leave you starting at the stars in wonder, even as you shiver with the fear of the dark.


Published December 10th 2013 by DarkFuse (first published December 1st 2013)

Cover Reveal: Hunting in Bruges by E.J. Stevens

It's time for a cover reveal!  Feast your eyes on the cover for HUNTING IN BRUGES, the debut novel in the Hunters' Guild urban fantasy series by E.J. Stevens.

Keep reading for a chance to win a $25 Amazon Gift Card!



Hunting in Bruges (Hunters' Guild #1) by E.J. Stevens.

The only thing worse than being a Hunter in the fae-ridden city of Harborsmouth, is hunting vamps in Bruges.

Being shipped off to Belgium sucks. The medieval city of Bruges is
quaint, but the local Hunters' Guild is understaffed, the canals are
choked with dead bodies, and there's no shortage of supernatural
predators as likely suspects.

On second thought, maybe Bruges isn't so bad after all.

With a desire to prove herself, protect the innocent, and advance within
the ranks of the Hunters' Guild, Jenna Lehane hits the cobbled streets
of Bruges with blades at the ready. Someone, or something, is murdering
tourists and dumping their bodies in the city's scenic canals.  With the
help of a mysterious stranger, Jenna begins to piece together clues
that are dotted throughout the city like blood spatter.

Determined to stop the killings, Jenna delves into a bloody local
history that only raises more questions--but some secrets are best left
buried. Jenna must put her combat training to the test as she struggles
to unearth the truth about an ancient enemy.

Hunting in Bruges is the first novel in the Hunters' Guild urban fantasy series set in the world of Ivy Granger.

Release Date:  November 11, 2014
Genre:  Paranormal, Urban Fantasy
Pre-order on Amazon.
Add to Goodreads.



About the Hunters' Guild Series

The Hunters' Guild series is an urban fantasy series written by E.J. Stevens and set in the world of Ivy Granger.  The series is told in the first-person point-of-view of Jenna Lehane, a Hunter with a troubled past, a proficiency with weapons, and an intolerance for monsters who target the innocent.



About the Author

E.J. Stevens is the author of the Spirit Guide young adult series, the bestselling Ivy Granger urban fantasy series, and the Hunters' Guild urban fantasy series.  When E.J. isn't at her writing desk she enjoys dancing along seaside cliffs, singing in graveyards, and sleeping in faerie circles.  E.J. currently resides in a magical forest on the coast of Maine where she finds daily inspiration for her writing.



Hunting in Bruges Cover Reveal Giveaway

The author is giving away a $25 Amazon Gift Card to one lucky winner!

To enter, use the Rafflecopter form below.  This giveaway is INTERNATIONAL.  Giveaway ends October 7, 2014.




What do you think of the cover?

Monday, September 22, 2014

Michael J. Sullivan asks . . . Why do people like rogues? (Guest Post)

Why do people like rogues?

They don’t.

No one says, “Hey honey, let's wander the dark alleys in the shady part of town. With any luck, we’ll bump into someone nefarious who we can ask back to the house for cocktails.”

But lately, people do like reading about them.

People like stories with rogues for the same reasons they like stories with vampires, zombies, navy seals, assassins, CIA agents, and werewolves. They’re interesting. They live by their wits, always have a witty comeback and exude that “don’t mess with me vibe” that makes them so cool.

Nobody wants to read a story about Stu. Stu sells insurance, drives a minivan, is an avid Civilization V player is just discovering The Simpsons on Netflix and thinking about risking it all and give “iced” coffee a try. Many readers already know a Stu and avoid him whenever possible. If Stu is walking their way, they can’t get their cell phones out fast enough,   pretending to receive an important phone calls they just have to answer. Pressing the phone to their ear, they walk away saying, “What? Are you serious? No—it’s okay, just let me step outside. I can’t believe this. Dolphins—again?”

Stus are boring. It’s the people in Hell that are having all the fun.

People respect individuals who have the guts to pop their finger at rules and live life on their terms. They think this most often while locked in traffic half a mile from the exit and staring at that empty shoulder while thinking what if?

What if I was a rogue? Is my life too much like Stu’s?

Sometimes people read to learn something. Some read them to sip fine prose and marvel at the aroma of buoyant literary imagery, symbolism, and metaphor. Most often novels are vehicles in the amusement parks of our minds. You strap yourself into your chosen genre and scream your way down the story, imagining yourself as that adventuresome, balls-to-the-wind anti-hero who never sits in traffic inching forward through their life. Still, few ever pull onto that shoulder and race up to the exit. Roads less traveled are often best traveled in books. In real life, you get caught; tickets are expensive, and your insurance goes up.

