Saturday, June 30, 2018

June Site Update

Yes, I know I just posted the Phase I overhaul update last week, but I'm trying to get back on an end-of-month site update schedule.

The previous three reviews have been added to the main site archives, plus I dealt with various other Things I'd found. (I expect that'll be an ongoing project, finding the little errors and such...)


Friday, June 29, 2018

Dragons Love Tacos 2 (Adam Rubin)

Dragons Love Tacos 2: The Sequel
The Dragons Love Tacos series, Book 2
Adam Rubin, illustrations by Daniel Salmieri
Fiction, CH Fantasy/Humor/Picture Book
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: All the taco-loving dragons are crying. What's wrong? Tacos are officially extinct! Fortunately, you keep a time machine in the garage for just such an emergency. All you have to do is go back, grab a few taco seeds, and plant trees for the future. But time travel's never that easy, not even in picture books...

REVIEW: Another down-time read at work... For all that the first book didn't really need a sequel, this one's fun enough, even if it lacks a little of the voice that made the first volume chuckleworthy. Naturally, "your" time travel efforts create more problems than they solve. Amusing, though marginally less so than the original.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Old MacDonald Had a Dragon (Ken Baker) - My Review
The Dragons Are Singing Tonight (Jack Prelutsky) - My Review
Dragons Love Tacos (Adam Rubin) - My Review

Monday, June 25, 2018

Dirigible Dreams (C. Michael Hiam)

Dirigible Dreams: The Age of the Airship
C. Michael Hiam
Nonfiction, History
***+ (Okay/Good)

DESCRIPTION: From our earliest days, humans have dreamed of flight, but only in the late nineteenth century did powered, controlled flight become a possibility. Innovations soon transformed primitive balloons into semi-rigid and rigid dirigibles, used for everything from war to luxury global cruises to polar exploration. For a brief, shining moment, it seemed these lighter-than-air ships might conquer the skies... until the tragic wreck of the Hindenburg spelled the end of commercial dirigible dreams. Or did it? Author Hiam explores the rise, heyday, and fall of these popular airships.

REVIEW: Dirigibles are more often found in steampunk tales than the skies these days, but at one time they were the bleeding edge of aeronautical technology, combining powered flight with lighter-than-air transport. Hiam's book looks back at the earliest pioneers of this inherently dangerous mode of travel, examining the often-eccentric people who popularized the dirigible airship, often through audacious stunts that were at least as likely to be disasters as successes. The ships themselves almost take on personalities as described here, each with their assets and liabilities, prone to spectacular failure. When they worked, they worked well - but they often seemed plagued by technology issues, capricious weather, or just plain bad luck. Hiam bookends his account with the legendary Hindenburg inferno of May 1937, which encapsulated in the public mind all that was to be feared about dirigible travel and pretty much put the nail in the coffin of widespread commercial investment in rigid airships... but they are not dead yet, and many still are convinced that the drawbacks to the mode of transportation can be overcome with advances in technology and sheer human ingenuity, convinced they can still answer many needs of today and tomorrow.
As someone who reads the odd steampunk tale and is somewhat curious, I consider this not a bad account of the airship's real-world history, though it runs a little dry at times, with names tending to jumble. That, plus a lack of information on the possible future of airships (merely hinted at in the closing lines), cost it a solid Good rating, though it's still worth a read if you're interested in the history of airships... or interested in writing about them.

You Might Also Enjoy:
With the Night Mail (Rudyard Kipling) - My Review
Airborn (Kenneth Oppel) - My Review
Leviathan (Scott Westerfield) - My Review

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Traitor's Blade (Sebastien de Castell)

Traitor's Blade
The Greatcoats series, Book 1
Sebastian de Castell
Jo Fletcher
Fiction, Fantasy
****+ (Good/Great)

DESCRIPTION: When Falcio val Mond became First Cantor of the king's Greatcoats, traveling administrators of the King's Law and defenders of the common folk, it was the fulfillment of a childhood dream... a dream that became a nightmare the day the power-hungry Dukes struck down King Paelis and disbanded the Greatcoats. Now called Trattari, tattercloaks, traitors and cowards, they have been scattered to the four winds as the Dukes and Duchesses crush their people beneath heavy heels. But, before his execution, Paelis swore each Greatcoat to a personal quest, and Falcio means to complete it. Even when that quest marks him and his two remaining Greatcoat companions as assassins. Even when they are drawn into royal machinations in the most corrupt city of the realm. Even when the Gods and Saints themselves seem to have abandoned him. To give up on his quest is to abandon the last shreds of his honor - and his last shreds of hope that, someday, the Greatcoats might rise again.

