The Heaven Makers by Frank Herbert

HerbertHeavenMakersWhy I Read It: I have never been disappointed by Frank Herbert’s works.

Where I Got It: A review copy from the publisher via Audiobook Jukebox (thanks!).

Who I Recommend This To: Enjoy stalkerish aliens that mess with human events, big and small? Check this out.

Narrator: Scott Brick

Publisher: Blackstone Audio (2014)

Length: 7 hours 35 minutes

Author’s Page

Fraffin is the king of his little world. As a Chem, he is immortal, receiving regular rejuvenations, and he is infinitely bored. He’s seen it all, done it all, and watched others do it all. So he did something forbidden with this little world. The Chem are not suppose to interfere in the lives and histories of the native species of the ‘story ships’ they run. But Fraffin couldn’t resist taking careful time, decades, to set up a few interesting scenarios. The Chem have been recording human histories for centuries – and broadcasting these recordings to full-sensory interface viewers for the bulk of the Chem to enjoy. But now Fraffin is about to receive an inspector – Kelexel. And of course a pair of humans are on the brink of unmasking the Chem.

I have read several Frank Herbert books over the years and have always enjoyed them. So in writing this review I have to keep his other works (the greatness the man was capable of) in mind. While this book was interesting, it is not among my favorite Frank Herbert books. First, the good stuff. I loved the whole idea of our little human lives being recorded, even meddled with, for the entertainment of others. Isn’t that how things go? Think of your favorite nature TV shows – think the producers and narrators and filmers didn’t occasionally add angry bees to the mix or tease the grizzly bear with a fish or poke the branch a great horned owl was sitting on to get the bird into flight? Yeah, so if we do it, why wouldn’t other sentient beings with advanced tech want to do the same to us? And I enjoyed the Chem politics and Fraffin and Kelexel trying to outmaneuver each other. Then there are the humans – two of which catch on to what may be happening. But who are they going to tell? Who would believe them? So, lots of entertainment in the overall plot.

Now, why isn’t this novel among my favorites? Well, there’s really only 1 female character (the human Ruth) plus a few other ladies with tiny, minute roles. Ruth is the love interest and sex object of the book. The other ladies get the simple roles of murder victim, sympathetic neighbor, sympathetic aunt, and ambitious alien on the rise. I know this was originally published in 1967 as a serialized story for a pulp fiction magazine, but Ruth is an idiot. She relies on men for her stability in life and can’t work on her own out of the house nor run her father’s business. Hmmm…. let’s see…. what was my grandma doing in 1967? Oh, yeah, that’s right – independent business woman working in realty.

MINOR SPOILER Ruth becomes the sex object for one of the Chem later in the book and is abducted. Through advanced tech, she is forced into happily servicing him. But there were plenty of times when she wasn’t under the manipulator and could have done things – like try to escape, neuter some Chem, break machinery. But no, she sits and cries. END SPOILER So I found her character weak and rather uninteresting. She needs rescuing more than once throughout the novel.

The ending was a surprise – a very nice twist. I didn’t see that coming and I really, really liked it. At first, as I was listening to the ending, I felt that it was anticlimatic. But then all the fall out happens and it all melds together to make a great ending.

One final comment – one racial slur is used and perhaps it was appropriate for 1967, but I don’t care for it today, or even 10 years ago. It is used 2-3 times in the novel and not gratuitously.

Narration: Scott Brick, as always, did a great job. It seems he tried really hard to make Ruth an interesting character, adding plenty of emotions to her voice.

What I Liked: The overall plot; twisted ending.

What I Disliked: Idiotic main female; the racial slur.

What Others Think:

A Drip of Truth

Val’s Random Comments

Phoenix Island by John Dixon

DixonPhoenixIslandWhy I Read It: Shallow me, it was the cover that drew me in.

Where I Got It: A review copy from the publisher (thanks!).

Who I Recommend This To: Have issues with authority figures? This book might let you exercise some of that angst.

Narrator: Kirby Heyborne

Publisher: Simon & Schuster (2014)

Length: 12 hours 25 minutes

Series: Book 1 of the series (which I can’t find a name for at any of the regular places)

Author’s Page

Carl is in a lot of trouble. In fact, he’s been in trouble for quite some time, which explains why he has been shuffled from foster home to foster home. The courts have had enough of him and he is being sent to a somewhat secret boot camp island prison called Phoenix Island. He will have to endure there until he turns 18. Carl is also a champion boxer and since he keeps slamming his fists into bullies, and Phoenix Island is run by bullies, I expect Carl will have some trouble there.

