Wheel of the Infinite by Martha Wells

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ½
Date Read: December 26, 2016 to January 12, 2017
Recommended by:
Recommended to:

Ever have a moment or several when you’re looking for something new to read and all you see are the same old stories and arcs being retold in marginally barely noticeable slightly different ways? That all you’re seeing is just the same stuff over and over again? I’ve been feeling that way for some time now, and I admit I’m more than fed up with fantasy’s preference for young protagonists and their foolhardy ways–not referring to just YA, I mean the majority of genre fiction. Every time I visit a bookstore, there’s a ton of coming of age stories, new and old, starring a special teenager or twenty-something or a group of them, and they’re always varying shades of stupid foolish, and it gets to a point where I’m like… get the hell off my lawn. Seriously. All of you. Gtfo.

Then this book came along at the right time and reminded me that, if I wanted to find books that actually interest me, that mean something to me, I had to look harder and dig deeper. The kind of stories I’m looking for are out there, they’re just buried under piles and piles of sh–stuff I can’t stand. And they’re most likely out of print or have been for decades now. So now, I’m gonna make an effort to look harder for lesser known genre fiction and dig ’em out.

Another thing that made this book the perfect read at the time I picked it up was its unconventional setting–reminiscent of ancient South Asia, most likely India–and its unconventional cast of characters–all of them older and world-weary and all have lived experience and sketchy pasts. It was refreshing to read about characters that have lived and lost and lived on to fight another day. And it was good to see that world-altering stories and callings don’t just happen to the young and “special.”

Maskelle used to be a priestess of the highest order in the city of Duvalpore, but then she had a falling out with the royal family and was banished from the city. It’s been years since her exile, and at the start of the book, she’s making her way back as a favor to an elderly priest to help solve a problem with an ancient rite/ritual that the city performs every century. Unsure of her welcome and the new political leanings within the city, she arrives quietly, meaning to stay out of people’s way, but then she finds evidence of sabotage that could ruin the ancient rite and destroy the world. Figuring out who or what is behind it takes up the rest of the book.

It’s an interesting mystery and I’m in awe of Martha Wells’ world building and plotting prowess, particularly how much she achieves in so few words. Her sense of world building is unique and succinct, and her prose concise. All scenes and dialogue are necessary and have purpose. I never get the sense I’m reading a meandering plot or pointless characterization or manufactured drama.

Although the stakes are high for Maskelle, there’s an unexpected humorous undertone running through the story that I really like. It keeps it from being completely downtrodden. And while there are serious moments, like the ending serving as a moment of reckoning no one saw coming, much of the story is wry, funny, and easy to read. Maskelle and her endearing ragtag companions run into and/or trip over trouble wherever they go. I would have liked to read more about their time on the road and in the city because it’s just shy of slapstick comedy.

Overall, this was a satisfying read and a good mix of fantasy and otherworldliness, but I already knew that going in because it’s by Martha Wells.

The reaction was more violent than she had anticipated. The counterweight smashed right through the floorboards, knocking her backwards. The arm swung and toppled, taking the railing, part of the gallery, and a dozen yelling rivermen with it.

“I meant to do that,” Maskelle muttered to herself, stumbling to her feet.

[…]

“So, there’s no chance of just stopping and drowning here, say?”

“No, I think we’ll keep moving for now and drown a little further up the road.”

[…]

“I suppose attempts on the Throne happen more often in the Sintane?”

“The Holder Lord executed two brothers, a sister, and a cousin for trying to take the Markand Hold, just in the time I was there, and that was a slow year.”

[…]

Maybe I’m too told for this, she thought. Too old for war, too mean-tempered for peace.

His Majesty’s Dragon (Temeraire, #1) by Naomi Novik

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Date Read: January 15 to 23, 2017
Recommended by: book club’s pick
Recommended to:

Simon Vance to the rescue once again as he saves another book for me that I would have set aside for another time or probably indefinitely. Not the book’s fault though since it’s perfectly fine and well written for a historical fiction. It was more a case of bad timing when I picked it up, too much going on and not enough time or energy to spare and all that, but I made it through, with a lot of help from the audiobook which was superbly read by Mr. Vance, and I really enjoyed it.

