Monday, 30 June 2014

Books Received in June, 2014

My continued thanks to the publishers who send me books for review.  I feel bad that I can't review every book that crosses my desk, but I try my best to get to as much as possible, especially when what arrives sounds as good as the stuff in this month's pile.

Valour and Vanity by Mary Robinette Kowal - I loved the previous 3 books in this series and fully expect to love this book as well.

After Melody's wedding, the Ellsworths and Vincents accompany the young couple on the their tour of the continent. Jane and Vincent plan to separate from the party and travel to Murano to study with glassblowers there, but their ship is set upon by Barbary corsairs while en route. It is their good fortune that they are not enslaved, but they lose everything to the pirates and arrive in Murano destitute.
Fortunately, one of the gentlemen from the ship is a local banker and arranges for a line of credit and a place to live. Relieved, the Vincents begin the work for which they have come to Italy.
All is proceeding apace until a solicitor arrives at their house and charges them with illegal trespass. Jane and Vincent produce letters from their banking friend, but they are all forgeries, and worse, he has used their forged letters to clean out their funds in England. Now, Jane and Vincent owe money to a number of people in town and are forbidden from travel. They manage to find some small work, but it is obvious to both of them that this path will not maintain them for long.
Instead, Vincent hatches a reckless plan to get their money back. The ensuing adventure is a glorious envisioning of all the best parts of heist narratives, but in a Regency setting with magic.

The Merchant Emperor by Elizabeth Haydon - This is the 7th book in a fantasy series I'm somewhat ashamed to admit I've never read.  It's long been on my 'to read' list, but it's hard to justify the time required for established series right now.  But I've heard good things about this series.

The long awaited seventh book in Elizabeth Haydon's critically-acclaimed epic fantasy series, the Symphony of Ages.

The war that they had feared is now upon them. Ashe and Rhapsody, leaders of the Cymrian Alliance, are gathering their allies to combat the machinations of Talquist, who will soon be crowned emperor of Sorbold. Gwydion Navarne remains by Ashe's side. Anborn, Lord Marshal, has taken to the field. And Rhapsody has been forced into hiding to protect the life of her infant son.

The Merchant Emperor of Sorbold has unintentionally allied himself with a pair of demons and has begun targeting the dragons that remain on the Middle Continent. Talquist will stop at nothing until the Cymrians are wiped out and the entire continent and the rest of the Known World is under his rule.

Assailed by danger from all sides, surrounded by lies and intrigue, Rhapsody is left with one undeniable truth: if their forces are to prevail, she must join the war herself, wielding the Daystar Clarion, an ancient weapon whose power is nearly unparalleled. As she struggles to reconcile her duties as a mother and ruler, a danger far more devastating than Talquist is stirring beneath the surface of the land itself.

Strange Country by Deborah Coates - The third book in this series that started with Wide Open, I haven't had the chance to start this series but it sounds pretty interesting.

After facing Death himself and banishing a reaper bent on the destruction of Sheriff's deputy Boyd Davies, Hallie Michaels had hoped things would finally settle down; that she and Boyd would find more time to spend together, and that the ghosts she attracts would stay in the cemeteries where they belong.
But on a wintry night in mid-December, a woman is murdered with a high-powered rifle. Not long after, another of West Prairie City's citizens is killed in exactly the same way, drawing the attention of state investigators. But the connection between the victims is not easily uncovered.
Meanwhile, Hallie finds a note tied to post outside her home. "What do you fear most?" it asks, accompanied by a set of map coordinates. Over the next few days she receives an anonymous phone call, and a letter left for Hallie at the local ag supply. All pose the same question and offer the same set of coordinates. The mystery deepens, and Hallie must solve it before the body count rises again, in Strange Country by Deborah Coates.

The Boost by Stephen Baker - This book just sounds so cool.

Ralf is a software prodigy. He works in the US government office that updates the software in the population's boosts-networked supercomputers contained in a chip implanted within the brains of 99 percent of the world's population. Invented by Chinese researchers in 2032, the boost is credited with leading humanity to its most significant cognitive leap since the discovery of fire.
Days before a national upgrade, Ralf notices that the update includes an open surveillance gate-meaning that Americans, who had negotiated high levels of privacy with the Chinese manufacturers, will now be subjected to the invasive Chinese standard. Ralf attempts to hack the boost, but is caught by agents working for Washington's preeminent lobbyist. His boost is ripped from his head, and Ralf barely escapes with his life.
Pursued by the lobbyist's mercenary cadre, Ralf flees to the US-Mexico border, where there are others like him-"wild" humans on the fringes of society, unenhanced by technology. It's a frightening and backward world controlled by powerful drug lords. Ralf's only hope is to somehow work with these wild bosses of the analog world-in hopes of winning back freedom in the digital one.

Gemsigns by Stephanie Saulter - I thought this book sounded awesome when I heard about it and so requested it on Netgally.  It's the next book I read.

For years the human race was under attack from a deadly Syndrome, but when a cure was found - in the form of genetically engineered human beings, Gems-the line between survival and ethics was radically altered. Now the Gems are fighting for their freedom, from the oppression of the companies that created them, and against the Norms who see them as slaves. And a conference at which Dr Eli Walker has been commissioned to present his findings on the Gems is the key to that freedom. But with the Gemtech companies fighting to keep the Gems enslaved, and the horrifying godgangs determined to rid the earth of these 'unholy' creations, the Gems are up against forces that may just be too powerful to oppose.

