Thursday, June 26, 2014

@AuthorRSBelcher #Review of #ARC THE SHOTGUN ARCANA by R.S. Belcher

The Shotgun Arcana by R.S. Belcher

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Book Info: Genre: Weird Western
Reading Level: Adult
Diversity: GLBTQ characters, various religions, interracial relationships
Tense, Person, POV: Past tense, third person, limited POV
Recommended for: Fans of Weird Westerns, Lovecraftian books, steampunk
Book Available: October 7, 2014 in Hardcover and Kindle formats
Trigger Warnings: murder, mutilation, torture, mention of necrophilia, cannibalism
Animals: at least one horse killed

My Thoughts: These are listed as steampunk, but thus far there is limited steampunkery. To me, this is mostly a Weird Western with strong Lovecraftian influences. There are also very many stretches of interesting philosophical discussion between the various characters that I quite enjoyed. For instance:
God simply is,” Bick said. “Humanity embraced It. They gave It color and gender, shape and form. They put words in Its mouth. They always have, and they still do, perhaps they always will. I always experience God as a 'He,' but God is too vast to be held prisoner by language or biology.

...What things do you think the Almighty was whispering in my ear all those countless eons? Words of endearment? Of joy and peace and love? No. He dipped his tongue in the blackest blood and he whispered to me of slaughter, of death of torture and atrocity. That is your creator, Biqa. He built this entire lovely, lovely playground so that he could tear it apart, abuse and neglect his toys and listen to the terrified screams of the monkeys as they tried to understand.

Where did payback end exactly? Charlie Upton had murdered Jim's Pa. Jim killed Charlie. One day Jim might get shot or hanged for what he did to Charlie and sometone like Mutt or Jon Highfather might seek revenge in his name. How far back did the blood flow? When was it enough? Could anything ever get square?
I'm enjoying the character development in these books. Mutt, for example, has really loosened up, and he's quite funny in this book. Jon is off a lot, leaving Mutt and Jim to take care of business in the town. Doc Tumblety is such a creeper, and of course incompetent to boot. As Jon Highfather states: “And that's our first-rate medical care here in sunny Golgotha. He may seem pretty horrible at first, but after awhile you come to realize that deep down inside, he's much worse than that.” He's very misogynistic, saying at one point to Kate, “Hush now... Men are talking.” As for Kate, she makes a great addition to the cast and to the town; I hope we'll see her again! I enjoyed the bits and pieces of Chinese history and legends that Ch'eng Huang provides to Jim as he is instructing him on how to use the jade eye. I was more than a bit troubled by the inclusion of the Thuggee, as their worship of Kali Ma is a perversion. It is true Kali Ma is the Mother-Destroyer, the one who must destroy the world so it can be remade anew, but that doesn't mean that people should be going around randomly murdering in her name.

Also, it is mentioned off-hand that Baba Yaga came to Golgotha, albeit briefly. She is not mentioned by name, but a house on chicken legs is a dead giveaway. I do hope that this story will be told in full; maybe the author has a number of these little anecdotes that he could use to put together an anthology of short stories set in Golgotha?

Toward the end, Clay and a Professor Zenith have a “science showdown” that is wonderfully fun as they shout at one another, using very civilized language and high-toned insults. It struck my funny bone and hopefully I won't be the only one amused by it. At the end, Clay says, “I swear... anyone with a little copper tubing and a dynamo thinks they're a scientist these days.

This is an excellent follow-up and I'm grateful to the author for sending me this ARC so I didn't have to wait until October to read it! I haven't commented on editing because this is an uncorrected proof, so any errors I spotted will likely be cleaned up by the final draft. Definitely check this out if it sounds like the sort of book you'd like!

Series Information: The Golgotha series
Book 1: The Six-Gun Tarot, review linked here where formatting allowed
Book 2: The Shotgun Arcana

Disclosure: I received an ARC from the author in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Synopsis: 1870. A haven for the blessed and the damned, including a fallen angel, a mad scientist, a pirate queen, and a deputy who is kin to coyotes, Golgotha has come through many nightmarish trials, but now an army of thirty-two outlaws, lunatics, serial killers, and cannibals are converging on the town, drawn by a grisly relic that dates back to the Donner Party… and the dawn of humanity.

