Rogues #6 and #7

Title: Provenance
Author: David W. Ball
Genre: Thriller

Never let it be said that art history isn’t interesting. In this case, we’re talking the history of a piece by Caravaggio, David with the Head of Goliath. Both the history of the piece itself while the artist lived – a tale that neatly dovetails with corruption of the Church (a Borghese, no less) and the way the painting came to us in the modern age, through various wars and the hands of illicit art dealings. There’s a great little twist at the end that, while I didn’t guess it (I’m bad at that kind of thing) was decidedly set up so that the twist felt genuine and leaving a nice “HO SHIT” kind of moment.

It’s a great little piece that’s surprisingly action filled for a tale told mostly in narration. I enjoyed it immensely.

Grade: A

Title: Roaring Twenties
Author: Carrie Vaughn
Genre: Paranormal

Witches, in a speakeasy owned by a witch, frequented by supes like various species of weres, zombie employees and a siren singer. It’s as awesome as it sounds. The characters, M and Pauline are original for this short story (I think), but I’d absolutely love to see more about them. They’re a good team and they’re strong female characters. Vaughn has also nailed the vibe of the period. It’s fun, it’s got a ton of charm and atmosphere. It’s a winner. I might try checking out her other stuff if/when I have the time.

Grade A

Rogues #5 – Tawny Petticoats – Michael Swanwick

I’m about a quarter of the way through Days of Blood & Starlight. In the mean time, I continue to press forward with Rogues!

Title: Tawny Petticoats
Author: Michael Swanwick
Genre: Zombie Western

So this is an interesting one. This one is set in New Orleans in a future where America is post-Utopia. Drug-induced zombies (i.e. the kind that we first knew of) are the new labor based, and so while none are the main characters, they are everywhere. I say that it’s a Western, because the plot feels very western. We have a pair of gentlemen attempting to swindle three of the biggest swindlers in New Orleans with the aid of the titular lady Tawny Petticoats. The setting is fun, and it’s always fun watching cons trying to con one another, but it just didn’t grab me and I can’t quite saw why. The ending was good enough for me to bump this up a notch, but I kind of struggled through this one.

Grade: C

Two For One – Rogues #3 & #4

Title: The Inn of the Seven Blessings
Author: Matthew Hughes
Genre: Fantasy

This is the first story that was just okay. On the one hand, the story itself is fine – a thief comes across the belongings of a man who has been taken hostage by a strange breed of ‘half-men.’ In his belongings is a puzzle box, and within is a figuring which promises him blessings. What he has to do to earn those blessings makes for an enjoyable enough tale, but I just didn’t care for the main character. He’s the type that didn’t rape the one female character because the thought of working with the other male to be able to do so didn’t appeal to him. Charming. After that little bit, it just kind of lost me.

Grade: C

Title: Bent Twig
Author: Joe R. Lansdale
Genre: Detective/Mystery

This is a good, old-fashion kind of pulpy detective novel set in small town Texas. Lansdale sends his established character Hap to find his girlfriend’s daughter, who has a long history of drug problems and the kind of trouble that comes with it. Although this isn’t my genre, I did rather enjoy Hap and when he meets up with his partner Leonard, there’s a real natural chemsitry there and it almost lends a bit of a ‘good cop/bad cop’ vibe to whole affair, though Hap isn’t all that good himself. The mystery is set up quickly, tightly written and sadly, almost entirely believable. A great little story.

Grade: A

Palate Cleanser: If I Were You

cover34865-mediumeARC provided by NetGalley in exchange for fair review

Summary:

One day I was a high school teacher on summer break, leading a relatively uneventful but happy life. Or so I told myself. Later, I’d question that, as I would question pretty much everything I knew about me, my relationships, and my desires. It all began when my neighbor thrust a key to a storage unit at me. She’d bought it to make extra money after watching some storage auction show. Now she was on her way to the airport to elope with a man she barely knew, and she needed me to clear out the unit before the lease expired.