The Tower Broken by Mazarkis Williams - I read and really enjoyed the previous books in this trilogy and will have a review of this book up soon.

The Cerani Empire reaches a tipping point in the thrilling conclusion to the Tower and Knife trilogy.
The world is at its breaking point. The nothing, a terrible darkness caused by the festering wounds of a god, bleeds out the very essence of all, of stone, silk—and souls. Emperor Sarmin thought he had stopped it, but it is spreading toward his city, Cerana—and he is powerless to halt the destruction.
Even as Cerana fills with refugees, the Yrkmen armies arrive with conquest in mind, but they offer to spare Sarmin's people if they will convert to the Mogyrk faith.
Time is running out for Sarmin and his wife, Mesema. The Mage's Tower is cracked; the last mage, sent to find a mysterious pattern-worker in the desert, has vanished; and Sarmin believes his kidnapped brother, Daveed, still has a part to play. The walls are crumbling around them . . .

Friday, 27 June 2014

Rejected Princesses

I recently started tweeting more frequently again (this is my second or third time trying twitter, I'm hoping it sticks).  When I saw "Rejected Princesses" come up in Gail Carriger's twitter feed I checked it out.  The link led to an imgur account but I followed the address on the incredible pictures and found the site: Rejected Princesses.  

The pictures are by Jason Porath who used to work for DreamWorks.  Not only are the images beautiful, he's got good descriptions of what these women did as well as notes on the artwork explaining their historical accuracy.

The premise is that these women were rejected for Disney style movie treatments because their stories are pretty brutal.  Take, for example Wu Zetian:

Introducing Wu Zetian, first and only female Emperor of China — seen here poisoning her infant daughter.
Now, that’s actually a bit of a historical inaccuracy: the generally-accepted truth was that she *strangled* her young daughter, to frame the old queen and get her out of the way. It worked — both the old queen and the old queen’s mother were executed, and haunted her from that point forward. I thought they’d make good comic relief characters in the movie adaptation. ...
If you want to read more about Wu Zetian go here.

Conversely, if you want a great book you can read on the subject, check out Princesses Behaving Badly by Linda Rodriguez McRobbie.  It's a lot of fun.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Shout-Out: The Asylum for Fairy Tale Creatures by Sebastian Gregory

Once upon a nightmare…
Long ago, in a land where imagination meets the darkest nightmares, they built the asylum. Surrounded by a forest of thorns, it holds the most twisted minds in the fairy tale kingdom: a terrible collection of evil creatures and forgotten souls. Imprisoned within its walls, they are doomed to spend forever after telling their tales… and serving as a warning to others.
Now, you are invited to accompany Blood Red Riding Hood into the depths of this strange place – where you will meet its even stranger inhabitants. But be warned: walls this thick were built to withstand the darkest magic… so once you’re inside, you might just find yourself living horribly ever after… and wishing you were indeed in a land far, far away.
Out June 27th from Carina Press in ebook form.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Mockingjay Promo: President Snow's Panem Address

After their fantastic District Heroes ads (click the image for a larger view, or check out their added descriptions: 3, 4, 6, 7, 9, 10, 12).

 Now they've released this video of President Snow explaining how a united Panem is strong.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Book Review: Deadly Curiosities by Gail Martin

Pros: interesting plot, varied forms of magic, characters actually work day jobs, satisfying conclusion

Cons: characters feel like Mary Sues, middle of the book had several scenes that follow the same pattern, unnecessary repetition

Cassidy Kincaide is psychometric, able to see images of an item’s past.  She inherited the estate auction and antiques shop Trifles and Folly when her uncle, who had a similar power, died a few years back.  Along with the store she also inherited her uncle’s silent partner, Sorren, a vampire and member of the Alliance, an organization dedicated to keeping humans safe from dangerous magical artifacts. 

When some of the safe items Cassidy sold start haunting a local BnB, she and her co-worker Teag start investigating.

The characters are really interesting, with Cassidy having contacts all over the city with connections that help with her business - both the antique store and when investigating potentially dangerous items.  I really appreciated that Cassidy not only owned a store, but she and Teag actually work there.  Lots of urban fantasy books mention that characters have jobs but somehow show them with lots of free time to investigate whatever the mystery is.  These characters spend their days at work, sometimes it’s slow and they can research and do other things, and sometimes it’s busy and they can’t.  But I appreciated the veracity of their situation, that they need money to keep the store and pay rent and so have to do most of their investigative work after hours.  

Having said that, they seem remarkably lucky with their investigative work, generally learning pretty quickly what they need to from all the sites and people they visit.  Now, the book explains that as due in part to Cassidy’s knowing and having a good relationship with many of the important people in town and the rest is chalked up to her and Teag’s respective magics.  Still, they have an uncanny knack of reaching the right conclusion pretty quickly, which, coupled with their martial arts knowledge and ability to get out of sticky situations starts to make them feel Mary Sue-ish.

Another thing I really liked about the book was the varied forms of magic employed.  Cassidy can see objects’ pasts, Teag can weave together pieces of information as well as spells, Sorren has the strength and agility of the undead.  The book also introduces several other characters with their own powers, a Voodon practitioner, a Viking Seior, and a Gullah root worker.  Magic takes its toll on the practitioners and isn’t an infinite pool that be used continuously when facing bad guys. 

