Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Books Received

Orb Sceptre Throne: A Novel of the Malazan Empire by Ian C. Esslemont

Darujhistan, city of dreams, city of blue flames, is peaceful at last; its citizens free to return to politicking, bickering, trading and, above all, enjoying the good things in life. Yet there are those who will not allow the past to remain buried. A scholar digging in the plains stumbles across an ancient sealed vault. The merchant Humble Measure schemes to drive out the remaining Malazan invaders. And the surviving agents of a long-lost power are stirring, for they sense change and so, opportunity. While, as ever at the centre of everything, a thief in a red waistcoat and of rotund proportions walks the streets, juggling in one hand custard pastries, and in the other the fate of the city itself.

Far to the south, fragments of the titanic Moon's Spawn have crashed into the Rivan Sea creating a series of isles...and a fortune hunter's dream. A Malazan veteran calling himself 'Red' ventures out to try his luck—and perhaps say goodbye to old friends. But there he finds far more than he'd bargained for as the rush to claim the Spawn's treasures descends into a mad scramble of chaos and bloodshed. For powers from across the world have gathered here, searching for the legendary Throne of Night. The impact of these events are far reaching, it seems. On an unremarkable island off the coast of Genabackis, a people who had turned their backs upon all such strivings now lift their masked faces towards the mainland and recall the ancient prophesy of a return.

And what about the ex-Claw of the Malazan Empire who now walks the uttermost edge of creation? His mission—the success or failure of which the Queen of Dreams saw long ago—is destined to shape far more than anyone could have ever imagined.

This Case Is Gonna Kill Me by Phillipa Bornikova

What happens when The Firm meets Anita Blake? You get the Halls of Power—our modern world, but twisted. Law, finance, the military, and politics are under the sway of long-lived vampires, werewolves, and the elven Alfar. Humans make the best of rule by “the Spooks,” and contend among themselves to affiliate with the powers-that-be, in order to avoid becoming their prey. Very loyal humans are rewarded with power over other women and men. Very lucky humans are selected to join the vampires, werewolves, and elves—or, on occasion, to live at the Seelie Court.

Linnet Ellery is the offspring of an affluent Connecticut family dating back to Colonial times. Fresh out of law school, she’s beginning her career in a powerful New York “white fang” law firm. She has high hopes of eventually making partner.

But strange things keep happening to her. In a workplace where some humans will eventually achieve immense power and centuries of extra lifespan, office politics can be vicious beyond belief. After some initial missteps, she finds herself sidelined and assigned to unpromising cases. Then, for no reason she can see, she becomes the target of repeated, apparently random violent attacks, escaping injury each time through increasingly improbable circumstances. However, there’s apparently more to Linnet Ellery than a little old-money human privilege. More than even she knows. And as she comes to understand this, she’s going to shake up the system like you wouldn’t believe….

Wings of Fire #1: The Dragonet Prophecy by Tui T. Sutherland

A thrilling new series soars above the competition and redefines middle-grade fantasy fiction for a new generation!

The seven dragon tribes have been at war for generations, locked in an endless battle over an ancient, lost treasure. A secret movement called the Talons of Peace is determined to bring an end to the fighting, with the help of a prophecy -- a foretelling that calls for great sacrifice.

Five dragonets are collected to fulfill the prophecy, raised in a hidden cave and enlisted, against their will, to end the terrible war.

But not every dragonet wants a destiny. And when the select five escape their underground captors to look for their original homes, what has been unleashed on the dragon world may be far more than the revolutionary planners intended . . .

The Shadowed Sun by N.K. Jemisin

Gujaareh, the city of dreams, suffers under the imperial rule of the Kisuati Protectorate. A city where the only law was peace now knows violence and oppression. And nightmares: a mysterious and deadly plague haunts the citizens of Gujaareh, dooming the infected to die screaming in their sleep. Trapped between dark dreams and cruel overlords, the people yearn to rise up — but Gujaareh has known peace for too long.

Someone must show them the way.

Hope lies with two outcasts: the first woman ever allowed to join the dream goddess' priesthood and an exiled prince who longs to reclaim his birthright. Together, they must resist the Kisuati occupation and uncover the source of the killing dreams... before Gujaareh is lost forever.

Home From the Sea: An Elemental Masters Novel

 In Edwardian Britain, magic is real. And Masters of the Elements control Fire, Water, Air, and Earth... 

Mari Prothero has lived all her life with her father, Daffyd, in a tiny fishing village on the coast of Wales. Though Daffyd takes his boat out on the sea regardless of weather, Mari has learned not to fear for his safety, for her father is a Water mage, and always comes home safely with a large catch. Mari knows that in her family, children are expected to marry at eighteen, to an appropriate stranger. However, Mari is a fledgling Water Master with a rebellious nature. She has no intention of agreeing to any arranged marriage. 

But Mari has yet to learn the truth of the magical heritage that must be protected by these very marriages. For the Protheros are descended from Selkies—magical beings who are able to change from seals to humans—and to continue her line, she must marry a full-blooded Selkie... 

Kiss the Dead by Laurell K. Hamilton

When a fifteen-year-old girl is abducted by vampires, it’s up to U.S. Marshal Anita Blake to find her. And when she does, she’s faced with something she’s never seen before: a terrifyingly ordinary group of people—kids, grandparents, soccer moms—all recently turned and willing to die to avoid serving a master. And where there’s one martyr, there will be more…

But even vampires have monsters that they’re afraid of. And Anita is one of them…

Blazing the Trail: The Dragon Diaries by Deborah Cooke

It’s almost Valentine’s Day, and Zoë Sorensson’s love life is heating up. Cute, loyal, and understanding, wolf shifter Derek is pretty much the perfect guy. He likes Zoë, and he knows what it’s like to have to keep a secret. Yet, Zoë can’t help but wish it was rebel rocker Jared asking her to the Valentine’s dance instead. But Jared’s too busy playing hot and cold with her heart, calling Zoë his dragon girl one minute and then taking special interest in her best friend the next.

