Did Not Finish, Vol. 2

The urban fantasy edition. My favorite genre, which is probably why I take so many chances and try so many books, even ones that I doubt I would like in the off chance that it would be a hit. It’s usually not, and that’s why I DNF so many in this genre. When it’s good, it’s really good, but when it’s not, it’s… please see below.

A Hunger Like No Other (Immortals After Dark #2)
by Kresley Cole
(“review“)
This is the second book in the Immortals After Dark series and the only time I will ever read anything by Kresley Cole. Not only is this bad, but it’s bad in a “how did this get published???” kind of way.

Dark Lover (Black Dagger Brotherhood #1)
by J. R. Ward
(“review“)
This is the first book in the popular Black Dagger Brotherhood series and most likely the only book I’ll ever try by J.R. Ward. Not any better than Kresley Cole, but sort of more interesting? Maybe. Sort of.

Hexed (Iron Druid Chronicles #2)
by Kevin Hearne
Nothing wrong with this book or series; the writing is just not for me–too much “jaded” snark crammed in. The first book was meh with a dash of try-hard, as in it tried too hard to appear “cool” or “cooler” than its urban fantasy counterparts. Case in point? The main character is a 2,000-something years old wizard, yet speaks and thinks as though he’s a hipster millennial, but he’s neither a believable hipster or a believable millennial. He reads like what he is–a young character written by an author who mirrors his characters after what he thinks is “cool.” Being from hipster central myself, I just don’t find that part of the characterization believable, so that’s a deal-breaker.

A Local Habitation (October Daye #2)
by Seanan McGuire
After finishing and not liking the first book, I kept this series on my radar because so many friends kept recommending and saying it gets better, but what little I read of the sample chapter failed to capture my interest. Even the title bores me.

Blood Bound (Mercy Thompson #2)
by Patricia Briggs
After finishing the first book and was on the fence about it, I gave the second one a try because the world building was pretty good tbh and I didn’t wanna miss out on a series that could very well turn out to be good. First books in urban fantasies are dicey, and long series don’t really take shape until the second or third book (or fourth or fifth). What stopped me from continuing this series was the main character. Simply put, Mercy bores me and I have no interest in following her around for twenty more books.

Two Serpents Rise (Craft Sequence #2)
by Max Gladstone
While I liked the first book just fine and enjoy Max Gladstone’s writing in general (A Kiss with Teeth, The Angelus Guns), I had a hard time getting into this one because the main character was a bit boring and there was too much going on at the beginning. Plus, I think at the time I was impatient for a story that I could sink my teeth into without having to work so hard or wade through so much text to get to the good stuff. Temporary DNF for now with promises to return soon… ish.

Firefight (Reckoners #2)
by Brandon Sanderson
Too young for me, just like the first book, but this time I couldn’t bring myself to care enough about the characters to keep reading past the sample chapter. I think this was around the time I was fed up with Brandon Sanderson in general, and reading any more of his particular, repetitive style of fantasy was just too much.

Fool Moon (Dresden Files #2)
by Jim Butcher
This one bored me right out of the gate because… well, Harry Dresden. I pushed through the first book to prove a point and put an end to doubts. Turned out I was right: this series is not for me. But again, friends kept on recommending it, saying it would get better, so I gave the second one a try and it’s further proof that this series is not for me.

Days of Blood & Starlight (Daughter of Smoke & Bone #2)
by Laini Taylor
Another one that’s too young for me. The first book had all the irksome quirks of young adult, but the world building was good, so I stuck with it to the end. The second book was more of the same, but I was looking for something with more depth and less YA. I think all the “beautiful” descriptions of all the pretty things just got on my nerves. Why the obsession with beautiful things? What’s wrong with plain fugly things? They need love too… as all things need love…

Cast In Courtlight (Chronicles of Elantra #2)
by Michelle Sagara
I read the first book with Beth as a buddy read. She liked it a lot more than I did (her thoughtful and concise review here). I expected to like it, because 1) long series, 2) the description was interesting and 3) several Goodreads friends gave it high ratings, but I found the writing too messy and meandering. Plus I’m not a fan of the stream of consciousness style. Also, the main character, who is a detective, is bad at her job and entirely unbelievable. While I believe she is bad at her job, I don’t believe her as a detective, but the thing is, this whole series revolves around her being a detective and it’s told from her first-person POV… which really sucks.

