Review: Kill the Farm Boy by Delilah Dawson & Kevin Hearne

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Kill the Farm Boy by Delilah Dawson & Kevin HearneKill the Farm Boy by Delilah Dawson, Kevin Hearne
Series: The Tales of Pell #1
Also by this author: A Plague of Giants
Published by Random House Publishing Group on July 17th 2018
Genres: Action & Adventure, Fairy Tales, Folk Tales, Legends & Mythology, Fantasy, Fiction, Humorous
Pages: 384
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads
four-stars
In an irreverent new series in the tradition of Terry Pratchett and Monty Python, the New York Times bestselling authors of the Iron Druid Chronicles and Star Wars: Phasma reinvent fantasy, fairy tales, and floridly written feast scenes.  Once upon a time, in a faraway kingdom, a hero, the Chosen One, was born . . . and so begins every fairy tale ever told.             This is not that fairy tale.             There is a Chosen One, but he is unlike any One who has ever been Chosened.             And there is a faraway kingdom, but you have never been to a magical world quite like the land of Pell.             There, a plucky farm boy will find more than he’s bargained for on his quest to awaken the sleeping princess in her cursed tower. First there’s the Dark Lord, who wishes for the boy’s untimely death . . . and also very fine cheese. Then there’s a bard without a song in her heart but with a very adorable and fuzzy tail, an assassin who fears not the night but is terrified of chickens, and a mighty fighter more frightened of her sword than of her chain-mail bikini. This journey will lead to sinister umlauts, a trash-talking goat, the Dread Necromancer Steve, and a strange and wondrous journey to the most peculiar “happily ever after” that ever once-upon-a-timed.

If you’ve read a lot of epic fantasy, you know a lot of tropes. Well, this book is what you’ve been reading for. You’ll take great pleasure in checking each trope off your list as it’s twisted over and turned on its head (and then kicked in its upturned pants for good measure). You’ll snort up your sleeve. You’ll roll your eyes (a lot). And you’ll occasionally laugh out loud.

  • Plucky farm boy ready for his destiny? Check.
  • Talking goat sidekick who just wants to be sarcastic and eat boots? Check.
  • Sleeping princess in a thorn covered castle? Check.
  • Dark Lord who wants the farm boy dead and whose most evil spell is making stale bread rain from the sky? Uh. Check.
  • Rogue assassin who can’t sneak to save her life? Check. (Also see: terrified of chickens).
  • Sonja-esque barbarian warrior in a chain mail bikini (and very unhappy about it)? Check. (Cross-reference: blood-thirsty semi-sentient sword).
  • Seductive enchantress whose biggest secret is that she’s gotten old beneath all her spells? Check.
  • Reluctant bard from the castle who also happened to have gotten turned into a bunny? Also check.
  • And let’s not forget: Dread Necromancer Steve.
  • Does this book on a rare occasion get too clever for its own good? Yep.

The laughter and the fun that the authors clearly had writing this book shine through in every pun and joke and reference. If  you don’t take it, or yourself, too seriously you’ll have a lot of fun too.

There was at least one moment when I groaned and slapped my own forehead at a terrible joke and had the urge to fling the book across the room — the downside of reading an eBook is that you can’t do that when you need to — but for the most part I’m glad I read it. I can just imagine Delilah and Kevin snickering to themselves as they send off their latest terrible puns to the other. That somehow made the book even better for me. Their joy is in every line. The world could use a little of that right now.

Book is due out July 17th and you can preorder it right here. (affiliate link)

 

four-stars

Review: A Plague of Giants by Kevin Hearne

I received this book for free from NetGalley, Purchased in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: A Plague of Giants by Kevin HearneA Plague of Giants by Kevin Hearne
Also by this author: Kill the Farm Boy
Published by Random House Publishing Group on October 17th 2017
Genres: Action & Adventure, Epic, Fantasy, Fiction, Paranormal
Pages: 640
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley, Purchased
Goodreads
four-half-stars

So I received an eARC of this book from Netgalley, and then ended up with a(n annotated by the author) hardcover copy when I subscribed to PageHabit. The annotated copy was quite interesting, and I’m glad that I waited until after I finished the book before reading those.

I really don’t know what to say about this book except it was practically perfect. I’m only giving it 4.5 stars so that the series has some room to grow. It is a brutal book. It deals with an invasion and war, after all. I say war, but that war really begins with several massacres and while they’re not gratuitous, there is no guarantee in this novel that your favorite character(s) won’t end up dead. In fact, if this first volume is any indication, they probably will.

An aside (not actual spoilers): View Spoiler »

More than war, though, is that this book deals with the effects of war on ordinary people. You see all the different responses to horror and loss that one would see in real life – when one is so unlucky as to encounter it. The characters run the gamut in their responses to trauma and grief, and this book holds them up to the light and turns them about in interesting ways.

I think this book is a sign of the times. I think dealing with the aftereffects of horror and war and grieving for loved ones taken far too soon is something a lot of us are worrying about these days.

This isn’t a happy book. It’s not a depressing one either. Reading these characters’ stories gives me hope, and strength. I am very much looking forward to the next one.