REVIEW: Many reviews consider this a fantastical tip of the hat to Dumas's classic The Three Musketeers. Even knowing the tale mostly through cultural osmosis, that's about the closest description I can think of, a swashbuckling adventure of swordplay and camaraderie and seeking justice in an unjust world, riddled with larger-than-life characters (villains and heroes) who nonetheless feel real and rounded - at least real and rounded for their inherently larger-than-life world of both gods and magic. Falcio struggles to keep his much-battered notion of idealism alive in the face of twisted terrors and power-mad royalty and a world gone to rot at its very core. For all the glib lightness of Falcio's narrative voice, the story ventures into some dark territory at times, and many sacrifices are necessary. Some plot points border on tired tropes, but play out well enough I mostly forgave the odd low-hanging fruit. The tale moves at a fair gallop, with many twists and turns along the way to a satisfactory conclusion that sets up the rest of the series - a series I'll have to add to my bookstore shopping list now. (Like I needed another one to follow... but this is one of those problems a reader loves to have.)

You Might Also Enjoy:
Green Rider (Kristen Britain) - My Review
King's Dragon (Kate Elliot) - My Review
Sword-Dancer (Jennifer Roberson) - My Review

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Site Update In Progress - Completed!

At long, long (, long) last, I am about to update the book review archive site.

Links to the archive site (the "You Might Also Enjoy" stuff - not counting direct Amazon links for DVDs and such) will inaccessible while that happens, and will not be back up again until I hand-edit - starting with recent reviews and going back as time allows. This was an unavoidable result of the updating process, as I changed how I organized my reviews. (Each author now gets their own page, instead of all similar last names having to share one page.)

Things will be coming down in about half an hour (by 9:30 AM Pacific time.) I will post updates here when the new site is running... fingers crossed that it is running. (There's always that one thing or ten you don't see...)

Those so inclined, please wish me luck. It may not look like it when it's done, but it was a major undertaking by my standards.

Off for some last-minute checks.

UPDATE: As of 10:27 AM, the site has officially been updated. Links seem to be checking out. I will attempt to start fixing broken "You Might Also Enjoy" links ASAP.

Thank you for your patience

UPDATE 2: I am going over the site slowly checking for broken links - not many, but any broken link is one too many for me. With about 1000 pages, it's going to take at least the rest of the weekend. But the majority of the site is functional, and I've fixed blog links from current posts back to the tail end of April. (Will be fixing those as time allows; it's not a priority at the moment.)

Thursday, June 21, 2018

The Down Home Zombie Blues (Linnea Sinclair)

The Down Home Zombie Blues
Linnea Sinclair
Linnea Sinclair, publisher
Fiction, Romance/Sci-Fi
** (Bad)

DESCRIPTION: Guardian agent Jorie has hunted more than her share of zombies - rogue artificial lifeforms that seek and destroy warm-blooded bodies - in her career. Tackling the herd recently discovered on a backwards dirtball of a planet should be no different... even if this herd is unusually large, theoretically too large for a single C-prime alpha to control. Get in, get out, and the xenophobic, planetbound "nil" locals will be none the wiser. At least, that was the plan - until she and her team arrive to discover their scout agent already dead, his residence swarming with local security officials.
Bahia Vista police sergeant Theo didn't know what to think when he saw the corpse: sucked dry, instant mummification, except for the eerily intact eyeballs staring out of its withered face. The tech discovered in the man's home didn't help, either, crawling with unintelligible symbols. But he has a job to do (even if he's technically supposed to be on Christmas vacation), and at least working will help keep his mind off picking the wounds left by his (now ex-)wife's betrayal. His partner Zeke still teases him about moping around the house playing blues guitar, but the happily-married man doesn't know what it's like to have his heart sucked dry like the body in front of them.
When Jorie encounters Theo, sparks fly - and monsters attack. Suddenly, a Florida cop finds himself in way over his head on a case - and a battle-scarred Guardian finds herself in way over her head with an off-limits nil man...

