2016 is finally over! It was a tough year for me, even right up to the end where I caught a nasty holiday bug. I did read a lot of great books last year. According to my Goodreads profile, I read 208 books, nearly 100 less than the year before. I blame my new found love of Netflix bingewatching for that. Here are my favorite 11 books of the year, in no particular order (no counting rereads).
I also joined a romance book club. I’ve never really enjoyed romance novels. I don’t mind if a book has romance in it but the main plot has to be something more than finding true love or getting laid for me to really enjoy it. So, I thought perhaps I was wrong in binning romance books all together and pretty much ignoring them. With that in mind, I joined this lovely group of people and gave the romance genre a real shot at winning my heart. We read several paranormal and urban fantasy romances, a few contemporary romances (some with suspense and one with BDSM), and 1 historical fiction romance. In general, I was underwhelmed. Some of the books did exceed my expectations and for romance novels they were good, but none of them made it into my top 50. Let me slightly amend that. I had the opportunity to host twice, which means I picked the book we read. Both times I picked books I had not previously read and one of them was Darkness Haunts by Susan Ilene. There is no romance in this novel. There’s a spattering of flirting, but that is all. While several people enjoyed it (including me), it does not count as a romance novel. Obviously, I’m not a good host for a romance book club but the group was great about it.
As 2016 ends, I am looking forward to a better year in 2017. I spent all of 2016 sick and most of it on bed rest. It took quite some time and many doctors to get diagnosed. I now know that I have CTEPH and in February I will be in San Diego having PTE surgery to hopefully correct the issue. It’s a major surgery and I could be in the hospital recovering for up to 20 days. So if Dab of Darkness goes dark between Ground Hog’s Day and Valentine’s Day, it’s just me laid up in a hospital recovering. Life should get better after that surgery and I’m just really looking forward to being on the other side of it. 24/7 supplemental oxygen makes life rather boring, as I can now attest to.
Heya Everyone! I was recently tagged byThe Audiobookwormin this fun book tag. Feel free to comment on my book choices or to add your own for each category in the comments. I’m going to tag a few people at the end, but if you want to throw up a post with your answers, leave me your link in the comments so I can swing by.
1. “Tale As Old As Time” – A popular theme, trope or setting you will never get bored of reading.
Theme – Underdog
The Red Rising series by Pierce Brown was excellent. Can’t wait to see more from this author. If you’re not familiar with the series, it’s a mash up of Roman mythology/military command structure with terraforming of Mars and beyond. Be proud of your scars. You’ve earned them!
D-List Supervillain series by Jim Bernheimer – which is just a lot of damn fun! Mostly, the supervillains in this series are just anti-organization. The various super-characters are imaginative and there’s plenty of humor.
Trope – Artificial Intelligence
I recently read a whole bunch of AI stuff. The Wrong Unit by Rob Dircks was a delight. It had that right mix of humor and serious bits. The AI units are programmed to learn to care for their humans, so the anthropomorphizing of the AI units is realistically built into the story.
Ray Jay Perreault has written several stories that feature AI and I have been enjoying making my way through his audiobooks. Progeny is one of my favorite AI stories, though his AIs run the gamut of cold, calculating evil to human-like societal beings.
Serengeti by JB Rockwell was super intense in several ways. The story starts off with a space battle and the AIs are the ships, though they all have human crews. This space battle takes perhaps as much as half the book. Then the second half is the story of this one ship trying to limp home. The humans have to go into stasis, so that just leaves the ship’s AI and her little AI minion bots. The struggle to reach their goal, to stay sane over the lengthy years, to keep functioning just enough to keep the human crew alive – just an excellent tale.
Setting – Ancient Times
There’s plenty of stuff that happened in ancient times. Most of it is interesting, gritty, and dramatic. Here’s a list of some of the stuff I’ve read so far and have really enjoyed.
Conn Iggulden’s Emperor series – This series focuses on Julius Caesar, starting with his boyhood years and going all the way through his life to the dramatic, bitter end.
The Rise of Zenobia by JD Smith – set during the Roman empire in the Syrian city of Palmyra. I learned from this book and that always is a plus.
John Maddox Roberts’s SPQR murder mystery series – Set in 1st century ancient Rome during the time of Crassus and Pompey. Who could resist murder mystery and ancient Rome? Not me!
Patrick Bowman’s retelling of The Odyssey for young adults – The Odyssey of the Slave series. In this series, the focus is on a young lad who is taken as a slave when the famous city of Troy falls.
Colossus by Colin Falconer – This is a tale of Alexander the Great. Technically, it’s an alternate history, but if you don’t know much abut Alexander and the arc of his life, you wouldn’t know it. I really enjoyed this tale – elephants!
The Sekhmet Bed by LM Ironside – set in ancient Egypt. Ahmose was raised up to Great Royal Wife status. Political intrigue plays a big role in this story.
Rise to Power by Uvi Poznansky – set in the land of Israel in the 1st or 2nd century BCE. This is the first book in a series about David and his rise to power told from a secular point of view.
Claimed by the Enemy by Shauna Roberts – despite the title and the cover art, this book is pretty darn good. Set in ancient Mesopotamia during the time of King Sargon, the book focuses on two young individuals who were placed in difficult positions.