Sheriff Jon Highfather and his deputies already have their hands full dealing with train robbers, a mysterious series of brutal murders, and the usual outbreaks of weirdness.  But with thirty-two of the most vicious killers on Earth riding into Golgotha in just a few day’s time, the town and its people will be tested as never before—and some of them will never be the same.

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Review: The Science of Vampires

The Science of Vampires
The Science of Vampires by Katherine Ramsland

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Book Info: Genre: Non-fiction, exploration of mythology/legends/lore
Reading Level: Adults
Recommended for: The vampire obsessed

My Thoughts: Honestly, I was a bit disappointed in this book. Oh, there's a lot of information, and lots of other books that are referenced, but I wanted something more scientific, and this was more the exploration of the myths and legends with a sort of “what if?” theme, and the cultural phenomenon of vampires and those trying to emulate them. If you're vampire obsessed and want to read everything about vampires you can put your hands upon, then you will likely find something of interest in this book.

Disclosure: This book was given to me as a gift. All opinions are my own.

Synopsis: Are any vampire myths based on fact?

Bloodsucking villain to guilt-ridden loner—what has inspired the redemption of the vampire in fiction and film?

What is Vampire Personality Disorder? What causes a physical addiction to another person’s blood?

Are there any boundaries in the polysexual world of vampires?

How could a vampire hide in today’s world of advanced forensic science?

What is the psychopathology of the vampire?

What happens in the brain of a vampire’s victim?

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Review: Death by Zamboni

Death by Zamboni
Death by Zamboni by David David Katzman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book Info: Genre: Satire/Parody of PI Noir
Reading Level: Adult
Tense, Person, POV: Past tense, first person, POV of narrator
Recommended for: people who like bizarro and satire/parodies

My Thoughts: This book is... I don't even know what to say about it. Bizarre. Crazy. Disheveled. And I quite enjoyed reading it. Be sure to check out the "sponsored by..." located next to each chapter number. Honestly, there are times this book reminds me of a short parody of a PI novel that I wrote back in high school, but much better done, of course. Some examples to give you a taste for the book (in which there are no zambonis, by the way):
Remember when you were a kid letting Elmer's® Glue dry on your fingertips or making hand casts out of Elmer's® and then peeling them off? Remember trying to plug your butt-hole with Elmer's® because you were afraid the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse were going to come riding out of your rear and this world was going to end? Don't worry, we've all done that at one time or another. Her perfume reminded me of those times.

I smelled danger, so I decided to pack some serious artillery. While working on my last case—The Case of the Juggler's Jugular—I unfortunately allowed myself to be dangerously unprepared. I was in a bathroom stall taking a dump when I was surrounded by two Doberman pinschers, four gang-bangers, five dirty cops, six ninja assassins, twenty members of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and a partridge in a pear tree. All trying to kill me. The only weapons I had on me were a rubber band and a Pez® dispenser. Fortunately, I'm a master of Pez® Fu, but it was still a tough fight for the first twenty-two minutes.
Basically, I laughed a lot. And that, for me, is a highly successful read. If you like bizarro, parodies or satire of PI novels, or just something really strange, then check this book out.

Disclosure: I won this book in a giveaway. All opinions are my own.

Synopsis: A sweeping American romance spanning five American generations in America. 

Oh, wait, that's some other crappy novel. In “Death by Zamboni”, you'll follow our anti-hero Satan Donut through a world of mimes, TV stars, zombies, blockheads, mad scientists, riot girls, and werewolves. This genre-busting satire shish-kabobs the commercial-entertainment state which degrades our lives and makes everyone stupid. But on a happy note, at least you've got your health.