Purchase your copy here [affiliate link].

four-half-stars

What I’ve Read So Far in 2017

  1. The Broken Earth  by NK Jemisin 5 Stars
    • I would give this series 7 stars if I could.
  2. Girl Over Paris #1 by Kate Leth/Ming Doyle/Gwenda Bond 4 Stars
    • I liked it. Great art. Need to get back to the rest of it.
  3. Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman 4 Stars
    • It’s Neil-Freaking-Gaiman.
  4. The Celery Stalks at Midnight by James Howe 4 Stars
    • Loved these as a kid & I’ve been re-reading them. They still capture me.
  5. Mirabile by Janet Kagan 4 Stars
    • Actually a series of short stories. Funny & compelling.
  6. Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine 3.5 Stars
    • An interesting premise, but the narrator is unlikable. Will read the rest eventually.
  7. Pawn of Prophecy by David Eddings 5 Stars
    • Has it’s issues, but this is a childhood favorite. I re-read it for a gender-flipped retelling I’m writing to amuse myself with.
  8. Nighty-Nightmare by James Howe 4 Stars
  9. Acorna’s People by Anne McCaffrey & Elizabeth Anne Scarborough 3.5 Stars
    • I take issue with the “Every Woman MUST Reproduce” narrative in ALL of McCaffrey’s writing. But damned if I won’t admit that she writes a good story.
  10. Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day by Seanan McGuire 5 Stars
    • A beautiful, lyrical, cautionary tale of suicide and ghosts. Also, can be abbreviated to DoDoDoD (I’m pronouncing it doo doo dodd), which provides me endless entertainment.
  11. Return to Howliday Inn by James Howe 4 Stars
  12. Luck in the Shadows by Lynn Flwelling 4.5 Stars
    • A fantasy world where all* sexualities are shown as valid. Heroes are bisexual — though the author doesn’t use the B word. *The only maybe-ace individual in the book isn’t outright named as such, and there’s a tiresome bit about how she’s in looooove but they can’t be together because no sex. Or something. In between everyone figuring out their sexy feelings, there are some damned good female secondary characters, a matriarchal monarchy, and a decent start to a hero’s journey tale.
  13. The Sword-Edged Blonde by Alex Bledsoe (DNF) 2 Stars
    • I’ve met Alex at Jordancon and he seemed like a decent enough guy, but after the 4th brutal death of a female character in 1.25 books, I decided this series isn’t for me. YMMV.
  14. Full Fathom Five by Max Gladstone 3.5 Stars
    • I give this entire series 4 1/2 stars. I love mad gods and monsters and the humans trying to rebuild the world around them.
  15. Stalking Darkness by Lynn Flwelling 4 Stars
    • Book 2 in series above. Also good. Wishing there was a female narrator. Sigh.
  16. Rebel Flight by Mindy Klasky 3.5 Stars
    • Won this from LibraryThing! Seems like a really short book (novella?), and it’s a YA tale, but I really liked it. Part of a series.
  17. Bunnicula Strikes Again by James Howe 4 Stars
    • No one will ever drain my love for Bunnicula, okay? (Get it?)
  18. Conspiracy of Ravens by Lila Bowen 5 Stars
    • Transgender biracial cowboy in a fantastical Old West. I almost cheered at the moment when Rhett’s pronouns changed. (It was night. It would have been rude.)
  19. Curse on the Land by Faith Hunter 4 Stars
    • I like this series even better than Jane Yellowrock (sorry, Jane).
  20. Magic for Nothing by Seanan McGuire 5 Stars
    • I went into this book not wanting to like Annie because Verity is my favorite girl. By the end, I was cheering (and weeping) for her. If you haven’t picked up this series, I have to question your intelligence.
  21. Etched in Bone by Anne Bishop 4.5 Stars
    • Still has that icky self-harm theme running through it, and I’m still not sure she’s doing anything constructive with it. But *dammit*, I love this world.
  22. The Cold Eye by Laura Anne Gilman 4 Stars
    • Man, is Isobel in over her head. I have a tendency to mix up Bowen’s & Gilman’s worlds because the 1st volumes came out around the same time. Not since the 2016 elections have I worried so much about America’s ill-intentions. (Naw. I’ve been worrying this whole time. But that’s another article.)
  23. First Test by Tamora Pierce 3.5 Stars
    • Can you believe I haven’t read all of Tamora Pierce’s work yet? I’m ashamed.
  24. Power Lines by Anne McCaffrey & Elizabeth Anne Scarborough 3 Stars
    • This series shouldn’t make any sense. Sentient planet? Seal shape-shifters? A whole world with *gasp!* NO ELECTRICITY?!? I’m in the middle of the sequel anyway.
  25. The Hanging Tree by Ben Aaronovitch 4 Stars
    • I feel like this series is moving So. Slowly. Would like it to be a TV show so I can binge watch, pls.
  26. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs (DNF)
    • I knew this was popular but had no idea what I was getting into when I picked it up because I hadn’t heard much of the story. The 4th time I fell asleep before the time-traveling even started was when I gave up. No rating.
  27. Acorna’s World by Anne McCaffrey & Elizabeth Anne Scarborough 3.5 Stars
    • Why do I like this series so much? Pacifist bipedal unicorn people and giant evil bugs make literally no sense. (And why are insects always your villains, Anne? Isn’t human evil enough of a big bad for you?? It certainly is for me.)
  28. Johannes Cabal: The Fear Institute by Jonathan L Howard 4 Stars
    • Johannes Cabal is a bad guy. He’s a bad guy with a pretty standard supervillain origin story, actually. If I think too much about this, I would probably feel like I shouldn’t read it. So I’m not going to, because I like the steam-punk-y world.
  29. The Warrior’s Apprentice by Lois McMaster Bujold 3.5 Stars
    • Someone tried to get me to put down this series (written by a woman) to read Honor Harrington (written by a man). This individual tried to persuade me by saying Weber’s work was “more feminist”. So I’m continuing this series 75% for spite.
  30. Power Play by Anne McCaffrey – CURRENT READING!