2. Belle – A book you bought for it’s beautiful cover that’s just as beautiful inside too
Guy Gavriel Kay never fails to provide a beautiful story and his covers are always so well done. Recently, I read Children of Earth and Sky, and the cover is indeed just as beautiful as the tale inside. If you said I had to pick my favorite GGK novel, I would be hard-pressed to say which it was. His Sarantium duology is about the fall of an empire, so plenty of vast ideas going on there but with excellent pinpoint characters that do a great job of showing the human side. I also loved The Lions of Al-Rassan, which is based on Moorish Spain. There’s plenty of areas of conflict but also plenty of areas for commonality. I could go on and on, but you should just go pick up some GGK for yourself.
Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear was one of my favorite reads of 2015. The cover did a great job of capturing the Wild West and Steampunk mix of the story. Karen was also a wonderful character, not being a stereotypical kick ass heroine that are so abundant lately. She does kick ass, she’s just also a real person who happens to be brave when backed into a corner.
3. Beast – A book you didn’t expect much from but pleasantly surprised you.
Zorro by Isabel Allende was a pleasant surprise. In essence, it was an origin story for Zorro. I loved watching the black & white TV show was a kid so it was pretty cool to read this book and get Allende’s take on how Zorro came to be. There was a lot more depth to this character than I expected, which, in retrospect, was silly of me. Zorro lived during a time of Spanish colonialism in the New World – there were plenty of cultures and conflicts. Allende did a great job of pulling those elements into this tale.
The Fold by Peter Clines was one of the best SF Thriller novels I have read. It was fun. It was intense. It had SF themes that I could get into. The characters were also interesting, especially the lead guy who has a true eidetic memory. This was both a help and a hindrance to him.
11-22-63 by Stephen King is the first King novel I have read. It won’t be the last. King did a really great job with the characters in this book. I know some folks have labeled him as a horror novelist, and nothing more. However, this book shows that he has a lot more going on. It’s obvious he put quite a bit of research in to the time and location (1963, Texas) of the bulk of the book. While I do expect that as I explore King’s works, this novel won’t be my favorite but it certainly delivered more than I expected.
4. Gaston – A book everyone loves that you don’t.
Station 11 by Emily St. John Mandel – I was on the fence about this one. I liked that it was a post-apocalyptic/dystopian novel that wasn’t full of angst. However, I didn’t really care for the character Arthur Leander, who all the other characters are somehow connected with. He was boring and I wanted to know more about these other characters but the story kept coming back to him.
The Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo – it’s a young man’s adventure quest and it’s been done so many times before. All the ladies are in some subservient role, which is also a standard (unfortunately) in such adventure tales. Most of the men have a Personal Legend to find or to fullfill. Meanwhile, the 3 female characters lack any such ambition.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith – The most exciting parts of this book were the dream sequences and even those were mean tricks. The reader enters each of the dream sequences as if they are the next part of the story and only at the end of the scene do you realize it’s a dream. I really liked Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and his Unholy Nights was pretty entertaining as well, so I was sad to say that I found this book to be a snoozer.
5. Lefou – A loyal sidekick you can’t help but love more than their counter part.
Jean Tannen from The Gentlemen Bastards series by Scott Lynch – This series is full of creative cursing, thievery, camaraderie, magic, death, romance, pirates, evil people getting their due, the good guys getting the crap beaten out of them, and more creative cursing.
Adrian from the Cheshire Red Reports by Cherie Priest – Adrian is still a bit of a mystery, since I have only read the first 2 books in this series (I hope there will be more in the series!). He’s ex-military on a search for his missing kid sister. He’s also a dragqueen, and his parents have disowned him because of this. He makes a great sidekick for Raylene, the vampire thief.
6. Mrs. Potts, Chip, Lumier & Cogsworth – A book that helped you through a difficult time or that taught you something valuable.
For over a year now, I have been going through this medical thing. I’ve basically been on bed rest for a year now and I was finally diagnosed in May with CTEPH – which is basically blood clots that have hardened in my pulmonary arteries, which has caused pulmonary hypertension to a moderately high degree, which will be fatal…. in perhaps 6-10 years, unless I have this big, kinda cool in a SF way, kinda scary in a mortality rate way, surgery. That’s scheduled for early February. So, these books have helped me cope with this lengthy process.
Enchanted Forest by Johanna Basford – this is a coloring book for adults and it’s the first one I ever bought. It’s remarkably detailed and it’s pretty amazing how coloring really takes me out of my current situation. Also, it’s something I can do while listening to audiobooks.
Terre D’Ange Cycle by Jacqueline Carey – This series has been awesome and I have been part of a group read along with several wonderful ladies on the blogosphere. I’ve read Book 1, Kushiel’s Dart, so many times but it was quite something to share it with others in this in-depth discussion of the book. We started the read along back in May 2015, and now we’re on Book 7, Naamah’s Kiss. We’ll have to finish the last two books after my surgery – so that gives me something to look forward to. If you haven’t checked this series out, then I highly recommend it for alternate history and epic fantasy fans. I know sometimes it gets panned because there is plenty of sex in it, but the amount sex doesn’t outweigh all the awesomeness – the political intrigue, the sword fights, the desperate straights of the heroes, the saving of the realm! Honestly, the sex enhances the characters instead of just being padding to up the page count.
7. “Something There” – A book or a series that you weren’t into at first but picked up towards the end.