Zoë is just about ready to breathe fire, especially once she uncovers a new threat that targets her friends. Although Zoë thought the Mages were defeated, they’re back and have invoked an old spell to give them new power—they plan to eliminate all shape shifters on the night of the big dance. Now, Zoë must lead an alliance of young shifters to battle the Mages and figure out exactly what—and who—she wants, before it all goes up in smoke…

Blue Remembered Earth (Poseidon's Children) by Alastair Reynolds

With his critically acclaimed Revelation Space novels, Alastair Reynolds confirmed “his place among the leaders of the hard-science space opera renaissance.” (Publishers Weekly) With Blue Remembered Earth, the award-winning author begins a new epic, tracing generations of one family across more than ten thousand years of future history—into interstellar space and the dawn of galactic society…

One hundred and fifty years from now, Africa has become the world’s dominant technological and economic power. Crime, war, disease and poverty have been eliminated. The Moon and Mars are settled, and colonies stretch all the way out to the edge of the solar system. And Ocular, the largest scientific instrument in history, is about to make an epochal discovery…

Geoffrey Akinya wants only one thing: to be left in peace, so that he can continue his long-running studies into the elephants of the Amboseli basin. But Geoffrey’s family, who control the vast Akinya business empire, has other plans for him. After the death of his grandmother Eunice—the erstwhile space explorer and entrepreneur—something awkward has come to light on the Moon, so Geoffrey is dispatched there to ensure the family name remains untarnished. But the secrets Eunice died with are about to be revealed—secrets that could change everything...or tear this near utopia apart.

Princeps: A Novel in the Imager Portfolio by L.E. Modesitt Jr.

The thrilling follow-up to Scholar—in which, after discovering a coup attempt and preventing a bloody civil war, Quaeryt was appointed princeps of Tilbor—begins a new episode in the young Imager's life. Now second only to the governor, and still hiding his powers as an Imager, Quaeryt is enjoying his new position, as well as his marriage to Lord Bhayar’s youngest sister, Vaelora, when a volcanic eruption devastates the old capital of Telaryn.

He and his wife are dispatched to Extela, Telaryn’s capitol city, to replace the governor killed in the eruption. Quaeryt and Vaelora must restore order to a city filled with chaos and corruption, and do so quickly. The regiment under his command must soon depart to bolster Telaryn’s border defenses against a neighboring ruler who sees the volcanic devastation as an opportunity for invasion and conquest.

The Taken: Celestial Blues by Vicki Pettersson

Griffin Shaw used to be a PI, but that was back when gumshoes hoofed the streets . . . and he was still alive. Fifty years later, he's an angel, but that doesn't make him a saint. One small mistake has altered fate, and now he's been dumped back onto the mortal mudflat to collect another soul—Katherine "Kit" Craig, a journalist whose latest investigation is about to get her clipped.

Bucking heavenly orders, Grif refuses to let the sable-haired siren come to harm. Besides, protecting her offers a chance to solve the mystery of his own unsolved murder—and dole out some overdue payback for the death of his beloved wife, Evie.

Joining forces, Kit and Grif's search for answers leads beyond the blinding lights of the Strip into the dark heart of an evil conspiracy. But a ruthless killer determined to destroy them isn't Grif's biggest threat. His growing attraction to Kit could cost them both their lives, along with the answer to the haunting question of his long afterlife . . .

Instruction Manual for Swallowing by Adam Marek

Exploring what happens when ordinary people collide with bizarre, fantastical situations, this collection of 14 short stories presents an engaging new voice in absurdist fiction. 

The stories are grotesque, hilarious, unnerving, and moving: a man discovers he has testicular cancer on the day that a Godzilla-like monster attacks the city in which he lives; a kitchen-hand is subjected to terrible peer pressure in a restaurant for zombies; a husband and wife discover they are pregnant with 37 babies; and a man travels into the engine room of his own body to discover Busta Rhymes at the controls. 

No matter how outrageous the subject matter of the stories, they have at their heart genuine human experiences that are common to us all. This book also includes an interview with the author.

Seed by Ania Ahlborn

With nothing but the clothes on his back — and something horrific snapping at his heels — Jack Winter fled his rural Georgia home when he was still just a boy. Watching the world he knew vanish in a trucker’s rearview mirror, he thought he was leaving an unspeakable nightmare behind forever. But years later, the bright new future he’s built suddenly turns pitch black, as something fiendishly familiar looms dead ahead.

When Jack, his wife Aimee, and their two small children survive a violent car crash, it seems like a miracle. But Jack knows what he saw on the road that night, and it wasn’t divine intervention. The profound evil from his past won’t let them die…at least not quickly. It’s back, and it’s hungry; ready to make Jack pay for running, to work its malignant magic on his angelic youngest daughter, and to whisper a chilling promise: I’ve always been here, and I’ll never leave.

Country comfort is no match for spine-tingling Southern gothic suspense in Ania Ahlborn’s tale of an ordinary man with a demon on his back. Seed plants its terror deep in your soul, and lets it grow wild.

The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan

The Eye of the World is book one of The Wheel of Time®, Robert Jordan’s internationally bestselling fantasy series. This edition features cover art by David Grove. The art, which originally debuted on the e-book, will grace bookstores for the first time on this handsome trade paperback edition.