 

You may notice that not many of these books are brand new. This is because I probably have 2,000 books on my TBR shelf (virtually, thank goddess, because I’m not sure where I’d put them otherwise.) If there are any immortals out there willing to share their secrets, I could really use the reading time. Thanks.

What I’ve Read in 2016 (Micro Reviews!)

I received this book for free from in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Genres: Fantasy, Fiction, Humor, Paranormal, Romance, Science Fiction, Technological, Thrillers, Urban

Well, it’s been a while, but let’s not bother with excuses. Let’s just take a look at what I’ve managed to read in 2016, shall we?

Note: This post will include affiliate links.
  1. Chapelwood by Cherie Priest 4 Stars(Buy).

    • Lizzie Borden novel. The last? Very good horror, and I don’t even like much horror.
  2. Lyon’s Pride by Anne McCaffrey (re-read) 4 Stars
    • This read-thru I was bothered a lot more by the “a woman is more valuable as brood mare” themes in this series. Blech.
  3. Wake of Vultures by Lila Bown 4.5 Stars (Buy)

    • Genderfluid(?)/Trans cowboy with magic in the Old West. (The character doesn’t know the modern words & doesn’t label themself so it’s hard to know what word to use.) I read this one and Laura Anne Gilman’s Silver on the Road close to each other, so they’re kind of twisted together in my head even though they’re Totally Different other than being Old West themed.
  4. Illuminae by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff 4 Stars(Buy)
    • Would have probably been better in print given the formatting, but was a surprise win for me. This convinced me to read A Lot More Science Fiction this year.
  5. The Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher 3.5 Stars(Buy)
    • It’s Jim Butcher, of course it’s great. Looking forward to more world-building.
  6. Back Lash by Devon Monk 3.5 Stars(Buy)
    • If you love Shame & Terric, you’ll love this. If you haven’t met Shame & Terric yet, go read the Allie Beckstrom series.
  7. A Key, An Egg, An Unfortunate Remark  by Harry Connolly 2.5 Stars (Buy)