The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan – It took me about 4 books to really get into this series, but I’m very glad I read it as it is a touchstone for epic fantasy fans. The first book really took a lot from Tolkien’s works and I was bit insulted the first and second time I read it. However, I was encouraged by a great group of book bloggers, who were part of this big 2+ years-long read along of the series, to keep going. Also, in an interview, Jordan spoke about how he wanted to model Book 1 on Tolkien’s works to give readers something familiar. Eventually, starting at Book 4, Jordan’s genius really starts to show through. I am very much hoping they do make this series in to a quality TV series or a quality series of movies.
8. “Be Our Guest” – A fictional character you’d love to have over for dinner.
Harry Dresden & Bob the Skull from Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files – This is one of my favorite urban fantasy series. The first few can be read in any order, but I think the series is best read in order since the larger story arc starts really building on itself around Book 4 or 5, though there are small things even in Book 1 that are tied into again later in the series. Bob would be a hoot at any dinner party. He doesn’t get much socializing, so he lacks all those hindrances that make most dinner conversations so dull.
Atticus & Oberon from Kevin Hearne’s The Iron Druid Chronicles – this is yet another favorite urban fantasy series. Oberon would bring the appetite and the humor with his simple doggy demands. Atticus, being the 2000+ year old druid that he is, would be able to chat about several entertaining subjects.
So now I would like to tag some other bookish folks, though please don’t feel obligated if this isn’t your cup of tea. Also, if I don’t tag you but you want to play along, please do! And leave me a comment with a link to your post so I can visit.
And I would like to smash into this long post a big thank you to Austine! I won a very fun book package from her recently. It was full of books and bookish things and fake tattoos and a red mask and nail art. And then she wrapped everything in gold paper! This box of goodies was such an upper, especially since I have been sick. I loved unwrapping everything and modeling the mask, tattoos, and nail art for my man. Thank you Austine!
Note: While this is Book 2 in the series, it works just fine as a stand alone novel.
Raylene is an expert thief and a wayward vampire. Her fixer Horace has an unusual job for her. He needs these rare yet odd relics stolen and he offers her a big financial incentive to take on the job. However, someone else is also after the relics – Elizabeth Creed. She’s a warlock and one who isn’t all there. Tossing in some trouble on the homefront, Ian (a blind vampire) has been summoned home by his House. It’s a death sentence to go and a death sentence to not go. Ray may not be able to help Ian with this one.
First, there was lots of humor and banter in this book, and plenty of it is a bit dark. The odd relics that Ray is hunting for are actually baculum, which are penis bones. Yep. Many placental mammals have penis bones. Alas, humans do not. Anyway, these particular baculum are from things like werewolves and such, making them perfect for magical spells. I’m sure you can see how this particular job was rife with humor.
The quest takes Ray out of Seattle and to Houston and Atlanta. She’s also trying to give her support to Ian as he tries to reconnect with this son Brandon. So we get to see a chunk of the country in this book. Adrian, an ex-military drag queen, is also along for the ride. Hooray! I really enjoyed his character in Book 1, Bloodshot. When he’s in drag, she’s Sister Rose. In the previous book, he was searching for his younger sister Isabel. That search comes up again in this novel and I was glad to see that Adrian had not given up his hunt.
There’s a touch of romance in this novel. There’s a low simmering heat between Ray and Ian, but since they live in the same big house, they have been keeping things casual. They also share space with two orphaned kids, Domino and his little sister Pepper. Domino is going through his angry teen years and I really was worried he was going to get dead in this book! Pepper is the brains of the two even if she’s only 7 or so.
There’s plenty of action as Ray tries again and again to doge the crazy warlock, the military group that once held Ian captive, and also Ian’s House. There are so many ways that things could go very, very wrong for Ray! Eeeeep! This was a real page, or, rather, disc, turner for me. I didn’t want to put this book down. Between the humor and the high-stakes action, I was hooked and enjoyed the entire book.
Narration: Natalie Ross did another great job with this book. I continue to be amazed at her performance with Adrian/Sister Rose. I also enjoy her various accents as needed here and there. Her rough, kind of seedy voice for Horace was perfect – just like how I picture him.
What I Liked: Raylene continues to be a very approachable hero; there’s even a kitten to rescue; Sister Rose/Adrian kicks ass and looks good doing it; Horace is mostly good but also self-centered; the baculum – hahahahahahahahaha!
I was recently tagged by Lynn over at Books & Travelling with Lynn. The subject is all about books and time traveling, in one way or another. I really enjoy these tag posts as they often give me something to talk about without having to use a lot of brainpower. Here are the Q&A.
What is your favorite historical setting for a book?
It’s hard to pick just one. I’ve read plenty of stories set in ancient Greece (Mary Renault), Roman murder mysteries & ‘celebrities’ (John Maddox Roberts, Conn Iggulden), and the 1800s of the American West (David Lee Summers, Cherie Priest). Also, the Tudor era attracts me. In fact, I’m currently wrapped up in Three Sisters, Three Queens by Philippa Gregory.
What writer/s would you like to travel back in time to meet?