The Battle of Blood and Ink: A Fable of the Flying City by Jared Axelrod and Steve Walker

If you’re visiting the flying city of Amperstam without the latest printing of The Lurker’s Guide, you might as well be lost. This one-sheet is written, edited, and printed by Ashe, a girl raised on the streets of the flying city, and is dedicated to revealing its hidden treasures and deepest secrets—including many that the overcontrolling government doesn’t want anyone to know. The stakes are raised when Ashe accidentally uncovers the horror of exactly how Amperstam travels among the skies and garners the attention of those who would rather that secret be kept in the hands of the city’s powerful leaders.

Soon Ashe is on the run from thugs and assassins, faced with the choice of imperiling her life just to keep publishing, or giving in to the suggestion of a rich patron that she trade in her voice and identity for a quiet, comfortable life. It’s a war of confusion for Ashe, but one thing is very clear: just because you live in a flying city, you can’t always keep your head in the clouds.

Delirium by Lauren Oliver

They say that the cure for Love will make me happy and safe forever. And I’ve always believed them. Until now. Now everything has changed. Now, I’d rather be infected with love for the tiniest sliver of a second than live a hundred years smothered by a lie. 

  Lethal Rider (Lords of Deliverance) by Larissa Ione

They're here.

They ride.

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

Born of a match between good and evil, four siblings stand between hell's minions and everything they want to destroy. They are the Lords of Deliverance, and they have the power to ward off 
Doomsday . . . or let it ride . . .


Thanatos, the most deadly Horseman of the Apocalypse, has endured thousands of years of celibacy to prevent the end of days. But just one night with the wickedly sexy Aegis Guardian, ReganCooper, shatters centuries of resolve. Yet their passion comes with a price. And Thanatos must face a truth more terrifying than an apocalypse-he's about to become a father.

Demon-slayer Regan Cooper never imagined herself the maternal type, but with the fate of the world hanging in the balance she had no choice but to seduce Thanatos and bear his child. Now, as the final battle draws closer and his rage at being betrayed is overshadowed by an undeniable passion for the mother of his child, Thanatos has a life-shattering realization: To save the world, he must sacrifice the only thing he's ever wanted-a family.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Waiting on Wednesday

This is a blog meme hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine to spotlight upcoming books. This week we're featuring picks chosen by SQT and Jim.

SQT's can't wait to read selection is:

Tin Swift by Devon Monk
Publisher: Penguin
Date: July 3, 2012
Pages: 384  

In steam age America, men, monsters, machines and magic battle to claim the same scrap of earth and sky. In this chaos, one man fights to hold on to his humanity—and his honor. . .

Life on the frontier is full of deceit and danger, but bounty hunter Cedar Hunt is a man whose word is his bond. Cursed with becoming a beast every full moon, Cedar once believed his destiny was to be alone. But now, Cedar finds himself saddled with a group of refugees, including the brother he once thought lost.

Keeping his companions alive is proving to be no easy task, in part because of the promise he made to the unpredictable Madder brothers—three miners who know the secret mechanisms of the Strange. To fulfill his pledge, Cedar must hunt a powerful weapon known as the Holder—a search that takes him deep into the savage underbelly of the young country and high into the killing glim-field skies defended by desperate men and deadly ships.

But the battles he faces are just a glimmer of a growing war stirring the country. To keep his word Cedar must navigate betrayal, lies, and treacherous alliances, risking everything to save the lives of those he has come to hold dear…

I've been meaning to get to the Age of Steam series by Devin Monk for awhile. I have the weirdest, most interrupted reading habits thanks to my inability to organize my TBR list. I read the first part of Dead Iron and really liked it, but still haven't finished it. With this on the way I'm going to have to make the time to get to both books. I mean it this time...

Jim's can't wait to read selection is:

Seven Wonders by Adam Christopher

publisher: Angry Robot
date: 8/28/12
pages: 416

Tony Prosdocimi lives in the bustling Metropolis of San Ventura – a city gripped in fear, a city under siege by the hooded supervillain, The Cowl.

When Tony develops super-powers and acts to take down The Cowl, however, he finds that the local superhero team Seven Wonders aren’t as grateful as he assumed they’d be…

I -still- want to read Empire State, which sounds like it's right up my alley as a superhero/noir combination. While I don't think Seven Wonders is in the same "universe" as Empire State (though there are more books coming in that series), it's still got the superhero vibe which almost always catches my attention.

Movies You Gotta See-- "Groundhog Day" (1993)

It seems like it wasn't that long ago that Bill Murray was one of the hottest comedians around. Back, when "Saturday Night Live" was actually funny, Murray was a member of the best cast the show ever had. He became known for his acerbic wit and went on to do some hilarious films like "Caddyshack" and "Ghostbusters." But if one movie really showcased Murray's talents it had to be Groundhog Day.

Phil Connors (Murray) is a jaded Pittsburgh weatherman who is sent to Punxatawney,  Pennsylvania to cover the annual Groundhog Day celebration and the local groundhog "celebrity" Punxatawney Phil. Connors, feeling he is generally too sophisticated for the assignment, grudgingly completes his report and attempts to rush out of town and return to Pittsburgh only to find himself caught in a snowstorm that he had predicted, on air, would miss the area. As a result he ends up stuck in Punxatawney for another night.

When Phil wakes up the next morning he immediately feels a sense of déjà vu when he, once again, wakes to the song I Got You Babe and the banal chatter of the radio announcers he had heard the day before, but dismisses it as nothing more than a mistake by the radio station. However, as soon as Phil arrives at the Groundhog Day celebration, he realizes he is living the same day over again.