    • Elderly protagonist FTW!
  8. The Circle Opens: Magic Steps by Tamora Pierce 3.5 Stars
    • Realized I’d never read any Pierce beyond Alanna, so I’m rectifying that.
  9. The Circle Opens: Street Magic by Tamora Pierce 3.5 Stars
  10. The Circle Opens: Cold Fire by Tamora Pierce 3.5 Stars
  11. The Circle Opens: Shatterglass by Tamora Pierce 3.5 Stars
  12. Chaos Choreography by Seanan McGuire 5 Stars(Buy)
    • Seanan is as solidly wonderful as Jim Butcher always is, in different ways.
  13. Snake in the Glass by Seanan McGuire (FREE short story) 3.5 Stars
    • Did I mention these are FREE??
  14. Swamp Bromeliad by Seanan McGuire (FREE short story) 3.5 Stars
  15. The Way Home by Seanan McGuire (FREE short story) 3.5 Stars
  16. The Heir of Night by Helen Lowe (re-read) 4 Stars(Buy)
    • I needed to read Daughter of the Blood because of having an ARC but had no idea where the story had ended.
  17. The Gathering of the Lost by Helen Lowe (re-read) 3.5 Stars
  18. Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson (nonfiction) 4.5 Stars(Buy)
    • Completely worth being the only nonfiction I’ve read this year. Also, hilarious.
  19. Dragonsbane by Barbara Hambly 2 Stars
    • Middle aged female narrator!
  20. Daughter of the Blood by Helen Lowe 4 Stars
  21. The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins (review copy) 1.5 Stars(Buy)
    • This book was… not that great, in my opinion. I hate when folks try to do “it has magic but it’s still LITRACHURE”. But I’m also very Anti-Apocalypse stories. I find them bleak. YMMV.
  22. Kin by Lilith Saintcrow 3.5 Stars(Buy)
    • It’s a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood. Go back & read the whole trilogy; there’s one for Snow White, Cinderella, and Red. About the various ways abuse marks us forever, and the ways we rise through the muck.
  23. Marked in Flesh by Anne Bishop 4 Stars(Buy)
    • TW: Self Harm. Still a little weirded out by this whole cutting business, honestly, but it’s a GOOD story. Bishop has a history of being gratuitous anyway, in my opinion. YMMV.
  24. Shards of Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold 2.5 Stars
    • I was amazed by how many old-school Sci-Fi I’ve missed. Bujold’s science fiction is as solid as her fantasy. Some of this book is now in Trope Territory, but can I really hold that against it when it’s taken me this long? SOMETHING set the trope, after all.
  25. Chasing Magic by Stacia Kane 3 Stars(Buy)
    • Content warning here for drug use. Readers who haven’t been That Low may not get Chess. (I didn’t at first but it was because I didn’t want to.)
  26. Burned by Benedict Jacka 3.5 Stars(Buy)
    • Is it insulting to call this ‘discount Harry Dresden’? It’s not meant as an insult, believe me. I really like this series.
  27. Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older 4 Stars(Buy)
    • I loved this but also it broke me a little. As I have very little sense of my own ancestors or what the hell my inherited culture should even be, I put this down feeling sad. IMO, this is the #1 reason you should Read This.
  28. The Root by Na’Amen Gobert Tilahun 2.5 Stars(Buy)
    • This was a highly, highly interesting premise with a sort of not stellar execution. I’d still be willing to read sequels, though.
  29. Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear 3 Stars(Buy)
    • Women with agency in the Old West! Prostitutes even! Who knew? (Also a black US marshall, ok, read this.)
  30. Untold by Sarah Rees Brennan 3 Stars(Buy)
    • Basic love-triangle YA fantasy with the added bonus of showing us all what living under a murderous dictator is going to look like. Ho ho ho!
  31. San Diego 2014: Last Stand of the California Browncoats by Mira Grant (novella) 4 Stars(Buy)
    • I’m not even a Browncoat but this story got me right in the feels.
  32. Blood of the Earth by Faith Hunter 4 Stars (Buy)
  33. The Forbidden Library by Django Wexler 2 Stars(Buy)
    • I think sequels to this would be rated higher, the first one was a lot of Protagonist Being Clueless.
  34. Poison or Protect by Gail Carriger (novella) 3.5 Stars(Buy)
    • It’s a sexy story, okay? A girl’s got needs.
  35. Without a Summer by Mary Robinette Kowal 4 Stars(Buy)
    • Just. Frickin’. Read. It.
  36. The Tower & the Hive by Anne McCaffrey (re-read) 3.5 Stars
  37. Citadel of the Sky by Chrysoula Tzavelas 2.5 Stars(Buy)
    • I can’t really explain it, okay? But it’s a good read if you like fantasy that’s not of the warrior/elf/bard/dwarf type.
  38. Acorna: The Unicorn Girl by Anne McCaffrey & Margaret Ball 3 Stars
    • Okay so this is a Wee Bit patronizing, but I like Acorna so I’ll eventually be finishing the series.
  39. Imprudence by Gail Carriger 5 Stars(Buy)
    • I love Prudence almost as much as I love Sophronia, okay? READ.
  40. Wicked as They Come by Delilah Dawson 3.5 Stars(Buy)
    • Worth it for the bludbunnies.
  41. The Ghost Rebellion by Pip Ballantine & Tee Morris 4.5 Stars(Buy)
    • ZOMG
  42. The Circle Reforged: The Will of the Empress by Tamora Pierce 3 Stars
  43. The Circle Reforged: Melting Stones by Tamora Pierce 3.5 Stars
  44. Petaybee: Powers that Be by Anne McCaffrey & Elizabeth Ann Scarborough3 Stars
    • I’m still not sure how I feel about this.
  45. Six Gun Snow White by Cat Valente (DNF) 1 Stars(Buy)
    • I wanted to like this so much I kept reading to the point where I kind of hate it now. But it’s lyrical and beautiful and I’m pretty sure recommended by Neil Gaiman so you should at least TRY to like it.
  46. Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone 3.5 Stars(Buy)
    • WHAT is this world?! I like it! More, please.
  47. Ghostbusters (2016) novelization by Nancy Holder 4 Stars(Buy)
    • Ladybusters are MY Ghostbusters and haters & trolls can fuck right off. Kthxbye.
  48. Staked by Kevin Hearne 4.5 Stars(Buy)
    • OBERON!
  49. Once Broken Faith by Seanan McGuire 5 Stars(Buy)
  50. The Light Fantastic by Terry Pratchett 3.5 Stars
    • Rincewind honestly isn’t my favorite wizard. But Equal Rites made everything better.
  51. Acorna’s Quest by Anne McCaffrey & Margaret Ball 3.5 Stars
  52. The City Stained Red by Sam Sykes 3 Stars(Buy)
    • A really good twist on the “troupe” fantasy à la Final Fantasy or Dragonlance. But also I pretty much disliked every single one of the narrators on a personal level, too, so there’s that.
  53. Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie 4 Stars(Buy)
    • This won awards for a damn reason.
  54. Unmade by Sarah Rees Brennan 3.5 Stars
  55. Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett 4 Stars
  56. Tainted Blood by ML Brennan 3.5 Stars(Buy)
    • I don’t know why I like this so much because it’s basically weird-creature-of-the-week urban fantasy and that’s been done before but dammit if I don’t really like this anyway.
  57. Star Wars: Life Debt by Chuck Wendig 4 Stars(Buy)
    • GAY STAR WARS! STAR WARS IS GAY NOW! Get over it.
  58. Barrayar by Lois McMaster Bujold 3.5 Stars
  59. The Fifth Season by NK Jemisin (current reading) (Buy)
    • I’m still reading this so I’m not gonna rate it yet but daaaaaaaaaaaaaaamn.

Review: Blood of the Earth by Faith Hunter

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Blood of the Earth by Faith HunterBlood of the Earth by Faith Hunter
Series:
Published by Penguin Publishing Group on August 2nd 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction, Paranormal, Urban
Pages: 384
Format: eBook
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads
four-stars
Set in the same world as the New York Times bestselling Jane Yellowrock novels, an all-new series starring Nell Ingram, who wields powers as old as the earth. When Nell Ingram met skinwalker Jane Yellowrock, she was almost alone in the world, exiled by both choice and fear from the cult she was raised in, defending herself with the magic she drew from her deep connection to the forest that surrounds her. Now, Jane has referred Nell to PsyLED, a Homeland Security agency policing paranormals, and agent Rick LaFleur has shown up at Nell’s doorstep. His appearance forces her out of her isolated life into an investigation that leads to the vampire Blood Master of Nashville. Nell has a team—and a mission. But to find the Master’s kidnapped vassal, Nell and the PsyLED team will be forced to go deep into the heart of the very cult Nell fears, infiltrating the cult and a humans-only terrorist group before time runs out…

Releasing today, this is a second series in Hunter’s Jane Yellowrock universe. The only problem I had with this book is that I’m at least 3 books behind on the JY series (soo many books to read!) and so I spent the whole book thinking that this series was a prequel to Jane’s story and kept trying to figure out how it fit together. I’m still not sure whether it is or not, because I like to get my thoughts on paper before I start reading too much information about the book.