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#Review: "The Miniaturist" by Jessie Burton

The MiniaturistThe Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Book Info: Genre: Historical Literary Fiction
Reading Level: Adult
Tense, Person, POV: third person, present tense, limited omniscient POV
Diversity: GLBTQ, interracial relationship
Recommended for: Fans of historical literary fiction, interested in 17th century Amsterdam
Book Available: August 26, 2014 in Hardcover, Kindle, Large Print paperback, and August 15 in a prerecorded Digital Audio Player.
Trigger Warnings: torture, capital punishment—those sentenced to execution are thrown into the sea with a weight around their neck to drown
Animals: someone opens a window and lets out a parakeet; kittens and puppies left in bags to die, or thrown into river to drown, dog is murdered

My Thoughts: Amsterdam: “Where the pendulum swings from God to a guilder.” 17th century Amsterdam, to put it mildly, is not a place I would want to spend my time. This book is hard to define, but to me it is about hypocrisy, greed, religion, mob mentality, life and death, beginnings and endings. There is a lot going on in this book, and the thing with the miniaturist is very strange. Is she just able to put together information due to intuition, or does she has a psychic gift? It is never answered, and we never catch more than a glimpse of her. I think the cabinet is a metaphor for Nella's life in general, and how she feels trapped. There is a great deal of emphasis placed upon the roles of women and men, as well as the repressive nature of religion at the time. The sense of fear and paranoia soaks this book.

There are a lot of things that I found quite interesting, and don't forget the excellent glossary and appendix in the back of the book. I had a really hard time with the offhand way that people treated animals, so be aware of that if you are sensitive to that; it was, however, sadly a part of the society of the time, and historically accurate, so it was necessary. If this sounds like an interesting book for you, definitely check it out. It's not the sort of thing I would ordinarily read, but despite the rating I would be comfortable recommending this book.

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the Amazon Vine program in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Synopsis: On a brisk autumn day in 1686, eighteen-year-old Nella Oortman arrives in Amsterdam to begin a new life as the wife of illustrious merchant trader Johannes Brandt. But her new home, while splendorous, is not welcoming. Johannes is kind yet distant, always locked in his study or at his warehouse office-leaving Nella alone with his sister, the sharp-tongued and forbidding Marin.

But Nella's world changes when Johannes presents her with an extraordinary wedding gift: a cabinet-sized replica of their home. To furnish her gift, Nella engages the services of a miniaturist—an elusive and enigmatic artist whose tiny creations mirror their real-life counterparts in eerie and unexpected ways . . .

Johannes' gift helps Nella to pierce the closed world of the Brandt household. But as she uncovers its unusual secrets, she begins to understand-and fear-the escalating dangers that await them all. In this repressively pious society where gold is worshipped second only to God, to be different is a threat to the moral fabric of society, and not even a man as rich as Johannes is safe. Only one person seems to see the fate that awaits them. Is the miniaturist the key to their salvation . . . or the architect of their destruction?

Enchanting, beautiful, and exquisitely suspenseful, The Miniaturist is a magnificent story of love and obsession, betrayal and retribution, appearance and truth.

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@MercedesLackey #Review "Reboots" by Cody Martin and Mercedes Lackey

RebootsReboots by Mercedes Lackey

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book Info: Genre: Science Fiction/fantasy cross-genre. Monsters in Space, essentially
Reading Level: Adult
Recommended for: fans of cross-genre stories, sci-fi, urban fantasy
Trigger Warnings: violence

My Thoughts: I ran across Mercedes Lackey signing books at Dragon Con quite by accident. What a happy accident!

This consists of two novellas. It is part of the Stellar Guild series, novellas written by a well-known author and a new author that is being mentored by him or her. The first novella (“Bad Moon Rising” by Cody Martin) is a space opera with monsters, and the second (“Bullets” by Mercedes Lackey) is more PI/noir. They are both very fun stories! I do recommend that readers pay very close attention in “Bad Moon Rising,” because every time there is a break in the text, one is being sent to a new narrator, which can be a bit confusing at first. Still, I enjoyed the stories and now I want the rest...