Phil soon sees that his life is in a strange kind of stasis where he has to live Groundhog Day over and over again. He's not the kind of guy who comes to any fast realizations and rather than think there is a lesson to be learned by his strange situation, he instead spends countless days trying to seduce Rita (Andi McDowell), the television producer who accompanied him on the trip. When he fails in that endeavor he then goes through varying phases of behavior (much like the five stages of grief) where he tries to come to grips with the unending Groundhog Day. He does everything from kidnapping Puxatawney Phil and driving off a cliff to dropping a toaster in his bathtub only to end up in the same bed every morning and waking up to "I Got You Babe."

Murray's movie roles generally flow in the direction of playing the amiable slacker or the world-weary cynic and "Groundhog Day" puts him in the mold of the latter. He plays Connors with a biting superiority and lack of awareness to the feelings of those around him. But the best part of "Groundhog Day" is that he has landed in a town like Punxatawney where his urban-snark is mostly ignored thanks to the sweet naivete of the townspeople. Contrasting the accepting bewilderment of the small-town residents with Phil's increasingly unhinged antics is great fodder for Murray's style of comedy.

The greatest mystery in "Groundhog Day" isn't why Phil is stuck in Punxsatawney, but for how long. Director Harold Ramis has suggested a time frame of 10-40 years, so it's really up to the viewer to decide. The segments that are repeated showing Connors interacting with the same people over and over again give a great impression of the futility Phil feels at trying to force certain outcomes (usually involving the seduction of Rita) and his manic frustration is hilarious. There is the inevitable progression in Phil's behavior toward something more noble than his earlier selfishness, but it's a slow one. Murray is as his cantankerous best through most of the film and the humor comes from watching him try to make sense of things in his self centered way. The heart of the movie mostly rests on the optimistic shoulders of Rita. McDowell plays her sweetly, and a little innocently, but the character is never fooled by Phil's manipulations. If Rita weren't there, it would take Phil twice as long to figure out that he should be trying to be a better man.

"Groundhog Day" is the kind of movie that's all too rare these days. It relies on the cleverness of the script and the skill of the actors to sell it's incredible premise rather than the flash of the special effects to which we've become so accustomed. The storytelling is first rate, and so is the comedy. The dialog is clever and the resolution to the story has an old-fashioned kind of sentimentality that you saw before scriptwriters decided we were too cool to enjoy it anymore. It's the sort of movie making I wish we saw more of these days and a real gem to revisit when you have the chance.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Audiobook Review: Galaxy In Flames by Ben Counter

Concluding the opening trilogy of The Horus Heresy, Ben Counter provides a riveting narrative which nicely wraps up the initial plotlines, providing closure for certain characters, while setting up the threads to be followed in various future stories. At the end of False Gods, Horus - the favored son of the Emperor of mankind - has decided he must overthrow his father to prevent a vision of humankind in neverending battle from coming to pass. He has revealed his intentions to some of his most trusted advisors, and some of his Primarch brothers but no overt moves have yet been made.

As Galaxy in Flames opens, the combined armies of Horus and his co-conspirators are quelling a rebellion on a planet called Istavan III. Garviel Loken, one of Horus' commanders, is sent to lead an unfamiliar group of troops against the rebellious forces - but after months off the front line, he is just happy to be allowed to participate in the action again, never realizing what danger he is now in. As more and more mixed forces are sent to the planet below, the great battleships in orbit prepare to unleash a biological weapon on the planet - to kill every living thing upon it, wiping out the rebels as well as those troops under Horus command whom he knows will not support him in his treachery against the Emperor.

But some of the Astartes warriors in orbit are not as loyal as Horus believes, and in warning the troops on the planet below, they set up a conflict which will place brother against brother in close range combat - forcing each side to commit to their ideals or switch sides in last minute betrayals.

Martyn Ellis as the reader continues to do an excellent job in portraying all the characters in this story - I never really had a hard time telling anyone part. I was genuinely surprised by a number of moments in the plot, twists that I didn't see coming. In False Gods there are no real dividing lines between good and evil, but here it becomes much clearer when Horus and his followers betray their own brothers. They may feel they are doing the right thing, but they go about it in a dishonorable way. While much of the focus is on those characters, there are glimpses of heroic characters as well, as we follow a historian who is trying to escape from Horus flagship with an Astartes warrior long past his prime, or Garro who risks all of those under his command in order to warp back to Terra and warn the Emperor - and of course Loken who leads those left on Istavan III in a defensive battle against a force that far outnumbers them, from which there can be only one resolution.

Galaxy in Flames is a tragedy then, a dark turn in the story that sets up all the future stories to come in The Horus Heresy. I loved listening to it, and it only continued to support my earlier belief that this was a series I would be dedicating some serious time to exploring. This is an epic scifi series, and I highly recommend checking it out.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Book Review: "Lucky Bastard" by S.G. Browne

As the world gets more stressful my taste in reading turns to the irreverent. As the political season ramps up and the talking-heads becoming increasingly shrill I tuck my head back into my turtle-shell and look for some blessed relief from all the noise. There have always been a few trusty authors I've turned to when looking for the right kind of off-kilter humor to distract me when I've hit my tolerance level for negativity- and S.G. Browne is a welcome addition to the list.

Lucky Bastard, Browne's latest offering, is the story of Nick Monday: a private investigator who really makes his living as a luck poacher. The ability to poach luck is passed from one generation to the next; both Nick and his sister Mandy are able to poach luck- but Nick is the only one to take advantage of his parasitic ability. Because of his strange vocation Nick drifts along the margins of society, only interacting with the occasional coffee barista and his gangsta-rapping assistant Bow Wow for companionship.