The story reimagines the Napoleonic War years from the perspective of Will Laurence, an English captain, formerly of the navy, currently of the air force, and the dragon Temeraire which he took from a captured French ship. The pair bonded over a short period of time and grew to become a funny, sweet, interesting partnership by the end of the book. Some of my favorite moments consist of Laurence and Temeraire talking about books, battle tactics and strategies. There’s no magic or magic systems, no mysterious relics or quests, no coming of age farm boy set out to save the world since this isn’t high fantasy; dragons are the only fantastical elements here.

And the dragons in this world are intelligent and can communicate with their handlers and crew, and their interactions are really fun to read, or more accurately, really fun to hear Simon Vance read because he’s got a lovely voice and he has different voices for all of the characters, but the dragons’ voices are by far the best. The historical aspects of the story are well done and really immerse you in the time period, save for the part where there were dragons involved and both England and France used them like fighter jets, intelligent fighter jets with personalities and quirks. But this too, inserting dragons into this part of history, was also well done and really added to the overall historical feel of the story.

The reason I switched to audio was because of the slow beginning. Not much happened following the capture of the French ship as Laurence and his crew waited for Temeraire to hatch, and not much happened afterward when they left the navy to join the air force. While Temeraire was interesting, Laurence was not, unfortunately. Although a captain and in his thirties, he still had a lot of growing up to do and a lot of personal obstacles to overcome, and he didn’t become interesting until he fully gave in to the life and culture of the air force and dedicated himself to Temeraire (and dragons in general). By this point, more than half the book was over, and without Mr. Vance’s reading, I most definitely wouldn’t have made it this far or past all of Laurence’s shortcomings to really get into the story.

I’ve only read one other book by Naomi Novik and that’s Uprooted which was mostly okay, so I went into this book expecting it to also be mostly okay, but found myself enjoying it a lot, especially once more characters and dragons were introduced. They’re all a lot of fun except for Rankin whom I’d like to stab–repeatedly, but that’s another matter, unfinished business, saved for another time. Since there are 8 more books of dragon adventures, I look forward to continuing this journey with them.

“How did you come to see it?” [Laurence] said with interest, turning it over in his hands and brushing away more of the dirt.

“A little of it was out of the group and it was shining,” Temeraire said. “Is that gold? I like the look of it.”

“No, it is just pyrite, but it is very pretty, is it not? I suppose you are one of those hoarding creatures,” Laurence said, looking affectionately up at Temeraire; many dragons had an inborn fascination with jewels or precious metals. “I am afraid I am not rich enough a partner for you; I will not be able to give you a heap of gold to sleep on.”

“I should rather have you than a heap of gold, even if it were very comfortable to sleep on,” Temeraire said. “I do not mind the deck.”

*

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* * *

* * * spoilers * * *

Continue reading

Review: One Fell Sweep (Innkeeper Chronicles, #3) by Ilona Andrews

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Date Read: December 20 to 23, 2016
Recommended by:
Recommended to:

Still a lot of fun, and I’m pretty sure I’ll say that about the rest of the books in this series.

There’s something nice and comforting about the ease of the writing that makes it fun to read. I’ve never found myself bored while in the middle of these books, and if the writing maintains its pace, I’ll never get tired of following along with these characters on their journeys across the universe. The writing, now that I think about it, mimics the atmosphere of an inn out in the country, but only on the surface. Behind closed doors? It’s all intergalactic chaos, all the time.

Now that much of the setting and world building is out of the way, the focus of this book is on family, relationships and their multi-layered dynamics. Never thought I’d ever say this, but the relationships–old, new, developing alike–and their dynamics were what I liked best about this book. We get to see Dena reuniting with her sister Maud and niece Helen, and Sean and Dena is officially happening, and to my surprise, Maud and Arland getting acquainted is hilarious. I could definitely see a spin-off happening for these two.

And I cannot wait to see what’s gonna happen in the next installment. I know it’s currently being written chapter by chapter on the Ilona Andrews’ site, but I’d rather wait and inhale the whole thing in one sitting.

“Are you going to war, Lord Marshal?” Please don’t be going to war.
“No, I was attending a formal dinner.” He grimaced. “They make us wear armor to these things so we don’t stab ourselves out of sheer boredom.”