Not having been in an actual cult, but having grown up around a Southern Baptist church, I believe the author has done a really good job here of depicting the kind of misogyny that can breed in an evangelical, uber-religious setting while also being careful not to paint everyone involved as either evil or stupid. Don’t get me wrong! There’s certainly some evil in the book! Our protagonist needs something to fight against. But the people are also fully realized and not at all one-dimensional. View Spoiler » in particular are depicted as being good people who have some less-than-mainstream beliefs but are trying to do the best they can with what they have — including with their cultural history and the way that they’ve been raised.

Nell’s powers are mysteriously powerful… She spends most of the book unsure of how to use them or where they come from but always manages to instinctively save the day. I didn’t mind that because I enjoyed Nell’s interaction with the PsyLED team so much. It would feel fake to complain about how powerful Nell is in a book that has vampires and werecats and magic. It makes sense within the world, and her power is balanced by what is effectively PTSD from her upbringing. Nell is a lonely, solitary woman, and I loved seeing her being forced out of her self and into the world.

All in all, an entertaining read that doesn’t make you think too hard, and — given my lack of keeping up with Jane  — there’s no need to have read anything else first. This is an excellent jumping on point for someone who doesn’t want to commit to Hunter’s extensive Jane series.

four-stars

Review: Zer0es by Chuck Wendig

I received this book for free from in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Zer0es by Chuck WendigZeroes by Chuck Wendig
Published by HarperCollins on August 18th 2015
Genres: Fiction, General, Political, Science Fiction, Technological, Thrillers
Pages: 432
Format: eARC
Goodreads
four-stars
Five hackers—an Anonymous-style rabble-rouser, an Arab Spring hacktivist, a black-hat hacker, an old-school cipherpunk, and an online troll—are detained by the U.S. government, forced to work as white-hat hackers for Uncle Sam in order to avoid federal prison. At a secret complex known only as "the Lodge," where they will spend the next year working as an elite cyber-espionage team, these misfits dub themselves "the Zeroes."But once the Zeroes begin to work, they uncover secrets that would make even the most dedicated conspiracy theorist's head spin. And soon they're not just trying to serve their time, they're also trying to perform the ultimate hack: burrowing deep into the U.S. government from the inside, and hoping they'll get out alive. Packed with electric wit and breakneck plot twists, Zer0es is an unforgettable thrill ride through the seedy underbelly of "progress."

Cross Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother with The Matrix, add a dash of I, Robot and you’ll have the plot of Zeroes. The scariest part of this book is how absolutely plausible the scenario is. Perhaps the technology isn’t quite ready yet, but with NSA spying, Citizens United, and all the other craziness going on in our government over the last couple of presidencies, it’s not really all that far-fetched to think about the kind of shadowy conspiracies that could be happening behind the scenes. Which is why I usually avoid this type of book. Our world is getting dystopian enough in real life, I don’t need it in my fiction too.

Which isn’t to say I wouldn’t recommend this book to folks who disagree with that need. Written in Wendig’s signature third person present, this book vibrates with intensity. Which is hard to do when half of it involves the main characters sitting around in front of computers. Far less technical than Doctorow’s Little Brother, you won’t need to know much about computers here.

I’ll be honest — this is no Miriam Black book. None of the characters here have Miriam’s dark anti-heroic charisma. These are just regular, flawed, unextraordinary people. The “Anonymous-style rabble rouser” is a loser hick whose best tricks are all social engineering and who’s exposing rapists in order to make up for high school inaction that resulted in a girl’s suicide. The “Arab spring hactivist” acts self-righteous because her hacking skills are being used as political leverage for the oppressed. (Not that she’s wrong, just that she gets annoying about it.) The old school cipherpunk is a tin-foil hat wearing conspiracy theorist and doomsday “prepper”.

I’ll admit to having a soft spot for the “black hat hacker”, who was just trying to buy his mom a house when the SWAT team burst in and arrested him. Sure, he was purchasing it with the ill-gotten gains of a credit card skimming scam, but since he was the most Leverage-like of a crew which has been compared to the Leverage team, I might be a little prejudiced. I always liked Hardison the best. (Just a note: this book is, in my opinion, only by the barest of margins comparable to Leverage. They seem almost totally different in both character and operation to me.)

I liked the troll the least. I will always like the trolls the least. Wendig does a good job of humanizing her with her own checkered past, and she does have a redemption arc of her own. But she’s also the worst kind of mean girl — humiliating and tearing down other people to make herself feel better. She even uses the old troll victim-blaming logic: if they didn’t want their secrets being found, they shouldn’t be stupid enough to have them in the first place. The sick sense of superiority is palpable.