Phoenix Island is a mix of tough boot camp, abusive authority figures, really nice kids in the wrong place, and illegal science experiments on humans. Carl, our all-around boyscout, tries to help the weak and gets a few more scars for his efforts. His sidekick, Ross, is always quipping off some reply to the wrong person, which earns him a few more scars. The romantic interest is Octavia, who tries very hard to blend into the background and not draw attention, but things don’t work out that way and she earns a few new scars too.

Eventually, Carl’s physical abilities draw the attention of the Old Man, the guy who runs Phoenix Island. Carl is given a gift, one that enhances his physical prowess. Even more important, the Old Man becomes the caring authority/parental figure in Carl’s life as Carl is given further training in hand-to-hand combat, small arms training, and a taste of the Old Man’s zero tolerance policy for terrorists…….But perhaps the Old Man takes it too far.

I think if I had a lot of angst towards authority figures, I would have enjoyed this book quite a bit more. At first I questioned Carl’s all around good-guy-in-a-bad-situation character, I got use to it and thought he would be an exception. How many kids go through foster homes like crack-laced popcorn and stay boyscouts? But I settled into it. But then we get o the island. Seems like all of the ‘good kids’ are innocent cherubs inadvertently stuck in hell. There’s some bad kids, but they are totally bad, spoiled, rotten – not redeemable. There are definitely black and white (good and evil) characters in this book and not much in between. I count this as the only big flaw for the book because it made things predictable.

That issue aside, I enjoyed this book for the suspense. It was like a mix of The Island and Lord of the Flies. The innocent eventually suspect they are being used for something more (what really goes on in the Chop Shop?) while the baddies start to hold sway (maybe there will be a really exciting hunt?). Still, I kept expecting the innocent to somehow out trick the baddies and win the day. The ending did surprise me. Nice little twist at the end sets it up just right for Book 2.

Narration: Kirby Heyborne did a good job as narrator. He was a believable Carl and he did great bullying voices (and there were lots of bullies). His feminine voices could use a little more work, but each was distinct.

What I Liked: Mystery island; through the main character, I was able to vent some angst towards authority figures; twist at the end.

What I Disliked: The characters were pretty black and white (they were either good or bad) and this made parts of the book very predictable.

What Others Think:

On Starships & Dragonwings

Scott Reads It

Step Into Fiction

Dead End Follies

The Soul of the World by Joshua Silverman

SilvermanSoulOfWorldWhy I Read It: Book 1 (The Emerald Tablet) was pretty good so obviously I needed to read Book 2.

Where I got It: A review copy via the author (thanks!).

Who I Recommend This To: SFF fans, especially those who enjoy ancient Egypt & ancient Greece.

Publisher: Enchanted Forest Press (2013)

Length: 375 pages

Series: Book 2 Legends of Amun Ra

Author’s Page

Book 2 in the Legends of Amun Ra series picks up a few years after Book 1 ends. The characters we got to know on Potara have aged under the rule of Kem and Shirin. Meanwhile, Leoros back on Earth has spent considerable time trying to find his way back to Potara, often at personal cost. In large part, Book 2 is about development of the main characters we met in Book 1. Much of the action takes place off-screen, with the exception of a few skirmishes and the final battle. In contrast, Book 1 had a lot of action that the reader was put directly in the middle of.

While Leoros spends about half the book trying to get out of his foster care hell and back to Potara, plenty is going on with Axios having an active part in an underground rebellion, Dio drunk and having a pity party, Atlantia trying to find Leukos, etc. The chapters switch around between the characters, so you never feel like you get bogged down in any one single storyline. However, I did get a little confused in that so much seems to happen on Potara between Leoros chapters, yet when Leoros finally joins his Potaran friends, everyone has aged the same amount. So, for about the first half of the book, days would pass on Potara compared to hours on Earth (for Leoros’s storyline).

The story picks up after Leoros gets to Potara and there is this one really intense scene where an ancient game, the truth, and deadly ghosts come into play. I think this was one of my more favorite scenes from the book. And I really liked the mythological beasties that came into play – many more than we had in Book 1. Atlantia and Leoros have some pretty intense conversations. And then there are Kem and Shirin. I really like Shirin as this total control freak and often-times bad guy. In this book, she has one of Kem’s relatives to contend with while Kem is off on a male-bonding expedition with the Brotherhood of the Rose to find an artifact that will let him rule the world.

Overall, I liked Book 1 more. This book was mostly character development and setting things up for something big in Book 3 (hopefully). There were long stretches that had little action and I could have used a few more scenes watching these characters in action. Dio’s drunken pity party went on for ~90% of the book, and I was pretty ready to lock her in a cold shower at 50%. My favorite characters did get a lot of page time – and that would be Kem and Shirin in this book. They have a complex relationship and Shirin is a pretty complex person. Will I read Book 3? Yes, definitely. There is plenty I would like to see wrapped up. And with all the development that happened in this book, I need the validation of something big happening in Book 3.