[…]

“You know what else chicks dig?”
“Subatomic vaporizers?”
“And werewolves. Chicks really dig werewolves.”
“Poor you, having to smack all of those chicks off with a flyswatter just to walk down the street.”

[…]

“He said to tell me that taking this holiday would make him happy. I don’t want him to be happy.” Lord Soren pounded his gauntleted fist into his other fist. “I want him to be an adult!”

[…]

Caldenia closed her wooden box and patted Arland’s leg. “Do get better. You’re much more entertaining when you roar.”

[…]

“Did you know Draziri taste like chicken?” I asked.
Sean glanced at me, as if not sure if I was okay. “I had no idea.”
“Orro told me,” I told him. “We’re besieged by murderous poultry.”

[…]

Even Caldenia stayed away, which was for the best, because I didn’t want to explain Her Grace and her comments about the deliciousness of werewolves to Sean’s parents.

[…]

People do horrible things in the name of keeping things just the way they are.

*

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* * *

* * * some spoilers * * *

Continue reading

Review: The Midnight Mayor (Matthew Swift, #2) by Kate Griffin

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Date Read: July 31 to September 21, 2016
Recommended by:
Recommended to:

Amazing. What a ride. Had to read it twice and will most likely reread it for a long time to come, just for the prose.

We’re back in London and some time has passed, but it’s good to be back underground wading through the muck with Matthew Swift leading the way. And it’s so good to feel the city being alive and pulsing beneath my feet and to breathe in all those delicious exhaust fumes… and to splash across murky-looking puddles… and to crawl for miles through the sewers… dig through mountains of landfills…

I may wax poetics about nature and the wilderness a lot, but I’m a city dweller through and through, and these books speak to me because… well, they just do. And they embrace the beauty and soul of a city and turn it into magic and wonder. These books make London come alive in ways even nonfiction or documentaries of London could not because the writing is just that good. I’ve never been to London, but it feels like I have.

Kate Griffin has created the perfect urban fantasy series, in my humble opinion, because it’s got everything I ever asked for in UF. If only she had written more and continued the series beyond the 4 Matthew Swift and the 2 Magicals Anonymous books. She writes about the illusions of a city being alive like no one I know, and she suffuses it with so much life. Everything I loved about the previous book, A Madness of Angels, is once again present in this book, but amplified to a pulsating level that you can almost feel through the pages. And did I mention I just love the writing?

Once again, we find Matthew Swift waking up injured and disoriented and finds himself being chased by another vile city incarnation that’s set out to kill him. The rest of the story is a whirlwind ride through almost every nook and cranny and crevice in London to find out who’s after him and why. Turns out, many people/creatures are, and they all have their reasons. Unraveling–pun intended–this little problem leads Swift and the blue electric angels to the mysterious Midnight Mayor and his aldermen, and saving the city while they’re at it is just another day at the office*.

They never lose sight or their sense of humor though. Here’s Swift and the angels being quippy and pragmatic, all the while the city is on the verge of yet another upheaval.

Coincidence is usually mentioned only when something good happens. Whenever it’s something bad, it’s easier to blame someone, something. We don’t like coincidence, though we were newer to this world than I. Inhabiting my flesh, being me as I was now us, we had quickly come to understand why so many sorcerers had died from lack of cynicism. I had been a naive sorcerer, and so I had died. We, who had been reborn in my flesh, were not about to make the same error.

[…]

It is our final opinion that the fusion of the sorcerer Swift and the entities commonly known as the blue electric angels during their shared time in the telephone wires, has resulted in the creation of a highly unstable entity in the waking world. The Swift-angel creature, while appearing almost entirely human, is at its core a combination of a traumatised dead sorcerer and infantile living fire, neither of which is fully equipped to handle living as two separate entities, let alone one fused mind.

[…]

“Let’s establish this right now. I am we and we are me. We are the same thought and the same life and the same flesh, and frankly I would have thought that you, of all entities to wander out of the back reaches of mythical implausibility, would respect this.”
“But it’s not healthy!” replied the Hag. “A mortal and a god sharing the same flesh?”
“You know, this isn’t why we’re here. I can get abuse pretty much wherever.”
“Yeah,” sighed the Maid, “but I bet a tenner I can make you cry in half a minute.”