There is some repetition in how information is portrayed that irked me but probably won’t bother most readers.  Something is introduced in one chapter and then expanded on in the next chapter in a way that repeats the previous information.  

A more obvious issue is that several scenes in the middle of the book follow the same pattern of checking something out, getting attacked, and getting out of the situation.  It happened too often in the same way that I started wondering why they didn’t anticipate the attacks more readily.

There is a highly satisfying end battle and all the plot threads tie up neatly before the book is over.  Despite its flaws it’s a fun start to a new series.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Shout-Out: Barricade by Jon Wallace

A kinetic, violent and hugely intelligent SF road thriller - a desperate journey through a ruined future world.

Kenstibec was genetically engineered to build a new world, but the apocalypse forced a career change. These days he drives a taxi instead.
A fast-paced, droll and disturbing novel, BARRICADE is a savage road trip across the dystopian landscape of post-apocalypse Britain; narrated by the cold-blooded yet magnetic antihero, Kenstibec.
Kenstibec is a member of the 'Ficial' race, a breed of merciless super-humans. Their war on humanity has left Britain a wasteland, where Ficials hide in barricaded cities, besieged by tribes of human survivors. Originally optimised for construction, Kenstibec earns his keep as a taxi driver, running any Ficial who will pay from one surrounded city to another.
The trips are always eventful, but this will be his toughest yet. His fare is a narcissistic journalist who's touchy about her luggage. His human guide is constantly plotting to kill him. And that's just the start of his troubles.
On his journey he encounters ten-foot killer rats, a mutant king with a TV fixation, a drug-crazed army, and even the creator of the Ficial race. He also finds time to uncover a terrible plot to destroy his species for good - and humanity too.
Out June 19th. If you're in the UK or have a UK account on Apple or Amazon the ebook is only £1.99 until June 26th.  You can read an extract here.

Friday, 20 June 2014

Strange Chemistry and Exhibit A Imprints of Angry Robot Books to be Discontinued

I just read some sad news on the Strange Chemistry blog.  That YA imprint and Exhibit A, the mystery imprint, of Angry Robot Books are going to be discontinued.

Our YA imprint Strange Chemistry and our crime/mystery imprint Exhibit A have – due mainly to market saturation – unfortunately been unable to carve out their own niches with as much success.
We have therefore made the difficult decision to discontinue Strange Chemistry and Exhibit A, effective immediately, and no further titles will be published from these two imprints.
In happier news the same report mentioned that the SF/Fantasy imprint will be going from publishing 2 books a month to publishing 3.

ETA:  Kameron Hurley points out on her blog that Angry Robot's parent company, Osprey is up for sale, so maybe the move to publish 3 books a month is a way to clear up current contracts...

ETA2: News is hard to come by but my previous ETA may be incorrect.  The main information is behind a paywall so I'm not sure if it's Osprey selling itself (and thereby Angry Robot as well) or if Osprey is trying to sell the Angry Robot imprint.  I've heard rumours that support both theories. Anyone out there know and willing to share the answer?

Stranger Than Fiction: Bats

Last week I went to Bird Kingdom at Niagara Falls and one of their exhibits dealt with nocturnal animals.  I happened to be there when the bats were fed, and it was absolutely incredible watching them.  I've seen bats before, of course, on TV and in real life, but I've never really examined how they moved.

Some of them dive bombed the food dish - grabbing food as they passed or landing in the dish to feed. Others hung from a branch above and reached down to grab some food, using their feet and/or their thumbs as anchors.

Still others landed below the dish and climbed up a branch, using their thumb like a hook to pull them up to the food dish or hung from the dish's platform itself, using their thumbs to hold on while using a foot to bring the food to their mouths.

More than anything, watching them fly and climb made me think of dragons.  I suspect there's a reason dragons tend to be portrayed with leathery bat wings.  The movements of the bats shoulders as they climbed really had the look I remember from CGI dragons in films.

I never realized how articulate their thumbs (the bit sticking out the top of the wing) were.  In fact, I've never given consideration to the fact that their wings are - quite literally - their hands (there's the thumb up top and the four wing bones are labeled as fingers).  It's amazing watching them move.

If you ever get the chance to watch bats in person - doing more than hang around or fly too fast to see - I highly recommend it.

Here's a short video I took.  I apologize for the poor quality.  The cage was dark so I had to lighten the video quite a lot for the bats to stand out.  The song playing is "The Goya Discovery" by Derek R. Audette.

Bats from Jessica Strider on Vimeo.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Shout-Out: The Merchant Emperor by Elizabeth Haydon

This is the newest book of a series I always intended to read but have never found the time for.  With my review schedule, starting established series is even harder so I don't expect to get to this for a few years yet.  The Merchant Emperor takes up where The Assassin King left off.  The marketing materials for the book indicate that it's a good starting point for those who haven't read the other books, but I personally prefer to read books in order whenever possible.

