ARC Review: Gods and Monsters: Mythbreaker – Stephen Blackmoore

21412497eARC provided by the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for fair review

Summary:

The follow-up to Chuck Wendig’s Unclean Sprits is a stand alone tale of new gods facing up to the old ones with humanity in the middle!

Growing up an orphan, Louie had conversations with “invisible friends,” could see patterns in the world that no one else could see. In other times he would have been a prophet – someone to make people believe in the gods. But he grew out of the visions, and then into crime as a drug runner.

Now thirty-five and burnt out, he’s had enough. With access to the mob’s money, he plans to go out in a big way. Only he can’t. A broken down car, a missed flight; it’s bad enough being hunted by the mob, but the gods – kicked out of the Heavens, stuck on Earth without worshippers – need someone who can tell their stories, and they aren’t letting him go.

And there are new gods on the scene, gods of finance and technology, who want him too. Caught between the mob and two sets of rival gods, Louie hatches a plan that will probably get him killed if it doesn’t get him out.

Review:

This was a great surprise. A Paranormal Urban Fantasy about a Chronicler (aka Prophet) named Fitz. As the only (relatively) sane Chronicler at a time when the old gods are dying due to a lack of followers, when word of him gets out, all of the gods want to use his voice to restore themselves to their former glory. Stories of gods dying as they become more obscure is hardly anything new, but I do like how he pairs it with the rise of new gods for the modern times: a trinity comprised of Money (goes by Big, changes forms the way most people change their gum), the Internet (represented by the Amandas, a series of clones that download information at will, she reminds me of Trinity from The Matrix)  and of course El Jefe or The Man (who uses Agents – not unlike Agent Smith) to do his dirty deeds. I’m especially fond of the Amandas, one of the few gods to not come off as a complete dick. The other Goddess that grows on me is Medeina, a minor Goddess of the Hunt who goes from antagonist to aiding our hero. There’s also some nice quieter moments between Medeina and the human Sam (a woman), one of Fitz’ friends from his drug running days that also give the story some needed humanity.

The action moves quickly, story is doled out at a good pace and is just a fun book. As an Angelino, I really love how he represents Los Angeles here – from hitting Thousand Oaks (and a nice joke from Medeina who mourns it looks nothing like the name implies) to Getty Villa, to downtown and Hawaiian Gardens. It’s always great to see Los Angeles as it is, and not just as we portray ourselves on television.

If I have any complaints, it’s that the ending feels a bit too neat, a bit too easy, but it’s so satisfying, that you’re willing it slide.

All in all, I enjoyed myself way more than I thought I would, and I can easily recommend checking this out.

Note: I recommend this book for the 17+ crowd. The violence, language and drug use would easily translate as a hard R or a TV MA rating. Those of you sensitive to such things might want to give it a pass.

Verdict: Buy Now

Available: December 2nd

ARC Review: The Last Changeling – Chelsea Pitcher

cover48549-mediumeARC provided through NetGalley in exchange for fair review

Summary:

Elora, the young princess of the Dark Faeries, plans to overthrow her tyrannical mother, the Dark Queen, and bring equality to faeriekind. All she has to do is convince her mother’s loathed enemy, the Bright Queen, to join her cause. But the Bright Queen demands an offering first: a human boy who is a “young leader of men.”

A Dark Princess In Disguise . . .

To steal a mortal, Elora must become a mortal—at least, by all appearances. And infiltrating a high school is surprisingly easy. When Elora meets Taylor, the seventeen-year-old who’s plotting to overthrow a ruthless bully, she thinks she’s found her offering . . . until she starts to fall in love.

Review:

I don’t know how else to break this to you, so I shall be blunt.

The Last Changeling is not a faerie tale.