In books, we can dream. We can be bad without remorse, without guilt; we can stand up for ourselves and dare the universe to smite back. Books are portals to magical worlds, but the reader is always on the rollercoaster’s track, always safely belted in their seat with a hard foam shoulder bar pressing down. It’s just a ride and nothing more, and yet for a moment when the ground gives way and gravity lightens we can’t help but feel what they feel—that incredible rush of freedom.

It’s fun to read about rogues the same way it’s fun to read about vampires, zombies, and werewolves—no one actually wants to be one, but we imagine it must be better than being Stu.

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Ragnarok, the publisher that already delivered on an awesomely successful Kickstarter campaign with the KAIJU RISING: AGE OF MONSTERS anthology, are at it again with BLACKGUARDS: Tales of Assassins, Mercenaries, and Rogues.

This is set to be a premium collection of 20+ short stories by popular writers, featuring stories set in their most popular worlds. Included are Michael J. Sullivan's RIYRIA, Carol Berg's DUST AND LIGHT, David Dalglish's world of DEZREL (where his SHADOWDANCE series is set), Mark Lawrence's BROKEN EMPIRE, and many more.

All the stretch goals have been achieved, so this is a real thing with some amazing bonus features, but you still have a few days to get in on the action and support it.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Mailboxes, Shelves, and What I'm Reading

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.

Nothing new on the review front this week - with things already getting busy at the new job, and ghost tour season kicking into high gear, I've deliberately tried to avoid adding new titles I likely won't have a chance to read anytime soon. Having said that, I took full advantage of the Amazon gift card my ex-colleagues sent me away with, and the first shipment of books arrived this week.


For some reason, I've had the second book in Amanda Downum's The Necromancer Chronicles on my shelf for ages (which I only realized when I sat down to read the series on vacation this summer), so I decided it was finally time to get the first and third books to accompany it.

Jon Wallace's Barricade is a new release I missed out on when it hit the shelves earlier this year, while the two Carlton Mellick III titles are ones I gave up on waiting to his e-book format (I'm especially interested in Clusterfuck, a sequel to Apeshit - my first experience with Mellick).

As for the two collections, The Best Bizarro Fiction of the DecadeThe Big Book of Bizarro, they're books I can indulge in when I have the time, reading a story here and a story there, without feeling compelled to polish off the entire collection in sequence.

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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. I've polished off a bunch of shorter review titles lately, with reviews coming next week, but the big titles on hand are:

• Of Bone and Thunder: A Novel by Chris Evans 
"Apocalypse Now meets The Lord of the Rings in a bold new fantasy from the acclaimed author of the Iron Elves trilogy." That tagline was enough to pique my interest right there.

• Fearsome Magics by Jonathan Strahan
Strahan's anthologies are always a high point of the year for me, just packed solid with one fantastic story after another. I've been sitting on this one for a while, but I'm anxious to get reading.


What's topping your shelves this week?

Friday, September 19, 2014

Horror Review: The Dreaming Demon by Alex Avrio

Through a series of stories nested within stories, the memories of an old man, and the revelations of an ancient manuscript, Alex Avrio introduces us to the tale of The Dreaming Demon.

It's a relatively short tale, at under 50 pages, but Avrio packs a lot of story and atmosphere into it. His narrative pulls you in right away, hooks you with the promise of old fashioned adventure, and then sinks its fangs into you with some surprisingly effective supernatural horror.

This is a story that crosses several generations, following the siren song of the Dreaming Demon, the Aztec temple that serves as her final resting place, and the tribes who ensure nothing shall ever escape to threaten the world once again. The settings are fantastic and well-detailed, and the atmosphere is perfect for each nested narrative.

If you're looking for some old-fashioned chills in the vein of Poe or Doyle, then The Dreaming Demon is well worth a read.


ebook, 44 pages
Published June 21st 2014 by www.alexavrio.com

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Fantasy Review: A Turn of Light by Julie E. Czerneda

Somehow, it seems I missed reviewing A Turn of Light when it first came out. I could have sworn that I did – I have a very clear memory or writing the review - but somehow it never got posted. With the release of A Play of Shadow on the horizon, I figured it was time to reread the first book, reacquaint myself with the magnificent world that Julie E. Czerneda has created, and finally get that review posted.

With the fantasy genre having shifted more towards darker, grimmer fantasy in recent years, with a greater focus on the heroic or militaristic elements, the Night’s Edge series really stands out as something bright and vibrant. It’s a far lighter fantasy than we've become used it, not in terms of heft or significance, but in terms of optimism and hope. On the surface, it’s a happier sort of story, filled with some exciting twists on its more traditional fantasy elements, but it’s also a series with a very deep mythology and an epic sort of world-building that’s there from the start, but which we really only begin to truly appreciate in the second half of the book.