Isaac Asimov is near the top of my list. His books feature prominently in my childhood/teen years. I read his Lucky Starr series but also many of his adult novels. For kicks, I’d love to meet Homer and put to rest the age-old argument on whether Homer was male or female or collection of authors. I wouldn’t mind meeting Pearl S. Buck. Her novel, The Good Earth, was required reading in both the 5th and 9th grades (I moved and changed school districts, so that’s why I got hit twice with this classic) and I loved it both times. She had a very interesting life and it wouldn’t just be her books I’d pester her with questions about, but also her travel and years living in China.
What book/s would you travel back in time and give to your younger self?
There’s so much good stuff out today! Apart from a few classics, most of the ‘safe’ or required reading I had access to as a kid was boring and often felt fake or like it was missing a big element of life – you know, all the gooey, messy bits that make all the good parts that much better. Luckily, I had full access to any SFF novel in the house and there were plenty of those. So to supplement my childhood bookshelf, I would give myself Andy Weir’s The Martian, Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series, and The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch.
What book/s would you travel forward in time and give to your older self?
I would speed ahead to my future self and hand her a copy of Robert E. Howard’s stories. His writing is some of the best I have enjoyed and yet several of his stories, Conan or otherwise, have certain sexist and racist elements that really repel me. This book would remind me that humans, including myself, are flawed and that things change over the years, such as views on a woman’s proper role in high fantasy adventure. Yet despite these shortcomings, a person can still love a story, or a person, or a country, etc.
What is your favorite futuristic setting from a book?
I always enjoy closed systems and several feature in SF stories. These are domed cities (Logan’s Run by Nolan & Johnson), underground villages (The Amber Project series by JN Chaney), underwater towns (Lucky Starr & the Oceans of Venus by Isaac Asimov), very large space stations (The Expanse series by James S. A. Corey), etc.. There’s the wonder of discovering these places, seeing how they are supposedly working and will go on working forever, and then watching it all come apart in some horrible way that means death for most of the people in the story. Yeah, welcome to my little demented side.
What is your favorite book that is set in a different time period (can be historical or futuristic)?
For fun, I wouldn’t mind visiting Seth Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. I really like the idea of making polite ball jokes, decapitating zombies, working out in the dojo, and politely trading British insults over tea. Honestly, I think that is the only way I would survive the Victorian era.
Spoiler Time: Do you ever skip ahead to the end of a book just to see what happens?
Back when I was eyeball reading printed books (I do mostly audiobooks now) I had a ritual. I would start a book and at that moment that I knew I was hooked, that I had fallen in love with the story, I would turn to the last page and read the last sentence. Most of the time this didn’t spoil anything, but every once in a while there would be a final line that gave away an important death or such.
If you had a Time Turner, where would you go and what would you do?
Actually, I do have a Time Turner. My husband bought it for me at the start of September while he was at an SCA event. It was right after we learned that I was quite sick but a few weeks before we learned just how sick. So, lots of bitter sweet emotions tied up with that piece of jewelry.
Anyhoo, if I had a working one, I would go everywhere and do everything. I would start with planning things that Bill and I have wanted to do together (like celebrating Beltane in a pre-Christian era) and then add in things that I have always wanted to do but which my be a big snooze fest for Bill (such as Charles Darwin’s Beagle voyage).
Favorite book (if you have one) that includes time travel or takes place in multiple time periods?
Currently, I’m enjoying the Jonathan Shade series by Gary Jonas. Time travel really becomes an element in this urban fantasy series in the second trilogy with Ancient Egypt featuring prominently. I also adore Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series. I finally read a Stephen King novel, 11-22-63. The characters were great even as the underlying premise was only so-so for me. The Dinosaur Four by Geoff Jones was a fun, crazy creature feature.
What book/series do you wish you could go back and read again for the first time?
The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher, for sure. I’ve read the early books several times each and I get a laugh out of them each time. Also I would like to experience Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey all over again for the first time. That book showed me how prudish some of my ideas were when I first read it. I wonder what it would show me now? Perhaps the same thing, if indeed this book has had as big an impact on who I am as I think.
Tagging Other People
So in general with these fun tagging posts, I never want anyone to feel obligated to play along. As usual, if any of you want to play along, I definitely encourage you. You can answer any of the questions in the comments or you can throw up your own blog post and then let em know about it so I can come read it. Here are some people who I think would like this particular time travel subject:
Cheshire Red is a vampire and an acquisitions expert (thief). Raylene likes that many people assume Cheshire Red is a man and she’s not about to dissuade them, enjoying working in the shadows as she does. Ian, another vampire who is oddly blind, has hired her to track down his medical records from his enforced stay at a secret government complex. Yet before she can dig into this case, things start to unravel in her cushy little life in Seattle – someone breaks into her warehouse and someone else blows her well laid cover. She drops it all to follow a thin lead in Atlanta. As Raylene continues to snoop into Ian’s affairs, things get more and more risky. Before you know it, her best defense is a military-trained drag queen and her best offense is one seriously ticked off blind vampire.
This book was a lot of fun. Raylene definitely has a fluid sense of morals with few hard sticking points. She takes pleasure in her work – removing the priceless and rare from the rich and pretentious. She’s used Seattle as the base for her operations for a few decades now; hence, the warehouse where she stores (or hoards) some of her collection as a financial safety net. There’s also two homeless kids, Pepper and Domino, who she lets live there. She doesn’t really like kids but for some reason keeps the heat and electricity on in one section of the building for them. Oh, and makes sure they have a cell phone to call her. And she checks in on them regularly. Perhaps she brings them food. Not that they’re pets or anything. As you can see, Raylene has this tough exterior and this gooey caramel soft center. I really liked all the snark and Ray’s enjoyment of her own sexuality and being a vampire. I also like that she’s prone to panic attacks and that her powers don’t make her invincible – just really hard to kill.