The long awaited seventh book in Elizabeth Haydon's critically-acclaimed epic fantasy series, the Symphony of Ages.
The war that they had feared is now upon them. Ashe and Rhapsody, leaders of the Cymrian Alliance, are gathering their allies to combat the machinations of Talquist, who will soon be crowned emperor of Sorbold. Gwydion Navarne remains by Ashe's side. Anborn, Lord Marshal, has taken to the field. And Rhapsody has been forced into hiding to protect the life of her infant son.
The Merchant Emperor of Sorbold has unintentionally allied himself with a pair of demons and has begun targeting the dragons that remain on the Middle Continent. Talquist will stop at nothing until the Cymrians are wiped out and the entire continent and the rest of the Known World is under his rule.

Assailed by danger from all sides, surrounded by lies and intrigue, Rhapsody is left with one undeniable truth: if their forces are to prevail, she must join the war herself, wielding the Daystar Clarion, an ancient weapon whose power is nearly unparalleled. As she struggles to reconcile her duties as a mother and ruler, a danger far more devastating than Talquist is stirring beneath the surface of the land itself.
In The Merchant Emperor, beloved characters are forced to make soul shattering sacrifices. Bestselling author Elizabeth Haydon has delivered a breathtaking seventh instalment to the Symphony of Ages.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

StoryBundle's Cosmic Sci-Fi Bundle

Story Bundle has announced their newest ebook pay what you want (minimum $3) bundle and it's all science fiction.

One of the books included in the collection is METAtropolis, co-edited by the late Jay Lake, and they've added the Clayton Memorial Medical Fund as one of the charities you can donate 10% of your money to in his honour.

The books in the bundle are:


Destination: Void
First Person Peculiar
Assemblers of Infinity
Anniversary Day
Second Paradigm

If you pay $12 or more than you also get:
Crisis on Doona
Perfectly Invisible

Movie Trailer: Expendables 3

I have to admit, I didn't have high expectations when I saw the first Expendables movie, but it turned out to be a lot of fun.  The second was the same, lots of great 80s and 90s action movie cameos, quips and violence.  Don't think too hard about the plots, just sit back and enjoy the ride.  I expect the third film will be just as fun.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Book Review: Silver by Rhiannon Held

Pros: great characterizations, tackles tricky POV 

Cons: pack politics seem insane

When the Roanoke wolf pack’s enforcer, Andrew Dare, finds the lone wolf he’s been tracking in their territory, he’s horrified to discover the woman’s been tortured into madness.  He vows to help her find a home and take down whoever did this to her before they can strike again.

There are a lot of characters in the book, as several packs of werewolves are mentioned, though the author focuses of a few select people from each pack.  Because of all the people mentioned, however briefly, there’s a fantastic variety of temperaments and strength levels shown (ie, some women are dominant, others submissive, one man’s an alpha and a coward, another’s brave but submissive, etc).  This allows each character to feel like an individual rather than an archetype in the pack hierarchy (alpha, beta, mate…).  

Silver’s character is particularly interesting as she’s able to modify her pack status depending on the result she needs from those around her.  But her manipulations are only possible when she’s lucid enough to use them.  Which she isn’t, most of the time.  The author treats her madness with care, showing that, though she’s not always aware of her surroundings, she’s still a person with her own will and the right to make decisions for herself.  This is particularly important when her lucidity improves and people refuse to listen to her because all they see is the madwoman she was (and may be again).  I loved that it wasn’t clear if Silver’s visions of Death were hallucinations (as Andrew believes) or a real manifestation of their religion’s embodiment of evil.

Silver’s physical disabilities, particularly her arm that no longer works, are also dealt with well.  Her acceptance of her new limitations and lack of depression and self-pity are directly contrasted when another character is injured at the end of the book.  She’s shown as a character with true strength, despite her limitations.

I liked that the romantic elements were understated and felt real rather than forced.  The romance enters late and encounters realistic roadblocks caused by the plot and the problems the characters face.

Werewolves aren’t my favourite subjects because I find the pack politics of dominance and ‘no one matters outside our pack’ mentality insane and unsustainable.  Most of the problems in the book could have been solved easier and faster had the various packs communicated what was wrong.  The book therefore caused a bit of cognitive dissonance for me as I tried to wrap my head around how their system worked and railed against it’s stupidity.  And I acknowledge that this is my problem not the book’s.

On the whole I enjoyed the book and am interested to see how things progress in Tarnished.

Monday, 16 June 2014

The Sunburst Award Society Announces Their 2014 Shortlists

From the Press Release:

The Sunburst Award Society announced the short-lists for this year's awards.

The short-listed works in the adult category are:
Sister Mine by Nalo Hopkinson (Grand Central Publishing)
River of Stars by Guy Gavriel Kay (Penguin Group Canada) 
This Strange Way of Dying by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (Exile Editions) 
A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki (Penguin Group Canada) 
The Demonologist by Andrew Pyper (Simon & Schuster)

The short-listed works in the young adult category are:
Sorrow's Knot by Erin Bow (Scholastic Inc.)
The Cats of Tanglewood Forest by Charles de Lint (Little Brown Books)
Homeland by Cory Doctorow (Tom Doherty Associates)
The Path of Names by Ari Goelman (Scholastic Inc.)
Urgle by Meaghan McIsaac (Cormorant Books)

Additionally, the jury has chosen to include a list of honourable mentions.
Honourable Mentions
The n-Body Problem by Tony Burgess (Chizine Publications) 
The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton (McClelland & Stewart)
The Oathbreaker's Shadow by Amy McCulloch (Doubleday Canada)
Wild Fell by Michael Rowe (Chizine Publications) 
Beyond the Rift by Peter Watts (Tachyon Publications)