What I Liked: Mythological beasties!; Kem and Shirin, each insane in their own ways; Leoros’s deadly challenge over an ancient game; the final fight scene.

What I Disliked: There seemed to be some sort of time issue between Potara and Earth that through me off for half the book; a little heavy on the character development in proportion to the action scenes.

What Others Think:

Cuzinlogic

All Fantasy Worlds

Literary Sweet

Divine Books

My Other Book Blog

The Winey Reader

Interview: Sarah Dalton, Author of Blemished

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DaltonBlemishedWelcome everyone to The Book of Apex Blog Tour! Today, I have Sarah Dalton here, author of the Blemished series, giving us an interview. She was kind enough to swing by again, having been here last week with her guest post: Cruelty Is Needed.

Myths and beliefs that we would consider fiction or fantasy in modern literature once upon a time shaped history (think of all the hunts for unicorns & dragons). Do you see modern fantasy fiction affecting human cultures today and how?

Well, I like to think that humans are a lot less superstitious than they used to be when we hunted dragons and unicorns! I’m not sure we’ll ever be that suspicious again, what with the internet and Wikipedia and everything. Maybe after the apocalypse.

But that doesn’t mean fantasy literature doesn’t have an effect on human cultures. Reading rich fantasy worlds can enrich our imaginations and influence a generation as they grow into adults. Fantasy worlds inspire art, and costume, and language. We only need to look at the success of ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’, and the wonderful TV adaptation, ‘Game of Thrones’ to see how it is inspiring artists, writers and enthusiasts. DeviantArt is full of wonderful fan art just for starters.

Given the opportunity, what fantastical beast of fiction would you like to encounter in the wild? Which would you avoid at all costs?

I like a good old-fashioned vampire. There’s definitely an allure about the prospect of an eternal life living in the shadows. Plus it would be fascinating to sit and talk to someone who had lived for a thousand years, to discover their opinions on war, or what life was really like.

Dragons I would avoid at all costs. I’ve played enough Skyrim to know you don’t mess with a dragon.

DaltonMyDaylightMonstersWith the modern popularity to ebooks, a book is no longer limited to a specific genre shelf. It is now quite easy to label place an ebook in multiple genres (i.e. YA, Fantasy, Horror). How do you see this affecting readers? Have you been inadvertently lured outside your reading comfort zone?

Yes! I have been lured outside my comfort zone. I’m a genre-hopping reader anyway, but I’ve recently ventured into reading New Adult. I’ve not read any romance for a long time, but there are some real gems in New Adult, and it’s a genre that may have not emerged if it wasn’t for ebooks.

I think we’ll see more niche markets and unusual books, especially in length. Publishers tend to have a preferred word count, but self-published books can be any length at all. I’ve published three novellas so far, books that probably wouldn’t have found an audience without epublishing. We will also see more book bundles and anthologies hitting the scene. I’ve worked with other self-published authors to put together anthologies and multi-author bundles. It’s a lot of fun and a great way to find new readers.

From your own writings, are there any characters you would like to cosplay?

Oh wow, that’s a tough question! Most of my characters are teens, so it would be a pretty unrealistic cosplay. The MC for my upcoming YA fantasy has a white stag to ride. That would be particularly awesome.

DaltonWhiteHartIs there a book to move/TV adaptation that you found excellent? Is there a PC game to book adaptation that worked for you?

I love Game of Thrones. Who doesn’t? For some reason I couldn’t get into the books, despite them being well-written and engaging, but the TV show is probably my favorite show airing right now. The costumes, the acting… it’s all fantastic, and I think the characters are brought to life beautifully.

What does your Writer’s Den look like? Neat and tidy or creative mess? can you write anywhere or do you need to be holed up in your author cave?

Creative mess! The messier it is, the more I’m struggling with a plot bunny. I get steadily more and more untidy as I delve into the writing process. Every now and then I have to have a complete tidy to clear my head and focus.

I prefer to write in my office, but I can work in other places. It’s better in silence, so working in cafes, as lovely as it looks in films, isn’t usually very practical. Also I stare into space when I’m writing, which freaks people out in public.

DaltonFracturedFinally, what upcoming events and works would you like to share with the readers?

I’m working with an amazing bunch of authors to put out a YA dystopian bundle of six books. I’m really excited about that.