Dead Witch Walking (The Hollows #1)
by Kim Harrison
It’s been a long time since I’ve read a book and wondered “have I read this before?” I’m usually pretty good at recalling beginnings, especially beginnings of books I end up abandoning, but with this book, there was a moment in which I couldn’t be sure whether or not I had read it or abandoned it because the writing style was not only familiar, but it’s so familiar that I was sure I’d read this book before. I hadn’t though. It was PNR deja vu. Rachel Morgan is full of sass and snark and has very little substance, and her antics get old very quickly, like around page 10. I think I pushed myself to the 30% mark before call it quits due to recurring boredom.

Pacific Fire (Daniel Blackland #2)
by Greg Van Eekhout
I tried reading this one right after the first one, hoping it would get me more into the series. Didn’t work. Only made me more annoyed with the main characters which were too young and teenager-y for my liking. The world building is still fantastic though. I just couldn’t get into the characters or gave a damn about their life-or-death situations or cared about how they’ll save the world. It really is too bad because I really liked the setting, world building, and magic.

Sixty-One Nails (Courts of the Feyre #1)
by Mike Shevdon
Couldn’t get into this one. Don’t know why. There was something about the writing in the first 10% that didn’t capture my interest, and so reading on felt more like a chore than an escape. Didn’t help that the whole series is about the fae and their courtly politics. Kudos for the middle-aged main character though… perhaps I will give this one another go.

London Falling (Shadow Police #1)
by Paul Cornell
I wanted to like this book. Other than Two Serpents Rise, this is the only other book on this list that I regret not finishing. It’s got all the makings of a nice, chewy cop drama with some paranormal thrown in. Also, it’s set in London. But the book opened with too much going on. The writing moved too quickly from scene to scene and very little info is given about what’s going on and the characters involved. I couldn’t follow what was being said, let alone catch all the subtle implications. So I got bored not being able to follow the story or, rather, not being in on the take. Stopped at around 30% with plans to return, but I don’t know at the point. Maybe I’ll audiobook it.

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Review: The Angelus Guns by Max Gladstone

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
Date Read: October 15 to 19, 2015
Read Count: 1
Available on Tor.com

An angelus gun is a weapon of annihilation used by avenging angels to shut down rebel uprising on various planets the angels have conquered. Thea is a retired angel warrior who goes on a quest to find her brother. She finds him in the middle of a rebel faction on the eve of war.

The story begins by dropping you into the action with barely any set up or background. By the end, you feel a little winded but not really satisfied because there’s still so much of this world left unexplored and unexplained. Although there is closure, so much potential is still left hanging. Too many loose ends for my liking.

This story, as lovely and lively as it is, reads more like a teaser for a longer work than a short story. Many aspects of it feel incomplete. Max Gladstone has more than enough here for a full length novel, or maybe a trilogy, and I hope he returns to expand on these ideas some day. The angels’ universe seem full realized, but not much about it is explained apart from Thea’s quest and the characters she meets along the way. We only get to see a sliver of this interesting universe, but that is enough to want more.

The characters, their universe, technology, mythology, politics, and even their current plane of existence are fully formed–or they give that sense anyway–but not expanded on enough to let you see or give you a feel for the scope and breadth of the story. Nevertheless they make you want to find out more. Unfortunately you can’t because this is a short story and that’s all there is to it for the time being.

Gladstone has a nice way with words, and this story/teaser reads a lot like poetry. There’s an operatic quality to it that resembles the angels’ songs. Here are a few of my favorite quotes, very spoilery though.

The rebels made music. The rebels made love. The rebels roasted meat and sang songs and danced and practiced war. At the park’s outer edge, someone was killing oxen, imported probably from deep inside the timestream. They’d brought works of art here too, from the museums, bits of genius saved from obliterated worlds. One of the dragonflies’ dream arches glinted million-colored beside a Gnathi obelisk. Again and again, she saw a slogan, on walls, on the sides of buildings, on paths and statuary: Gardens Do Not Grow.

[···]

Stars thronged the sky, all moving, all singing, between a ring of eclipsed suns. The guns must have drifted through the shield wall in the night. Stars: an infinite horde of builders kitted out for war, wings flared white with absorbed radiance, power gathered in rainbow cascade. Eclipsed suns: the Angelus Guns pointed down at Michael’s Park, lips aflame, the darkness inside them deep. After so much silence the fleet’s music deafened, washes of consensus and rage, righteous hunger and restrained wrath and sorrow passed through tachyons and entangled particles, along meson and microwave, the song conducting itself.