[…]

I looked at Judith. “This sounds strange, but I don’t suppose you saw three mad women with a cauldron of boiling tea pass by this way?”
“No,” she replied. The polite voice of reasonable people scared of exciting the madman.
“Flash of light? Puff of smoke? Erm . . .” I tried to find a polite way of describing the symptoms of spontaneous teleportation without using the dreaded “teleportation” word. I failed. I slumped back into the sand. What kind of mystic kept a spatial vortex at the bottom of their cauldrons of tea anyway?

[…]

I got dressed. You can’t be Midnight Mayor in your underpants.

[…]

Never argue with the surreal; there’s no winning against irrationality.

Swift may joke a lot about irrationality and morality, but he (and the angels too) always does the right thing when confronted with a difficult problem, like whether or not to let someone die because he or she might become an uncontrollable magical risk to the city of London. I like that he’s mostly gray, except when it comes to matters of life and death.

*we may very well find Swift sitting in an office in the next book seeing as how he got promoted and all at the end of this one.

Review: Origins (Alphas, #0.5) by Ilona Andrews

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
Date Read: August 09 to 14, 2016
Recommended by:
Recommended to:

I quite enjoyed this intro to a relatively new series by Ilona Andrews, and I should mention this is not the kind of thing I thought I’d like.

It starts with a kidnapping… :/

And it’s billed as a paranormal romance… :/

But after picking up and putting down countless books in an attempt to find something good that could hold my attention for more than a page or two, I finally had to return to Ilona Andrews, knowing that they never fail to deliver. I decided to go with this one for the simple reason that its cover looked interesting.

Overall, I think it’s a bit too rushed, and so much of the world(s) is either hastily explained (without giving you a good grasp of the existence of these worlds) or not explained sufficiently. Maybe if this book was a full-length novel, these strange alien worlds would develop gradually along with the plot and characters. I think if this series continues, it would definitely improve because the writing has all the familiar signs of a pair of authors who know their audience and know what to deliver and how to do it. They just need more room to expand on their ideas.

All through the read, I got the sense the Andrews wanted to test some limitations of the genre and take this story down a darker path that’s just as psychologically challenging as it’s physically challenging. And one of the things they put to the test was the romance starting off with a kidnapping, followed by imprisonment. I know… :/. So then how could this be a “romance,” right? I was unimpressed myself and had to make an effort to keep reading, but then the thing at end happened which made me think well, different. It was pleasantly different, as well as unexpected, and I thought it tied the story together really well. I trust the Andrews enough to not royally screw this up, whatever the tenuous “this” is.

The tone for much of the story is tense with some humorous moments in between to break up the hostility, and sometimes there’s sexual tension that borders on being unbearable due to the kidnapping and imprisonment–’twas a tad uncomfortable during those moments–but both main characters seem to have enough sense and chemistry to make their interactions interesting, and they seem grounded in reality enough to keep their budding whatever from becoming too cringe-worthy. The strength lies in these two holding the story together, and for me it worked.

Other than that, I think this story is a fun read and I’m cautiously optimistic of this series’ prospects, but maybe that’s because I’m so used to these two authors by now that entering a new world of theirs and encountering hostile natives is just another adventure.

* * * mild spoiler * * *

Oh, and I really could do without the kid–famous last words?–not that there’s much that could be done about it since she’s already embedded too deeply in the story.

Review: Marked in Flesh (The Others, #4) by Anne Bishop

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Date Read: March 18 to 21, 2016
Recommended by:
Recommended to:

First of all, winter extinction is coming.

Secondly, this book gave me chills from start to finish.

“The HFL wants to talk about land reclamation? They have no idea what they started–and I have no idea who among us will still be here to see where it ends.”

Third, I would have finished it in one day if not for a water main bursting, neighbors losing their cats* during evacuation, and the IRS wanting to chat (not related to the other two but still time-consuming nonetheless). Needless to say timing was bad, and I wish I had waited for a better time to start this book because it was so hard to put down. Even during evacuation and the cats’ mad dash for freedom, I thought about maybe getting another chapter in.

So what made this book hard to put down?

If you’ve been following the series, you know. Whatever’s coming is gonna be bloody and it’s gonna be brutal.