Series Information: The Stellar Guide series
Book 1: Reboots
Book 2: Tau Ceti
Book 3: On the Train
Book 4: When the Blue Shift Comes
Book 5: New Under the Sun
Book 6: The Aethers of Mars

Disclosure: I bought this book for myself at Dragon Con. All opinions are my own.

Synopsis: Space travel is tough. No air, cosmic radiation, absolute lack of other life-sustaining essentials.

What better way to deal with space travel than to man ships with creatures that regenerate or don’t need air, or are immune to various maladies?

In a future world where zombies, vampires and werewolves co-exist with ‘normal’ humans on Earth, these ships are staffed by a motley crew of various types of undead or near-dead creatures.

Of course no one really knows what happens when zombies and vampires are squeezed together in the close confines of a spaceship.

Don’t you love surprises?

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Friday, June 6, 2014

Review: The Dark World

The Dark World
The Dark World by Cara Lynn Shultz

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book Info: Genre: Fantasy
Reading Level: Young Adult
Recommended for: fans of YA that are tired of love triangles, heroes that try to protect the heroine by hiding her away, and heroines that are annoying. Those who enjoy a good story with quirky and fun characters.
Trigger Warnings: violence, killing

My Thoughts: Holy cliffhangers, Batman! If you have a problem with cliffhangers, you will probably be enraged by this book, which ends on a significant cliffhanger, with no news as to when the next book in the series will be available, only that there will be another book. All I can say is that I hope it is written and released soon, because I desperately want to know what happens next.

Oh, yeah, I really enjoyed this book overall. There were a few problems—for example, “whom” is misused every single time it is used, and “mere” is seriously overused (such as “mere moments” or “mere inches” etc.). However, I really liked the characters. Ajax is just a hoot, and Paige's “I'm the weird girl and that's the way it is” attitude is so very similar to my attitude at that age, so I was really able to relate to her. It was really nice to have a heroine that was quirky and a bit strange; some of the things she came up with were hilarious. For example:
...there was the little matter of me talking to people in the hospital that no one else could see. I went for brain scan after brain scan, tried little white pills, big blue pills, yellow pills—I tasted the rainbow when it came to pills—but the doctors couldn't find anything medically wrong with me.

A tall, dark-haired boy... stared after me curiously. He gave me a slow smile before turning his attention back to Miller. That smile sent chills racing down my arms, leaving gooseflesh in their wake, but not in a good way. It was less Mr. Sexypants and more Mr. Windowless Van.
I also loved that she was so willing to make fun of herself over Logan. It wasn't all drama-drama, weeping and moaning; she was willing to have fun with things and laugh at her own nonsense. For example:
He [Logan] wasn't wearing his baseball cap for once, and the day was bright, almost warm, so his face was bathed in a soft glow from the winter sun. Logan's normally shaded eyes looked a much lighter brown in the sun, and they crinkled up at the corners as he gave me an easy smile.

Are you deliberately screwing with me, sun? What's next? Is his smile going to sparkle as a bell-like “ding” chimes in the distance? Is a butterfly going to land on his shoulder? Give the boy a white horse and it's a wrap for poor Paige's heart.

I reached for my bag but Logan refused, insisting on carrying it. Because he just had to do perfect gentlemanly things that made me like him even more. That bastard.
I enjoyed Paige's relationship with her dad, despite his belief that she was crazy and talked to people who weren't there. His over protectiveness is on display in this scene:
Sure enough, a minute later my dad poked his head in just to check and see if we needed anything. Then he made sure the door was as wide open as possible. And tested the lock. And studied the hinges, possibly contemplating removing the door from the frame. And then he left. Probably to go collect his award for Most Embarrassing Dad of All Time That Ever Existed in the History of Everything.
I also liked that Logan didn't just try to keep Paige safe by hiding her away and protecting her, but actually was willing to help her learn how to defend herself. And it was really refreshing to have a young adult book without a love triangle. See, it can be done!