Oh, certainly Elora is a faerie (though, I would note that she is not a changeling – a glamor is not the same thing. For changelings and faery see Cargill’s Dreams and Shadows) and she does tell a tale of the faery in this story, but only in the last 20% of the book does anything related to the faery become relevant at all. As the book starts with Elora already out in the mortal world, we never spend time with the fae proper. Heck, when the fae do come to play in the last bit of the book, it’s in the mortal realm. Someone looking for a YA story about the Dark Court is going to be disappointed, because everything we learn about the courts are told in long exposition sequences, in the form of a story that Elora is telling Taylor. It’s the very definition of tell, not show and the book would have benefited tremendously from starting the book in the faery realm and then moving it to the mortal. By doing so, Elora’s fight would have picked up a much greater sense of urgency and you’d been more vested in the fight. By having it all explained as a story, the reader remains detached. All told, with not a lot of editing, you could excise the the faery elements and be left with a contemporary story.

So how does the contemporary story hold up?

Not that well.

Everyone at this school comes off as one dimensional. The bully is Evil. The outcast girl is a vegan goth. There’s heavy handedness surrounding discrimination towards the LGBT community – the bully gets his parents and the parents of the rich kids to call and convince the principal that the prom should be for “traditional” couples only because Taylor joined the Gay-Straight alliance. This is after the bully more or less forced Taylor to resign by having him and the other kids insinuate that he was touching them – and the obviously homophobic coach buying into it. It already feels dated and lacks any subtlety, especially for a book coming out in a time when gay marriage bans are falling left and right. Things are far from perfect for LGBT kids in high school, it’d been nice if a more delicate hand had been taken and some nuance let into the story.

As for Taylor and Elora? Eh. They’re there. There are hints of an interesting backstory with Taylor – but they’re never fully developed. Elora’s backstory, as I mentioned, is all told in flashback, and she never comes off as strange enough to believe that she never lived amongst humans. She just comes off as a little strange, but not alien, which is what she should have.

All told, while the book is technically proficient, there’s just not much there to recommend it. It’s clear that this book wanted to be a YA romance with some fantastic elements. But with the fantasy elements lacking and the romance not feeling that romantic, the whole book just feels disappointing. I’m sure there’s some good faery-centric stories for the YA crowd, but unfortunately, this isn’t it.

Verdict: Skip It

Available: November 8th

Review: The Midnight Queen – Sylvia Izzo Hunter

20821047ebook purchased by me

Summary:

In the hallowed halls of Oxford’s Merlin College, the most talented—and highest born—sons of the Kingdom of Britain are taught the intricacies of magickal theory. But what dazzles can also destroy, as Gray Marshall is about to discover…

Gray’s deep talent for magick has won him a place at Merlin College. But when he accompanies four fellow students on a mysterious midnight errand that ends in disaster and death, he is sent away in disgrace—and without a trace of his power. He must spend the summer under the watchful eye of his domineering professor, Appius Callender, working in the gardens of Callender’s country estate and hoping to recover his abilities. And it is there, toiling away on a summer afternoon, that he meets the professor’s daughter.

Even though she has no talent of her own, Sophie Callender longs to be educated in the lore of magick. Her father has kept her isolated at the estate and forbidden her interest; everyone knows that teaching arcane magickal theory to women is the height of impropriety. But against her father’s wishes, Sophie has studied his ancient volumes on the subject. And in the tall, stammering, yet oddly charming Gray, she finally finds someone who encourages her interest and awakens new ideas and feelings.

Sophie and Gray’s meeting touches off a series of events that begins to unravel secrets about each of them. And after the king’s closest advisor pays the professor a closed-door visit, they begin to wonder if what Gray witnessed in Oxford might be even more sinister than it seemed. They are determined to find out, no matter the cost…

Review:

There are light reads, and then there are light-weight reads. Light reads are your beach books. They are the kind of breezy books that, by their nature, aren’t really meant to hold any deeper meaning. They’re just meant to be fun and entertain you.

Then there are light-weight reads. Books that are meant to be more, but somehow don’t quite get there. I feel like The Midnight Queen is one of those books. It is meant to be a blending of magic and spycraft. There is magic and there is some spycraft, but they just don’t seem to amount to much, even though one gets the sense it was meant to add up to more.

This book takes place in kind of an alternate-history England, where magic has flourished. Izzo Hunter didn’t take much advantage of this though, and there’s no sense that things have changed much beyond the monarchs in power. Heck, we even still have a Henry the VIII, only now renamed Henry the Great. It’s the kind of reinventing that makes you wonder why the author bothered with the rebranding in the first place, though I suppose one could argue it’s because the Old Gods are still in favor, but eh. As for the magic, it’s a fairly typical system based on Latin spells and chants out of a book. You’ve seen it before. Ultimately, some thought did go into this world and its magic, but it’s still forgettable.