I’m also working on two new series, one a YA high fantasy called White Hart about a young girl born with the craft, a magical power which binds her with nature, the other called Mary Hades, which is a YA paranormal horror. I’m in the early stages of this one. It’s a follow up to my gothic novella My Daylight Monsters, about a girl who can see ghostly beings that help her solve mysteries.

Places to Stalk Sarah

Facebook

Goodreads

Website

Blemished Website

Twitter

Want to see more of blog tour? There’s reviews, interviews, guest posts, even more giveaways. Well, don’t hesitate to jump over to Little Red Reviewer (the maniac who organized this delightful blog tour) to see what all is going down this month.

Of course, you can always check out Apex Magazine for more SFF goodness.

Guest Post: Cruelty Is Needed by Sarah Dalton

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DaltonBlemishedWelcome everyone to The Book of Apex Blog Tour! Today, I have Sarah Dalton here, author of the Blemished series, giving us a guest post. She’s here to talk about a time for cruelty – how an author handles criticism.

Cruelty Is Needed

Every time I receive a bit of criticism for my work, a natural defensive ripple passes through my body. It has to be the worst part of creating something, knowing that other people will judge it. So why do I put myself through it every time I write a book?

Because I need to.

DaltonFracturedThe moment writing became more of a career then a hobby, was the moment I began to receive criticism from other writers. I still remember my first time, it was on a critiquing forum, and a member politely pointed out that my short piece of prose was little more than a great big info dump. At this point I’d never heard of info dumping. I had no idea that in the first five paragraphs of my book, I’d been world building in my head, and dumping those thoughts on the page. Heck, I didn’t even know what world building was. I was an instinctive writer, making it up as I went along. I needed a prod in the right direction, otherwise I might still be writing two thousand word descriptive introductions for each character.

Every word I write is in some way influenced by the books I have read. When it comes to my work, I owe a lot of it to other writers. It has been said before, but it bears saying again, writing is a collaborative process, and the only way you can get better, is by opening yourself to the views of other people.

Part of that process is listening. There’s a lot of advice out there. Part of your job as writer, and CEO of your book, is choosing which advice to heed, and which to ignore. And believe me, receiving criticism isn’t always about changing everything your critique partner tells you to change, because you cannot tailor a book to every single reader’s wants and needs. It’s impossible, you’re never going to please everyone.

So, for what it’s worth, here are my top tips for surviving criticism, and utilizing it to your full advantage.

DaltonMyDaylightMonsters1.    Find authors you trust – most writers establish a number of trusted critique partners either at a local meeting, or via email, or via forums. But you don’t want an echo chamber—it’s good to have differing opinions. I like to find beta readers who have never read any of my work, even if my WIP happens to be the second or third book in a series. I want to know how the reader will experience my book completely blind. The results can be interesting.
2.    Keep an open mind – working in collaboration with your critique partners is a two way street. There’s no point asking for feedback if you are going to completely ignore it. No matter how crazy or different the comments may be, no matter how much work it requires you to do, you’ve asked for honest feedback and you must at least consider it.
3.    …but having said that, after giving your criticism due consideration, you might still think that it doesn’t work for your novel. Trust your instincts. This is where you have to decide what’s best for your novel. Easier said than done. I like Neil Gaiman’s quote on this: “Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.”
4.    Read your reviews – sitting and reading every single review you’ve ever received is pretty crazy, and unhealthy. But, I still think that it’s worthwhile to read some of them. There are a lot of reviews that cancel each other out. Sometimes readers love the characters, sometimes they hate them, sometimes they think the book is too fast, others believe it to be too slow… it’s a real reminder that you can’t please everyone. But then you get the very thoughtful and insightful reviews that create light bulb moments. Readers are perceptive. I’ve learned a lot about my writing by reading reviews.
DaltonWhiteHart5.    Put on your public face – last but not least, the hardest part of criticism – taking it. Like I said at the beginning of this, most of us will get a knee-jerk reaction to being criticized. Sometimes I think people forget how difficult it is to see a bad review or be ripped to shreds on a critique forum. People also forget that authors ‘behaving badly’ is not new or confined to the internet, there is a wealth of history where authors have attacked their critics in the most embarrassing, or even violent ways. No, we’re not ‘speshul snowflakes’ or ‘butt-hurt authors’, we’re human. So my advice is not to toughen up, it’s to put on your public face. Follow this advice and you’re well on your way to becoming a professional author. The internet is public. Editors and beta readers are there to help, not be shouted at. Do your crying, bemoaning, angry rants in private, and then when it comes to emailing your betas or editors, keep that public persona on. Keep it professional at all times. If you think your editor has not provided a professional service, that doesn’t mean you can be unprofessional. Most of all never reply to a bad review. Reviewers don’t want to know you’re there, just keep out of it. You are both writer and author, person and business, private and public. Never the twain shall meet.