[···]

She flew past him, out over the gap and down, away from the city, into the marbled sky. Before she slipped from timeless space, she heard, in the far distance, a familiar voice. Gabe. The soldiers of the host sang telemetry songs, and he added his voice to theirs in secret, directed out to her.

So, as she flew and wept, she looked up through his eyes from Michael’s Park, and saw the fire of the guns’ lips build to burning, and their black mouths open. She raised her hands, and once and forever she died.

[···]

That night, Thea snuck to their fire with the book that was not hers, and opened it, and read, as she had many times before, the thick letters her brother’s pen had carved into the paper. No memory, no vision, nothing for Zeke to find when he sang through her. Just letters. Just a story with the end missing.

But she knew the end. She drank tea from her cup, and drew her pen, and finished her brother’s work.

Someday, she would read it out loud where the lizards could hear.

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.

So. 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.

ABC

Author you’ve read the most

In terms of number of pages, it’s Charles Dickens since I’ve read most of his books and each must be somewhere 700 to 900 pages (MMPB editions).

But in terms of number of works (including short stories, novellas, and sometimes essays), it’s Brandon Sanderson.

Though neither are authors I read anymore these days. I think after surpassing the 10,000-page mark I just got sick and tired of both authors, and it didn’t help that both are/were formulaic writers who have/had a tendency to rehash the same kinds of characters and problems. After a couple of books, starting a new one by either was like reading the previous one over again. The writing got too repetitive and predictable for me.

Best sequel

It’s a tie between Adulthood Rites by Octavia Butler and Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon. If I finish both authors’ body of work, Butler would become my most-read author in terms of number of works and Gabaldon in terms of number of pages.

Best cover art

Another tie, this time between Liz Williams’ Detective Inspector Chen series (original hardcover editions) and Martha Wells’ Books of the Raksura series.

 

Currently reading:

Three great books

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The Reapers are the Angels (Reapers #1) by Alden Bell
Somber, eloquent, and quite beautiful. The writing style reminds me of early contemporary American. “Faulkner-esque” is what some reviewers call it. This book definitely rivals The Girl with All the Gifts in execution and could very well be the best post-apocalyptic book I’ve read this year.

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Three Parts Dead (Craft Sequence #1) by Max Gladstone
A surprise, a pleasant surprise. I was lured in by the urban-fantasy-ness and blown away by the setting and world building. As a rule, I have low expectations for all urban fantasies, regardless of hype. So I went into this book expecting it to be average at best, but the depth and scope of Gladstone’s world building won me over. Looking forward to continuing this series.

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Stories of the Raksura, Volume II by Martha Wells
What else is there left to say about this series that I haven’t said in my last two posts? When an author hits her stride, it shows in the strength of the narrative and the writing is simply wonderful. Wells just gets better and better with every new Raksura installment. I’d prefer a full-length novel because I just love the Three Worlds and every single character in it, but the short stories and novellas are just as great and fulfilling in their own way. The ones in this second volume fill in the gap between the previous books and from past events before Moon’s time, but these are more than just fillers because each story adds something new to the continuous arc and expand on wonders of the Three Worlds.

 

Lately I’ve been on a roll with my book choices and have come across a bunch of great ones these past few weeks, and I’d like to tell everyone about them, but there hasn’t been enough time to write. When I do have time, writing and reviewing just seem like too much work. And it doesn’t help that I’ve been writing a lot for work. Not fun things like books and new releases, but reports and proposals and answering dumb questions that anyone could find the answers to on google. *internally eye-rolling forever*. So the inclination to sit down and type out a post, no matter how short and to the point, makes me want to take a nap instead, even if it’s a post about books I actually enjoy.

And besides, it’s summer. There’s always something to do and dogs to walk and backyard gatherings to attend, if only for the free booze. Someone I know always wants to break out the grill and torch a few burgers every weekend that it’s not raining, and someone else always wants to have “a few people over” or go out and “try this new place,” and at least one other person always invite me to their kids’ birthdays–like why? I didn’t even know you had kids… but that’s beside the point.

The point is it’s summer and I have a short attention span. My reading list has been great and I want to let everyone know about all these awesome books I’m breezing through, but writing complete reviews isn’t something I can accomplish. So posts from now on will most likely be a mash-up of updates, short reviews, memes, and a few other things.