For those who don’t know: this is a story about the inevitable thinning of a herd, and that herd is the human race. Events in previous books in which humans of the controversial HFL (Humans First and Last) movement clashed with the Others have led to this inevitable mass cleansing.

But before things get to that point, Simon and the rest of the Lakeside Courtyard, with the help of Meg and the other humans who side with the Others, must consider how much human the Others want to keep. It’s a haunting question that follows everyone throughout the book. Some handle it better than others, but ultimately the inevitable is out of their hands. They may have a say in how much human they want to keep, but the final judgment belongs to the Elders, Namid’s teeth and claws.

The prose is simple, yet its implications are deeply felt. Perhaps this book isn’t so much about the end of the world as it is about the end of a toxic way of life and the beginning of a better way to live.

We’re not here to take care of you humans,” he said. “We never were. We’re here to take care of the world.”

Simple truth.

Of course this book isn’t without the series’ signature people-eating jokes. A couple of my favorites:

“If the bison are a problem, we’ll just eat them sooner.”
“If we ate everything that was a problem–”
“–we’d all be fat.”

“I encouraged him to resign before he was fired.”
“Or eaten.”

Lastly, I just want to go on record to say that I’m invested in this series not because I want to see Simon and Meg get it on… unlike almost everyone who’s posted a review on the book page.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

ETA: Although not a fan of the Simon-Meg pairing, there’s one pairing I’d like to see happen, and that’s Tess and Nyx. Maybe these two should have a spin-off series where they roadtripping across Thaisia to solve crime and get into all sort of shenanigans.

*The cats are fine. They were found shortly after the streets stopped flooding.

Review: The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Date Read: January 28 to February 28, 2016
Recommended by:
Recommended to:

He remembered the moment when his thoughts had inverted themselves—that shift from not being able to please everyone to not trying—and the way that change had enabled him to see past the maneuverings and histrionics of the representatives to the deeper structures of the problem.

Good story, great world, and memorable characters.

This is one of the few books I’ve read so far this year that’s going straight to my favorite list, and one of the very few high fantasy books I like despite it being mostly about court drama, courtly politics, and a dysfunctional ruling family. And it’s a testament to Katherine Addison’s (Sarah Monette’s) writing; she definitely knows how to make courtly life interesting, even for someone like me who hates fictional court politics–I don’t care much for actual court politics either but that’s another matter entirely.

That said, the beginning of the book was hard for me to get into, mainly because the language. It takes awhile to get into the rhythm of the writing and get used to various names and titles of the primary and secondary characters. Once you get it down, though, you won’t even notice it anymore.

The story opens with Maia, a discarded heir to the elven empire, out in the country living the simple life of a peasant. We find out right away that the emperor, the crown prince, and several of their close relatives, who were also in line for the throne, have died in a freak accident. This then elevates Maia to the throne, which he accepts albeit reluctantly, but first he must overcome a court full of nobles who despise him for his half goblin blood and being the Emperor’s unwanted son.

The setting is steampunk but believable steampunk, with believable magic and technology that’s reminiscent of the industrial revolution but set in a fantasy world, but not like that fantasy turn-of-the-century London or Wild West setting that we see so often in the “steampunk” sub-genre. The prose is lush and a joy to read without being melodramatic or maudlin, although it helps to have a main character who’s easy to root for. The writing as a whole definitely gets stronger, just as the world building gets more vivid, once Maia takes the throne and faces off his adversaries and overcomes various courtly obstacles.

However, the pacing is rather slow, especially near the beginning. The plot doesn’t really get going until Maia gets further entangled in the court drama. I almost abandoned the book twice before then, but I stuck with it because I liked Maia–he’s kind, rather naive and too trusting, but not stupid–and I knew where the story was heading and that there’d be a satisfying ending waiting for me. And the ending does not disappoint. I’m glad I stuck around because it was very fitting for the emperor Maia becomes and the long road he traveled to get there.

Overall, a good story that leaves you in a good mood. I’d recommend it for anyone who’s looking for fantasy but is fed up with grimdark.

Review: Magic Shifts (Kate Daniels #8) by Ilona Andrews

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Date Read: December 29, 2015 to January 01, 2016
Read Count: 1

First book of the new year and it’s a good one. This is another solid addition to the Kate Daniels series, and I enjoyed it immensely because I’m a huge fan, but I must admit I agree with the few reviewers who called it a “filler.” Tensions are building and Kate continues to learn more about her powers, as well as limitations, as she prepares for the inevitable showdown with Roland.