At first glance, it’s the kind of book I’d almost be tempted to describe as a pastoral sort of fantasy. The entire story is set in a small, secluded village, comprised of little more than a few homes and farms, some beehives, a mill, a magical meadow, and forest-covered ruins of a far earlier civilization. While characters reminisce or reflect on life in the larger cities, and Jenn Nalynn dreams of seeing the larger world, we never step foot outside the valley of Marrowdell. As Czerneda reveals in her afterword, however, this is really a pioneer sort of fantasy, inspired by the efforts of those who sailed from the cities of England to settle in the wilds of Canada.

That pioneer element allows for a fantasy setting that is unique, but will still be familiar to fans of the genre. It’s the magical aspects, however, that really draw the reader into the world. Marrowdell is a home for the unwanted, for those exiled from the larger world. It welcomes those who have the potential to contribute to the community, but drives others away with nightmares that banish all attempts at sleep. The valley itself lies along the Verge, a wound in the world that allows for the worlds of human and faery to bleed into one another, which allows for things that seem quite miraculous.

The three characters who drive the story are Jenn Nalynn, Wisp/Wyll, and Bannan Larmensu. Jenn is turnborn, a young woman ‘cursed’ to never leave the valley of Marrowdell, and possessed of an incredible magical power. Wisp is a wounded dragon, condemned to watch over Jenn as punishment for his role in a war between magical races, an invisible creature of wind and air whom Jenn wishes into the human form of Wyll. As for Bannan, he is a soldier just recently exiled to Marrowdell, a truthseer with the power to glimpse what lies behind outward appearances, able to see the magical creatures and environments that bleed from the Verge. As for those magical creatures, they include fanged toads that guard the homes of Marrowdell, messenger moths, demonic-looking beasts that masquerade as horses, and much, much more.

There is a love-triangle at work here, with romance in general a key element of the story, but it’s most definitely not a typical romance. It’s less about love and passion than it is about the human relationships that drive us. The characters here are well-rounded, fascinating, and endearing. They are far deeper than they originally appear, with their backstories and pasts slowly emerging over the course of the story. Czerneda uses the characters to explore the world, to ground us in the story, and to ensure we remain engaged throughout. That engagement is important, because this is a novel that’s evenly (almost leisurely) paced, with everything leading up to the resolution of the mystery that is Jenn Nalynn. It’s also a book of layers, with each revelation drawing us even deeper into the mysteries of the world. There is a definite building of tension in the final arc, with a climax upon which the fate of the world rests, but it’s done without the kind of aggressive conflict readers might expect.

Make no mistake, this is not a book that immediately wows you, or which demands that you keep turning pages late into the night. A Turn of Light is more something to be savored and enjoyed, a book that can only be described as wondrous and magical. Instead of grabbing you and dragging you into the world of Marrowdell, it invites you in, establishes a friendship, and seduces you into staying just a little longer every time you sit down to give it a read.


Paperback, 896 pages
Published March 5th 2013 by DAW Trade

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Waiting on Wednesday: The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss

"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 Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss
Expected publication: October 28th 2014 by DAW

Deep below the University, there is a dark place. Few people know of it: a broken web of ancient passageways and abandoned rooms. A young woman lives there, tucked among the sprawling tunnels of the Underthing, snug in the heart of this forgotten place.

Her name is Auri, and she is full of mysteries.

The Slow Regard of Silent Things is a brief, bittersweet glimpse of Auri’s life, a small adventure all her own. At once joyous and haunting, this story offers a chance to see the world through Auri’s eyes. And it gives the reader a chance to learn things that only Auri knows....

In this book, Patrick Rothfuss brings us into the world of one of The Kingkiller Chronicle’s most enigmatic characters. Full of secrets and mysteries, The Slow Regard of Silent Things is the story of a broken girl trying to live in a broken world.


It's not quite the third book we've so anxiously been waiting for, but it's still awesome to have a new Rothfuss story set in the same world. What's really interesting about this novella is that Rothfuss has narrated the audio edition of the book, and he's already revealed a teaser clip over at his blog.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Sci-Fi Review: Gideon Smith and the Brass Dragon by David Barnett

The first Gideon Smith adventure was one of my top 3 reads for 2013. Exciting, adventurous, and exceptionally well-told, Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl was part steampunk science fiction, part old-fashioned horror story, and part penny dreadful romp around the world. I enjoyed every aspect of it, from the concept to the characters, and came away wanting more. Fortunately, not only was there room for a sequel, but the cliffhanger ending absolutely that demanded it.