Nick's own luck used to be pretty good too, but an uncharacteristic decision to take a job poaching bad luck was all it took for Nick to end up in a tiny office in San Francisco taking actual investigating jobs just to have enough money to pay rent and buy cinnamon rolls at the local Starbucks. So when Tuesday Knight, the gorgeous daughter of the mayor, shows up in his office to offer him $100,000 if he can retrieve her father's stolen luck, Nick's in no position to refuse, even though he was the guy who poached it in the first place.

But Nick's turn of bad luck seems to be lingering as more and more people seem interested in his particular talents- and the constant kidnappings are making it awfully hard to get anything done...

S.G. Browne is often compared to Christopher Moore, and they do a share a goofy sense of humor that pokes fun at sacred cows with a lightheartedness that is infectious and addicting. What I particularly like about Browne's style is his gentle way of probing larger issues without adopting a preachy tone. "Lucky Bastard" doesn't lend itself to heavy-duty philosophy, but taking other people's good fortune does bring up some ethical dilemmas. Nick's way of dealing with that issue is to deflect with lots of sarcasm and mocha lattes.

"Lucky Bastard" is a busy book that somehow manages to keep all the threads of the story under control. Nick gets kidnapped on a regular basis- often many times in one day. Everyone involved in San Francisco's criminal underworld, from a luck-obsessed Chinese crime boss to a guy who looks a lot like Barry Manalow, has an interest in Nick's talents. It's amazing that a book with such a frenetic pace doesn't get frazzled by its own energy, but it works.

Nick is the only character that is developed with any detail and we live inside his head for the whole ride. His view of the world is heavily influenced by pop-culture and and a need for junk food to fuel his ability to metabolize the poached luck he carries in his system (a process that also requires a catheter). Nick breezily rationalizes his choice to poach luck for a living as he casually hands off bottles of luck to the homeless who camp on the stoop of his apartment building. But when his sister Mandy is dragged into the situation, as leverage to use against Nick, he's forced to think about how his actions affect other people.

"Lucky Bastard" is a light, fun diversion. It touches, occasionally, on the larger implications of what Nick does- which is to literally sponge off of the good fortune of others. But it isn't until he meets a bad-luck poacher, and sees his strange, though occasional, altruism, before Nick can really confront his own shortcomings. And it was at that point that I felt the book finally found the moral underpinning it needed to give the story some depth- unfortunately that didn't happen until the end of the story. Fortunately, the book left off in an open-ended fashion that may lend itself to a sequel and the chance to see how Nick evolves. Overall I liked "Lucky Bastard" for its sense of fun and attitude. Nick Monday is the kind of character you can easily spend some time with and feel lighter for it. I might have wished for a little more introspection but it isn't really necessary in a book that exists to entertain and provide a few laughs- and "Lucky Bastard" does that extremely well.

4 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Waiting on Wednesday

This is a blog meme hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine to spotlight upcoming books. This week we're featuring picks chosen by SQT and Jim.

SQT's can't wait to read selection is:

The White Forest by Adam McOmber
Publisher: Touchstone
Date: September 11, 2012
Pages: 320

In the bestselling tradition of The Night Circus and Sarah Waters’s The Little Stranger, Adam McOmber’s hauntingly original debut novel follows a young woman in Victorian England whose peculiar abilities help her infiltrate a mysterious secret society. 

Young Jane Silverlake lives with her father at a crumbling family estate on the edge of Hampstead Heath. Jane has a secret—an unexplainable gift that allows her to see the souls of manmade objects—and this talent isolates her from the outside world. Her greatest joy is wandering the wild heath with her neighbors, Madeline and Nathan. But as the friends come of age, their idyll is shattered by the feelings both girls develop for Nathan, and by Nathan’s interest in a cult led by Ariston Day, a charismatic mystic popular with London's elite. Day encourages his followers to explore dream manipulation, with the goal of discovering a new virtual reality, a place he calls the Empyrean.

A year later, Nathan has vanished, and the famed Inspector Vidocq arrives in London to untangle the events that led up to Nathan’s disappearance. As a sinister truth emerges, Jane realizes she must discover the origins of her talent and use it to find Nathan herself, before it’s too late.

I was sold the instant I came to the part about the "souls of manmade objects." I'm really curious to see how that idea is developed and what it means for inanimate objects to have a soul- as well as the bit about dream manipulation. The rest of the storyline looks pretty good too. Very atmospheric with a nice bit of intrigue.

Jim's can't wait to read selection is:

The Lost Stars: Tarnished Knight by Jack Campbell
publisher: ACE
date: 10/2/12
pages: 384

The authority of the Syndicate Worlds government is crumbling. Civil war and rebellion are breaking out in many star systems despite the Syndicate government's brutal attempts to suppress disorder—and Midway is one of those star systems.

Artur Drakon and Gwen Iceni have been betrayed by the Syndicate and launch a battle for control over Midway. If their coup is to succeed, they must put aside their differences to prevent the population of the system from rising up against them—and to ferret out saboteurs determined to reestablish Syndicate rule...

Essentially a second (parallel) series to The Lost Fleet by the same author, as John Geary's fleet heads into alien space, this series will tell the stories of those who are left behind in the wake of the defeat of the Syndicate worlds. I'm curious if this series will be less ship-bound and therefore feature a slightly different aspect of this setting than what fans are normally used to. Either way, this is an author I love and a series I enjoy, so I'm looking forward to reading it.