While it may be filler, what we do get to see in this installment is the main cast of characters evolving (almost everybody) and maturing (esp. the kids–Julie, Ascanio, Derek). Their characterization becomes stronger, more solid. There’s more depth to their personalities and inner lives, even though the story is told from Kate’s POV.

Much of the action and story arc reminds me of Kate’s earlier books when she was just a mercenary, going about her life trying to stay under the radar. But since she’s no longer just Kate, the problems she faces these days are more layered and complicated by her social and political status. And even though she’s no longer the Pack’s consort, she still has a lot of pull with every faction in Atlanta. Technically, they all belong to her now that she’s claimed the city, but she isn’t the tyrannical type of leader, not her father’s daughter. I like that she would rather build a home and live a nice quiet life with those she loves than use her powers to build empires. In that, she’s still Kate.

The mystery in this book starts out like those in earlier books: someone in a bind (George) comes to Kate for help and she has to get to the bottom of it as a life hangs in the balance (Eduardo), but the job turns out to be much more complicated the more she delve into it. The investigation uncovers a new monstrosity wreaking havoc on the city, and as the land’s protector, Kate has to put an end to it. And of course she does it in classic Kate style: butting heads with almost every single faction within the city. The difference this time is there are serious physical consequences to her usual bashing-in-heads style, which forces her to put her whole life in perspective. The story is pretty much straightforward from there with a few interesting detours in the road[1].

The highlight for me is the depth of the mythology. Like in previous books, the Andrews (the Gordons?[2]) delved deep into existing folkfore, added their own spins, and came up with creatures that are recognizable in form but alien in intellect. This was the one thing, aside from Kate herself, that kept me reading this series; other paranormal urban fantasies of this kind just can’t compare because they always fall short on mythology–they also have TSTL heroines running amok, but that’s another thing entirely. And so it’s always a pleasure to come back to Kate’s world and be introduced to new monsters and discover the extent of their existence in Post-Shift Atlanta.

Perhaps the only thing I like more than this world’s monsters and mythology is the humor. Kate and Curran slowly and unsuccessfully adjusting to civilian life is pretty funny. I expected that, but how it plays out made me laugh out loud. Of course, it wouldn’t be the suburbs without a Homeowner Association president-wannabee criticizing the “health” of your lawn…or suggesting that your hunny-bunny not prowl the neighborhood every night in his beast form.

“You see, the mailman saw your husband during one of his walks.”

“He’s my fiancé,” I told her. “We are living in sin.”

Heather blinked, momentarily knocked off her stride, but recovered. “Oh, that’s nice.”

“It’s very nice. I highly recommend it.”

[…]

“Did you see the mailman while doing your rounds yesterday?” I asked.

Curran’s face turned carefully blank. “Yes, I did.”

“Did you do anything to scare him?”

“I was perfectly friendly.”

“Mhm.” Please continue with your nice story. Nonjudgmental.

“He was putting things into the mailbox. I was passing by and I said, ‘Hello, nice night.’ And then I smiled. He jumped into his truck and slammed the door.”

“Rude!” Julie volunteered.

“I let it pass,” Curran said. “We’re new to the neighborhood.”

The former Beast Lord, a kind and magnanimous neighbor. “So you sneaked up behind him, startled him by speaking, and when he turned around and saw a six-hundred-pound talking lion, you showed him your teeth?”

“I don’t think that’s what happened,” Curran said.

“That’s exactly what happened, your Furriness.”

Overall this was another satisfying read and a great way to kick off the new year. Always pleasure to return to one of my favorite worlds.

Footnotes below the cut:

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* * * * spoilers * * * *

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Review: The Gates by John Connolly (Samuel Johnson #1)

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Date Read: October 31 to November 11, 2015
Read Count: 1
Recommended by: Steph from Bookish
Recommended for: fans of Neil Gaiman and Douglas Adams

♫ Can’t feel my face when I’m with you ♫

Or, you know, an hour after shoveling the driveway and sidewalk in 15° weather with 3° windchill. Good times.