The awards will be presented in the fall of 2014.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Shout-Out: California Bones by Greg van Eekhout

When Daniel Blackland was six, he ingested his first bone fragment, a bit of kraken spine plucked out of the sand during a visit with his demanding, brilliant, and powerful magician father, Sebastian.
When Daniel was twelve, he watched Sebastian die at the hands of the Hierarch of Southern California, devoured for the heightened magic layered deep within his bones.
Now, years later, Daniel is a petty thief with a forged identity. Hiding amid the crowds in Los Angeles-the capital of the Kingdom of Southern California-Daniel is trying to go straight. But his crime-boss uncle has a heist he wants Daniel to perform: break into the Hierarch''s storehouse of magical artifacts and retrieve Sebastian's sword, an object of untold power.
For this dangerous mission, Daniel will need a team he can rely on, so he brings in his closest friends from his years in the criminal world. There's Moth, who can take a bullet and heal in mere minutes. Jo Alverado, illusionist. The multitalented Cassandra, Daniel's ex. And, new to them all, the enigmatic, knowledgeable Emma, with her British accent and her own grudge against the powers-that-be. The stakes are high, and the stage is set for a showdown that might just break the magic that protects a long-corrupt regime.
Extravagant and yet moving, Greg van Eekhout's California Bones is an epic adventure set in a city of canals and secrets and casual brutality--different from the world we know, yet familiar and true.

Friday, 13 June 2014

Movie Review: Solomon Kane

Directed by: Michael Bassett, 2009

Pros: some great action sequences, good special effects

Cons: suspiciously co-incidental actions, obvious plot twists, told Solomon is evil and damned but don’t see evidence of his evil acts

Solomon Kane narrowly escapes the devil’s minion after yet another evil plan.  Told his soul is damned, he decides to forgo his evil ways and never kill again.  His oath is tested when a religious family that takes him in is attacked.

In a fantastic example of why show don’t tell is important, this film goes out of its way to tell you - several times - that Solomon Kane is an evil man who’s done evil deeds.  But since you don’t see any of his evil deeds, it’s hard to believe what you’re told.  All the audience sees is him redeeming himself, trying to save a young girl who’s been taken captive.  Of course, the fact that he ONLY cares about the girl and not about any of the other people being enslaved does point to his evilness (ie, he’s not doing this because it’s the right thing to do - or even to save the girl, he’s doing it to save his own soul). 

Several actions in the film take place a just the right time for some other action to co-incidentally happen.  

Many of the plot twists are obvious, reducing tension and suspense.

Don't think about the historical period this film takes place in or your suspension of disbelief will snap. It's hard to be taken in by a monastery when all the monasteries have been closed and their lands confiscated by the state.

On the other hand, there are some great action sequences and the special effects are very well done.

Ultimately, it’s a good time waster that, while not a perfect movie, will entertain you.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Shout-Out: Heirs of the Demon King: Uprising by Sarah Cawkwell

Epic fantasy meets alternate history in a sweeping saga that crosses the medieval world. Matthias Eynon must escape the clutches the Witchhunters and locate the masters of the four magic arts to overthrow the tyrannical Demon King, descendant of the twisted Richard III.
Mathias Eynon's dreams were small. A dabbler in magic, and son of a magician, he expected to live in obscurity in his home in the Welsh hills, quietly conducting his experiments and hoping not to draw too much attention to himself.
But fate has other plans for him. It is the Year of Our Lord Fifteen-Ninety, and a revolution is quietly brewing, here and further abroad. Richard V has overstayed his rule, some say; others whisper that the whole line of Demon Kings must be burned out. Mathias - son of a man executed for the practice of magic, forbidden by the paranoid king - is set to become a symbol, and a leader.
And to do that, he needs champions. A wise woman sends him to the corners of the known world - to the frozen lands of the Danes, to the pirate-haunted ports of Spain, to the mountains of the German Empire, to the burning sands of the Holy Land - to bring back masters of the four magic arts. With the best and brightest of Richard's Witch Hunters on his heels, he sets out to gather his allies.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Book Review: The Door in the Mountain by Caitlin Sweet

Pros: well developed characters, godmarks, clever twists on the referenced mythology 

Cons: slow moving

Ariadne is an unmarked daughter of King Minos and Queen Pasiphae of Crete.  As she grows up between the summer and winter palaces, surpassed in attention by her god-sired younger brother, Asterion, she becomes more and more selfish, cruel and bitter.

Chara, child of a slave and happily unmarked by the gods, befriends Asterion and helps him after the difficult and painful transformations into a bull that he must undergo to honour his father.  She witnesses first hand Ariadne’s cruelties as the princess vies for power.  And as time passes, she vows to save Asterion from his sister’s schemes.

Lovers of Greek mythology will find this a creative retelling of the minotaur and the labyrinth.  Though the gist is the same and many familiar names come up (including Daedalus and Icarus), the author takes some liberties with the plot, increasing the suspense of the story.  There were several twists I did not see coming.  

I particularly loved the concept of the godmarks, magic bestowed by various gods on their subjects that allow them to do unique things.  One character can communicate with animals, one can sprout wings, one can cry wine, and another commands all things dealing with water (rain, waves).  I liked how the god who bestows the gift isn’t necessarily known, but can sometimes be guessed based on the nature of the gift.