Soon, I was standing inside a small room that held the intimate details of another woman’s life, feeling uncomfortable, as if I was invading her privacy. Why had she let these items so neatly packed, possessions that she clearly cared about deeply, be lost at an auction? Driven to find out by some unnamed force, I began to dig, to discover this woman’s life, and yes, read her journals—-dark, erotic journals that I had no business reading. Once I started, I couldn’t stop. I read on obsessively, living out fantasies through her words that I’d never dare experience on my own, compelled by the three men in her life, none of whom had names. I read onward until the last terrifying dark entry left me certain that something had happened to this woman. I had to find her and be sure she was okay.

Before long, I was taking her job for the summer at the art gallery, living her life, and she was nowhere to be found. I was becoming someone I didn’t know. I was becoming her.

The dark, passion it becomes…

Now, I am working at a prestigious gallery, where I have always dreamed of being, and I’ve been delivered to the doorstep of several men, allof which I envision as one I’ve read about in the journal. But there is one man that will call to me, that will awaken me in ways I never believed possible. That man is the ruggedly sexy artist, Chris Merit, who wants to paint me. He is rich and famous, and dark in ways I shouldn’t find intriguing, but I do. I so do. I don’t understand why his dark side appeals to me, but the attraction between us is rich with velvety promises of satisfaction. Chris is dark, and so are his desires, but I cannot turn away. He is damaged beneath his confident good looks and need for control, and in some way, I feel he needs me. I need him.

All I know for certain is that he knows me like I don’t even know me, and he says I know him. Still, I keep asking myself — do I know him? Did he know her, the journal writer, and where is she? And why doesn’t it seem to matter anymore? There is just him and me, and the burn for more.

Genre: Fifty Shades of Gray Clone

Review:

Sigh.

This is a genre of books I want to like. Kinky sex is fun and women deserve fun sexy things just as men do. But why is this genre filled with so much stupid?!

[For reference, my quickie review of Fifty Shades: Anastasia is an idiot whose “Inner Goddess” proves she has no self esteem, Christian is an abusive, stalker asshole who Anastasia’s mom should have been encouraging her to take out a restraining order against instead of encouraging her to be with him, (and no, his abusive past does not justify nor excuse how he treated Anastasia), E.L. James’ depiction of the BDSM lifestyle is completely wrong and what she shows is dangerous and abusive, and the whole thing is terrible from a techincal perspective.]

Case in point:

Sara – very smart in her field of expertise (art), stupid in so many other ways. She works in a gallery filled with hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of dollars worth of art, and she is SHOCKED that there are cameras there. Her first night with Chris on their second round, she tells him that she doesn’t use condoms and to please ditch him and don’t worry – he’s on the pill. What about STD/STI? She manages to get hammered at every single wine tasting in this book. I may chalk this up to the writer though, because the author clearly knows nothing about wine. At one point Chris mentions that his wine expert friend never drinks on the job because she can’t maintain her professionalism. Um. Wine makers taste 20-30 vats in a day and never get drunk because they SPIT and not swallow. Did she not do research? Like, at all? She’s less annoying than Anastasia for sure, but she’s also so beautiful that two hot, filthy rich guys eat out of her palm with no effort while she can’t string a sentence together so not THAT much less annoying.

Chris – Up side: he’s not a stalker. Downside, he’s still kinda creepy. Like how after their second or third meeting in passing, he goes to her job at the gallery (while she’s not there), sneaks into her office and leaves a sketch for her on her chair. Or after she gets drunk the first time, he offers to take her for pizza and instead drives her to his place and says they can walk to the parlor or they can go upstairs, but if he does, he’s going to fuck her as hard as he’s been wanting too. Yeah. Also, I’m not a fan of how the author almost makes him seem ashamed of his D/s desires. The kinky sexy in this book is (like Fifty Shades) rather light, but you’d like they were getting into illegal shit the way he warns her against him. Also: this is a guy who never brings a woman back to his place, but not only does he do that for her, the very next day he’s bringing her to meet his godparents, who say she’s “very good” for him. Riiiight. And the dipshit ditched the condoms when she asked him too. Moron. How does he know she was telling the truth about being STD Free?

The plot is okay, though it ends unresolved and in a literal cliffhanger. At least the book does feel complete, so there is that. The sex is well written, though it’s very vanilla, and that’s a let down given the premise of the book.

I don’t know. Every time I started to like this book, some other stupid would come out of the wood work.