Ian is a bit of a quandary. It’s very unusual for a vampire to have any debilitating injury that becomes permanent. So Ian’s loss of sight is disturbing. If it can be done to one vampire, it can be done to another. He also uses a ghoul, Cal, which Raylene doesn’t like. However as she gets to know the two of them a bit more, she starts to reconsider her views on ghouls. Cal obviously still has a mind of his own and Ian treats Cal with respect and it’s obvious he needs some amount of help being blind. Still, there are plenty of unanswered questions surrounding Ian and he is indeed very reluctant to elaborate on what little he has already told her.
Then we toss in a military-grade highly driven mad scientist and a large number or highly-trained military ‘acquisition experts’ that want Raylene and perhaps even want Ian back and everyone has to scatter to the four winds. Raylene ends up in Atlanta chasing down a lead. This is where my second favorite character, Adrian (aka Sister Rose), comes into the picture. Sister Rose is a drag queen and great at her nightly performances. Adrian is ex-military and has some specialty training. He initially becomes Raylene’s unwilling ally. Adrian was great with all the glitz and fringe and yet muscle and sensible behavior. I like that we never find out whether he’s straight, gay, or bi, or celibate. Raylene is too polite to ask.
There’s plenty of action and interesting characters in this urban fantasy. The ending was solid. We lose a little and gain a little and have a ton of questions for Book 2. Ian definitely has some some things to follow up on. I’m hoping Adrian will continue to be a part of the series. While Raylene and crew took out several of the questionable military bad guys, I’m sure we haven’t seen the last of them.
Narration: Natalie Ross did an awesome job with this book. All the characters are distinct and her male characters are great. She does this remarkable thing with Adrian’s two personas (Adrian versus Sister Rose). There’s also various accents that she does well. It’s just a very, very good performance.
What I Liked: Our main ‘hero’ doesn’t particularly act or think like a hero; Raylene isn’t all sharp elbows and hefty boot kicks – she’s also got a soft spot for homeless kids and has the occasional panic attack; Ian has his mysteries; Adrian has his fringed sparkly g-string; together, they have an enemy worth kicking in the teeth.
Note: While this is Book 2 in the series, it reads just fine as a stand alone.
Set roughly 30 years after the events that take place in Book 1 (Maplecroft), Lisbeth Borden is finding retirement lonely and boring. She orders books and papers, adopts feral cats, and keeps up an on going letter to her now dead sister Emma. Then the odd and gruesome events of Birmingham, Alabama catch her eye. Then an Inspector Wolf contacts her and asks her to join him on his investigation into the hatchet murders as he suspects that there is more to it, and also that Lisbeth has had some previous dealings with this particular evil.
While I enjoyed Book 1 more than this book, it was still worthy. Book 1 had all the mystique of the Lizzie Borden historical case tied to it even before I cracked open the cover. This book didn’t come with that mystique, so the story in and of itself had to build the anticipation and it did a great job of it! It’s early 1920s and Prohibition is still firmly in place. In Alabama, we have the True Americans group, which is trying to look a bit more respectable than the Ku Klux Clan and yet still trying to push politics and civil rights in the same direction. Unwed daughters, despite their age, don’t have the legal right to go against their father’s wishes on where to live or work. Essentially, it’s a hotbed of angry, dissatisfied people. Perfect for the summoning of Cthulu monsters.
Inspector Simon Wolf played a very small part in Book 1 but he is front and center here in Book 2. A dear friend of his, a Catholic priest, asks for his aid and he arrives too late to do much for his friend. But he does his best to assist the young lady (Ruth Stevenson) who befriended the priest. He often portrays himself as attached to a police office, but he’s not. No, his office investigates the unusual. Here in Alabama he’s still referred to as the Yank and he has to learn the niceties of Southern hospitality to get along with folks. Wolf is an interesting character being a gentleman, a man who enjoys a good meal, and the owner of a peculiar sense of humor.
Ruth is in her early 20s and is determined to get away from her parents. On the surface, her father is the typical abusive domineering patriarch of the family while Ruth’s mom is this submissive servant of her husband’s orders. She’s tried running away multiple times, but she’s always dragged home. Legally, she can’t go against this because she isn’t married. Her Catholic priest friend helps solve that by finding her a kind (if older) husband. However, Catholics are not accepted by the mainstream Protestant Alabama society. Her father doesn’t approve of Ruth’s elopement to a Catholic Puerto Rican. But what’s more, he joined the Chapelwood church and Ruth was suppose to join too. She’s key to the church’s sinister endeavors. She’s no fainting lily. Betimes she’s scared but she acknowledges that and then pushes on. She also has a strong sense of her personal rights and that makes it ever so much harder for those who want to continue on with their human sacrifices.