I am blessedly snowed in today and too comfortable to leave the vicinity of my plushy sofa, not after that “grueling” hour outside. Normally I’d read (of course) but the ereader needs a chargin’ and I’ve been neglecting this blog for too long. Apologies for the unplanned hiatus. Part of the reason is real life; I write every day, not about fun things like books, but about annual predictions and other abstract things. So whenever I sit down to write, it feels like work, even when I write about fun things like books. The other part of the reason is I read much faster than I write, oftentimes jumping from one book to the next without a break. Breaks, even short ones, tend to lead to reading slumps for me, so by not stopping, I’ve been able to plow through a great many books in the last couple of months which I will compile in a “catching up” post later.

For now, this book, this charming little book, deserves some attention because it’s pretty damn good. It’s been a couple of months since I read it and it still makes me laugh.

I first encountered John Connolly when I read The Book of Lost Things and loved it. He has a way with words and a lovely, captivating way of weaving darkness into his writing. The story is a fairy tale as fairy tales are meant to be told. It’s chilling, beautiful, and memorable. I expected The Gates to be similar, but to my surprise, it’s a lighthearted hilarious romp through a sleepy town in rural England.

The plot is simple but you’ll have to take it for what it is and not ask too many questions–amateur Satanists accidentally open a portal to hell and a few hellish creatures escape to clear the way for the Great Malevolence; unfortunately for them, precocious 11-year-old Samuel Johnson foils their plans again and again; it’s then up to him, his dachshund sidekick, and a couple of friends to save the world. The writing is a riot, especially the narration and footnotes, almost every page had me laughing out loud. And the characters, main and secondary alike, are endearing.

Although this book was written for a younger (middle-grade) audience, it could be a hit with older readers too. The unnamed narrator is witty and charming and only occasionally patronizing, but that’s for the benefit of older readers. I’m sure much of what they find hilarious would fly over the heads of most middle-grade readers, such as references to debauchery within the Church during the Dark Ages. Another thing I like about the narration is its uniquely British way of telling the story, that occasionally breaks the fourth wall, though not enough to take you of the story. For instance, the way in which the narrator explains natural science, the universe, and the inner workings of CERN is all factually correct but hilariously summed up.

The best thing about this book, though, is its re-readability. I will never tire of John Connolly’s sense of humor.

Rather than continuing to tell you about how great the writing is, I’ll just leave these choice passages here.

Demons

He had never really speculated about this before, since demons came in all shapes and sizes. Indeed, some of them came in more than one shape or size all by themselves, such as O’Dear, the Demon of People Who Look in Mirrors and Think They’re Overweight, and his twin, O’Really, the Demon of People Who Look in Mirrors and Think They’re Slim When They’re Not.

Nurd, the Scourge of Five Deities

The title “Scourge of Five Deities,” which Nurd had come up with all by himself, was technically true: Nurd had been something of a bother to five different demonic entities, but they were relatively minor ones: Schwell, the Demon of Uncomfortable Shoes; Ick, the Demon of Unpleasant Things Discovered in Plug Holes During Cleaning; Graham, the Demon of Stale Biscuits and Crackers; Mavis, the Demon of Inappropriate Names for Men; and last, and quite possibly least, Erics’, the Demon of Bad Punctuation.

[···]

“You know, there’s a demon who looks after the little bit of toothpaste that you can’t squeeze out of the end of the tube, even though you know it’s there and there’s no other toothpaste in the house. There’s even a demon of shyness, or there’s supposed to be. Nobody’s ever seen him, so it’s hard to know for sure.”

[···]

There was a wail, then a splash, followed by a long, smelly silence. Finally, Nurd’s voice spoke from the darkness.

It said, somewhat unhappily, “I appear to be covered in poo.”

Mrs. Abernathy

“I can make it so that you simply fall asleep and never wake up again. But if I choose, I can ensure instead that you never sleep again, and that every moment of your wretched existence is spent in searing agony, gasping for breath and begging for the pain to stop!”

“It sounds like gym class,” said Samuel, with considerable feeling.

The verger and the vicar

“What do we do now?” asked the verger.

“We’ll call the police,” said the vicar.

“And what’ll we tell them?”

“That the church is under siege from gargoyles,” said the vicar, as if this was the most obvious thing in the world.

“Right,” said the verger. “That’ll work.”