REVIEW: This should've been a decent book. Jorie should have been - and, occasionally, was - an independent, strong leading lady. But the story never misses a chance to undercut that independence and strength, subtly (and sometimes not-so-subtly) emphasizing the power and dominance of the exceptionally male-heavy cast. Even in the "enlightened" space society Sinclair constructs, women are apparently viewed mostly as potential bedmates by men, judging them by their lovers (or lack thereof) and playing territorial "dibs" games, even to the point of ignoring a woman's rank and authority. Jorie 's sole woman companion Guardian, rookie Tammy, even gets tortured to the point of catatonia (by a male enemy)... then shunted off to a friend of Theo's, who helps her by giving her a kitten to play with. This is progress? (Later, Theo even takes Jorie clothes shopping - not just for maintaining cover, but figuring that women enjoy clothes shopping and it'll help cheer her up. I wish I were kidding...) And it's not just the male aliens who dominate, here. Theo, a man who didn't even know aliens existed, let alone the monstrous zombies (I'll get back to them momentarily), before Jorie drops into his life, does his best to take over the planetside mission almost from the moment he becomes involved, and falls awfully fast for a man whose heart was ripped out of his chest by his shrewish, cheating ex... not the only stereotype in a book stuffed to the exophere with them, from the nosy Jewish neighbor lady to the overbearing Greek aunt constantly playing matchmaker. As for the blues angle... I don't even know why it was in the book, to be honest.
Now, on to the sci-fi portion of this romance/sci-fi split. There was, as I mentioned, potential here... but it was largely lost in a wash of technobabble and stilted alien narrative, particularly the overuse of certain words in a culture that apparently never developed a rich vocabulary. (If I ever read the word "bliss" - the phrase invariably used to denote any happiness or things going well - again, I might scream.) Once again, we have interstellar aliens who apparently have no comprehension of the concept of fiction or storytelling, and even though they conveniently speak a language that's almost English, their ability to comprehend basic colloquialisms is almost nil. The zombies themselves were genetically engineered entities whose original purpose had been corrupted... but why would one make such a deadly thing to begin with? There is no other possibility but for them to be killing machines. They're huge, they're equipped with massive extendable claws, and they're designed to seek out and suck fluids from any warm-blooded creature they detect - originally (in theory) to scan for potential infectious pathogens and contamination at hyperdrive gates (essentially), but really... did they need fifteen-foot-tall killing machines to do that when something smaller and less potentially lethal could've done the job? There's also the matter of the Tresh, the enemy aliens who once tortured Jorie over the course of years (creating yet another vulnerability that she needs men to help her through - silly woman, thinking she could be independent) and who are essentially vampires with their intolerance to bright like and genetically engineered "beauty" (a concept that varies significantly from culture to culture, let alone planet to planet, but which seems very Hollywoodized as described here), particularly the one male (of course) Tresh who tormented Jorie personally and - like half the rest of the cast - seems to have a personal thing... oh, but why go on?
The plot lurches in fits and starts, often bogging down to repeat stuff it's already told me or wade through more lakes of testosterone (and estrogen, as Jorie gets weak-kneed about Theo or debates her own poor luck with men or listens to Tammy tell her who she should or should not be with - because even girls define themselves by bedmates, apparently), often relying on out-of-the-blue occurrences to spur things forward or tangle things up as required. It ends eventually, as one would expect it to end, with every indication of sequels that apparently haven't appeared yet.
As I was reaching the end of this book, I took a break to watch an episode of the sci-fi show The Expanse. I found myself looking up at the screen and back to my Nook. Up at a screen filled to bursting with dynamic, truly independent women characters who were not defined solely by whom they chose to sleep with (and were not judged that way by others), and back to my Nook, where a highly-trained zombie hunter agent was squealing over a kitten while another moaned in "bliss" over the concept of peanut butter, even as the two men - human and alien - were almost to the point of whipping out and measuring over who could or could not have her. And when the episode was over and the credits rolled and it was time to pick up my Nook again and finish reading, I almost wept...