As you can see, we have an awesome setting. It’s a slow burn as all the people and aspects get into place. There’s plenty here to intrigue you so I was never bored with the book. Once we have everything in place, the pace picks up. Some of the characters already knew of the human-like monsters, while others have to be brought around to the idea. We even get to spend some time in the head of a former Chapelwood church member who feels the only way to hold off the tide of evil is to take out the designated Chapelwood sacrifices before Chapelwood can sacrifice them appropriately. Yeah. Totally chilling logic. It’s done very well and, as odd as it sounds, I saw why this character did what they did.
This story is a great mix of historical fiction and slow-burn horror. The historical basis made the story that much richer. You can tell the author put quite a bit of research into what was going on in early 1920s Alabama and into understanding how those events and politics and social norms came to be. The horror aspect is not all gore and violence. It’s about things so beyond our understanding that it can push the limits of one’s sanity. It’s not done in some big dramatic way. This isn’t a slasher flick. There’s sound logic and deep thoughts that go into why our characters do what they do, for ultimate good or evil. These characters are complicated and that makes me love or hate them all the more.
Plus the imagery of a 60 year old spinster taking up an axe to save the world is just too awesome!
The Narration: Both our narrators did a great job with regional accents. It required quite a bit of subtlety at times and it made the listening experience worthy. James Patrick Cronin even varied the speeds of his dialogue based on the regional dialect he was employing. Julie McKay’s performance of Ruth was excellent with that Southern sass going on.
What I Liked: 60 year old Lisbeth is awesome; great historical base for the story; the big scope of these Cthulu-like monsters and their human worshipers; it’s a delicious slow burn filled with anticipation; all the characters are interesting because they are complicated; the ending was satisfying and worthy.
What I Disliked: Nothing. This was truly an excellent book.
Briar Wilkes is the widow of a mad man and great inventor, the late Dr. Blue. She and her teenage son, Ezekiel, must live with the everlasting shame of the horrible disaster Dr. Blue’s mining engine (Boneshaker) caused to downtown Seattle. Blight gas was released all those years ago, turning hundreds of people into the walking dead before that section of the city could be walled off. But now Ezekiel, on the cusp of manhood, goes in search of answers and Briar is hot on his heels. Set in the 1860s Pacific Northwest, this alternate steampunk history will keep you glued to the story.
This was my first Cherie Priest book but will not be my last. The story opens by dropping us into Briar’s life and we pick up the history as we go along. Briar has secrets and lots of folks want to know if her husband, Dr. Blue, is truly dead, including her son. Hence, Ezekiel heads off on his own to find some answers. Of course, this means going into the walled off, deadly gas zone. The folks outside the wall have so many stories about those stuck on the inside, but Ezekiel and his mom are about find out the truth of the matter.
And that is when it gets really interesting. The folks inside are rotting slowly. And there are those who have gone completely zombie. But for the most part, there is still a society of folks trying to scrape by living in underground Seattle. There’s all sorts of requirements to staying save, taking in as little gas as possible, so it’s complicated. It was fascinating to see how this society worked, and the response to Dr. Blue’s widow.
Eventually, Briar has to make a tough trade with guy who runs the underground gas zone. Plus she then has to decide whether or not to tell her son the truth. It was so intense! Toss in some airships, a few crazy weapons, a few handicap folks with mechanical bits, and you have a great story.
The Narration: Wil Wheaton and Kate Reading did a great job. Most of the story is told through Briar’s eyes, so we hear more of Reading. Wheaton was awesome as a confused, somewhat angry teenager. Both had distinct voices for both female and male characters.
What I Liked: Steampunk!; the mechanical gadgets; Briar’s past; the whole gas zone & underground Seattle; very satisfying end; love the cover art.
What I Disliked: Nothing – I really enjoyed this book!
A big thank you to all the publishers, authors, and narrators who generously provided review copies, especially the audiobooks. Thanks to all my book blogger friends, real life friends, and family who recommended books, or simply let me babble on about books even when you really didn’t care. According to Goodreads (which I don’t use religiously but perhaps I should just for the stats) says I read 116 books this year, the majority of which were audiobooks. Here is my list of favorites from 2014. Enjoy!
As You Wish by Cary Elwes – Nonfiction: True adventures of the filming of the movie The Princess Bride. Lots of good stuff to make you laugh.
Lightning Wolves by David Lee Summers – Steampunk: Wild west gets even wilder in this multi-cultural steampunk adventure.
Vosper’s Revenge by Kristian Alva – Epic Fantasy: Book 3 of the series and a most excellent wrap up to the first trilogy in this world. Intense and insightful!
Pennies for the Ferryman by Jim Bernheimer – Urban fantasy: Mike Ross is a reluctant detective with a bad eye that lets him communicate with the ghost world. A great nitty-gritty ride.
The Art of Eating through the Zombie Apocalypse by Lauren Wilson & Kristian Bauthus – Nonfiction: Cookbook, survival book, and snarky humor on the end of civilization as we know it.
Dragons of Dorcastle by Jack Campbell – Epic Fantasy: Book 1 in a new series with some steampunk thrown in with unreal magic. Excellent world building in this book!
Dying for a Living by Kory M. Shrum – Urban Fantasy: Jesse is a Necronites who can take the place of another in death….and come back to life. I almost passed this book up and it turned out to be one of my faves of the year. I thank the book gnomes for preventing me from being a total dunce!
Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson – Epic Fantasy: Book 2 in the Stormlight Archives and some of the best fiction I have ever read, hands-down.