I want to like the genre, but books like these make it impossible to do so.

Verdict: Skip it

Available: Now.

Stacking the Shelves

Okay. So I really didn’t intend to have another one of these posts so soon, but books…kinda happened. Technically though, this time I didn’t spend a dime 🙂

eARCs

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For a while, I didn’t think I was going to get The Last Changeling because I think I requested it near the end of may or at the beginning of June. Requests usually get handled quicker on Net Galley than they do on Edelweiss, so I was kinda of waiting for a decline. I’m excited though, because it sounds like an interesting take on faeries and that cover is freaking gorgeous!  Gilded Lily totally caught my eye because of how close the title is to my own handle (yes, I’m that shallow). But it’s a steampunk mystery and it’s been a while since I’ve indulged. I didn’t realize this was the third in a series (that tiny subtitle is the only hint you get and honestly, in a pic that’s size, it’s almost impossible to tell) but it seems to be pretty stand alone. I’ll be reading this one next as it comes out on Tuesday. I will say though- I hate photoshopped  covers. They almost always look cheap. This is no exception.

Other Books

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I picked up Dualed winning a giveaway during Ensconsed in Lit’s twitter party. It’s dystopian YA (I can hear the groans now) but dang it, I’m optimistic that I can find a good one! Finally, Fire Burn and Cauldron Bubble a paranormal romance about a witch, a warlock and a vampire. It’s hard to be free on Kindle and it sounds like an enjoyable fluff read.

This brings my to-be-read list up to 34. A new record for me 😉

Rogues #2 – What Would You Do? – Gillian Flynn

Title – What Would You Do?
Author – Gillian Flynn
Genre – Thriller

Two thrillers, two completely different tones. While the first possessed an almost caper-like quality, this tale has a great sense of dread creeping over it. It’s the tale of a sex worker-turned “pyschic” who in the course of trying conning money out of a client to “cleanse” her house finds out that in turn is being played. The question is, by who? The 15 year old son, who has been painted in a near sociopathic light by the mother, or the mother who (for reasons I won’t spoil) seems to have an agenda of her own? As is typical for Flynn, there are seemingly no heroes in this piece. Our protagonist flat out admits there’s no shame in her game – she’s doing what she does because she needs to survive. Period. That said, she does manage to become sympathetic, because while a rogue she herself is still human and her con isn’t necessarily even that “bad” as far as they go. We get no resolution, and that’s okay because it lets you draw your own conclusions about what you’ve just read. And in something like this, a tidy ending would have been a disservice.

Grade: A-

Rogues #1 – Tough Times All Over – Joe Abercrombie

Title: Tough Times All Over
Author: Joe Abercrombie
Genre: Thriller

As mentioned in my introduction, some of the authors that participated in the anthology decided to experiment outside the genre their known for. Known best for his fantasy work, Joe decided to write what can almost be best described as a fantasy caper. The setting of Sipani is new to us, but wouldn’t just as easily fit in with the great cities of Europe or perhaps even the old west. The story itself is simple: there is a package. Everyone wants it. The story follows the package through Sipani as it exchanges hands from the various rogues who have been assigned to collect it.

There are three things I like about this story in particular:

Point of View- the story is practically told from the point of view of the package itself. The first handler sets up the scene for us, but from there the narrative shifts as the package itself shifts from hand to hand. We meet a variety of ne’er-do-wells and they all manage to feel different enough that even in the limited form of the short-story we still get a sense of their personality and their place in the world. It works great.

Pacing – the story is brisk. We move from handler to handler and the story never lingers too long on any character really aiding that classic caper feel.

Strong Female Characters – Though the rogues are a mix of male and female, all of the female MC’s feel like strong and worthy opponents in their own rights. I’d love to read more about any of them. It’s both refreshing and awesome. You could quibble that there’s some lesbianism going on towards the end (in a way that makes you wonder if it was fanservice) but it was minimal enough that I can’t really get too upset and the rest of the story is more than strong enough to make up for it.

Grade: B+

Rogues Review – An Introduction

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Summary:

The latest story collection from #1 New York Times bestselling author George R. R. Martin and award-winning editor Gardner Dozois is filled with subtle shades of gray. Twenty-one all-original stories, by an all-star list of contributors, will delight and astonish you in equal measure with their cunning twists and dazzling reversals. And George R. R. Martin himself offers a brand-new A Game of Thrones tale chronicling one of the biggest rogues in the entire Ice and Fire saga.