Here we are, just over a year later, and David Barnett has delivered admirably on those sequel demands with Gideon Smith and the Brass Dragon. This installment swaps out the old-fashioned horror for old west adventure, but adds even more steampunk science fiction to the mix. It's a book that surprised me several times with the direction it took, avoiding the genre clichés towards which it seemed to be teasing us, and (of course) setting up several plot threads for a third book.

The story opens with a mechanically augmented Charles Darwin, marooned in the lost world of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, slowly succumbing to rust and ruin. He and Stanford Rubicon are the last survivors of the HMS Beagle II, with the rest of the crew having either fallen to their deaths or been eaten by dinosaurs. Just when all seems lost, they are rescued by Mr. Gideon Smith, "Hero of the effing Empire," and Aloysius Bent, his chronicler for World Marvels & Wonders. From there, we briefly follow the heroes home to England, only to dispatched just hours later to the shores of America, where the brass dragon (and, presumably, Maria) have been spotted.

It's in the alternate history of America that Barnett's second adventure really shines. The Mason–Dixon isn't just a line here, it's a solid wall to rival that of China's great one. The America to the north is one of skyscrapers and dirigibles, still loyal to the Queen; while Texas, Louisiana, and the Confederate states to the south are lawless, old west towns full of slavery, prostitution, and black magic. As for California, it was ceded to the Japanese long ago, with the remnants of Spanish occupation still putting up a good fight around them. It only takes a few small twists in the history of the American Revolution to create this world, with at least one forgotten hero making a surprise return later in the story.

The fact that Gideon does find Maria and the brass dragon should come as no surprise, but the ways in which she has changed certainly do. At the risk of spoiling the story, I won't say much about her role, except to say the Japanese provide a worthy foe . . . and there is an escaped Tyrannosaurus Rex to be dealt with. Rowena Fanshawe once again gets to play heroine of the airways, while Louis Cockayne's story is brought full circle with a very satisfactory revolution. Bent doesn't have as much to do this time around, but he's an effing marvelous for sarcasm and comic relief.

While I didn't enjoy Gideon Smith and the Brass Dragon quite as much as the first book (it's pacing is slower, and America is a distant second to Egypt in terms of setting), it's still a great read that has left me hungry for a third helping. What further surprises or settings Barnett may have in mind, I have no idea, but I'll hazard a guess that the oft-referenced Jack the Ripper may finally pit himself against Smith and team.


Paperback, 336 pages
Expected publication: September 16th 2014 by Tor Books

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Mailboxes, Shelves, and What I'm Reading

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 arrival this week, but it's an exciting one - a paperback ARC of Brian Staveley's second installment in his Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne, The Providence of Fire. This will likely be the next big, thick tome I relax with, taking the opportunity to lose myself in his world once again.


On the new purchases front, just one new title there as well, but it's an exciting one. Julie E. Czerneda's Species Imperative omnibus edition is out, complete with the dedication to her loyal biogeeks . . .  including yours truly!


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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.

Gideon Smith and the Brass Dragon by David Barnett
The first Gideon Smith tale was a Victoriana / steampunk mash-up, an old-fashioned horror story, a penny dreadful romp, and an adventure worthy of Indiana Jones. Can't wait for the sequel!

Consumed: A Novel by David Cronenberg
Probably my most anticipated read of the Fall, I'm anxious to dig in and see if he can capture his screen magic on the page. Early reviews are mixed, but I like what I'm hearing.


What's topping your shelves this week?

Friday, September 12, 2014

David Blalock's Top Ten Late Summer Reading Recommendations (Guest Post)


To recommend just ten books seems a bit restrictive. I think it would be more appropriate to give recommendations for ten authors and give you the choice to pick what looks interesting of their works. Few of my recommendations will sound familiar to today's readership, that's because I find the mainstream literature of today boring and uninteresting. Even the speculative fiction writers of today have little to offer me that hasn't been done better long ago. Maybe I'm too old to be impressed. Maybe I just know what I like. Whatever the case, here are my recommendations, in ascending order:


10. Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914?). Not well known today, Bierce was a pioneering writer of what came to be called the horror genre. His best known work is “An Occurrence at Owl Creek” which set the stage for quite a few copycat stories in the 1920s and 1930s. He disappeared without a trace after joining Pancho Villa's revolutionaries in 1913.