Places to Stalk Sarah

Facebook

Goodreads

Website

Blemished Website

Twitter

Also, catch the giveaway of The Book of Apex over HERE.

Want to see more of blog tour? There’s reviews, interviews, guest posts, even more giveaways. Well, don’t hesitate to jump over to Little Red Reviewer (the maniac who organized this delightful blog tour) to see what all is going down this month.

Of course, you can always check out Apex Magazine for more SFF goodness.

Black and Blue by Gena Showalter

ShowalterBlackAndBlueWhy I Read It: I sinfully enjoyed her Gena Showalter‘s other book, Awaken Me Darkly.

Where I got It: A review copy from the publisher (thanks!).

Who I Recommend This To: Like aliens? Assassins? Kick-ass female leads? Descriptive sex scenes? Gadgets, hand-to-hand combat, and mouthy remarks? Yep, that’s this book.

Narrator: George Newbern

Publisher: Simon and Schuster (2013)

Length: 9 hours 11 minutes

Series: Book 2 Otherworld Assassin

Author’s Page

While this is Book 2 in the series, it works fine as a stand alone.

Evangeline (Evie) Black is a woman of means, with a sharp tongue, and an even sharper mind. She also looks great in a bikini. Corbin Blue is a famous football player, a playboy, and not as sharp as Evie. They both work for black ops, trying to keep the world save. Corbin is an alien, Evie is human. The two start off as enemies and then become frenemies when a mutual friend’s house explodes in a ball of flame and he disappears from sight. Eventually, there is sex. Plenty of it. In fact, I was surprised they managed to complete their mission considering how much genital pounding they did.

OK. So, yes, I read these books, in part, for the sex. But I do enjoy that pesky thing called plot too. Was this my favorite Showalter book? No. But it wasn’t terrible. This is my first venture into the Otherworlder Assassin series. Primarily, I have read the Alien Huntress series in which the story is told from the woman’s perspective. In Black and Blue, most of the tale is told from Corbin’s point of view and I didn’t find it as satisfactory as the female point of view stories.

Also, there were a lot of cutesy wutesy shortening of words. A few here and there would have added to Corbin’s personality, but as the story progressed and Corbin relaxed into it, the reader couldn’t help tripping over the slang.

Now, with those two criticisms, I still enjoyed the book enough to finish it. Evie has some ugly secrets that she is ashamed of and has her guard up all the time. this means that she makes glib and trite comments to everyone. Which amused me, even if it meant that she had few friends. Also, when her life is endangered, she fights back. Even finding herself restrained and in dire straights, she manages to to fight on, instead of curling in a ball and whimpering. Evie and Corbin take turns rescuing each other throughout the book.

I think Corbin has a secret sexual disorder. How could he not after so many years of bedding babes to get info in his undercover role? Supposedly, he hates it. But I think if he did, his boss, Michael (who has shown up in other books as the all round good guy/parental role guy) would have found another line of work for him. Corbin and Evie start off have Angry Sex where neither of them wants to admit their great attraction for each other and both try to write it off as hormonal. I think Corbin needs therapy. He wasn’t my favorite character, but Evie made the book fun and interesting.

Overall, it was OK. The sex scenes were hot. Evie was brilliant at times. I liked all the little spy toys she kept in her purse.

The Narration: George Newbern did a good Corbin Blue voice. He was glib or angry or demanding as the role required. He pulled off Evie’s cultured trite comments quite well.

What I Liked: The cover; plenty of tech and weapons; the sex scenes; Evie’s quick wit and cutting remarks; Evie and Corbin take turns rescuing each other.

What I Disliked: Corbin’s little slang bits got repetitive; the plot felt rushed and/or incomplete for the second half of the book.

What Others Think:

Delighted Reader

Fiction Vixen

Rantings of a Reading Addict

Harlequin Junkie

Giveaway: The Book of Apex, Volume Four

ApexBlogTourBannerWelcome folks to another round of The Book Of Apex Blog Tour! This time, we are doing a giveaway of an ebook copy of The Book of Apex, Volume Four. And this giveaway is open International!

What do you have to do to enter the giveaway? Leave a comment with a way to contact you (email or twitter) and answer this question: If you could have any body modification from fiction, what would it be?

This giveaway will run for 2 weeks, ending on midnight, February 22nd. I will then pick the winner and put that person in contact with those who have the real power – to distribute the book.