"Skyfall" Teaser Trailer

Monday, May 21, 2012

Book Review: Song of the Dragon by Tracy and Laura Hickman

 It's been a while since I've read a pure Fantasy novel, at least one for review (War of the Spider Queen, I'll get to you eventually).  Let's take a look at this one, the first book in a trilogy, the third entry of which is released on July 3rd of this year.  I've got the first two books here, courtesy of Fantasy & SciFi Lovin' News & Reviews, so let's see what I think of them before the new one comes out.

Drakis is a soldier, the equivalent of a Corporal in a multiracial legion led by Elves.  Let me go over the races in this world, because while they're not so far off of Tolkien that you'll be clueless, they're far enough off that they bear some explanation.

Let's start with the Elves.  These are probably the farthest off of Tolkien you're likely to find.  They're described as having elongated heads and very corpse-like appearances.  If you guessed that these elves are evil, you're right in one.  The elves conquered the known world millennia ago, or at least years ago.  More on that later.

The dwarves are the last nation to stand up against the elves, but by the time we're through with the first Act, Drakis and his Octian are part of the Legion that leads to their final defeat.  Dwarves are exactly what you know them to be.

Next we get manticores, which are in the unusual position of being one of the main sentient races of this world.  They're exactly what you expect, part lion, part man, part eagle.  They're big, able to fly, able to talk shit, and almost completely enslaved.

The oddest by far of these races is the chimerians.  While they may have an original form, they're best known as shapeshifters, able to take the form of any creature.  Most lack the ability to change their skin into clothing, but Ethis, the one we deal with, has that ability, because it adds to the tension, or at least gives the other characters reason to distrust him and gives him reason to do things unexplained.

And... oh, the humans.  Apparently, the humans and the dragons were united as the rightful rulers of this land before the elves came in.  Now they're little more than a curiosity, talked down and degraded even by the other slaves and found only in scarce numbers.

But the winners write history, and here's where the true sinister strength of the Rhonas Empire lies.  They control the Aether of this world, making them the sole wielders- or at least, pretty close to it, as it seems the Fae and the Dwarves have scarce amounts- of magic.  This enables them to do things like having daily rituals, called Devotions, where everybody in a House, slave or otherwise, are subjected to magic controlled by the powers that be that influences their beliefs and memories.  Ever wish you could forget that stupid thing you said?  Well, if the person administering Devotions in your house shares that belief, not only could you forget you said it, but so would the person you said it to.  And all of the witnesses.

Now, I've been making mostly light of this, but upon discovering what the Devotions really are, this is when the novel gets deadly serious.  This is around the time that loyal warrior slave Drakis realizes that he gets regularly beat within an inch of death by his Master, Sha Timuran, only to be saved from death by Timuran's daughter so that she can rape him while he heals, and then arrange for Drakis's lover Mala to discover him "cheating" on her.  Yeah, that pretty much wiped the smile off your face, didn't it?

For the rest of the book, we follow the newly formed adventuring party- Drakis, the warrior, presumed to be the Chosen One because he more closely matches a prophesy that hundreds of human slaves named Drakis mostly match, except for the part that they never escaped.  Talk about a self-fulfilling prophecy; I have a feeling the next two books will reveal some sort of intelligence (perhaps The Wizard That Did It) planting the titular Song of the Dragon into the minds of human slaves named Drakis in order to convince them to fulfill the prophecy.

The quest is a mission to find the characters' homes and backstories (their past), the relationships that will survive as they regain their memories of slavery (their present) and whether or not Drakis will fulfill the prophecy (their future).  As the quest is well underway, a new character and plotline is introduced, yet even Soen-the-badass Iblisi, who travels along a parallel quest in the traditional one man army style.  He's not quite the sixth Ranger, (partially because the base Party consists of seven individuals) but he potentially could take on this role.

Altogether this book is filled with a lot of world-building and a lot of convoluted details.  These details don't necessarily kill the story now, but if gives you the impression that you really hope it comes to a point in the sequels rather than resulting in the worst kind of padding- the kind that actually detracts from the main story if it doesn't lead anywhere.

In between the plot, we get a lot of really cool action.  Most of this is with the Iblisi but it's still interesting watching Drakis and the crew try to get their way out of certain situations.  Drakis is really the closest thing we have to an open book (unless you count Soen), and the lack of knowing who to trust or whose backstory is real lends a lot to the tone of the novel.  You're in the dark a lot of the time, forcing both Drakis and the reader to sit back, stay on the DM author's tracks and find out what's ka.  Er, destiny.   No, seriously, you're awesome if you're not scratching your head right now.  Plot convenience like a wheel.

I joke, but in all seriousness I'm enjoying the ride.  It does feel like we're on some strict rails, but that gives me faith that some of the more questionable things (ie, everything involving Mala or Ethis) are actually relevant and not just padding.  A story isn't normally this tightly controlled, only to have padding like this added in after the fact.

Judgment reserved until I finish the trilogy, but so far it looks like it's pretty good.  I can't wait to dig into my copy of the second book and I definitely hope to get the chance to read the third.  There's nothing to say that I won't change my mind by the time I get there, but right now I don't think that's going to be the case.

"This Means War"-- Should Have Listened to the Critics

My taste in movies is just low-brow enough that I will frequently take a chance on a film that has been critically panned- especially if the cast is reliable enough to make me think it might be worth the time. This Means War, starring Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine and Tom Hardy, had a lineup that let me disregard the generally dismal reviews in the hope that it might end up being a good romantic comedy that only lacked critical appeal. Unfortunately choppy editing and lackluster chemistry left me feeling that even the most forgiving viewer would wish they hadn't bothered wasting their time.