The author spends a lot of time explaining Ariadne’s character.  She begins the book as a child, desperately wishing for a godmark like the others in her family and feeling afraid and upset that she’s disappointing her parents.  She hates and resents her younger brother and creates a veneer of calm strength to protect herself.  This care makes it hard to hate her as she grows older and becomes more bitter and cruel.  While I hated what she did, I found myself somewhat pitying her, which is ironic as she’d hate the idea that she could be pitied.  Then she makes some horrible decisions and the pity left.  I still kind of liked her, but I could no longer sympathize with her pain.

Chara on the other hand is the kind of friend you’d love to have.  She’s generous, considerate, and clever.  Like Ariadne she’s forced to hide her feelings but for different reasons, and she never forgets her friends.

The dynamics between the king and queen were also very interesting to read. 

The story is fairly slow moving.  While this does allow the author time to focus a lot on the characters, the ending dragged a little bit.  

I didn’t realize this was the first book in a duology, so I was surprised when I came across the epilogue.  While there’s an important event at the end of this book, it’s very much the first half of the story, and you’ll be reaching for the next volume when it comes out.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Shout-Out: Reach for Infinity Edited by Jonathan Strahan

What happens when we reach out into the vastness of space? What hope for us amongst the stars? Multi-award winning editor Jonathan Strahan brings us fourteen new tales of the future, from some of the finest science fiction writers in the field. 
The fourteen startling stories in this anthology feature the work of Greg Egan, Aliette de Bodard, Ian McDonald, Karl Schroeder, Pat Cadigan, Karen Lord, Ellen Klages, Adam Roberts, Linda Nagata, Hannu Rajaniemi, Kathleen Ann Goonan, Ken MacLeod, Alastair Reynolds and Peter Watts.

Friday, 6 June 2014

Sailor Moon Crystal Trailer

I'm a huge fan of the original Sailor Moon TV show, as well as the manga, so I can't wait for the reboot to air.  The new release date, according to the official Sailor Moon youtube page, is July 5th at 7pm (Japanese time).  I'm hoping this gets subtitled fast and put up on Crunchyroll or somewhere equally easy to access from Canada.

I like the animation though I'm amazed they managed to make everyone taller and, somehow, even thinner than before.  The faces are all thinner and smaller too.  Here are some comparison shots of the characters, from the old anime vs the new one.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Book Review: The Diamond in the Window by Jane Langton

Pros: fun dream challenges, imperfect characters 

Cons: espouses some traditional and Christian beliefs

Eleanor and Edward’s large house in Concord is under threat of foreclosure unless their Aunt Lily can make up the owed money by giving piano lessons.  When they discover a mysterious attic room with a series of riddles on the window, riddles that talk of treasure, they start a treasure hunt.  But they also start having mysteries, dangerous dreams.

Published in 1962 this is a fun children’s book that involves two children in a series of dream adventures.  Not only is there a wider purpose for their adventures - to help pay off their family debts, the adventures become increasingly more dangerous for them.

The characters aren’t perfect.  Their uncle was once a brilliant man who was changed by a tragic event and is at times in the book threatened with being sent to a mental institute.  Similarly, Eleanor wears glasses to deal with her poor eyesight and astigmatism, sometimes requiring Edward to report on what he sees.

It’s a fun book, though at times the author espouses some traditional gender and Christian beliefs.  Even without the more overt references, there are some great morals being taught, like ‘it’s what’s inside that counts’, and about making the right choices in life.  There’s a fair amount of poetry quoted as well.

Ultimately it was a pleasant read, the kind of children’s book that reaches beyond it’s intended audience.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Video: John Oliver on Net Neutrality

I don't normally post about 'political' subjects, but if you're in the US and you haven't seen this, you really should.  Then you should go to the Federal Communications Commission website Mr. Oliver mentions and tell them you do no want to see this put into action (you have until June 27th).

John Oliver does an amazing job of stating in clear terms, with lots of humour, what net neutrality (aka preventing cable company f*ckery) in this context - the proposal by the FCC, means.  Basically, it allows internet providers to offer a service to *ie demand more money from* companies that use a lot of bandwidth *ie Netflix* for 'faster' service.  It also, by contrast, means that if a company doesn't want to pay for this faster service, that their streaming/download speeds can be artificially slowed.

Why do I, a Canadian, care what the US does with its internet?  Because so many things started in the States gets pushed on other countries that want to have economic ties with it (and how many countries out there don't want economic ties with the States?).  I don't want this so called net neutrality hitting my country.  We have enough internet provider problems here as it is.

If you don't have time for the whole video, the explanation starts at 1:56 and ends at 4:28.  I do recommend watching the whole thing though.  It's hilarious and it does explain a number of issues.

Monday, 2 June 2014

Book Review: The Girl With All the Gifts by M. R. Carey

Pros: thought provoking, fascinating characters, interesting premise, tight prose


Melanie loves the story of Pandora.  She loves attending Miss Justineau’s class, where she heard the legend.  She doesn’t love Sergeant Parks, who sometimes makes Miss Justineau look sad, or Dr. Cauldwell, who’s responsible for some of her classmates going away and never coming back.  She likes her routine, and when that routine changes, all of their lives are irrevocably altered.