I always feel like if the characters are real enough for me to dislike, then the author has done their job. None of the characters in this novel are heroes. They are ordinary people, with skills that anyone could learn, whose bad choices lead them almost by accident to discover a conspiracy. They step up to fight the conspiracy not out of any real heroism, but more out of self-preservation. Most of them aren’t even particularly likable, but they don’t have to be. In the end, it doesn’t matter why they stepped up — only that they did. Ordinary people, people who were convinced they were screw ups or criminals or just lesser in every way, who took a breath, grabbed hold of their courage, and fought back.

With the Hugo awards being announced the night prior to my writing this, the lesson becomes more powerful. Little people, ordinary people — screw ups and rejects and weirdos, like we all think that we are — when we join together, we can make a difference. We can save the world.

four-stars

Review: The Diamond Conspiracy (A Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences Novel)

I received this book for free from in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: The Diamond Conspiracy (A Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences Novel)The Diamond Conspiracy on 2015-03-31
Pages: 368
Format: eARC
Goodreads
four-half-stars
For years, the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences has enjoyed the favor of Her Majesty the Queen. But even the oldest loyalties can turn in a moment... Having narrowly escaped the electrifying machinations of Thomas Edison, Books and Braun are looking forward to a relaxing and possibly romantic voyage home. But when Braun's emergency signal goes off, all thoughts of recreation vanish. Braun's street-wise team of child informants, the Ministry Seven, is in grave peril, and Books and Braun must return to England immediately. But when the intrepid agents finally arrive in London, the situation is even more dire than they imagined. The Ministry has been disavowed, and the Department of Imperial Inconveniences has been called in to decommission its agents in a most deadly fashion. The plan reeks of the Maestro's dastardly scheming. Only, this time, he has a dangerous new ally--a duplicitous doctor whose pernicious poisons have infected the highest levels of society, reaching even the Queen herself...

This is one of my favorite series, and the duo of (Wellington) Books and (Eliza) Braun is just delightful, both in reading and in wordplay.  I love the gender reversal of the male main character being the “Books” and the leading lady being the “Braun”.

Sure, it would have been delicious (for a while at least) if Welly had been truly helpless and not a crack-shot-in-hiding, but I suppose the dude in distress thing would have gotten old eventually. (Eventually.) Eliza, however, is by far my favorite: a trouser-wearing Aussie lass with an explosive reputation (literally) and a habit for naming her weapons, who takes no-nonsense from friends, strangers, or her love interest.

What I love particularly about a steam punk setting is that wonderfully strange mixture of science and the occult that pops up. It just gets so weird. I bet that says more about people today than about the real Victorian era, honestly, but as long as I get books like this one, I don’t care. I’d love to spoil it all for you by telling you what I enjoyed most, but I will do you all the favor of sparing you the details so you can read it yourself.

I will tell you that Warehouse 13 ruined any other depiction of H.G. Wells for me, but if not for that character, the one we find here in this book would be my favorite. I won’t tell you how or where Wells turns up, because that would be a major spoiler. Suffice to say that the revelation is giggle-inducing, and I’m still trying to decide whether that was a Natural Progression or a Jump the Shark moment.

I was honestly a bit lost there in the middle for a while. That tends to happen when the author(s) jumps a year into the future… But the story recovered quite well and the conclusion was satisfying while also promising a hint of more to come. You can’t really ask for more than that!

This series is fabulously written with real characters and I came to care about them very quickly. It’s a lot steampunk-y, a bit pulpy, very much girl-powered, and has a Jaeger-sized heart. (Read the book, you’ll understand the metaphor.)

four-half-stars

Reivew: A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab

I received this book for free from in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Reivew: A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. SchwabA Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab
Published by Macmillan on February 24th 2015
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction, General, Historical
Pages: 400
Format: eARC
Goodreads
three-stars
From V.E. Schwab, the critically acclaimed author of Vicious, comes a new universe of daring adventure, thrilling power, and parallel Londons, beginning with A Darker Shade of Magic.Kell is one of the last Travelers—magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel universes—as such, he can choose where he lands. There’s Grey London, dirty and boring, without any magic, ruled by a mad King George. Then there’s Red London, where life and magic are revered, and the Maresh Dynasty presides over a flourishing empire. White London, ruled by whoever has murdered their way to the throne—a place where people fight to control magic, and the magic fights back, draining the city to its very bones. And once upon a time, there was Black London...but no one speaks of that now.Officially, Kell is the Red Traveler, personal ambassador and adopted Prince of Red London, carrying the monthly correspondences between the royals of each London. Unofficially, Kell is a smuggler, servicing people willing to pay for even the smallest glimpses of a world they’ll never see—a dangerous hobby, and one that has set him up for accidental treason. Fleeing into Grey London, Kell runs afoul of Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations, first robs him, then saves him from a dangerous enemy, and then forces him to spirit her to another world for a proper adventure.But perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, Kell and Lila will first need to stay alive—and that is proving trickier than they hoped.

I don’t typically write reviews for anything less than a full book, but I kept seeing this one around and I was intrigued. NetGalley only had an excerpt available for review so here we are. The excerpt was roughly the first ~150 pages of the book, so that’s what I’ll be basing my opinions here on.

This book is written in 3rd person, and we have 2 POV characters in this first part. The one with the most time devoted to him is Kell, the Red Ambassador and one of only two people that we know of that can walk across worlds. The second POV is Delilah Bard, who is a pickpocket and thief from Grey London. Despite the discrepancy in the time we have with each of them, I like Delilah much better than Kell. She may be unscrupulous in her ambition, but Kell is careless in both thought and deed. He also seems rather spoiled, to be honest.