FDR Foster (Chris Pine) and Tuck Henson (Tom Hardy) are best friends and CIA agents. The film opens with the two in Hong Kong as they try to prevent a man by the name of Heinrich from getting a weapon of mass destruction. The inevitable gun-fight ensues, resulting in the death of Heinrich's brother- setting the scene for the grudge-match that is sure to follow later in the film.

For their own protection the two are put on desk-duty when they get home and find themselves with an unusual amount of down-time on their hands. Tuck, divorced and lonely, decides to try his hand at online dating and stumbles across the profile of Lauren Scott (Witherspoon), a product testing executive whose best friend Trish (Chelsea Handler) was the actual author of her outrageous dating profile. After seeing Tuck's picture Lauren decides to go through with the date anyway and finds she has a nice chemistry with Tuck.

The romantic twist comes in the form of a chance encounter with FDR on the way home from her date with Tuck. Lauren and FDR meet in a video store and banter over what movies to watch. Intrigued by Lauren's ability to fend off his advances FDR uses his CIA resources to find out where Lauren works and badgers her into going on a date. Shortly after FDR and Tuck are both telling each other about the great new girl they've met when they realize they're both dating Lauren. The two then enter into a "gentleman's agreement" where they set ground rules for dating Lauren that include no sex and no interfering with each other's dates.

Early on "This Means War" seems like it might have some promise. The opening sequence is cheesy and predictable, but Witherspoon is appealing and the camaraderie between Pine and Hardy feels genuine enough to keep the movie afloat. The problems arise when it becomes clear that the script is too lightweight, even for a shallow romcom, to make any part of the story believable.

The relationship Lauren develops with both men feels rushed and unconvincing. There are a few cute moments but nothing that pops or has any genuine chemistry. The men quickly fall back on using the trickery of the CIA (curiously very available to them throughout) to spy on each other and sabotage the other's dates despite their agreement. In fact, the dates are disastrous enough to make you wonder why she'd keep dating either of them. The movie tries to alternate between action sequences and romantic comedy, but never really lands on either genre and makes the whole experience more discombobulating than enjoyable.

But if the film fails anywhere- it really tanks at the end. There's no question that Lauren will have to pick one of the men by the end of the film, and she does. The problem is that it seems like she picks the wrong one.  Clearly the script was going for a contrivance in which both men could find a woman to settle down with. The problem is that the only onscreen chemistry Witherspoon really has is with the man she doesn't pick- and even saying she has chemistry with him is a stretch because none of the relationships in the film are developed to any extent.

"This Means War" is basically a colorful mess. It's pretty. It has an attractive cast and appealing settings. There are a few explosions and even a couple of laughs. But overall it's a weakly scripted film that tries to rely on the charisma of its stars to carry it- and it just isn't enough to make it work.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Book Review: Simon Vector by JAK Holding

Hidden in the subbasement of a prison on a desolate moon is the body of the military hero Simon Vector. He led the battle against a nearly unstoppable alien force called Harvesters, and paid for victory with his life. Only he’s not dead, his body has been enhanced with cybernetic parts and though he doesn’t respond to outside stimulus his vital signs indicate that his body grows stronger every day. The only problem is, humans don’t have the technology to do what’s been done to Simon Vector – these are Harvester implants.

Dr. Feen is a recent arrival at the prison, and he has quickly learned to hate it there. He’s anti-social and disliked by prisoners and staff alike. On top of that, his own strong phobias make him more susceptible than most to the pheromones given off by the alien guards – their method for keeping the prisoners in line. Because the staff don’t like Feen, they don’t protect him from the scum who inhabit the prison, people like mass murderers, mad doctors and serial rapists.

Then there’s political prisoner General Mason, who’s immune to the guards manipulations of his feelings. He’s plotting his escape, using the weaknesses of his captors against them – endearing Dr. Feen to him by saving him from another prisoner, and manipulating the warden into giving him a map of the prison. But just as his plan for escape goes into motion all hell breaks loose in the prison.

Ana Bolo is an accountant who has discovered some discrepancies in the funding which was sent to the last doctor at the prison, and she’s gone to audit the site. What she finds is Simon Vector, and when he wakes – the Harvester army becomes aware of his presence and immediately resumes their invasion from decades earlier. Using the prison as a foothold in our dimension, they begin to convert prisoners into horrifying creatures with only one intent – convert and assimilate anything usable into material for the Harvester invasion.

I recently described this book as something fans of the movie Alien, or the videogame Dead Space, or the Star Wars horror themed books by Joe Schreiber might enjoy. That’s all true, and as a fan of those things myself, I very much enjoyed Simon Vector. The book starts out a little weak – it takes a little too much time developing each of these characters before “things go bad”, and it takes a lot of the urgency out of the early part of the story. I actually felt like Feen’s internal monolog about Simon Vector’s original battle against the Harvesters was placed oddly in the book. It should either have been the prologue to the story (showing us real-time the battle that occurred) or it should have been brought up later in the story by Simon himself once he has awakened and the characters are in the fight for their lives.

But once the action ramps up, the book is very good at maintaining a high level of suspense. Like a good horror movie, the reader can never be sure who is going to survive the escape from the prison, and because of the setting many of the characters are reprehensible so you begin to wonder if you should be rooting for them at all. The Harvester hybrids are grotesque creatures; bits and pieces of humans, aliens and machinery sewn together who are looking to tear apart any living thing they come into contact with. In a prison that’s gone into lockdown, with a master computer that’s been infested with a virus and is slowly failing and speaking in maddening phrases, with a human military force bearing down on the planet to contain the infestation – the odds are stacked against anyone surviving.