What about the espionage then? This is a book about Gray stumbling upon a plot against the King. Well…he stumbled upon it. And the other evidence. And that’s kind of it. There’s some work done with translating codices, but it’s the kind of plot that was entirely too dependent on luck and timing to fully believe. The evidence they gather is also kind of skimpy at best. You have no doubt that our protagonists believe themselves, but it’d be hard to convict based on what they provided. Fortunately for Gray and Sophie, there are plot-convenient priests of Apollo whose abilities to pull truths form prisoners also happens to serve as a convenient plot device that explains the scheme in full. Were it not for their existence, I feel like this novel might have ended <i>very</i> differently, with our heroes in jail for treason at best.

There is a plot twist regarding Sophie, but it’s kind of there. And convenient for our story.

As for Gray and Sophie, they were both likable and they made a cute couple, but that’s not really enough. Maybe if the romance aspect had been amped up then you could call this a romance and the other sins could be forgiven, but this isn’t being marketed as a romance, and given the couple don’t get together til the last quarter of the novel you can’t sell it as such.

I didn’t mind the time I spent reading this, but I have to say, the second you start thinking about it, the second it begins to leave you feeling a bit underwhelmed.

It’s a competent book and I think there are those who will definitely enjoy it, but as far as fantasy goes, there’s just so much good stuff out there right now that it makes it difficult to recommend this.

Verdict: Skip It

Available: Now

Palate Cleanser Review: What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions – Randall Munroe

21413662eBook purchased by myself

Genre: Nonfiction (Science)

Summary:

Randall Munroe left NASA in 2005 to start up his hugely popular site XKCD ‘a web comic of romance, sarcasm, math and language’ which offers a witty take on the world of science and geeks. It’s had over a billion page hits to date. A year ago Munroe set up a new section – What If – where he tackles a series of impossible questions: If your cells suddenly lost the power to divide, how long would you survive? How dangerous is it, really, in a pool in a thunderstorm? If we hooked turbines to people exercising in gyms, how much power could we produce? What if everyone only had one soulmate? From what height would you need to drop a steak to ensure it was cooked by the time it reached the ground? What would happen if the moon went away? This book gathers together the best entries along with lots of new gems. From The Lord of the Rings, Star Trek and the songs of Tim Minchin, through chemistry, geography and physics, Munroe leaves no stone unturned in his quest for knowledge. And his answers are witty and memorable and studded with hilarious cartoons and infographics. Far more than a book for geeks, WHAT IF explains the laws of science in operation in a way that every intelligent reader will enjoy and feel the smarter for having read.

Review:

Ever had a discussion with your friends like say, if Batman and Iron Man got into a fight? Take that line of somewhat absurdest thought and turn it towards science and you have this book. Munroe is basically taking silly What If’s and giving them a critical eye. Some of my favorites include what would happen if you tried to build a literal periodic table with cubes of each element (in a word: don’t. not only will you die, but you’ll take your whole city down with you) or the unintended consequences if you gathered everyone in one spot to have everyone jump at the same time to see what happens. They’re fun theoretical (and generally impractical/implausible/impossible) situations to ponder and they’re written so that laypeople can understand what’s going on, though I’m sure those with more formal science training can take extra fun in wanting to argue with his stated theories. And for those really intrigued by what he says, there is a fantastic reference section at the back of the book listing articles he found during his research.

Really, this kind of book almost doesn’t need review – you enjoy XKCD or you don’t (and the humor between the comic and this book are pretty much the same) and you like these kinds of thought experiments or you don’t. But, if you aren’t sure because you’ve never read the comic or you think this might interest you, but you aren’t sure, check out What If? the blog feature that inspired the book – the book is very similar to this page, but on a grander scale. If you like one, you’ll like the other and vice versa.