So, despite any faults, an enjoyable book, and the first book in a new series that I will definitely be following. Keep in mind the cliffhanger ending; if that sort of thing bothers you, you might want to wait until the next book is at least announced so you aren't left hanging! But if this sounds like your cup of tea, I definitely recommend it.

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the Amazon Vine program in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Synopsis: Paige Kelly is used to weird--in fact, she probably corners the market on weird, considering that her best friend, Dottie, has been dead since the 1950s. But when a fire demon attacks Paige in detention, she has to admit that things have gotten out of her league. Luckily, the cute new boy in school, Logan Bradley, is a practiced demon slayer—and he isn't fazed by Paige's propensity to chat with the dead. Suddenly, Paige is smack in the middle of a centuries-old battle between warlocks and demons, learning to fight with a magic sword so that she can defend herself. And if she makes one wrong move, she'll be pulled into the Dark World, an alternate version of our world that's overrun by demons—and she might never make it home.

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Review: City of Stairs

City of Stairs
City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book Info: Genre: Mystery/fantasy
Reading Level: Adult
Recommended for: Folks who like to think deep thoughts, enjoy a good story
Book Available: September 9, 2014 in paperback and Kindle formats
Trigger Warnings: murder, slavery (historically), religious persecution

My Thoughts: I really enjoy cross-genre stories, and this one hits a few of my favorite buttons: a mystery in a fantasy world. To make things even better, it is a multi-layered story that brings up issues of slavery, personal and religious freedom, and the abuse of power. It was a really excellent story. This little segment, which is before the first page of the first chapter, really encapsulates some of the ideas that are explored in the story, and also express my thoughts on organized religion pretty well.
And Olvos said to them: “Why have you done this, my children? Why is the sky wreathed with smoke? Why have you made war in far places, and shed blood in strange lands?

And they said to Her: “You blessed us as Your people, and we rejoiced, and were happy. But we found those who were not Your people, and they would not become Your people, and they were willful and ignorant of You. They would not open their ears to Your songs, or lay Your words upon their tongues. So we dashed them upon the rocks and threw down their houses and shed their blood and scattered them to the winds, and we were right to do so. For we are Your people. We carry Your blessings. We are Yours, and so we are right. Is this not what You said?”

And Olvos was silent.
I was very amused by the anti-bureaucracy sentiments expressed in the book, too, as shown in these segments:
There is no crueler hells then committee work.

Shara now sits on committees that decide who shall be nominated to be committee chairs for other committees, then, after these meetings, she sits on committee meetings to formulate agendas for future meetings, and after them, she attends committee meetings deciding who shall be appointed to appoint appointments to committees.

These meetings, they're like thieves—they follow you around, wait until you're not looking, and pounce.
I really liked the characters, and the development of those characters. The changes are slow and subtle, just like in life, but end up being life-altering in the end. It was very well done. I was left with a lot of lingering thoughts about power and powerlessness and how those who initially lacked power will often abuse it once they have it. The Saypuri were treated as slaves under the control of the Continentals, and when they finally rose up and overthrew them, the Saypuri persecuted the Continentals, refusing to allow them to so much as mention their gods (or Divinities), forbidding “miracles” (essentially magic spells), and denying the Continentals their own history or access to their own texts from the past. One would think that it would be common sense to not do something like that, as it just leads to more conflict, but then again, the lust for power rarely bows to common sense or logic.

So, a really good book. It made me think and ponder on various topics, many of them quite weighty, while at the same time providing an entertaining story. I recommend this to anyone who likes deep thoughts, a good story, and a cross-genre tale. This book won't be available until September, but you can pre-order it if it sounds like your thing.

Disclosure: I received an ARC/proof copy from the Amazon Vine program in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Synopsis: Years ago, the city of Bulikov wielded the powers of the Gods to conquer the world. But after its divine protectors were mysteriously killed, the conqueror has become the conquered; the city's proud history has been erased and censored, progress has left it behind, and it is just another colonial outpost of the world's new geopolitical power. Into this musty, backward city steps Shara Divani. Officially, the quiet, mousy woman is just another lowly diplomat sent by Bulikov's oppressors. Unofficially, Shara is one of her country's most accomplished spymasters—dispatched to investigate the brutal murder of a seemingly harmless historian. As Shara pursues the mystery through the ever-shifting physical and political geography of the city, she begins to suspect that the beings who once protected Bulikov may not be as dead as they seem—and that her own abilities might be touched by the divine as well.

