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Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Horror and Romance by Steve Berman (Guest Post)

Although I have always known him best as editor of such anthologies as Wilde Stories and Heiresses of RussSteve Berman is also an accomplished author in his own right. We chatted a bit about stopping by when I won a copy of Daughters of Frankenstein earlier this year, and it looks like the upcoming release of All in Fear (which I'll be reviewing later in the week) is just that opportunity.

Horror and Romance
by Steve Berman
author of His Mouth Will Taste of Chernobyl

A phrase from high school Latin class that has never left me is odi et amo, I hate and I love. There have been men that have made me mutter this under my breath. And the overlap of horror and romance demands this phrase be in the mind of the reader; even hardcore horror fans should have a visceral sense of anxiety, of looming pain and of loss. If the author has done the right thing, the reader will hate to have something terrible happen to favorite characters in the story. Romance is the flip-side of this; readers anticipate characters they have come to care for will find happiness through emotional and physical intimacy.

I know Freud has been relegated to the history of psychiatry rather than its practice, but part of his theory about the drives that motivate people resonates with me, especially when writing speculative fiction: the Eros instinct and the Thanatos instinct, arguably the libido and morbid fascination with mortality respectively. When writing stories with both horrific and romantic elements, it's important to remember that most of us ponder these two inclinations often throughout our lives. Our circumstances may make us prone to one more than the other (first dates should be falling under the Eros camp or else that is a very horrific tale about to happen). Tapping the reader's memory of love and lust and danger and death can provide a writer with a rich framework.  The lack of good judgment because infatuation clouds the mind. That moment when an inappropriate tryst could go horribly awry and who knows where you are?

And when I write horror, I am always aware of the bodies of the characters in the story. My comfortable means for exploring the Thanatos urge is to be cognizant that society places a great deal of importance on physical attractiveness and to twist that obsession. It's hard to tell an engaging romance with a rotting zombie because of this. Nicholas Hoult's character of R in the film Warm Bodies barely registers as undead because they knew women (and gay men) would not desire him if his gorgeous face was fIyblown and one of those pretty blue eyes had been plucked out by a crow. The movie became an action-adventure flick with hints of romance and the trappings of ghouls. If the love interest had been more fleshed-out (haha!) and put R back to together, piece by piece, I would have been smitten.

Reaching the end of a horror novel where the protagonist survives can be very reminiscent for emerging from a terrible relationship. Yes, the idea of abuse cannot be easily escaped. As an adolescent I was enthralled with the vampire's ability to beguile his victims. I envied this trait above all others because it allowed me to fantasize about seducing the high school boys that never knew I was gay. As an adult I realize that any coercion, supernatural or mundane, is an echo of rape culture. After experiencing terrible relationships, including years spent as a co-dependent, I became aware that consent is mandatory for me in my romance...unless I want to write a story with a young lead who is being tempted to walk a very dark and destructive path to fulfill his libido.

In my novelette  "His Mouth Will Taste of Chernobyl," a magic flask seems to offer the main character everything he could ever want. Unfortunately he's not very sure what he wants. And having the attention of some guys can lead to trouble. And it does. I actually rushed a fraternity for a terrible reason: I thought I was in love with one of the fraternity brothers. Even when he beat me up. Because he eventually apologized and he was incredibly charismatic and sexy and I was naive and he paid attention to me, on occasion. I remember spilling blood around him.

I'll continue to write my stories of men who find themselves is precarious positions, often because of bad choices. Sometimes the person on the other end of that late night call promising an unforgettable evening is just being romantic. Even when the directions sound off, the voice is too eager. And sometimes, well, pages later, the reader wishes they had never answered.

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About the Author

Steve Berman loves to tell stories that are both queer and weird. He was a Zeta Psi back in his college days at and remembers being hazed. He survived and graduated and even earned a Masters Degree in Liberal Studies. He has written and sold over a hundred articles, essays, and short stories. His YA novel, Vintage, was a finalist for the Andre Norton Award.


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About the Book

Want something a bit different for the holidays? Horror has never looked this enticing! New release, All in Fear, is a gorgeous collection of horror tales from some of the hottest names in queer fiction. Be prepared to be titillated...and terrified.

By KJ Charles, Roan Parrish, J.A. Rock, 
Steve Berman, Avon Gale, and Kris Ripper

Horror wears many faces, and its masks can be tantalizing. Some of the top names in queer fiction come together to spin their own versions of horror. Worlds rife with dark beauty and mystery, the familiar becoming terrible, creatures ethereal and alluring—and all bearing the gleam of love. Does hope lie along these grim passages or only doom? It will become clear. All in time—and all in fear.

Company by Roan Parrish
Nick Levy’s family is falling apart and he has no friends, but at least he can escape into the world of his favorite comic book series, The Face of the Vampire. Naturally, when the vampire in question shows up one day, Nick is enthralled. After all, what could be better than his own personal fantasy made real? Except that Nick isn’t exactly sure whether Michel is real or not. And when the arrival of a new boy in school promises romance, Nick sees a side of Michel he never could have imagined. This Michel is cruel, jealous . . . and he’ll do anything to keep Nick for himself.