You Might Also Enjoy:
An American Werewolf in Hoboken (Dakota Cassidy) - My Review
You Slay Me (Katie MacAlister) - My Review
ExtraNormal (Suze Reese) - My Review

Monday, June 18, 2018

The Wizard's Tale (Kurt Busiek)

The Wizard's Tale
Kurt Busiek, illustrations by David T. Wenzel
Image Comics
Fiction, CH Fantasy/Graphic Novel
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: For eons, the Rumplewhiskers have been among the greatest of Lune's evil wizards, each generation more devious than the last... until Bafflerog. Somehow, his magical alchemite helpers emerge as cute critters instead of demonic manifestations, and his frightful storms turn into gentle showers - sometimes with rainbows! He even befriended the Rumplewhiskers' old enemy and prisoner, Grumpwort, a former light wizard turned into a toad by his great-grandfather. To uphold his family name (and avoid the deadly wrath of Lord Grimthorne and the council of evil wizards), he is charged with recovering the lost Book of Worse, a spellbook containing every evil incantation of ancient times - with which the council will finally extinguish the last rays of hope and joy in Lune. But Bafflerog has second thoughts as he and Grumpwort set out on their quest...

REVIEW: The Wizard's Tale is a simple, whimsical story of good and evil, starring a lovably bumbling failure of a dark wizard. The plot arc is fairly obvious, especially for older readers, but the illustrations are full of fun little details, and it has a certain charm. If you don't expect profound things, it's a nice, fast-reading fairy tale.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Monster on the Hill (Rob Harrell) - My Review
Which Witch? (Eva Ibbotson) - My Review
My Sparkling Misfortune (Laura Lond and Alla Alekseyeva) - My Review

Thursday, June 7, 2018

All These Worlds (Dennis E. Taylor)

All These Worlds
The Bobiverse series, Book 3
Dennis E. Taylor
Ethan Ellenberg Literary Agency
Fiction, Sci-Fi
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: Bob has come a long way from his old life in the twenty-first century... in most every way imaginable. As the AI of a self-replicating space probe, he and his "descendants" have lived their wildest science fiction nerd dreams of exploring new worlds across the stars - and experienced the nightmares of planetary apocalypse and the seemingly-unstoppable alien threat of the locustlike Others. The Bobs have successfully spread human colonies to several habitable worlds, but new troubles - from native life forms developing a taste for human blood to the ever-present danger of people being people in the worst ways possible - keep them busy... and more than a little exhausted. It doesn't help that the passing years remind them more and more of their immortality, as friends age and die. Meanwhile, the Others' threat to reach Sol and wipe out Earth has not been forgotten, and now they've seen firsthand what the aliens can do, having witnessed their merciless stripping of the Pavs' homeworld. Bob was never a military man, with no taste for war, but he'll have to learn fast if if the human species is to survive - not to mention the self-replicating Bob species, whoever or whatever it has become.

REVIEW: Like the previous installment of this probable trilogy (I've learned never to say never when talking about these things), All These Worlds starts fast, as if there had been no gap between the books at all. Given the proliferation of Bobs, it took a little while to regain my footing, but soon enough I was reoriented and enjoying the ride. The old-school sense of wonder about science, the cosmos, and the potential of alien worlds continues unabated, remaining a welcome break in a genre that sometimes gets a little too broody and gritty these days. That's not to say there's no darkness here, of course. The Others remain a threat, building to a grand confrontation that decides the fate of Sol, humanity, and possibly the entire galaxy. At least as interesting is the continued evolution of Bob and his clones (and his clones-of-clones). While the original Bob "goes native" on Eden among the Deltans, others are forced to confront the fact that they are no longer human beings, that they are something new, something other... something, perhaps, that could or should have greater goals than serving the "ephemerals" who built them for the rest of their existence. Still, the Bobs retain their inherent sense of self and humor, with plenty of nuggets for sci-fi fans and general science geeks to enjoy. It all wraps up in a grand finale that came close to earning it another half-star. A few flaws here and there (such as a tendency for women characters to be a little stereotypical around the edges) only barely held it back. Overall, though, I still highly recommend this trilogy(?) to anyone who enjoys hard, science-based space tales and who misses the days when the genre was about exploring new worlds and wonders, and not just brooding over dystopias or beating up a bigger, badder bad guy each time out.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Leviathan Wakes (James S. A. Corey) - My Review
The Ship Who Sang (Anne McCaffrey) - My Review
A Fire Upon the Deep (Vernor Vinge) - My Review