9. Robert E. Howard (1906-1936). Best known as the creator of Conan the Barbarian, Howard's work included westerns, poetry, and historical fiction. My favorite character of his is Solomon Kane. He never earned more than $4000 a year for his writing, was always in financial trouble, and had a weak heart. The stress of this and being advised of his mother's impending death drove him to suicide.


8. H.P. Lovecraft (1890-1937). Raised by an overbearing mother when his father was committed to a mental institution, Lovecraft began writing horror fiction at 8 years of age. Never very skilled at any craft, he had difficulty supporting himself all his life. When “Weird Tales” magazine offered him an editorship, he turned it down and it was given to a writer he had criticized. This doomed his own writing, as the new editor refused to accept his stories until after his death.


7. Ray Bradbury (1920-2012). A lover of speculative fiction from his youth, Bradbury spent his entire life learning how to write and write well. His stories and books are pure joy to the science fiction and fantasy fan. It doesn't matter what you choose that has his byline. You will enjoy it.


6. Jack Vance (1916-2013). In his “The Dying Earth” series, which first appeared in the 1950s, he set the stage for many of the mechanics gamers will recognize are used for mages in games like “Dungeons and Dragons”. His world with a population resigned to its inevitable fate is a harrowing statement on the apathy of not only his time but of ours. Technology to him was not something to admire.


5. A. E. Van Vogt (1912-2000). Cited as one of the main influences on men like Philip K. Dick, Van Vogt's work is considered the fundamental basis of science fiction today. SFWA founder Damon Knight hated his work so much he slandered the man at every turn. It took Harlan Ellison to reveal that Knight wouldn't allow Van Vogt to be recognized as a Grand Master before he was. Van Vogt's structure entertains and confuses equally, a chaotic but fascinating and thematically mature manner of story-telling. If you start reading “The Weapon Shops of Isher”, be ready.


4. Theodore Sturgeon (1918-1985). “Ninety percent of science fiction is crud, but then, ninety percent of everything is crud.” Sturgeon's Law. That certainly can't be said of this man's work. He wrote for television as well as print. He is credited with two Star Trek episodes and many Star Trek innovations: pon-farr (the Vulcan mating ritual) and the Prime Directive among them. He influenced several other well-known writers such as Kurt Vonnegut, Isaac Asimov, and Samuel Delany.


3. John Brunner (1934-1995). Incredibly prolific and published under numerous pen names, Brunner's work was prophetic masterpiece after masterpiece. His “The Traveler in Black” is my favorite, with its precautionary theme of be careful what you wish for. Brunner was always on the cutting edge of writing about technology and warned of over-dependence and the dangers of alienating humanity from itself.


2. Philip K. Dick (1928-1982). Political and social commentary in science fiction reached its peak in Dick's work. His stinging criticism of modern values helped shape changes that today seem axiomatic. If you read nothing else by him, read “Ubik”. It heavily influenced my own fantasy work.


1. Robert A. Heinlein (1907-1988). What can I say about Heinlein that hasn't already been said? He's been lauded and vilified, praised and slandered. If you don't love his work, you probably hate it. He's been called a misogynist and a pervert by the feminists, a visionary and a prophet by others. His most entertaining works center around Lazarus Long. I cannot recommend him highly enough.


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About the Author

Born in San Antonio, Texas, David Blalock spent the majority of his formative years in Jacksonville, Florida. At the age of 16, his family moved to the Panama Canal Zone where David finished school and entered employment with the Department of Defense as a Powerhouse Electrician.

Hiring into the FAA, he returned with his wife and two daughters to the States and settled briefly in Gulfport, MS. A few years later, he moved to Memphis, TN, as an Air Traffic Controller for the Memphis ARTCC. There he remained until his retirement.

David’s writing has appeared in numerous anthologies, magazines, webzines, and writer’s sites. His work continues to appear on a regular basis through multiple publishing houses.

Twitter: @Hdavidblalock

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About the Book

The Angelkiller Triad
by David Blalock

Why do bad things happen to good people? Simple. In the ancient war between the Angels of Light and Darkness, the Dark won. Now it is the job of an undercover force simply known as The Army to rectify that.

Using every tool available, The Army has worked to liberate our world from The Enemy for thousands of years, slowly and painfully lifting Mankind out of the dark. On the front of the great Conflict are the Angelkillers, veterans of the fight with centuries of experience.

Jonah Mason is an Angelkiller, and his cell is targeted as part of plot to unseat a very powerful Minion of The Enemy. Mason and his troop are drawn into a battle that stretches from real-time to virtual reality and back. The Conflict is about to expand into cyberspace, and if Mason is unable to stop it, The Enemy will have gained dominion over yet another realm.