Love Me True by Kris Ripper
Palmer's life is as good as it gets. Well, okay, so he hates his mind-numbing office job. But he's found a hot, smart, incredibly kinky guy. The sex is explosive. The power play is off the hook. And if he gets his way, Jon will soon be his husband.

When Palmer asks, Jon says yes. For the first time ever, Palmer thinks things might be really good. Sure, bad things happen in the world—to other people. But this is all he needs: Jon at the end of the day, in their bed, arms around him.

How could he have possibly been so stupid?

The Price of Meat by KJ Charles
Johanna Oakley will do anything to save her beloved Arabella from the cruelty of Mr Fogg’s madhouse—but ‘anything’ turns out to be more than she bargained for when she finds herself working for a man suspected of worse than murder. As Johanna is plunged from the horror of Sawney Reynard’s barber shop into the foul, lawless labyrinth at the heart of London, can she or anyone get out alive?

His Mouth Will Taste of Chernobyl by Steve Berman
Joining Zeta Psi isn’t Steve’s dream, it’s his dad’s. Nevertheless his dad’s gift of the mysterious Bailey flask gets Steve an in to the frat house, and maybe his best shot at being accepted on campus. But the flask’s silver sheen may only be lighting his way into the darkness at the heart of the frat—and the darkness he’s learning is within himself. Steve wants to choose who he is, but choices are dropping like flies as he learns the true mystery of the Bailey flask. How does he give back a gift that’s also a curse?

Legion: A Love Story by Avon Gale
STAFF SERGEANT JASON ESSEX, YOU HAVE RECEIVED THE FOLLOWING ORDERS FROM THE UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS:

REPORT TO: CAIN INSTITUTE [ADDRESS REDACTED]

ACTIVE DUTY COMMITMENT: GUARD AN ENTITY CURRENTLY HELD IN AN ENCLOSURE AT THE CAIN INSTITUTE. RECORD DAILY MEASUREMENTS. KEEP ANY AND ALL PERSONS FROM ENTERING OR LEAVING THE FACILITY. ENSURE THE ENTITY REMAINS COMPLETELY INCARCERATED. OBSERVE THE ENTITY WITHOUT ENGAGING. 

ADDITIONAL INSTRUCTIONS: THIS ASSIGNMENT WILL BE CARRIED OUT IN FULL ISOLATION. PLEASE BE ADVISED.

Beauties by J.A. Rock
When Dr. Lester Usole attends an event at AI developer Carnificiality, he’s introduced to Beauties: artificial beings designed to provide tailored sexual experiences for their human owners. Lester isn’t interested in sex—but he is fascinated by Ira, a Beauty too violent to be sold.

Lester convinces Carnificiality to give Ira to him. Lester has always wanted the chance to work with an adult AI, and around Lester, Ira isn’t violent. He’s strangely innocent, uncannily perceptive, and his company does much to ease Lester’s loneliness. Except something’s not quite right: Ira roams at night, even when Lester’s sure he’s locked Ira’s door.

Soon Lester is certain of only one thing: Ira has a secret. Something that will link their pasts and change the course of their future—if Lester is willing to face what’s on the inside.

Learn more on Goodreads.

Order it now: Publisher’s Site  |  Amazon  |  B&N  |  ARe  |   Apple  |  Kobo

“An engaging anthology of queer fiction filled with monsters, mysteries, and menace.”  — Kirkus Reviews

Monday, November 28, 2016

A Creative Dialog With Myself by David B. Coe (Guest Post & Giveaway)

Whether you know him as David B. Coe or D.B. Jackson, there's no doubt that David has put his mark upon the fantasy genre. While many readers may be more familiar with his current projects, Case Files of Justis Fearsson and Thieftaker Chronicles, I had the great pleasure of reading his debut LonTobyn Chronicles as they were released. With that trilogy not only back in print, but now available in a preferred Author's Edition, I'm exceptionally excited to be able to host David as part his celebratory tour.


“A Creative Dialog With Myself”
by David B. Coe

I have recently released the Author’s Edit of The Outlanders, volume two in my Crawford Fantasy Award-winning LonTobyn Chronicle, and the second novel I ever wrote. This follows the release in July of the Author’s Edit of Book I in the series, Children of Amarid. The new version of the final book in the trilogy, Eagle-Sage, should be out in December.

Not surprisingly, these books -- my first trilogy -- are special to me. They established me critically and commercially, and sold well for many years; it bothered me when they went out of print in the mid-2000s. So when my agent and I had the rights to the books reverted back to us, I knew that I wanted to get the books out in front of the public again.

But I also knew that I wanted to edit the books first. Most writers will tell you that their first books, while dear to them and in many respects very good, are also flawed. My LonTobyn Chronicle was no exception to this. The stories were fun, fast-paced, readable; the characters were well realized and relatable; the world building was complex and intriguing. But the writing itself suffered due to my lack of experience.