Monday, June 4, 2018

William and the Lost Spirit (Gwen De Bonneval)

William and the Lost Spirit
Gwen De Bonneval, illustrations by Matthieu Bonhomme
Graphic Universe
Fiction, MG? Fantasy/Graphic Novel
*** (Okay)

DESCRIPTION: When William's father died, his mother sought a better future for her children than widowhood, accepting the hand of a seneschal of dubious character. While William grieves, his sister Heliene insists she has spoken to their dad's spirit, and he can still be rescued from the far-off lands where he wanders. Such talk flies in the face of their pious mother's faith, but when Heliene disappears, William alone knows where she went and what she means to do - which means following in the footsteps of his heretic father, exploring powers he scarcely understands on a quest that takes him beyond the known world and to the very brink of death.

REVIEW: The premise had potential, and the artwork is bright and often imaginative, but the characters and plot just don't stand up. People sort out pretty obviously based on first impressions, and William's one of those obtuse heroes who has to be led to most everything (even conveniently forgetting prior warnings.) Some elements feel a little confusing, almost like parts of the story had been trimmed, though there were some nice ideas; William visits a version of the fabled Prester John's kingdom, which is not the paradise that traveler's tales make out, and his encounters recall traditional stories of exotic lands and monsters. The ending, though, is what really sank it in my opinion, a flat non-event that invalidates most of the siblings' journeys and brings no real justice.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Bradamant's Quest (Ruth Berman) - My Review
Merlin's Mistake (Robert Newman) - My Review
No Such Thing as Dragons (Philip Reeve) - My Review

Friday, June 1, 2018

Beneath the Sugar Sky (Seanan McGuire)

Beneath the Sugar Sky
The Wayward Children series, Book 3
Seanan McGuire
Fiction, YA? Fantasy
***** (Great)

DESCRIPTION: Eleanor West's Home for Wayward Children, a boarding school for kids and teens who had been to magical worlds and returned to Earth, is rarely a dull place - how could it be, with students who had once saved fairy kingdoms or swum with mermaids or conversed with skeletons? Even by their standards, though, Rini's splashdown in the turtle pond counts as strange. Far stranger is that Rini claims to be the teenaged daughter of Sumi, a girl who had been to the Nonsense realm of Confection and murdered before she could find her way back to marry and conceive Rini to begin with. With Sumi's untimely death, time in Confection is unraveling, and the wicked Queen of Cakes - vanquished by Sumi - has risen again. Even as Rini insists on finding her mother, she begins to disappear, a finger at a time. Thus begins a quest across various worlds, a race against time... but, even in the impossible realms beyond the invisible doors, is it possible to ever cheat Death?

REVIEW: Unlike the previous book in the series (the prequel Down Among the Sticks and Bones), this tale returns the action to Eleanor West's school and the displaced teens living there. Returning characters join with new cast members in a worlds-spanning journey that tests them all in various ways, perhaps none more than newcomer Cora. Once a heroine in a mermaid realm, she's been struggling to fit in on dry land again, where her weight has always defined her; her struggles with herself grow all the more desperate when they wind up in Confection, a realm made of candy and just the kind of place cruel peers would've thought she'd been most at home. Again, what could've been a shallow and simple story becomes much, much more in the hands of McGuire, with great characters and memorable turns of phrase and beautiful candy for the mind's eye (literally, in the case of Confection's vistas.) Oh, to make words dance like that upon a page... I am loving this series, and eagerly await the next installment.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Everworld: Search for Senna (K. A. Applegate) - My Review
Every Heart a Doorway (Seanan McGuire) - My Review
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her Own Making (Catherynne M. Valente) - My Review