Maplecroft by Cherie Priest – Gothic Horror: Take Lizzie Borden and Cthulu monsters and you have something cunningly magnificent. Dare I say this is what Bram Stoker, Mary Shelley, and HP Lovecraft have been waiting for?
Boneshaker by Cherie Priest – Steampunk: The Civil War hasn’t ended and the Pacific Northwest remains in shambles due to an industrial accident. Complex world surrounds a complex relationship between a mother and son.
All Clear by Connie Willis – Time Travel: Book 2 in the All Clear series is an excellent wrap up to Blackout (WWII historical fiction).
Shanghai Sparrow by Gaie Sebold – Steampunk: Awesome multi-cultural fiction with a stubborn lass at the center of it.
Deadly Curiosities by Gail Z. Martin – Urban Fantasy: Certain objects attract ghosts or hold onto malevolent memories. Time to call in the right detectives to neutralize the object!
Arrow through the Axes by Patrick Bowman – Classic Retelling: Book 3 concludes Bowman’s excellent retelling of the ancient The Odyssey.
Ambassador by William Alexander – Science Fiction: Awesome adventure that asks so much from one young lad.
Dear Leader by Jang Jin-sung – Nonfiction: A look inside North Korea from a native poet and spy. Absolutely fascinating.
The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman – Historical Fiction: Beautiful story of two young people in NY during one of the worst fires in history.
Sisters of Treason by Elizabeth Fremantle – Historical Fiction: The sisters of Lady Jane Grey must navigate murky political waters for decades, and they do not always succeed.
Dastardly Bastard by Edward Lorn – Horror: A fast-paced, intense ride right up to the end.
Braineater Jones by Stephen Kozeniewski – Urban Fantasy: Think noir detective meets zombies. Yeah. Pretty fucking awesome indeed.
The Kingdom of the Gods by N. K. Jemisin – Epic Fantasy: Book 3 of The Inheritance Trilogy offers a beautiful ending to this complex and rich series.
New Spring by Robert Jordan – Epic Fantasy: I believe this to be Jordan’s finest work in The Wheel of Time series.
The MaddAddam Trilogy by Margaret Atwood – Dystopian: I read all three of these books this year and each blew me away in different ways. Atwood had me laughing one minute and wanting to punch something the next.
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith & Jane Austen – Classic Retelling: Yep, hoity-toity aristocracy of England has been infested with zombies. And now it is fashionable to send your kids off to Asia to become martial arts experts. A most excellent and entertaining book!
The Mystery of Grace by Charles de Lint – Paranormal Fantasy: A captivating tale of a mechanic who has to figure out a way to free herself and others from a mundane afterlife.
Lizzie Borden and her older, disabled sister Emma live in Fall River, Massachusetts. A few years back, they went through trying times when their parents died in an unexpected and rather gruesome manner. Despite the trial and a verdict of innocent, Lizzie is still treated with suspicion by the townsfolk. Hence, Emma and Lizzie moved to a manor house, Maplecroft, on the outskirts of town. While their parents may have been the first to succumb to a madness that originates from the depths of the sea, they are not the last. Hence, the need for Lizzie’s axe.
This tale was rich in character development and suspense. Indeed, I felt it shared a kinship with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The tale opens slowly as one becomes acquainted with Lizzie and Emma. The story is told through a series of journal entries and personal letters, giving the narration a very personal note. With each letter, each journal entry, we got another small glimpse that something wasn’t quite right. Emma, a renowned biologist (although she has to use a male pen name in this time period of late 1800s), studies the progression of the madness and ultimately the creatures themselves. Lizzie, having to take a more practical stand, has muscles gained from the need to swing an axe (for wood or defense), carry her disabled sister from room to room when she is ill, and the general running of a manor house. She doesn’t understand the evil madness but she vows to end it.
As we delve deeper into the story, we become more aware of the connection to the ocean and the madness – the great need for the water, the avoidance of bright light, the heavy desire to venture to the seashore. This is where tiny tendrils of Lovecraftian horror start to entangle themselves into the plot. The lengthy build up is worth the mystery as we gain further knowledge via the Fall River doctor and his strange encounters with the afflicted.
The tale also has a simple romance on the side. Let me say that one of the main characters is homosexual, and it is no big deal. Sure, some of the characters have time period views, but those views don’t permeate the story. It was very well done and so refreshing to see a main character, a full, well-rounded, character doing all these plot-oriented things, who just happens to also be gay.
I loved this book; didn’t want to put it away. I thoroughly enjoyed the build up of suspense and the bioscience. I liked that the center of the mystery was so vast and not completely discernible by the characters. I had the pleasure of hearing Priest talk about this book and about how she wasn’t too keen on writing a sequel. As an impresed reader, I am very glad to hear that there will indeed be a sequel. Thank you Ms. Priest!
The Narration: The narration was also excellent. Having two readers to pass back and forth the male and female parts brought out the richness of the personal letters and journal entries. The regional accents came through clearly. Both Mitchell and Wayne imbued the characters with a range of emotions, as the story demanded.
What I Liked: Everything!; the personal nature of the narration through letters and journals; the main characters know a little and have a vast mystery to sort out; the side romance with a homosexual character; the bioscience built into the story; the excellent use of suspense.
What I Disliked: Nothing. This was truly an excellent book.