And so the idea of the Author’s Edit. Think of these new versions as the Director’s Cut of the books. I kept everything that I loved -- the pacing, the storyline, the characters, the magic -- and changed other stuff that had always bothered me about these books. I tightened up the prose, got rid of a TON of adverbs, removed unnecessary dialog tags, gestures, and facial expressions, and cut some exposition that didn’t need to be there. The result is a book that’s 14,000 words shorter (though still close to 200,000 words long) and far easier to read.

But the edits were more than just cleaning up a bit of clunky prose. They were a learning experience in many ways. Some people have asked me if I wished I could have rewritten the books from scratch rather than just editing them. And the answer is no. These were and are good books. More, they reflect a passion and ambition that, I believe, is unique to first books. I know: That seems to contradict what I said about first books a little bit earlier. In fact, it doesn’t. Let me explain.

I had so much to learn as a young author. I was honing my craft, figuring out my voice, looking for ways to set myself apart and make my mark on the genre. So in some respects the work was bound to have some shortcomings. I was a rookie, and like all rookies I lacked polish. But at the same time, I was thrilled to be writing, and bursting with all sorts of ideas for story, for setting and magic, for characters.

The Outlanders in particular was an ambitious novel and, in part for that reason, one of my favorites of all the books I’ve written. It was ambitious because it had two distinct venues, a pastoral land that possessed magic but only medieval level technology, and a highly developed urban land with tech that outstrips our own. Blending those two threads into a coherent whole was challenging to say the least. And yet it worked, in large part because the characters I created for the book were far more complex and interesting than any I’d written before. This was a “bigger” book than Children of Amarid. Not longer, but further-reaching. I tried to do more, I strayed more from my comfort zone. And in doing so, I proved to myself that I could write more than one kind of book.

Reading through this first trilogy has inspired me. I’m actually working on a new epic fantasy now, after taking a hiatus from the genre that has lasted some six years and seven books. I’m not returning to the LonTobyn world for this new project -- far from it. But I’m drawing on lessons I learned nineteen years after the fact from that younger me who wrote the first series. I’m pushing myself to take all sorts of creative chances, following bolder storylines and developing exotic characters. I’m writing leaner, sparser, the way I wish I’d written the old books. In short, I’m trying to make this next project something that the younger me would think was totally cool and the older me sees as an expression of all I’ve learned through my career about writing and storytelling.

That, in the end, is the best thing that’s come out of this process of editing my old books. I feel that I’ve engaged in a dialog with myself, the older me and the young me. The result is a new version of an old trilogy of which I’m now doubly proud, and a new approach to an old writing passion that has me deeply excited about my writing future.

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About the Author

David B. Coe/D.B. Jackson is the award-winning author of nineteen fantasy novels. As David B. Coe, he writes The Case Files of Justis Fearsson, a contemporary urban fantasy from Baen Books. The first two books, Spell Blind and His Father’s Eyes came out in 2015. The third volume, Shadow’s Blade, has recently been released. Under the name D.B. Jackson, he writes the Thieftaker Chronicles, a historical urban fantasy from Tor Books that includes Thieftaker, Thieves’ Quarry, A Plunder of Souls, and Dead Man’s Reach.

David is also the author of the Crawford Award-winning LonTobyn Chronicle, which he is in the process of reissuing, as well was the critically acclaimed Winds of the Forelands quintet and Blood of the Southlands trilogy. He wrote the novelization of Ridley Scott’s movie, Robin Hood. David’s books have been translated into a dozen languages.

He lives on the Cumberland Plateau with his wife and two daughters. They’re all smarter and prettier than he is, but they keep him around because he makes a mean vegetarian fajita. When he’s not writing he likes to hike, play guitar, and stalk the perfect image with his camera.



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About the Book

The Outlanders
by David B. Coe

Four years after the insidious, devastating invasion by agents of Lon-Ser, Tobyn-Ser’s Order of Mages and Masters is riven by conflict and paralyzed by inaction. From the outlander, Baram, they have learned much about their neighbor to the west: Unlike Tobyn-Ser, which is served by the Mage-Craft of the Children of Amarid, Lon-Ser is devoid of magic. Instead it possesses a dazzling and deadly technology that shapes every aspect of its people’s daily life.

Frustrated by the Order’s inability to act, Orris, a young, rebellious mage, takes it upon himself to prevent further attacks on his homeland. Taking Baram from his prison, he embarks upon a perilous journey to Bragor-Nal, an enormous, violent city in Lon-Ser, ruled by a brutal, feudal-like system of Break-Laws, Nal-Lords, and Overlords. As Orris soon learns, however, Baram has been driven insane by his captivity. Upon reaching his strange and fractured homeland, the man abandons Orris.

Armed only with his magic, Orris is thrust into a world whose language he does not comprehend and whose technology he can barely fathom. Together with Gwilym, a man with strange powers, whose vision of Orris has lured him out of the mountains and into the chaos of the Nals, and Melyor, a beautiful Nal-Lord who harbors a secret that could cost her life, Orris must end the threat to Tobyn-Ser without getting himself and his companions killed.

THE OUTLANDERS is the second volume of the LonTobyn Chronicle, David B. Coe’s Crawford Award-winning debut series. This is the Author’s Edit of the original book.