Follow along with the likes of Gillian Flynn, Joe Abercrombie, Neil Gaiman, Patrick Rothfuss, Scott Lynch, Cherie Priest, Garth Nix, and Connie Willis as well as other masters of literary sleight-of-hand in this rogues’ gallery of stories that will plunder your heart—and yet leave you all the richer for it.

Featuring all-new stories by

Joe Abercrombie • Daniel Abraham • David W. Ball • Paul Cornell • Bradley Denton • Phyllis Eisenstein • Gillian Flynn • Neil Gaiman • Matthew Hughes • Joe R. Lansdale • Scott Lynch • Garth Nix • Cherie Priest • Patrick Rothfuss • Steven Saylor • Michael Swanwick • Lisa Tuttle • Carrie Vaughn • Walter Jon Williams • Connie Willis

And an Introduction by George R. R. Martin!

As you can see, Rogues is a pan-genre anthology unified not by genre, but by theme. Taking this even further, some of the authors have chosen to dabble outside their normal genre. Due to how rich this is (and the fact that this anthology is a monster at over 800 pages), I’ve decided to review this gradually. I’ll read stories here and there, and review each one on its own merits. At the end, I’ll do a wrap-up post and let you know my thoughts of the book as a whole. Because this is an anthology and it isn’t genre specific, I do think there is going to be some level of your mileage may vary, and I figure this way is the fairest way to ensure that the individual stories get their due. I don’t have a set schedule or anything, but will generally aim for at least 2-3 a week if only so it doesn’t take me forever to get through the book. All reviews in the series will be tagged “Rogues” so you can easily find all the reviews. The one thing that is certain is that I will be presenting them as they are presented. The first post will go up tomorrow!

Enjoy!

Did Not Finish: Queen of the Tearling – Erika Johnson

17415882Review copy provided by Edelweiss in exchange for a fair review

Summary:

On her nineteenth birthday, Princess Kelsea Raleigh Glynn, raised in exile, sets out on a perilous journey back to the castle of her birth to ascend her rightful throne. Plain and serious, a girl who loves books and learning, Kelsea bears little resemblance to her mother, the vain and frivolous Queen Elyssa. But though she may be inexperienced and sheltered, Kelsea is not defenseless: Around her neck hangs the Tearling sapphire, a jewel of immense magical power; and accompanying her is the Queen’s Guard, a cadre of brave knights led by the enigmatic and dedicated Lazarus. Kelsea will need them all to survive a cabal of enemies who will use every weapon—from crimson-caped assassins to the darkest blood magic—to prevent her from wearing the crown.

Despite her royal blood, Kelsea feels like nothing so much as an insecure girl, a child called upon to lead a people and a kingdom about which she knows almost nothing. But what she discovers in the capital will change everything, confronting her with horrors she never imagined. An act of singular daring will throw Kelsea’s kingdom into tumult, unleashing the vengeance of the tyrannical ruler of neighboring Mortmesne: the Red Queen, a sorceress possessed of the darkest magic. Now Kelsea will begin to discover whom among the servants, aristocracy, and her own guard she can trust.

But the quest to save her kingdom and meet her destiny has only just begun—a wondrous journey of self-discovery and a trial by fire that will make her a legend…if she can survive.

The Queen of the Tearling introduces readers to a world as fully imagined and terrifying as that of The Hunger Games, with characters as vivid and intriguing as those of The Game of Thrones, and a wholly original heroine. Combining thrilling action and twisting plot turns, it is a magnificent debut from the talented Erika Johansen.

Review:

If you want to read this book, do yourself a favor and don’t think about it. This is the perfect example of a book that works okay if you just let yourself soak in the text, but the <i>second</i> you begin to think it completely falls apart.

The setting is nonsensical – we’re in medieval Europe! No, wait, we’re in the future on some place on earth that probably doesn’t exist because there are few places left to explore.

The technological hangups make no sense- they’re no doctors because they drowned and no one thought to sneak across the boarder to train! Double-paned glass is amazeballs!