So many great authors contributed to this volume. Here, let Goodreads tell you a little bit about the book:

ApexVolume4Thirty-three science fiction, fantasy, and horror short stories grab readers by their emotional cores to star deep into the source of our humanity and inhumanity. Well-known authors like Ken Liu, Genevieve Valentine, Catherynne M. Valente, Lavie Tidhar, and Alethea Kontis, along with newer voices, sketch surreal pasts, presents, and futures full of characters with familiar and outsized desires and fears.
“The Book of Apex Volume 4″ collects the original fiction from Hugo-winning editor Lynne M. Thomas’s first fifteen issues at the helm of “Apex Magazine,” which included two Hugo Award nominations for the magazine.
Table of Contents:
“The Bread We Eat in Dreams” by Catherynne M. Valente
“The Leavings of the Wolf” by Elizabeth Bear
“The 24 Hour Brother” by Christopher Barzak
“Faithful City” by Michael Pevzner
“So Glad We Had This Time Together” by Cat Rambo
“Sweetheart Showdown” by Sarah Dalton
“Bear in Contradicting Landscape” by David J. Schwartz
“My Body Her Canvas” by A.C. Wise
“A Member of the Wedding of Heaven and Hell” by Richard Bowes
“Copper, Iron, Blood and Love” by Mari Ness
“The Second Card of the Major Arcana” by Thoraiya Dyer
“Love is a Parasite Meme” by Lavie Tidhar
“Decomposition” by Rachel Swirsky
“Tomorrow’s Dictator” by Rahul Kanakia
“Winter Scheming” by Brit Mandelo
“In the Dark” by Ian Nichols
“The Silk Merchant” by Ken Liu
“Ironheart” by Alec Austin
“Coyote Gets His Own Back” by Sarah Monette
“Waiting for Beauty” by Marie Brennan
“Murdered Sleep” by Kat Howard
“Armless Maidens of the American West” by Genevieve Valentine
“Sexagesimal” by Katharine E.K. Duckett
“During the Pause” by Adam-Troy Castro
“Weaving Dreams” by Mary Robinette Kowal
“Always the Same. Till it is Not” by Cecil Castellucci
“Sprig” by Alex Bledsoe
“Splinter” by Shira Lipkin
“Erzulie Dantor” by Tim Susman
“Labyrinth” by Mari Ness
“Blood from Stone” by Alethea Kontis
“Trixie and the Pandas of Dread” by Eugie Foster
“The Performance Artist” by Lettie Prell
Cover art provided by Julie Dillon.

Freaking brilliant, right?

Want to see more of blog tour? There’s reviews, interviews, guest posts, even more giveaways. Well, don’t hesitate to jump over to Little Red Reviewer (the maniac who organized this delightful blog tour) to see what all is going down this month.

Of course, you can always check out Apex Magazine for more SFF goodness.

The Book Of Apex: Volume 4 of Apex Magazine edited by Lynne M. Thomas

ApexVolume4Why I Read It: Andrea from The Little Red Reviewer said it’s a damn good book.

Where I Got It: A review copy from the publisher (thanks!).

Who I Recommend This To: SFF short story fans.

Publisher: Apex Book Company (2013)

Length: 368 pages

Contributing Authors: Catherynne M. Valente, Lavie Tidhar, Alethea Kontis, A. C. Wise, Richard Bowes, Mari Ness, Thoraiya Dyer, Rachel Swirsky, Rahul Kanakia, Brit Mandelo, Ian Nichols, Ken Liu, Alec Austin, Sarah Monette, Marie Brennan, Kat Howard, Genevieve Valentine, Katharine E. K. Duckett, Adam-Troy Castro, Mary Robinette Kowal, Cecil Castellucci, Alex Bledsoe, Shira Lipkin, Tim Susman, Eugie Foster, Lettie Prell, Elizabeth Bear, Christopher Barzak, Michael Pevzner, Cat Rambo, Sarah Dalton, David J. Schwartz

This little book blog tour that Andrea organized is very cool in that reviews can be on the whole book, or just a few of the stories contained therein. Due to some time constraints and life happening (oh, yes, I do have a life, as tiny as it may be – and lately best described as chasing a screaming rooster around the neighbors field with a big gay towel), I have only had the pleasure of reading two stories of this collection so far. Below, are my thoughts on those two stories. I will plan to add to this review as I enjoy further stories in this collection – because look at that list! Such a gorgeous collection of authors all in one place!

Sweetheart Showdown by Sarah Dalton
Shay-Shay is in the hospital for a skin graft for her upcoming Sweetheart beauty contest. Her mother Ma-lee fully encourages her constant quest to be up-to-minute beautiful. This tale gets twisted pretty quick. Part cyborgs? Sabotaging mind messages? Wait, there’s blades? Yeah, a tidy little bit of twisted competition for the ladies. At first, Sarah Dalton lulled me into believing this story was simply about a futuristic beauty contest. But then she brought out not only the swimsuit competition but also the brass knuckles……and hair blades…..and semi-automatics. Yeah. Not your average beauty contest at all!