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Saturday, November 26, 2016

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

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


WTF Friday: Primitive by Hannah Heat

Horror Review: Horrors and Occupational Hazards by Sharon L. Higa

Waiting On Wednesday: With Blood Upon the Sand by Bradley P. Beaulieu

Fantasy Review: Arcanum Unbounded by Brandon Sanderson

TV Tuesday: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

Fantasy Review: The Sleeping King by Cindy Dees and Bill Flippin


As for what's coming up, we have two awesome guests wandering their way into the Ruins this week - David B. Coe and Steve Berman.

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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 two new review title this week. I couldn't resist the allure of "an order of deep-sea diving nuns caring for a sunken chapel" and I have long been fascinated by the tales of the Wraeththu.

The Kissing Booth Girl and Other Stories by A.C. Wise

Blood, the Phoenix and a Rose by Storm Constantine

  

My long-awaited copy of Unbreakable by W.C. Bauers arrived this week as well - a signed edition that I won via a Facebook reading party.


I also hit some used bookstores this week, and stocked up on a little adventure with Will Adams, some pulp fantasy with Sharon Green, and some classic/traditional/high fantasy with the likes of Lackey, Mallory, Newcomb, Weis, and Krammes.


And, finally, even though it wasn't Thanksgiving here, I took advantage of the Black Friday sales to do a little Kindle shopping, picking up a pair of adventures . . .

The Dane Maddock Adventures - Volume 2 by David Wood

Blood and Sand by Matthew James

   

. . . while Foster, of course, snagged himself  a pair of new WTF Friday reads.

Diablo Grotesque by William P Blight

Dirty Journey To Parallel Worlds by Ruby City Books

   

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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 have a few reads I've finished over the past couple of weeks that I need to get reviewed soon, but this week is a fresh dive into the review pile, with:

The Lost City of the Monkey God: A True Story
(the new season of Oak Island has me on a treasure kick, as you may have noticed)


(Steve Berman will be stopping by for a guest post this week)



Recluce Tales: Stories from the World of Recluce
(I'm very excited to be diving into this as my next paperback read)


What's topping your shelves this week?

Friday, November 25, 2016

WTF Friday: Primitive by Hannah Heat

Well, another WTF Friday is upon us, which means we once again turn the Ruins over to my dark half. As regular visitors will know, Foster Medina has a passion for messed up literary diversions - books that are bizarre, twisted, grotesque, and kinky - and he's only too happy to splatter them across the page.



Much like the Victorian horror novels from which it draws its inspiration, Primitive is written as an epistolary narrative, consisting of a series of letters written by Charles Karolis Drake III to his son. While it works well in some places, it unfortunately falls apart in others. Never mind the question of who actually writes letters anymore - how the hell does he manage to keep writing and mailing them while fleeing through the forest?

That narrative flaw aside, this was a well-orchestrated piece of erotic horror in which Hannah Heat explicitly asks many of the questions left within the subtext of Frankenstein. It's a story about men and monsters, good versus evil, and biological urges versus free will. Naturally, it's also a novel about human arrogance, with a group of scientists crossing the line in their search for answers.

There's not a lot of suspense here, with most of the 'surprises' telegraphed early on, but that's fine. The elements of horror work well, with some really grotesque scenes of fire and mutilation, and the erotic aspects work just as well. At first I found them to be a little cold and clinical, lacking something in the emotion department, but I realize that may be a deliberate attempt to emulate Victorian authors like Shelly, Stoker, and more.

As for the gender aspect, it wasn't so clearly tagged in the title when I purchased this, so it was a genuine surprise. The transformation itself was a little too quick and easy, and lacked the kind of detail I suspect many readers would be looking for, but the consequences (which are what matter) are explored quite nicely.


Kindle Edition, 45 pages
Published February 18th 2015 by Scarlet Flower Publishers

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Horror Review: Horrors and Occupational Hazards by Sharon L. Higa

We turn the Ruins over to Donald again today, with a newly horrific review.

Sharon L. Higa's debut collection takes the everyday clockwork schedules of maybe an average Joe, on his way to clean out a backyard pool or the hair salon, when suddenly a stuck up bitch comes storming in.

The author then unfolds the horror of such scenarios, spilling some blood to finally silence the annoying. I found Horrors and Occupational Hazards to be interesting. The concept makes it a smooth read, leaving you thinking about what will happen next in each story.

Flushed Away: Mrs Thompson's pipes are backed up, and when the plumbers are called in . . . they find something a little more eerie than something stuck in the pipes.

Knock Knock Housekeeping: Two best friends work side by side cleaning rooms inside a hotel. Every so often something is left behind and becomes a possession of theirs. This time the value of an item is a deathly pick.

Dispatcher 157: A scheduled truck stop for a pick up becomes a delivery of pure terror and blood splatter and nothing but a deadline.

A fine collection for readers enjoying a whimsical horror with a little blood splatter here and there.