Tis the season for spooky suspense. I am participating in this year’s R.eaders I.mbibing P.erilreading event hosted by Stainless Steel Droppings. Anyone is welcome, so swing by SSD to join.
On Sunday, the panels and author readings didn’t get started until 10AM, but the Con Suite was open at 8AM. They had donuts, and not just any donuts, but donuts with bacon. Yep, you read that right. You could have a chocolate frosted donut that also had a strip of crispy bacon in it. (I think I heard one of the Con volunteers say the donuts came from Rebel Donut shop). I almost snagged one, but I feared that I wouldn’t like it and then who would I share it with? If my man was at the Con with me, I would just grab one for him, eat half of it, and then tell him how good the second half was. Instead, I stuck with the cheese, crackers, bagels, chips, bottled water, and a regular donut. The Con Suite also had a sizable spread of fruits, but there was a lot of chopped melon, and unfortunately, I am very allergic to melon.
I went to David Lee Summer‘s reading first thing. He read the first chapter from his latest book, Lightning Wolves, which is a steampunky desert Southwest alternative historical fiction that is quite fun and inventive. Then he read an interlude from his vampire novel, Dragon’s Fall. This book appeals to me because of the historical fiction aspect and his reading of the interlude only peaked my curiosity. And I asked my moonlight question. Growing up, I never really paid attention to vampires. But then vampires became a little more popular in the 1980s with The Lost Boys, and then with Interview with a Vampire. And that is when I started to wonder why most vampires weren’t reactive to moonlight, since it is simply reflected sunlight. Summers had a great answer for this in that it really depends on how the author has set up their vampires – is there a scientific basis for this existence (virus, blood defect, etc.) or are they magic based? From there, you can build logical reasons to how vampires do or don’t react to moonlight.
Then it was off to the Co-Guests of Honor Presentation. Steven Gould was the Toastmaster, with Walter Jon Williams helping out. They started off with some trivia questions concerning lizards mating in space aimed at the audience and then moved on to quizzing the co-guests of honor, Cherie Priest and John Hemry. Once the silliness was concluded, important matters were discussed, like the Chad Mitchell Trio song featuring Lizzie Borden. Yeah, that little girl from the nursery rhyme who gave her parents 40 whacks was indeed a real historical person. Priest’s soon-to-be-out book, Maplecroft, features Lizzie fighting Cthulu monsters. Damn! That’s some creepy nursery rhyme turned mysteriously cool yet still creepy all at the same time.
John Hemry was asked to talk about retiring from his navy career to become a writer and stay-at-home father. He spoke openly of his three children, all who are somewhere on the autism spectrum and each requiring some amount of special care. I have to admit that this little bit of a reveal on his personal life is why I want to give his books a try. The military SF genre is filled with books written by military/ex-military men and, to me, much of it is interchangeable, lacking distinction from author to author. But since Hemry has been a househusband and a father to challenged children, I expect he has more insight into the human condition than most writers in the military SF genre. With my fingers crossed, I will be plunging into some of his books soon.
After taking a break to check out the Bubonicon auction, I ended up enjoying the panel Cthulu Lives! Lovecraft’s Old Ones in Today’s Fiction. Moderator Cherie Priest was joined by Yvonne Coats, John J. Miller, Harry Morris, and John Maddox Roberts. The panel spent a lot of time on their love for H. P. Lovecraft and his influence on today’s writers and the entertainment world in general. From the bookish world, check out Caitlin Carrigan, Fritz Leiber, Molly Tanzer, Livia Llewellyn. From the big screen and TV, check out True Detective, Cast a Deadly Spell, Pacific Rim. Then folks got a little serious and discussed the darker side to Lovecraft: his racism and sexism. Miller and Priest had the most to say, and seemed to have studied not only Lovecraft’s works but also his personal life. Morris also pitched in here and there with anecdotes. Priest pointed out that you don’t find hate without fear, and Lovecraft had a great hate of women. Miller pointed out that Lovecraft came from a highly dysfunctional home. It was a very interesting discussion and I think Lovecraft’s biography would be a worthy read. Then Priest told her story of her large framed Lovecraftian poster above her bed, and the squirrel falling down behind the wall late at night as Cherie sat up reading.
By this point I was fading fast and thinking about that 2 hour drive home. But there was one last panel, She’s My TARDIS, Except She’s a Woman, moderated by John Hemry. He was joined by Connie Willis, M. T. Reiten, David Lee Summers, and Claire Eddy. This started off as a discussion of ships or even planets that became a personality within the story, such as Firefly‘s Serenity, the ship from Farscape, even the planet Arrakis from Frank Herbert’s Dune. Willis recommended the movie Dark Star. And then someone asked the question of why ships are usually referred to as female, which lead to a deeper discussion of animism and the female psyche. Needless to say, the men kept digging themselves into a hole and it was terribly fun to watch. Indeed, I spent much of this last hour of the con laughing out loud (with everyone else, so it was the good kind of laughing out loud).
And there you have it folks. I’ll try to do one more post about the autographing session, the auction, the costume contest, and the art room. I didn’t get to explore the gaming room nor the vendors this year. And there was a late night charity auction Friday night. Really, I should just replicate myself for this event so that I can enjoy everything. Next year’s Bubonicon will be later in August, instead of the first weekend, so I only have a whole year to wait.