[···]

“Mr. Berkeley,” said the vicar patiently, “in case you haven’t noticed, the dead have arisen, there are gargoyles bouncing around on the church lawn, and we have been insulted by a stone monk. Under those circumstances, [the deceased] Bishop Bernard’s conversational skills are unremarkable.”

Biddlecombe’s finest

Biddlecombe’s police station was a small building set in a field on the outskirts of the town. It had replaced an older building on the main street that had become infested with rats, and which was now a chip shop that nobody frequented unless they were very drunk, or very hungry, or rats visiting their relatives.

[···]

“We’re going to put a stop to it, Constable,” said Sergeant Rowan, with the kind of assurance that had kept the British empire running for a lot longer than it probably should have.

[···]

Two members of the Biddlecombe First XV rugby team had been swallowed up during evening training when, somewhat against the laws of nature and, for that matter, rugby, a pair of fins had erupted from the ground and the unfortunate players were dragged beneath it by what very much resembled sharks armed with webbed claws for digging. The rest of the team had promptly harpooned the monsters with the corner flags.

Review: A Kiss with Teeth by Max Gladstone

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Date Read: October 13 to 15, 2015
Read Count: 1
Available on Tor.com

A delightful little story that goes well with this time of year. Only downside is it’s too short. I hope Max Gladstone decides to expand on it because there are enough ideas here for a delightful full-length novel.

Ever wonder what Vlad the Impaler would be like as a family man going through a mid-life crisis? OF COURSE. That was how this story got me.

After hundreds of years as a vampire, Vlad falls for a human woman and decides to settle down and build a home with her. Together they have a son who is now 7 years old and has been having problems in school. Other than that, the family seems very happy, if only on the surface.

The story opens with Vlad bored out of his mind with domesticity. He misses his old life–blood, gore, and all, especially the blood–and reminisces constantly throughout the day. Pretending to be human used to be fun, because it was a game to him, but now after ten years, it’s a life (that often feels like a life sentence). The novelty has worn off some time ago, and Vlad begins to feel his old self trying to come back. He doesn’t let it though; he’s got too much to lose.  There is, however, one bright spot in his dull existence, and that’s his son’s teacher. He meets with her every week to discuss the boy’s schoolwork, and the more time he spends with her, the more he feels his old urges returning.

This story did not go where I thought it would go, which was a nice surprise. It makes me like it all the more for breaking out of the tired old urban-vampire trope. What I enjoyed most about this story, even more so than Vlad, is the prose. There’s a natural flow to it that’s pleasant to read, but at the same time, it’s got a bite to it, not unlike Vlad’s real teeth. There’s a sharpness and crispness to the structure that appeals to me.

Vlad no longer shows his wife his sharp teeth. He keeps them secret in his gums, waiting for the quickened skip of hunger, for the blood-rush he almost never feels these days.

The teeth he wears instead are blunt as shovels. He coffee-stains them carefully, soaks them every night in a mug with ‘World’s Best Dad’ written on the side. After eight years of staining, Vlad’s blunt teeth are the burnished yellow of the keys of an old unplayed piano. If not for the stain they would be whiter than porcelain. Much, much whiter than bone.

[…]

A game, he tells himself. Humans hunt these days, in the woods, in the back country, and they do not eat the meat they kill. Fisherman catch fish to throw them back. And this night run is no more dangerous to him than fishing to an angler. He leaves his oxfords on the schoolhouse rooftop and runs barefoot over buildings and along bridge wires, swift and soft. Even if someone beneath looked up, what is he? Wisp of cloud, shiver of a remembered nightmare, bird spreading wings for flight. A shadow among shadows.

[…]

He can’t go on like this. Woken, power suffuses him. He slips into old paths of being, into ways he trained himself to forget. One evening on his home commute he catches crows flocking above him on brownstone rooftops. Black beady eyes wait for his command.

This is no way to be a father. No way to be a man.

But Vlad was a monster before he was a man.

[…]

“Might as well kill me now.”

“I won’t.”

“I’m a monster.”

“You’re just more literal than most.”

Other than Vlad’s false teeth, nothing is conventional about the domesticity in this story.

 

Instead of accountant, Vlad should have been a dentist. I mean, come on, huge missed opportunity there.