Paperback, 120 pages
Published October 22nd 2014 by J Ellington Ashton Press

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Waiting On Wednesday: With Blood Upon the Sand by Bradley P. Beaulieu

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

With Blood Upon the Sand by Bradley P. Beaulieu
Expected publication: February 7th 2017 by Daw Books

Çeda, now a Blade Maiden in service to the kings of Sharakhai, trains as one of their elite warriors, gleaning secrets even as they send her on covert missions to further their rule. She knows the dark history of the asirim—that hundreds of years ago they were enslaved to the kings against their will—but when she bonds with them as a Maiden, chaining them to her, she feels their pain as if her own. They hunger for release, they demand it, but with the power of the gods compelling them, they find the yokes around their necks unbreakable.

Çeda could become the champion they’ve been waiting for, but the need to tread carefully has never been greater. After the victory won by the Moonless Host in the Wandering King’s palace, the kings are hungry for blood. They scour the city, ruthless in their quest for revenge. Unrest spreads like a plague, a thing Emre and his new allies in the Moonless Host hope to exploit, but with the kings and their god-given powers, and the Maidens and their deadly ebon blades, there is little hope of doing so.

When Çeda and Emre are drawn into a plot of the blood mage, Hamzakiir, they sail across the desert to learn the truth, and a devastating secret is revealed, one that may very well shatter the power of the hated kings. They plot quickly to take advantage of it, but it may all be undone if Çeda cannot learn to navigate the shifting tides of power in Sharakhai and control the growing anger of the asirim that threatens to overwhelm her.


I enjoyed Twelve Kings in Sharakhai (the first book in the series), and Of Sand and Malice Made (the prequel novella) even more, so I am definitely anxious to see where Beaulieu takes the story next. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Fantasy Review: Arcanum Unbounded by Brandon Sanderson

Weighing in at 672 pages, Brandon Sanderson's first short fiction collection not only pulls together various short stories and novellas from across his Cosmere, but organizes them by Shardworlds, complete with essays and illustrations on each. Arcanum Unbounded is a collection that would no doubt be daunting to a new reader, but which rewards the faithful with an even deeper understanding of his creations.

The collection opens with a pair of stories set in the world of Elantris, with “The Emperor's Soul” serving as a standalone tale, and “The Hope of Elantris” taking place following the original novel. Soul was the one story in the collection I had read before, and it was just as fascinating the second time around. As for Hope, it will have to wait until I read the source material, since it contains major spoilers.

Not surprisingly for his longest series to date, Mistborn gets three entries here. “The Eleventh Metal” was a pleasant surprise, being a prequel to the series with my favorite character, Kelsier. As odd as it was to see him so early in his career, it was also interesting to get some more insights into his tortured past. “Allomancer Jak and the Pits of Eltania, Episodes 28 through 30” was, by far, the most entertaining story in the collection. Written as a pulp adventure tale, what really makes it work is all the footnotes from the fictional editor who is forced to publish such nonsense. “Mistborn: Secret History” brings us back to Kelsier, following the events of the first Mistborn novel. It was an interesting story, with some entertaining moments, but I've never been a fan of stripping a character of his powers and taking him out of his element.

White Sand" was a fascinating treat, offering up a sample of the graphic novel on which it's based (which is awesome all on its own), and then pairing it with the short story from which it originated. "Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell” is another standalone story set in its own world, and probably the darkest piece in the collection. It's a story of haunted forests, human cruelty, painful secrets, and the undying thirst for revenge.  As far as the new material here is concerned, this was probably my favorite. Ironically, the next entry - “Sixth of Dusk” - was the only story that didn't work for me. I can't put my finger on what was wrong with it, but the story just never grabbed me.

The self-professed crown jewel of the collection, "Edgedancer," is an all-new Stormlight Archive novella that I am pleased to say was everything I was looking for. It's a great story that gives us a peek at another part of the world, and which looks at the magic of the world from a younger, less experienced perspective. It's a story that blends sorrow, awe, and humor in equal measure, revisiting the character of Lift, who first appeared in Words of Radiance.

Even if you've read some of the material before, the packaging of Arcanum Unbounded makes it a must read. Each section of the book has an illustration of the solar system in which it takes place, with the character of Khriss (who has written the Ars Arcanum at the end of each novel) providing a short essay on the world. Each story gets an illustration to introduce it, along with a Postscript from Sanderson, explaining how it fits into the Cosmere, why it's important, and how it came about. While it's not a good place to start for new readers, it's definitely a treat for fans.

Hardcover, 672 pages
Expected publication: November 22nd 2016 by Tor Books 

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy 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.

TV Tuesday: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

The Good: The Librarians
The Librarians is high atop my guilty pleasure list of TV watching. Yes, it can be cheesy and ridiculous, with sometimes embarrassing special effects, but it's so much damned fun. It reminds me of syndicated American adventures like Hercules and Xena, crossed with Canadian gems like Relic Hunter.

I was a bit worried when the producers began talking about a darker tone to season 3, fuelled by the Egyptian God of Chaos, a significant escalation of magic in the world, and government interference from the newly implemented Department of Statistical Anomalies. Based on Sunday night's season premier, those worries can be put to rest. Sure, the episode was a bit darker, and there's definitely a sense of doom/dread being set up for the season, but that was all balanced with the cheese and the humor we've come to expect.