My only critique here is one of formatting:

If you’re going to be reading this on a Kindle Paperwhite, I would strongly recommend getting a physical copy instead. On the Kindle, the formatting just doesn’t work. Borders of boxes are broken up over multiple pages, you have a graphic on one page and the caption on the next, there are pages that over a quarter blank and so on. It’s clear that this was not meant to be read on smaller screens. If you’re going to read this via electronic copy, your best experience is going to be on a full sized tablet. If you have a smaller tablet (think 7″ range) I’d suggest downloading a sample first and seeing what it looks like on your screen. While the book still is legible, I found it very distracting. I do love that on a Kindle you can have a footnote pop up on your screen without page flipping, but I think better formatting is worth not having that added accessibility.

Overall, this book is exactly what it states to be. If you like Munroe’s sense of humor and have a love of science and the absurd, pick it up, you’ll have a blast. Just don’t get it on a newer Kindle, your eyes will thank you.

Verdict: Buy It

Available: Now

 

ARC Review: Half a King – Joe Abercrombie

18666047eARC provided by Edelweiss in exchange for fair review

Summary:

Prince Yarvi has vowed to regain a throne he never wanted. But first he must survive cruelty, chains, and the bitter waters of the Shattered Sea. And he must do it all with only one good hand.

The deceived will become the deceiver.
 
Born a weakling in the eyes of his father, Yarvi is alone in a world where a strong arm and a cold heart rule. He cannot grip a shield or swing an axe, so he must sharpen his mind to a deadly edge.

The betrayed will become the betrayer.
 
Gathering a strange fellowship of the outcast and the lost, he finds they can do more to help him become the man he needs to be than any court of nobles could.

Will the usurped become the usurper?
 
But even with loyal friends at his side, Yarvi finds his path may end as it began—in twists, and traps, and tragedy.

Review:

Loved this book.

Loved it.

The concept of the Ministers – a kind of solidified diplomatic corp that are also historians and bird trainers and botanists grabbed me. The concept of the One God, the Tall Gods and the Small Gods grabbed me. I loved the fact that our hero was a cripple, born with essentially one useless hand. I loved that our hero never really wanted to fight, but when injustice was heaped upon him, he vowed to take his revenge. Yarvi is not perfect; even aside from his physical imperfections. He’s sometimes a tad too smart for his own good, and you can sometimes see that need for revenge override his otherwise solid common sense. It makes him feel very human and relatable. The cast of sidekicks is wonderful too; many of them gaining motivations that most smaller characters don’t always get in books which is always a plus. The writing here is very solid too. The story is paced well, feels brisk and has a couple of great little twists at the end. One is given enough clues that if you’re astute enough you can figure out the mystery before the protagonist does (though I admittedly didn’t) while the other feels a bit coincidental. Even so, I was having so much fun with the book I didn’t care. As I’ve said in review of Patrick Rothfuss’ books, if a book is so enjoyable that you don’t care about the problems, it’s doing something right.

All in all, this book isn’t out yet and I already want the sequel. If I ever get my to be read list knocked down, I want to read more of his works.

In short, this one is a no-brainer.

Verdict: Buy It

Available:  July 15th

 

Review: Rogues – edited by George R.R. Martin

Phew!

Picking up that book turned out to be a bit more of an endeavor than I first anticipated. If nothing else, I learned that even if I’m reading something like an anthology that I really shouldn’t split my attention between two books. Makes it harder to stay invested in either.

But I digress!

Let’s do this properly:

20168816

Summary:

If you’re a fan of fiction that is more than just black and white, this 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 history of Ice and Fire.

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.

Review:

As a reminder, you can find my reviews of all 21 stories by searching the “Rogues” tag, so I’m not going to go into reviews of individual stories here. Instead, I’m going to focus this review on answering the question: Is it worth picking up, given the “your mileage may vary” nature of such anthologies.

Short answer: yes.

There’s good variety: fantasy, thriller, mysteries and even some light sci-fi. I’d say that the content is about 50% fantasy and 50% other genres. Given number of fantasy heavy hitters, it seems to be a fair split. The layout: that is the way the book alternates between fantasy and a non-fantasy piece is good. It makes sense and helps keep things interesting by not overwhelming you with all the fantasy in one go and encouraging you to read the others. I also think there are enough strong stories here that it does make up for some the clunkers and I see a lot of people wanting to check out the work of at least one other author after they’ve gotten through it.