The MC finds herself incredibly plain – despite living in pure exile for 19 years and not having had any access to a mirror. What societal influence shaped this opinion of her, because beauty IS directed by society. Remember Reuben and how a long time chubbier women were sexy because it indicated wealth and enough food to eat?

The MC is a naive idiot who talks like a politician running for office that despite her extensive “schooling” knows nothing of her land and apparently missed the lesson on “the needs of the many outweighing the needs of the few.” You don’t end an unjust treaty that is keeping your land at least marginally peaceful when you have no army nor comparable weapons because zomg slaves. Oh, and did I mention that she’s vowed to never betray the thief called Fetch who kidnapped her? Yes, he didn’t kill her, but that’s hardly cause for promise of pardon or such loyalty. Hell, you can feel her guard practically facepalming in light of this information.

The Red Queen is supposed to come off as Joffrey-like figure (ZOMG, by bed slave is snoring! I know! I shall sever his vocal cords, cut out his tongue and uvula because it annoys me!) but the way she’s written, I can’t take her seriously.

At the end of the day, I just can’t with this book. I got a quarter of the way through and I can’t keep going.

The writing is breezy and it can be fun…just don’t think about it.

ARC Review: Unwept (The Nightbirds #1) – Tracy Hickman & Laura Hickman

18490661eARC provided through NetGalley in exchange for a fair review

Summary:

Gamin, Maine, is a remote seaside town where everyone seems to know Ellis Harkington better than she knows herself—but she doesn’t remember any of them.

Unknown events have robbed Ellis of her memory. Concerned individuals, who purport to be her friends and loved ones, insist that she simply needs to recuperate, that her memories may return in time, but refuse to divulge what has brought her to this state. For her own sake, so they say.

Ellis finds herself adrift in a town of ominous mysteries, cryptic hints, and disturbingly familiar strangers. The Nightbirds, a clique of fashionable young men and women, claim her as one of their own, but who among them can she truly trust? And what of the phantom suitor who visits her in her dreams? Is he a memory, a figment of her imagination, or a living nightmare beyond rational explanation?

Only her lost past hold the answers she seeks—if she can uncover its secrets before she fall prey to an unearthly killer.

Review:

I’m afraid this is one of those books. Lovely cover art, lovely premise, lovely atmosphere within the book itself…and yet it all seems to amount to almost nothing in the end, except a cliffhanger non-ending, the kind I despise, especially in book short enough that it can almost be considered a novella at 274 pages.

The premise is simple enough: Ellis wakes up from a seeming nightmare not knowing who she is or where she is. She’s told that she’s been sent off to the estate of an old friend to help her recover her memory. Of course, things aren’t quite what they seem and she spends the book trying to figure out exactly which side is the crazy one. At first the prologue seems to be disconnected from the rest of the book. It does turn out to be a bit of a hint, but honestly, the vast majority of this book (almost 80% truly) barely feels paranormal at all. There are little strange occurrences and some nightmares that we’re meant to question the nature of the reality that she’s living in, but the rest is so low key that you’re still meant to be questioning her sanity rather than the situation at hand.

As for the characters themselves…honestly, Ellis aside, I can’t say I necessarily like any of them? Jenny, who is supposed to be a childhood friend doesn’t always come across as such. Many of the “Nightbirds” seem kind of catty and/or bitchy and Merrick, the male suitor doesn’t come across as someone to route for either.

There’s some interest piqued with scrapbooks that points to the the truth and the reveal of what’s going on leaves you with more of an “oh” feeling. Like you go “okay, yeah. I should have seen that coming,” especially after you go back and think about the prologue.

And as I alluded to before; this book has a non-ending. We get some exposition and then…more or less fade to black. It’s one of those books that feels arbitrarily cut off. This is meant as a trilogy and I wonder if it maybe should have been a duology instead. You know I believe that a book should feel complete even if it’s meant to be continued in the next. This really doesn’t.

Finally, the pacing is feels slow and a bit plodding. For such a book, it sure takes a long time to get going.

For all these reasons, I just can’t recommend this book. The potential was there, but for me at least, it’s just didn’t pan out.

Verdict: Skip It

Available: July 1st