Simon Vector could easily be the beginning of a larger story, told in any sort of medium from more books, to comics or videogames. I could easily see this being adapted into a movie. I’d be curious to see in what direction this story might go next, as I would expect (like the Alien series of movies) future stories would have to move past the more horror oriented story in this book and into some greater military scifi story. But, Simon Vector stands alone very well as a novel complete on its own – while story threads could be picked up again in the future, it is not necessary and you won’t feel as if you didn’t read a complete book upon finishing. This was a strong horror themed scifi story, and I’m pleased to recommend it.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

"The Selection" by Kiera Cass- Tepid and Formulaic

I'm always tempted by YA fiction that promises to offer a new spin on old ideas, and I had hopes that The Selection by Kiera Cass might liven up the old Cinderella story. But a curious reticence to put the characters through anything too grueling keeps the book from being anything more than a lukewarm fairy tale.

America Singer is born after World War Four has seen the United States renamed Iléa (after the man who won the war against the Chinese) and the people divided up into a caste system that rigidly defines what jobs they are allowed to do and how much wealth they can have. America is a caste-level five and grows up in a family of artists who barely manage to keep food on the table.

Whenever a Prince of Iléa reaches a marriageable age a televised contest, known as The Selection, is held in which young women vie to marry the Prince and be the next Queen of Iléa. America is personally reluctant to try to be part of The Selection, but her family's need for money is enough to see her enter and, to her surprise, she is picked as one of thirty-two girls who will travel to the Capital to meet, and possibly, marry Prince Maxon.

At first "The Selection" seems to borrow a bit from "The Hunger Games" in that it's set in a futuristic society that functions under an oppressive government while injecting a reality-TV component. But the tension that was so prevalent in "The Hunger Games" never really materializes as the heavy-handed tactics of the government are only occasionally mentioned but never put on actual display. There is a small attempt to flesh out the fall of American society, and the author does deserve credit for tying in the current economic climate and debt owed to the Chinese. But the few paragraphs dedicated to the subject aren't enough to fuel the story or give it a strong sense of realism.

When the story moves to the palace and the actual contest for the Prince's marriage proposal I expected a teenage version of "The Bachelor." But the petty, and often violent, squabbles we're used to seeing on reality television never really materialize. Almost every character is unrealistically nice and considerate- and ultimately very boring. America is meant to be the plucky heroine, caught in the middle of a love triangle (naturally) but nothing she does is particularly clever or interesting. Her relationship with Maxon is little more than a tired cliché about a Prince who listens to a commoner for the first time ever and he, especially, is so blandly idealized that it's impossible to care whether or not they become a couple.

I hate to say it, for fear of being like the mean-girls who don't actually show up in this book, but "The Selection" reads like it was written by a middle-schooler who doesn't like conflict. The young women who are supposed to be conniving are only "bad" enough to throw a glass of wine on another girl's dress- and how many times have we seen that done before? Every character is someone we've seen many times in other, more interesting stories. The reality-TV angle is hugely underutilized and doesn't add any social commentary worth mentioning as it only exists in the odd interview here and there. Generally, the plot feels recycled and predictable.

"The Selection" is, in my opinion, a book that can only be enjoyed by pre-teen girls who are still in their princess stage and don't like to see people argue--or maybe by people with a strong aversion to conflict and tension. It's a generally sweet, but flat book that won't likely hold the attention of fans of the far superior "Hunger Games."

2 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Waiting on Wednesday

This is a blog meme hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine to spotlight upcoming books. This week we're featuring picks chosen by SQT and Jim.

SQT's can't wait to read selection is:

House of Shadows by Rachel Neumeier
Publisher: Orbit
Date: July 10, 2012
Pages: 352

Orphaned, two sisters are left to find their own way.

Sweet and proper, Karah's future seems secure at a glamorous Flower House. She could be pampered for the rest of her life... if she agrees to play their game.

Nemienne, neither sweet nor proper, has fewer choices. Left with no alternative, she accepts a mysterious mage's offer of an apprenticeship. Agreeing means a home and survival, but can Nemienne trust the mage?

With the arrival of a foreign bard into the quiet city, dangerous secrets are unearthed, and both sisters find themselves at the center of a plot that threatens not only to upset their newly found lives, but also to destroy their kingdom.

Rachel Neumeier has been on my TBR list for awhile with her Griffin Mage novels- but I may jump straight to this one. Two sisters, magic and intrigue- it sounds like a simple formula but one that could be really good.

Jim's can't wait to read selection is:

Priests of Mars by Graham McNeill
publisher: The Black Library
date: July 31, 2012
pages: 320

Legend tells of a foolhardy expedition, led by the radical Magos Telok, which ventured out into the unknown space beyond the Halo Worlds in search of the ‘Breath of the Gods’ – an arcane device with the power to unmake and reshape the very stars themselves. Thousands of years later, the ambitious Lexell Kotov musters his Adeptus Mechanicus Explorator fleet and sets out to follow in mad old Telok’s footsteps. With the might of the Imperial Guard and the Space Marines to augment his own forces, he searches for the hidden clues which will lead him to greatest power that the galaxy has ever known. But who knows what ancient perils may yet lie outside the Imperium and the dominion of mankind?

As I've mentioned elsewhere, my current interest in the Warhammer book series is around The Horus Heresy era. Though this isn't a book from that series, it does sound like it could cover a long period of history of the Adeptus Mechanicus, seemingly beginning before the Heresy and then moving into the 40K universe timeframe. Either way, it's by an author I'm paying far more attention to now, and seems like a nice stand-alone book in the setting.