The horrific, Doctor Who-like take on Night at the Museum to open the episode was a lot of fun, and they made good use of the museum setting throughout. Sure, it's stretching the willing suspension of disbelief to have the old submarine stationed outside operational and fully armed, but Ezekiel and Jake geeking out over it is infectious, and you can't help but cheer as it's cleverly put into action. The brief song-and-dance number was pure cheese as well, but the characters knew it, and it made perfect sense within the context of defeating chaos.

As for that new X-Files twist, it not only makes sense (magic is a bigger threat than terrorism, so at some point the government had to notice), but it was well-played. The agents themselves were appropriately inept, allowing our heroes to escape, but Vanessa Williams is clearly being set up as a legitimate foil for Flynn and Eve. So long as the series doesn't go down the road Buffy did in season 4 with The Initiative, and keeps the two worlds separate, I think it might add a new dynamic to the show.

Of course, we're only one episode into the new season, but I can honestly say I smiled the whole way through.


The Bad: MacGyver
The original MacGyver is one of my all-time favorite TV shows. Dad and I watched it every week when I was young - it was one of those rare shows that successfully crossed generations. As much as I have always held out hope that Richard Dean Anderson would one day be offered a chance to return to the role, I always dreaded the idea of a recast/reboot. When news came out that the pilot episode of the new series was scrapped, and a new showrunner brought in to start over, it was hardly encouraging . . . but there were a few glimmers of hope.

I liked the idea of adding George Eads from C.S.I. to the cast, and I was encouraged by the addition of Peter M. Lenkov as the new showrunner, given how much the wife and I enjoy his reboot of Hawaii Five-0. I wasn't encouraged enough to make it a must-watch, mind you, but I did set up the DVR.

Well, a mini binge-watch of the first three episodes, and I can confidently say that the new MacGyver is just as disappointing as I feared. The first episode successfully distracted me with its clever nods to the original series, but nostalgia isn't a recipe for long-term success. The second episode fell flat, and the third was so ridiculous, I deleted the series from the DVR and feel entirely comfortable never watching it again.

So, what's wrong with it? Well, for starters, the casting is horrible. Mac himself isn't as bad as I had feared, but George Eads is all wrong for Jack Dalton, and as clever as the gender-flip of Pete Thorton might be, Sandrine Holt has zero personality. Don't even get me started on the entirely unnecessary injection of awkward humor with Justin Hires (and I actually liked him in the Rush Hour reboot). Second, making Nikki a traitor just felt all wrong, and set the wrong tone for the series. At first glance, the trademark inventions are fun, but they very quickly started getting ridiculous, not to mention outright impossible. To make matters worse, the on-screen captions just dumb the show down to an embarrassing degree. Really? That's a paperclip? Huh, never would have guessed.

Turning a one-man show into a just another team-ensemble isn't the worst thing the new show has done, but making it a gun-laden, explosion-filled clone of NCIS:LA is. Really, swap Mac and Jack for Callen and Sam, and the two shows are interchangeable. Don't get me wrong, I like NCIS:LA, but I have never once mistaken it for MacGyver. There has been serious gunplay in every episode, and Mac seems to have zero problems with it. That's a serious betrayal of the MacGyver legacy. Finally, as my curiosity turned to suffering, I noticed how contrived the storylines are, and how they toss logistics out the window for the sake of the story. When Pat hopped a plane from LA to Venezuela AND managed drive into town, all in less time than it took the actress to walk between sets, AND conveniently arrive at the exact same moment as the bad guys stationed outside . . . I was done.


The Ugly: Criminal Minds
Criminal Minds has long been one of those shows that the wife and I watch every week. The quality has been going downhill consistently over the last few seasons, to the point where we're generally multitasking as we watch, but the recent casting changes have put a final nail in the coffin for me. No matter whose story you believe, the firing of Thomas Gibson just sounds petty and ridiculous. The show was already missing Derek, but the leadership void with Hotch's absence was quickly ad painfully obvious, and the lame way they've written him out (off screen, mind you) would be comical, if they didn't try so hard to make everybody else overreact to the news. It was a move that reeked of desperate laziness, and which showed a complete lack of both understanding and respect for the character.

Losing two key stars would be a blow to any show, but replacing them with Emily Prentiss, one of the most annoying characters in the show's history, whose original exit story was so prolonged, so ridiculous, and so out-of-genre for the show that it actually started the quality decline . . . well, you just know it isn't going to end well. Add to that the unnecessary addition of that guy without the sunglasses, who was always standing behind David Caruso in CSI: Miami, a character who only seems to exist to raise the brooding testosterone content, and I am quickly becoming bored.

Actually, it goes beyond bored. As we watched the last episode, I realized I was hate-watching it with a passion I previously only reserved for the atrocity that was Under the Dome. Little things that I normally overlook began to bother me, For instance, why do they insist on awkwardly pinching a loose glove between their fingers to pick up evidence? They're gloves! They're made to wear on your hands! Your fingers conveniently fit right inside! Also, how is that other characters seem to have this supernatural ability to pick up subliminal content from phone conversations they're not a part of? One character no sooner hits disconnect, and the others are already talking about how and where to track down the new suspect (by name!) who they've never heard of before.