This is a post-apocalyptic story with zombies (called hungries) that will feel very familiar.  But Carey’s prose and storytelling ability makes it a brilliant addition to the subgenres.

The book alternates between several viewpoints but starts with Melanie, explaining her day, her week, her life.  She’s such an intelligent girl and the author manages to explain so much of what’s happening - and what’s wrong in the world - by her observations of her normal life.  Pay close attention, as there’s a lot of detail, with certain things being inferred rather than told outright.

I loved the rivalry between Miss Justineau and Dr. Cauldwell, both of whom believe very strongly that they’re in the right about the issues they face, and it’s hard at times to say they aren’t, even when their points of view are opposite.  There are some great thought provoking moments, particularly around Dr. Cauldwell’s work and Melanie’s coming of age.  Even Sergeant Parks has some introspection as he questions the experiments he’s been helping.

The book is definitely geared more for suspense than horror, though there are some horrifying scenes.  The ending too, will remind readers of a memorable horror novel.  The real question of the book lies in whether Dr. Cauldwell will find a cure for the hungries, and if the means she uses justify the ends she’s trying to achieve.

The story starts slow in order to really introduce the characters and the world before things get messy.  The prose is tight, and the story, while not fast paced, is highly compelling.  It’s a brilliant novel.

Out June 10.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Science Fiction and Fantasy Books Coming in July, 2014

This list was compiled using  Every list is only as good as its sources, and with Amazon and Hachette's current tiff, I'm not sure if all their Orbit and other titles are here (I checked their website and they post their upcoming titles on Goodreads, which only shows the date added not publication date).  There are also a lot of reprint Piers Anthony and Andre Norton books coming out in ebook format.  


Elisha Magus – E. C. Ambrose
Magic Breaks – Ilona Andrews
Myth-Fortunes – Robert Asprin & Jody Lynn Nye
The Adventure of the Ring of Stones – James Blaylock
New Frontiers: A Collection of Tales about the Past, the Present, and the Future – Ben Bova
Hurricane Fever – Tobias Buckell
Seeders – A. J. Colucci
Monster Hunter Nemesis – Larry Correia
William Shakespeare’s The Jedi Doth Return – Ian Doescher
The Wurms of Blearmouth – Steven Erikson
Overlord – David Golemon
The Little Green Book of Chairman Rahma – Brian Herbert
Unwept – Tracy Hickman & Laura Hickman
Dust – Hugh Howey
A Plunder of Souls – D. B. Jackson
Born of Fury – Sherrilyn Kenyon
Warhammer 40K: Fall of Macharius – William King
The Rods and the Axe – Tom Kratman
Shattering the Ley – Joshua Palmatier
All Those Vanished Engines – Paul Park
Academic Exercises – K. J. Parker
The Long Mars – Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter
The Casual Angel – Hannu Rajaniemi
Doctor Who: The Shakespeare Notebooks – Justin Richards
Landline – Rainbow Rowell
Tower Lord – Anthony Ryan
Beautiful Blood – Lucius Shephard
Vampires: The Myths, Legends, and Lore – Aubrey Sherman
Equoid – Charles Stross
The Rhesus Chart – Charles Stross
Tomorrow and Tomorrow – Thomas Sweterlitsch
Cataveiro – E. J. Swift
Last Orders – Harry Turtledove
The Shadow Throne – Django Wexler

Trade Paperback:

Time Bomb - Scott Andrews
Jupiter War – Neal Asher
Resistance – Samit Basu
One-Eyed Jack – Elizabeth Bear
Depth Charging Ice Planet Goth – Andrez Bergen
The Fredric Brown Megapack – Fredric Brown
Heartless – Gail Carriger (reprint)
Timeless – Gail Carriger (reprint)
The Seat of Magic – J. Kathleen Cheney
The Raven’s Shadow – Elspeth Cooper
Myths & Legends: Charlemagne and the Paladins – Julia Cresswell
Winds of Salem – Melissa de la Cruz
Out of the Black – Evan Currie
The Adventures of the Untouchables – Tramp Daly & Ishmael Ford-Bay
Gravity – Dannika Dark
Artful – Peter David
The Splintered Gods – Stephen Deas
Folk’d Up – Laurence Donaghy
Exile – Betsy Dornbusch
The Year’s Best Science Fiction: 31st Annual Collection – Gardner Dozois
Tales of the Hidden World – Simon Green
The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror 2014 – Paula Guran, Ed.
Valor – John Gwynne
The Rise of Shendoa – Saul Hansen
Head Full of Mountains – Brent Hayward
The Hunt for Pierre Jnr – David Henley
The Return of the Discontinued Man – Mark Hodder
SynBio – Leslie Horzitz
Painkillers – Simon Ings
Votan and Other Novels – John James
No Return – Zachary Jernigan
The Queen of the Tearling – Erika Johansen
Kill City Blues – Richard Kadrey
Imaginarium 2014 – Sandra Kasturi & Helen Marshall, Ed.
Accel World – Reki Kawahara
Fist of Demetrius – William King
Fortune’s Rising – Sara King
The Fire Rose – Mercedes Lackey (reprint)
Red as Blood: Tales fro the Sisters Grimmer – Tanith Lee
Solaris – Stanislaw Lem (reprint)
The Shadowmagic Trilogy – John Lenahan
Magic For Beginners – Kelly Link
The Executioner’s Heart – George Mann
Warhammer 40K: Lords of Mars – Graham McNeill
The Tesla Gate – John Mimms
White Paper, White Ink – Sipho Madini and Jonathan Morgan
On the Steel Breeze – Alastair Reynolds
Doctor Who: Tales of Trenzalore – Justin Richards, George Mann, Paul Finch & Mark Morris
Bete – Adam Roberts
Steelheart – Brandon Sanderson
Metamorphosis – David Saperstein
Hope Renewed – S. M. Stirling & David Drake
Theatre of the Gods – Matt Suddain
Master of Sanctity – Gav Thorpe
The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Vol 2 – Gordon Van Gelder, Ed.
The Kings and Queens of Roam – Daniel Wallace
Crystal Venom – Steve Wheeler
Ghosts of Time – Steve White
The Ace of Skulls – Chris Wooding
The Delving – Jes Young
Warhammer: The Bastion Wars – Henry Zou