In this story, there are 4 Londons located across space and time. Except not all of them are called London, and none of them are much alike at all, except for being generally in the same geographical area in their own worlds. First, is Grey London, which is magic-less and a close approximation (so far) of our own world. The second is Red London, where magic is a tool to be used and things are beautiful. This is where Kell is from. Third is White London, where magic is currency and everything is about having power. Magic is mined from the world like oil in ours and consumed. This drains the world and its inhabitants of color and vitality, which is why this London is White. The fourth London, only whispered about and currently only a memory, is Black London, where magic turned into a weapon of mass destruction and exploded. Black London, if it still exists in Kell’s time, is cut off from the rest, and because of that, taking more than letters from one world to the next is forbidden.

This directive of ‘forbidden’ Kell, of course, ignores as he has a nice side business set up carrying trinkets back and forth to sell on the black market. I told you he was spoiled. This leads to a dangerous artifact — perhaps from Black London — being given to him to deliver as a gift. Because Kell also seems quite stupid, without opening it, he takes the package  across the worlds and is then attacked in his super secret lair, forcing him to run to the one London without magic in order to escape. This is essentially where the excerpt ended.

Now, this book has some solid writing that really sucks you in. The premise is interesting — although I have one beef I will get to in a minute. In even the short excerpt, the characters were vivid enough that you really get to know them, albeit from Kell’s perspective of them. I’m pretty interested to know where Schwab is going with her aspiring pirate, magic coats, and strange magical artifacts.

Am I $12.99 ebook or $23 hard cover interested? Eh. Honestly, I’ll probably wait for a sale. This author is new to me, and while the excerpt was intriguing, it wasn’t rush-right-out-to-read-the-rest-of-the-book material for me.

Which brings me to my beef. WHY is it always London? Mirrored London, in fact. This has been done so many times that it’s practically its own trope. Schwab’s version is a twist, and I’m wondering if there’s a world-building reason for four Londons instead of the usual twin set. I’m also wondering why Kell would refer to them as “London” when only Grey London is really named London and he’s not even from there. Wouldn’t calling them all after the name of his own Red city make more sense to him? I don’t know, maybe there’s a reason for that, too.

I’ll be honest, I am probably being harder on this book then I would have been if I’d gotten to read the whole thing rather than an excerpt. That’s the problem with only getting part of a story. It’s like getting sand in your shoe. It’s not going to hurt you, and the journey to the beach was pleasant, but the grit rubs your feet and irritates to the point where you almost regret going at all.

I’m going to give this book 3 stars for pirates and magic coats and sociopathic white ladies who drink blood. If you have the book budget to spend and you like the elements listed here, give this book a try. I’d personally like to see a review from someone who’s read the whole thing. (There are 15 reviews on Amazon right now with a total score of 4 stars.)

 

three-stars

Review: The Lives of Tao by Wesley Chu

Review: The Lives of Tao by Wesley ChuThe Lives of Tao on 2013-04-30
Pages: 204
Goodreads
three-half-stars
When out-of-shape IT technician Roen woke up and started hearing voices in his head, he naturally assumed he was losing it.He wasn’t.He now has a passenger in his brain – an ancient alien life-form called Tao, whose race crash-landed on Earth before the first fish crawled out of the oceans. Now split into two opposing factions – the peace-loving, but under-represented Prophus, and the savage, powerful Genjix – the aliens have been in a state of civil war for centuries. Both sides are searching for a way off-planet, and the Genjix will sacrifice the entire human race, if that’s what it takes.Meanwhile, Roen is having to train to be the ultimate secret agent. Like that’s going to end up well…File Under: Science Fiction [ The Tug of War | I Was Genghis | Diary of a Slob | Spy vs Spy ]

I’m going to call The Lives of Tao an “urban sci-fi story”. Firstly, because that’s honestly what it is. This isn’t near-future, far-future or even “long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away”, but actually set right now in our world science fiction. So I’m going to call it urban sci-fi because 1) It’s got all the elements of an urban fantasy except replace the vampires and werewolves with aliens and technology, and 2) I know it will drive the no-girl-cooties parts of the science fiction fandom absolutely wild. You’re welcome.

Tao is an ancient, immortal, sentient, parasitic being from a race that crash-landed on Earth pretty much at the dawn of man. He’s part of an in-fighting group of aliens that are now stuck here until they can get human society to be advanced enough for long-flight space travel. The two groups of aliens have been fighting amongst themselves since they argued over a small matter of policy eons ago.

The small matter they argued over? Whether human civilization really *needs* to continue on after the aliens get what they want. One group, the Prophus, think that humans are pretty handy people to have around and that they can get what they want without killing millions of people in the meantime. War is the fastest way to advance technology. It’s also the fast lane toward extinction. The other group, whose designation eludes me at the moment, and my book is all the way across the room so you’ll have to live with it, [Editor’s note: They’re called the Genjix.] thinks humans are necessary eggs for their interstellar omelette. They don’t really care if humans live or die, so long as the Prophus die with them.

Caught in the middle of this is a depressed, out-of-shape, programmer from Chicago. Tao, wise and immortal ancient being, is forced to take up residence in this hopeless lump of a man if he wishes to survive. Sure, Roen — the useless lump — gets a brand new diet and exercise regimen courtesy of the Prophus and Sonya, the woman tasked with training him. He also gets some bad ass hand-to-hand and weapons training. He also gets his ass kicked several times by bad guys, his View Spoiler » gets [spoilered] and View Spoiler » [spoils] [the spoils].