Also, as much as I love Kirsten Vangsness, even the all-powerful, super-speedy, uber-hacker-extraordinaire Chloe O'Brian from 24 would call bullshit on Penelope Garcia. I mean, this woman can hack internets, intranets, and darknets in less time than it takes to run a fingerprint. She has crazy-ass search algorithms that can find you based on your mother's shoe size, father's favorite junior hockey team, your favorite childhood teddy bear, and what episode of Star Trek was in syndication the day you were born. Oh, and she does it all with what looks like a bad version of OS/2. Hopefully nobody ever introduces her to Google, or none of us will have any secrets left.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Fantasy Review: The Sleeping King by Cindy Dees and Bill Flippin

As odd as it sounds, The Sleeping King was probably the most entertaining read to ever hit my DNF pile. Yes, it's horribly clichéd, plagued by just about every epic fantasy trope going, and almost wholly dependent on coincidence. Yes, it's a book that seems overly familiar to anybody who has ever read an epic fantasy from the 80s/90s, right down to the names, the races, and the magic. Yes, it's guilty of extreme shades of black and white, with perfectly pretty heroes and heroines who are all paragons of goodness, and evil villains who are all irredeemably evil.

Yes, it does all of that, but that's entirely okay.

I was actually looking for something that was all of those things. I was growing tired of grimdark, weary of complex shades of grey, and wanted to read something that reminded me of my youth. I saw a big doorstopper of a fantasy epic on the shelf that promised mythical races, deep forests, and magical wonders, and I wanted to lose myself in it.

And that's precisely what I did, except the book seemed determined to keep reminding me of its flaws.

The Sleeping King was written by Cindy Dees and Bill Flippin, and I am sad to say it shows. I have read plenty of co-authored novels before and have (for the most part) enjoyed them. I cut my genre teeth on the Dragonlance novels of Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, and I still enjoy Weis' collaborations with the likes of Don Perrin and Robert Krammes. Similarly, Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory have co-authored several epic fantasy sagas with an 80s/90s feel that I thoroughly enjoy.

What they all seem to have in common, however, is something Dees and Flippin lack - an editor.

Seriously, I have never read a book where the distinction between co-authors is been so painfully obvious. Writing styles change by the chapter, which is fine, but so do important details. Characters that were clearly defined in one chapter become lazy cardboard cut-outs in another. Love affairs seem to come and go, with characters flirting shamelessly in one chapter, only to act like polite strangers in another, before returning to star-crossed lovers, only to act like they've just met. In at least once case that I can recall, a character's hair changes color repeatedly (and drastically), and in the most glaring example, another character's dialogue changes dramatically.
"Easy as pie. You pour over thing you unstick. It reverse effect of all paste or glue. And, no, I not know how it work."
"Oh, I have plenty of tales to tell. Shall I tell you of the Boki insurrection and how the heroes of Dupree defeated them?"
Those two quotes are from the same character, just one chapter (twenty pages!) removed. To make matters worse, it's not a one-off mistake - she falls in and out of broken English repeatedly, for no rhyme or reason, other than (I assume) a change in authors. That just happens to be the last example, but it's the one that made me throw up my arms in defeat. When you find yourself skimming backwards in the text, asking yourself whether that really is the same character, it's hard to stay lost in a story.

The Sleeping King has potential, but it's one competent editor away from being readable.

Hardcover, 496 pages
Published September 8th 2015 by Tor Books

Saturday, November 19, 2016

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

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


WTF Friday: Raw Pain Max by C. Dean Andersson

Book Traveling Thursdays - Authors around the world

Waiting On Wednesday: Death's Mistress by Terry Goodkind

Horror Review: The Secrets of Ventriloquism & Horror Film Poems


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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.

It's an all-out WTF Friday takeover of the shelves this week, with one new review title from Mitzi Szereto and a trio of Kindle deals and freebies.

Oysters and Pearls: Collected Stories by Mitzi Szereto

The Black Fang Betrayal by J. Thorn et al.

His Cemetery Doll by Brantwijn Serrah

Wolfgang: A Werewolf Erotic Horror Novel by Mawr Gorshin 

  
  

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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 been devouring Arcanum Unbounded: The Cosmere Collection by Brandon Sanderson in hardcover (look for a review early in the week); enjoying The Sleeping King by Cindy Dees & Bill Flippin in paperback; and just started The Ruling Mask by Neil McGarry & Daniel Ravipinto on the e-reader.

    

What's topping your shelves this week?

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Book Traveling Thursdays - Authors around the world

Book Traveling Thursdays is a weekly meme for any book blogger, hosted over at Goodreads. All you have to do is choose a book that fits the theme, include is an explanation of why it fits the theme, and (this is the part I love) share favorite and least favorite covers from around the world.

This week's topic: Share the love around the world! Choose a book written by an author from a country you don't read that often.

While I am sure I must have read other books in translation without knowing it, The Scar by
Marina and Sergey Dyachenko (Ukraine) and Chasers of the Wind by Alexey Pehov (Russian Federation) are the first novels I can think of where I went into them knowing I was reading a translation . . . and came out of them having thoroughly enjoyed the read. To the best of my knowledge, they're the only authors I've read from the old Soviet Republic, although I do have several titles by Sergei Lukyanenko sitting in my TBR pile.