Mass Market Paperback:

Fiefdom – Dan Abnett & Nik Vincent
Warhammer 40K: The Unremembered Empire – Dan Abnett
The Omega Project – Steve Alten
The Devil’s Chord – Alex Archer
Fireborn – Keri Arthur
Deathlands: Desolation Angels – James Axler
New Earth – Ben Bova
Jani and the Greater Game – Eric Brown
Forgotten Realms: The Reaver – Richard Lee Byers
Path of Smoke – Bailey Cunningham
Star Wars: Crucible – Troy Denning
Poison Promise – Jennifer Estep
The Third Kingdom – Terry Goodkind
Haven’s Fall – David Goyer & Michael Cassutt
Rebel Nation – Shaunta Grimes
Enslaved by the Others – Jess Haines
The Undead Pool – Kim Harrison
Elements of Mind – Walter Hunt
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes – Alex Irvine
Hardship – Jean Johnson
Mist – Susan Krinard
Wolf in Shadow – John Lambshead
Star Trek: Seekers: Second Nature – David Mack
The Death of Sleep – Anne McCaffrey & Jody Lynn Nye (reprint)
Star Wars: Kenobi – John Jackson Miller
The One-Eyed Man – L. E. Modesitt, Jr.
Alien: Sea of Sorrows – James Moore
Friday Night Bites – Chloe Neill
Free Agent – J. C. Nelson
Blood of Tyrants – Naomi Novik
Blood for the Sun – Errick Nunnally
The Buried Life – Carrie Patel
Wolfsbane – Gillian Philip
Possession – Kat Richardson
How the White Trash Zombie Got Her Groove Back – Diana Rowland
Premonitions – Jaime Schultz
Eight Million Gods – Wen Spencer
Pathfinder Tales: The Crusader Road – Michael Stackpole
One Night in Sixes – Arianne “Tex” Thompson
Storm Riders – Margaret Weis & Robert Krammes
The Thousand Names – Django Wexler
Happy Hour in Hell – Tad Williams


Alien Plot: A Short Story Collection – Piers Anthony
Amoeba – Piers Anthony
Awares – Piers Anthony
Beetle Juice – Piers Anthony
Board Stiff – Piers Anthony
Chimaera’s Copper – Piers Anthony & Robert Margroff
Dream a Little Dream – Piers Anthony & Julie Brady
Eroma – Piers Anthony
Executive – Piers Anthony
Flytrap – Piers Anthony
Isle of Woman – Piers Anthony
Mercenary – Piers Anthony
Pandora Park – Piers Anthony
Phthor – Piers Anthony
Politician – Piers Anthony
Reality Check – Piers Anthony
Refugee – Piers Anthony
Shame of Man – Piers Anthony
Shepherd – Piers Anthony
Statesman – Piers Anthony
The Gutbucket Quest – Piers Anthony & Ron Leming
The Iron Maiden – Piers Anthony
The Secret of Spring – Piers Anthony
The Sopaths – Piers Anthony
The Willing Spirit – Piers Anthony & Alfred Tella
To Be A Woman – Piers Anthony
Impact – Adam Baker
Hellsbane Hereafter – Paige Cuccaro
Earthshine – J. J. Gadd
My Story: Power to Rule – B. J. Joke
At Sword’s Point – Andre Norton
Garan the Eternal – Andre Norton
Gryphon in Glory – Andre Norton
High Sorcery – Andre Norton
Horn Crown – Andre Norton
Iron Butterflies – Andre Norton
Lore of Witch World – Andre Norton
Merlin’s Mirror – Andre Norton
Mirror Moon: A Collection of Stories – Andre Norton
Mirror of Destiny – Andre Norton
Red Hart Magic – Andre Norton
Spell of the Witch World – Andre Norton
Tales from High Hallack, vol 1 – Andre Norton 
The Gate of the Cat – Andre Norton
The Jargoon Pard – Andre Norton
The Scent of Magic – Andre Norton
The Sword is Drawn – Andre Norton
Trey of Swords – Andre Norton
Velvet Shadows – Andre Norton
Warehawk – Andre Norton
Wheel of Stars – Andre Norton
Zarsthor’s Bane – Andre Norton
The Stolen: An American Faerie Tale – Bishop O’Connell
Glory Main – Henry O’Neil
Fixer – Jeff Somers
Covens Rising – Adina West