Murdered Sleep by Kat Howard
Kora receives an invitation, just the address. But she knows the time to meet is midnight. ‘Sleep’s abandoned children, all gathered home and called to their revels.’ That line from the story caught my imagination and summed up much of the tale. A phoenix that drops rubies, and bejeweled snails that rain from the ceiling. This masque is full of dreams, and Kora has been invited to it. This was a beautiful, lyrical story. When it was done, I wanted to read it all over again.

The Bread We Eat in Dreams by Catherynne Valente
This was a rich story about a demon through the ages. She got kicked out of her hot home, for what, we don’t know. But now has to reside on Earth as a woman in a little cottage. And things could be tough for a disowned lonely demon in the 1600s New England coast. Of course, witch burning comes up, but it has this twist.  Beautiful story.

The Leavings of the Wolf by Elizabeth Bear
A divorced woman, her crows, and a wedding ring stuck on a fat finger. Dagmar is a runner, but is out of practice, having put on pounds during the end of her marriage. But she soldiers on through aching joints and painful shoes. And she has her crows, the ones who have learned to recognize her face through her college studies on crow behaviors. They follow her wherever she runs. They pretend to listen. I liked this story because the magic was two-fold: A woman interacting with her surroundings and finding connection with crows; and then later in the story another little tidbit that I won’t ruin for folks but is worthy. The night I finished this story, I kept pondering this: It is not a waste if it is a sacrifice. Like a sacrifice to moving on with your life. Two thumbs up for making me think.

The 24 Hour Brother by Christopher Barzak
This tale was shorter and at first I wanted more. But then, upon reflection, I felt it was right since it is about a boy, Joe,who is born, grows, and dies within 24 hours. It is told from the big brother’s perspective. We often see Lewis quietly watching all that goes on around him, either blending into a corner or hovering over his ‘baby’ brother protectively. A poignant little story.

I read this book as part of The Book of Apex Blog Tour organized by Andrea from The Little Red Reviewer. If you’d like to read more reviews, check out interviews, guest posts, even giveaways, head over to Little Red Reviewer ( click HERE) to see the full tour schedule.

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The Lost World by Arthur Conan Doyle

Pico contemplating attacking the camera flash.

Pico contemplating attacking the camera flash.

Why I Read It: I needed some vintage SF in my reading diet.

Where I got It: The library.

Who I Recommend This To: PG-rated adventure fans.

Narrator: Michael Prichard

Publisher: Tantor Media (2009)

Length: 8 hours 30 minutes

Series: Book 1 Professor Challenger

Author’s Page

This book was first published in 1912. Keep that in mind because some of the themes and plot devices will be dated. Professor Challenger went tromping around the Amazon jungle and discovered some truly amazing things. He returns to London to pull interest together for another expedition. However, London society makes fun of his claims. Luckily, there are a few young-blooded men with too much time on their hands and they volunteer to help the Professor out. One of these men is newspaper reporter Edward Malone. He and Lord John Roxton and Professor Summerlee join forces, and bank accounts, to go off adventuring.

I love Sherlock Holmes movies and TV shows, but I never much cared for the written stories. I know, I should be wearing some sort of reader’s cone of shame. But there it is. So a friend told me that Doyle himself didn’t particularly care for the stories, but they paid the bills. She suggested I try some of his other works. This book is a great example of how good Doyle’s work can be. I loved the adventure, the unknown, the suspense. It was well done. While there are a few bits that date it (which I’ll discuss in the next paragraph), I still quite enjoyed it. Basically, it’s a bunch of nerdy science types getting together to go off into the unknown jungle and play with specimen jars. The biologist in me quivers in anticipation just thinking about it! Who wouldn’t want to go?

OK, so the dated bits. There’s only 1 female, and she is the love interest of Malone. He wants her, she’s not interested. I found their conversation very amusing. Yes, it is dated as in she wants a man who goes out into the world and grabs a bit of fame and fortune, and then she will consider being interested in him. But I liked that she wasn’t the teary type and she also didn’t go all swoony when he said he was going off to the unknown dark depths of a jungle on another continent to face who knows what beasties. And the second dated part is how all the white male science nerds treat anyone of color. Sigh….