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Monday, June 2, 2014

Review: The Night Angel Trilogy

The Night Angel Trilogy
The Night Angel Trilogy by Brent Weeks

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Actual rating: 3.5

Book Info: Genre: Dark epic fantasy
Reading Level: Young Adult to Adult
Recommended for:
Trigger Warnings: murder, killing, assassination, violence, rape (M/M and M/F), torture, mutilation, stealing, slavery, infidelity, sexual assault, cannibalism, danger to child/kidnapping

My Thoughts: This is a general review of the overall series. To read the reviews of the books in the trilogy, go to the individual reviews on each book's page.

This is a dark, gritty epic fantasy. The first book of the series feels oriented toward young adult readers, having the typical fantasy coming-of-age tropes. However, by book two the writing is more oriented to adults and the sorts of problems inherent in ruling and judging and generally being adult and taking responsibility for your own actions. While many of the themes remain dark, by the end of the third book in the trilogy there is a strong feeling of hope and redemption.

The first book in the trilogy is rife with editing errors, and the third book also has a number of them. Only the second book in the series shows decent editing. I'm not sure why this is. The first book also relied strongly on tropes, but as the trilogy continues you can see the author's vision of the story opening up and also see the author's craft improving. All in all, a satisfying and interesting trilogy, and one I'd recommend to fans of dark epic fantasy.

Series Information: The Night Angel Trilogy
Book 1: The Way of Shadows, review linked here
Book 2: Shadow's Edge, review linked here
Book 3: Beyond the Shadows, review linked here

Disclosure: I purchased the omnibus edition of the trilogy for myself. All opinions are my own.

Synopsis: 3 volumes in one giant omnibus edition.
"Way of Shadows", "Shadow's Edge", "Beyond the Shadows": all in one beautiful hardcover edition

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Review: Beyond the Shadows

Beyond the Shadows
Beyond the Shadows by Brent Weeks

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book Info: Genre: Dark epic fantasy
Reading Level: Adult
Recommended for: fans of dark epic fantasy
Trigger Warnings: murder, killing, assassination, violence, rape (mentioned but not seen), torture, mutilation, stealing, slavery

My Thoughts: After the first book in this series, it turns more into adult fare. I neglected to mention this in the review for book 2. Also, although not as bad as the first book, this one again has a number of editing errors, including misused words and many missing words. I just can't fathom how this happened; aren't publishing houses supposed to have superior editing staff?

However, all in all, this is a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy. The ending is a bit abrupt after all the build-up, incorporating a certain element of deus ex machina, but at the same time it makes sense based on the hints that are dropped over the course of books 2 and 3. The author has said he plans to write further books in this universe, set at a point some years in the future, and I will definitely be watching for those. Many of my problems with the first book, such as overuse of tropes, is cleaned up by the end of the series; you can see how the author has grown in writing. I will, in fact, be seeking out more works by this talented author. If you enjoy dark, gritty fantasy that has elements of redemption and hope, then definitely check this trilogy out.

Series Information: The Night Angel Trilogy
Book 1: The Way of Shadows, review linked here
Book 2: Shadow's Edge, review linked here
Book 3: Beyond the Shadows

Disclosure: I purchased the omnibus edition of the trilogy for myself. All opinions are my own.

Synopsis: Logan Gyre is king of Cenaria, a country under siege, with a threadbare army and little hope. He has one chance—a desperate gamble, but one that could destroy his kingdom.

In the north, the new Godking has a plan. If it comes to fruition, no one will have the power to stop him.

Kylar Stern has no choice. To save his friends—and perhaps his enemies—he must accomplish the impossible: assassinate a goddess.

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