I honestly don’t know if I liked this book. It was well-written, at times hilarious, and the alien bits were fascinating — but the plot was mostly taken up with turning a fat guy into James Bond. Hoo. Ray. Although I’m not really surprised that I’ve heard whisperings of Wesley Chu one day being a big name is SF/F. [Editor here again: Since I originally wrote this review, Chu was shortlisted for the John W Campbell Best New Writer Award.  So, plot twist! I was right!] This book dragged me all the way through it even as I insisted that no, really, I was bored and wanted to do something else. I honestly don’t know how the author managed that.

I will be looking at the sequel, The Deaths of Tao, with great suspicion in the near future. Of course, I WILL be looking at it, which means the author has done his job. N’est-ce pas?

three-half-stars

Review: Shadow Ops: Breach Zone by Myke Cole

I received this book for free from in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Shadow Ops: Breach Zone by Myke ColeShadow Ops: Breach Zone on 2014-01-28
Pages: 384
Format: eARC
Goodreads
four-stars
The Great Reawakening did not come quietly. Across the country and in every nation, people began “coming up Latent,” developing terrifying powers—summoning storms, raising the dead, and setting everything they touch ablaze. Those who Manifest must choose: become a sheepdog who protects the flock or a wolf who devours it... In the wake of a bloody battle at Forward Operating Base Frontier and a scandalous presidential impeachment, Lieutenant Colonel Jan Thorsson, call sign “Harlequin,” becomes a national hero and a pariah to the military that is the only family he’s ever known. In the fight for Latent equality, Oscar Britton is positioned to lead a rebellion in exile, but a powerful rival beats him to the punch: Scylla, a walking weapon who will stop at nothing to end the human-sanctioned apartheid against her kind. When Scylla’s inhuman forces invade New York City, the Supernatural Operations Corps are the only soldiers equipped to prevent a massacre. In order to redeem himself with the military, Harlequin will be forced to face off with this havoc-wreaking woman from his past, warped by her power into something evil...

The entire Shadow Ops series is like looking through a spider’s eye. (I suppose this makes the author the dark carnivore at the center of the web… Sorry for that metaphor, Myke.) Every glimpse we get into this world shows us a slightly different facet. With every piece, we get another view of the same story, views that make us re-evaluate what we thought we were sure of before.

In Control Point, we had Oscar Britton’s story. A soldier who screwed up in his efforts to do right and was punished severely for it. In that book, Harlequin is the bad guy, along with the rest of the government.

In Fortress Frontier, we meet Bookbinder and see the whole situation from another perspective. The government is maybe a little corrupt, but it’s still made of people. More people screwing up what they were trying to do right. The goblins and Scylla are the bad guys here.

Then we get to Breach Zone, and we get to see that the Big Bad of the series (And can I just say what a thrill it is that the Big Bad is a *woman*?) is also just a person who messed up while trying to do the right thing. It’s noted in the text that even the goblins fighting are doing so because they want to make sure that they get LEFT ALONE in their own world.

The author said at one point that this book is, at its heart, a romance story. And to that, I say, “Ehhhh. Sorta.” Some people do, after all, consider Romeo and Juliet a romantic tale. I think those people are kind of nutballs, myself, but I do have to admit that there’s an element of romance there. I think both stories are, however, more about the consequences of backing people into a corner.

R & J would have loved each other for all of about two weeks and then gotten over it if they’d been allowed to get it out of their system. Harlequin wouldn’t have been forced to choose between his duty and his government. Scylla wouldn’t have needed to run or hide or murder an ass-load of people. They were all trying to make their best choices with the tools that they had — and they were all, without exception, both completely right and UTTERLY WRONG.

I think the moral of the story is that there are never any good choices. There are only the best choices we can make at the time. We never know all the consequences for our actions. That doesn’t mean we should never make any, just that we should weigh them carefully and be prepared to deal with any fallout.

I believe most of us think of our nation’s soldiers as Brave and Good. We also tend to think of our government (no matter which side you’re on) as Corrupt and Sometimes-Evil. So how is it possible for our soldiers to always be Brave and Good when being directed by a power that is Corrupt and Sometimes-Evil? The polarity of that, the struggle of it, is something I saw repeated again and again throughout this series. I don’t think Cole intended to give us an answer (and I don’t believe that he does) but I think that this series forces us to see that there are at least two sides (and probably more) to any story.

It makes me see that those Brave and Good soldiers and our Corrupt and Sometimes-Evil government can do both Good Things and Bad Things — sometimes both at the same time. Multi-faceted. Spider’s eyes. Seeing through them is both wonderful and disconcerting.

Thinking about this story through the context of the author’s biography is fascinating. Myke Cole has experience with the armed forces, is an officer of the Coast Guard, and is someone who does work with the NYPD… To take this story and filter it through that lens is part of what, for me, made this story fun. So yes, I think this book is definitely a love story. But I don’t think Harlequin and Scylla are it. I think this is a story of the love between a man, a soldier, and his country, his home city. And for that I think it’s just beautiful.

You guys, these books are so well written. Everything I know about the military I picked up watching NCIS, but even I didn’t get stuck on the soldier-speak (and O, the acronyms!) (There’s a glossary in the back if you get stuck.) Every time you think you have the line in the sand drawn and you know where the story is going, Cole turns it on its head. I was a little miffed at first when the story didn’t keep following Oscar after Control Point, but I have to admit that the author’s method was completely sound. The fact that Cole can write this well AND shoot a rifle just doesn’t seem fair.

four-stars