There’s dinosaurs. I don’t think that is a spoiler because everyone knows that white folk have been hunting for dinos in the South American jungles for at least a century. But they have to assault this high plateau to go see them and verify that Professor Challenger wasn’t just blowing smoke back in London. And there’s more than one set of natives to be investigated….and perhaps flee from. Malone and Challenger stood out the most, character-wise, to  me. Challenger had a chip on his shoulder since no one believed his claims. Malone was trying to prove something to himself, and maybe his unrequitted love. But over all, it was the adventure that I really loved. they were exploring the unknown in search of something ancient and thought long dead. And I think that is what will keep me coming back to the Professor Challenger series.

VintageScifiBadgeThe Narration: Michael Prichard did a good job with distinct male voices. His one female voice made me think of Lauren Bacall. He gave accents to Zambo and the native Indian guides.

What I Liked: Spirit of adventure; historical SF literature for its own sake; the lone female wasn’t all swoony silly; lots of science nerds playing with their specimen jars; dinosaurs!

What I Disliked: Only 1 female role; anyone of color is in a servant role or playing ‘the savage’.

This month I am participating in two SF reading events: Vintage SF Month over at The Little Red Review and The 2014 Science Fiction Experience over at Stainless Steel Droppings. Make sure to head over to these two places for more SF goodness.

2014SFExperienceWhat Others Think:

Page Turners

Violet Crush

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Rocket Ship Galileo by Robert Heinlein

The drowsy effects of a winter fire on cats.

The drowsy effects of a winter fire on cats.

Why I Read It: I needed some vintage SF in my reading diet.

Where I got It: The library.

Who I Recommend This To: PG-rated adventure SF fans.

Narrator: Spider Robinson

Publisher: Blackstone Audio (2007)

Length: 5 hours 27 minutes

Author’s Page

The story starts with three friends who like to build rockets and fire them off in the back field. Only a few mishaps have taken place by the time we meet them….just in time for another mishap. As they leave the field, they come across a man who was evidently struck on the head by a falling bit of the latest exploded rocket. Turns out the man is the uncle of one of the boys, so they don’t have to be worried about being sued. He is also a physicist and planning a trip to the moon. Oh, by the way, this book is set shortly after WWII and before man has made it to the moon. OK, back to the kids. Of course all three of the boys are little geniuses in the making with skills in radio, physics, math, welding, rocket fuel, etc. So the four of them start laying plans.

I have read a few of Heinlein’s adult SF (The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress is my favorite of his works so far), but this was my first Heinlein YA. It was cute. Very PG with no cussing, minimal violence, the kids are always respectful to the adults, the one female we see on screen is a mom and in the kitchen. It was probably excellent in the time it was published, imagining a home-grown rocket ship, powered by some 10th grade physics, a little aeronautics, canned foods, spit, and teen boy muscle.

The part I liked best about the book was the spirit of adventure the book captured and held for nearly the entire book. Towards the end, it seems to get muddled with a political message, but I’ll chat about that below in the spoiler section. Still, the boys come up with some at-the-time great solutions to mechanical and technical difficulties, both on Earth before take off and later on the moon. There is also a side mystery that becomes integral at the end that was fun to watch unfold.

I had to keep reminding myself that this story is dated. We had not been to the moon (first landing was 1969) when this was published (1947), over 2 decades before the first moon landing. There’s no freeze-dried space food as we are use to seeing. The washroom-needs of the trip were glazed over (though you can find detailed info about such things in Packing for Mars by Mary Roach – a highly entertaining read). Oh, yes, there was also pipe smoking on the trip to the moon. Of course an open flame, however brief, would be terribly fun in space. Of course, all the space cadets are male and there is only one female who gets any lines – the mother of one of the lads. Still, it had a certain charm.

And then things got really whacky. But telling you about that means ruining the plot.

2014SFExperienceSPOILER ALERT There are Nazis on the moon. Yep. They’ve been there for a few years, have a large moon base, regularly ferry food and personnel from Earth to the moon. They even have families up there. They’re holed-up awaiting the rise of the New Reich. Yeah. Space Nazis. That alone took this book from a quaint, OK space adventure to a comedy that had me thoroughly delighted (Oh, was I suppose to laugh at the idea of space Nazis?). Well, at least until the political speech set it, had tea, and decided to take up house keeping for the rest of the book. END SPOILER

Overall, fun, and definitely a look at SF literature from a historical perspective.

VintageScifiBadgeThe Narration: Spider Robinson was a fun narrator. He did the teen boy voices well.

What I Liked: Spirit of adventure; historical SF literature for its own sake.

What I Disliked: Only 1 female role; story gets lost at the end in a political message; crazy turn towards the end; kids 100% respectful of the adults (lacks reality).

This month I am participating in two SF reading events: Vintage SF Month over at The Little Red Review and The 2014 Science Fiction Experience over at Stainless Steel Droppings. Make sure to head over to these two places for more SF goodness.

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