If there any any downsides to this collection, I do wish it was a bit more obvious as to what genre each story was. I can see some people wanting to thumb through the book and only read certain stories. As it stands, you do need to read each summary and take your best guess as to whether or not the story will suit your tastes. My other big qualm is I wish that more of the stories were fully original, as opposed to stories set in previously existing worlds. While many of them you can get along just fine without having read the source books, you still inevitably lose something, and at the worst, you’ll be so lost as to just give up on it entirely.

Finally, here are my recommendations from the collection:

Favorite Fantasy Short: A Year and Day in Old Theradane
Fantasy Runner up: The Lightening Tree
Favorite Non-Fantasy: Provenance
Runner Up: I’ll Seen in Tyre

Verdict: Buy it

Rogues: #19-21

We made it folks! Final thoughts this afternoon!

Title: Now Showing
Author: Connie Willis
Genre: Thriller

This was boring. If I didn’t like Bad Brass because I found the concept odd and the main character a bit skeezy, at least I could say it had be interestd. This? Just bored.

It centers on a girl trying to go the movies to see a film called The Christmas Caper, and how her attempts keep getting derailed – tickets not available at the kiosk, shows selling out, texts saying she won tickets to other shows and the like. It’s the future and now movie theaters have 100+ screens, multiple restaurants and shops. She runs into her ex who suggests that the move doesn’t exist at all, and the theater is the one trying to prevent her from seeing it. There’s an obvious and completely unsubtle critique that all that Hollywood makes are remakes/reboots/sequels and it’s about as subtle as a brick to the head. If the story was shorter, then maybe it would have been okay, but this just didn’t grab me, at all. Yes, the story did eventually go somewhere beyond the “WILL SHE GET IN” but at that point I just didn’t care.

This one completely missed the mark for me, which is a shame because she’s probably one of the most decorated (and long-last careers) of any of the authors here.

Grade: D

Title: The Lightening Tree
Author: Patrick Rothfuss
Genre: Fantasy

Confession time – this was the story that made me pick up the anthology. I absolutely adore the Kingkiller Chronicle, so when Rothfuss announced his involvement, it’s what got this book on my radar. So yeah, I pretty much bought the book for this. And did I find it worth it? Totally.

Would someone who hasn’t read the books from which Bast comes from appreciate it? Probably.

Rothfuss is a fantastic storyteller, and that is on full display here. He’s also fanastic at crafting characters, and Bast is every bit as engaging as his master, Kvothe. But, as is not unusual for Rothfuss, this is a story in which something does happen, but only after it seems like you’ve read a tale where little has happened. It actually comes off as a day-in-the-life piece. And if you’ve read my reviews of other tales, than you know I don’t find that a bad thing.

Grade: A

Title: The Rogue Prince or A King’s Brother
Author: George R. R. Martin
Genre: Fantasy

If you haven’t read A Song of Ice and Fire then you can skip this entirely. There is literally no point in reading this. It’s a history of Daemon Targaryen and of the Targaryen line in general. It is written like a history, as in “X did Y and resulted in Z.” or “X married Y and had children A, B and C.” There is little narrative beyond that. If you haven’t read the parent books, you probably won’t get anything out of it. It’s too dense, there’s too little narration and I honestly don’t think anyone but GRRM fans are going to be able to make it through this. Of course, of all the stories in this book, this one was probably the one most written for fans of the author. While other authors made efforts to make their stories friendly to those who were unfamiliar with the characters or the setting, GRRM made no such efforts here. A lot of people buying this anthology probably ARE GRRM fans and probably will get a kick out of this, but that doesn’t quite excuse it. At the very least it’s one of the (if not the) shortest in the entire collection, so I don’t feel like non-GRRM fans are really getting cheated. Flip side of that of course, is that GRRM fans are probably going to be upset that this wasn’t as long as the rest.  Guess it’s going to be one of those ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ situations where you just can’t make everyone happy.

Grade: Pass (if you’re a GRRM fan you should enjoy it on at least some level)/Fail (if you’re not a GRRM fan, you can skip this entirely)