As for favorite covers, I have to go with a European one for the Dyachenko's and and a North American cover for Pehov.

 

As for least-favorite covers, I have to go with Marina and Sergey Dyachenko's Penguin Classics look, and Alexey Pehov's bad Harlequin Romance.


Finally, in keeping with the travelling theme, here are some covers from around the world:



Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Waiting On Wednesday: Death's Mistress by Terry Goodkind

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

Death's Mistress by Terry Goodkind
Expected publication: January 10th 2017 by Tor Books

Onetime lieutenant of the evil Emperor Jagang, known as "Death's Mistress" and the "Slave Queen", the deadly Nicci captured Richard Rahl in order to convince him that the Imperial Order stood for the greater good. But it was Richard who converted Nicci instead, and for years thereafter she served Richard and Kahlan as one of their closest friends--and one of their most lethal defenders.

Now, with the reign of Richard and Kahlan finally stabilized, Nicci has set out on her own for new adventures. Her first job being to keep the unworldly prophet Nathan out of trouble...

Death's Mistress: Sister of Darkness will launch The Nicci Chronicles, Terry Goodkind's entirely new series with a cast of characters centered on one of his best-loved characters in the now-concluded Sword of Truth.


I've always had something of an awkward relationship with Terry Goodkind. I loved the first 3 Sword of Truth novels, and still count them among my favorite epic fantasy reads. I found the middle novels to be rather weak and repetitive, but I also felt he redeemed himself exceptionally well with the final duology . . . before getting tirelessly repetitive again with the opening instalment of the Richard and Kahlan series that followed. 

While I have yet to read The First Confessor, it's on my list for the same reason this is - I'm curious to see what Goodkind can do with the world, unencumbered by the legacy of Richard, Kahlan, and the Sword.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Horror Review: The Secrets of Ventriloquism & Horror Film Poems

It's been a while since Donald last graced us with a new review (in all fairness, he has been busy writing!), but today brings a pair of horror-themed titles to the ruins.


The Secrets of Ventriloquism has a unique voice that captures the moment, putting the reader right beside it's tale. Think of it as more like you just closed your eyes and are now dreaming. The dreams that follow are the horrific. A sickness with strange occurrences, Screaming skulls and a haunting brotherly joke of deadly secrets.

I actually had the privilege of listening to "Murmurs of a Voice Foreknown" at Krallcon 2016. Jon Padgett's voice and telling of the story sends an eerie chill up the back of your neck and haunts you after listening.

A new voice has stepped into the literacy scene. Padgett has spoken and these tales or nightmares are haunting, and interestingly disturbing. A MUST READ!!

Paperback, 201 pages
Published October 31st 2016 by Dunhams Manor Press


Christoph Paul takes his love for Horror films and drops a poetic paragraph or few on such titles from classic favorites to the straight to video. Almost reaching an alphabetical slaughter, having at least one title from every letter of the alphabet, Horror Film Poems splashes an art of writing that I enjoy.

Black and white-feathered bullets
Kamikaze dance
Across a swarming sky

A list of my overall favorites including some quotes below...GET YOUR BLOODY HANDS ON A COPY TODAY!

His body dead-haunts me,
Like pumpkin carvings that whisper
in the dark.

Highlights include American Psycho, A Serbian Film, Blacula, The Birds, Child's Play, Halloween, Krampus (please make this song possible), Let The Right One In, Misery (HaHaHA!), Pumpkinhead, Tusk, and Zombieland.

Paperback, 160 pages
Published October 11th 2016 by CLASH Books

Saturday, November 12, 2016

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

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


WTF Friday: Spidermilk by Konrad Hartmann

Book Traveling Thursdays - Recommendations we've loved

Genre Humor: The Dark Lord & Wrath of Betty

Waiting on Wednesday: The Heart of What Was Lost by Tad Williams

Top Ten Tuesday - Ten Books I've Added To My To-Be-Read List Lately

Unmasking the Aolanians guest post by Cindy Koepp


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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.

So many books, so little time! I'm desperately trying to keep the review shelves from toppling. Fortunately, there were 2 new arrivals this week that will never make it to the shelves . . . because I'm going to be reading them right away.

Arcanum Unbounded: The Cosmere Collection by Brandon Sanderson

The Heart of What Was Lost by Tad Williams


There were also, however, a pair of reads that will have to hit the shelves, at least temporarily, as I can only read so much at once.

Dark Shadows: Heiress of Collinwood by Lara Parker

The Veil (Testaments I and II) by Joseph D'Lacey


And, of course, Foster seduced a few new review titles into the WTF Friday dungeon:

Steel and Promise by Alexa Black

Strange Appetites edited by Lon Sarver

All in Fear edited by May Peterson


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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.

The latest Jack Ryan adventure has taken a bit of a back seat for the moment, as The Sleeping King by Cindy Dees & Bill Flippin has become my paperback of choice, while Red Sister by Mark Lawrence is my current e-read,


What's topping your shelves this week?