Review – A Burnable Book

A Burnable Book by Bruce HolsingerLondon, 1385, and a supposedly ancient book of poems prophesying the death of England’s newly crowned king, Richard II, is making the rounds. While the book, and its seditious poems, becomes the talk among English high society, John Gower, an English poet and bureaucrat, learns about the book from his friend Geoffrey Chaucer in a shadowy bar when the two meet to talk. Chaucer, in a spot of trouble and looking for help from Gower, asks his friend to find the book saying it will cause him grief if it falls into the wrong hands. Unfortunately, Chaucer fails to mention the most pertinent information, leaving Gower to find out it’s a “burnable book” — a treasonous work that can get one killed for having just seen it let alone asking around about its existence.

Gower knows London inside out with contacts everywhere and he’s not afraid to pay for the information he needs. Knowing little about the book he’s after puts him in the dark, a place he isn’t used to being. When he starts asking about the work, he runs into a wall but he keeps at it becoming increasingly curious, and worried, about what the book contains. What he finds are more questions — none of which can be safely answered.

While the book is discussed secretly in dark palace halls, in the London slums, it falls into the hands of several unknowing individuals who don’t understand how valuable the book is but they know that people will commit murder to get their hands on it. As information about the book makes an unruly circle back to Gower, he finds himself questioning his love for his family, his circle of influence, and why he’s even looking for the book. If Gower finds the book will it stop the death of King Richard II? Are the prophecies true or just rambling notes between lovers?

Holsinger is a first time novelist but he’s no stranger to writing or the medieval world in general. He’s a medieval scholar, and you can tell by the details. He doesn’t overwhelm the reader and does an excellent job bringing the London of 1385 to life. In a few instances, the descriptions are so real you wish you could unread them, especially when the story moves to the slums and the living conditions. Then again, it’s also what brings this story alive and makes it so good.

I have to talk about the characters because it’s an amazing array of individuals. Yes, Geoffrey Chaucer is in this book but he’s not the whole book and I like that he’s a minor character in some ways. John Gower on the other hand is a nice mix of courage, self-assurance, self-doubt, and loathing. I like that he questions himself, his life, and his family. This whole episode with the book changes everything for him and makes him question what he’s doing in London and the life he’s built. By far the most fascinating characters though — the women of the London slums. These women are some of the most interesting in the book, and certainly some of the most devious when it comes to hiding the book and finding it again. The descriptions of slum life take this book from being a nice bit of historical fiction to very accurate descriptions of historical life.

The best part of this book, apart from the characters, is the mystery itself. First, it’s a mystery about a book — what reader doesn’t love that! Second, thanks to the cast of characters, the book passes through so many hands that even the people who know the truth about the book don’t know what’s happening. In the interest of preserving the mystery, I’ll stop there but think tangled web and you have a great sketch of this book.

If I’d been asked to write a three word review of this book it would have read — read this book. And that’s my final conclusion — read this book.

A Burnable Book

By Bruce Holsinger

William Morrow

ISBN: 9780062240323

Review – Vampires Don’t Sparkle!

Vampires Don't Sparkle! Needing some holiday reading (what, you don’t read horror at the holidays!?) I got myself a copy to read over Christmas, and can I just tell you how wonderful it is! It is! So wonderful! I mean that. It’s dark. The vampires are evil, depraved creatures. The people are terrified and bloody. It’s full of all that is awesome about vampire stories.

I used to love vampire stories. I say used to because they lost the wicked that was part of the myth. These are evil creatures hunting and feasting on humans not kind vampires who are happy chasing down wildlife and feeling guilty about it. Cruelty has been reinserted into their personalities once more with this collection. And I like it. Happy go lucky vampires are not my thing.

The stories and authors in this collection:

A New Life by J. F. Gonzalez

What Once was Flesh by Tim Waggoner

The Darkton Circus Mystery by Elizabeth Massie

Robot Vampire by R. J. Sullivan

Beneath a Templar Cross by Gord Rollo

The Weapon of Memory by Kyle S. Johnson

The Excavation by Stephen Zimmer

Skraeling by Joel A. Sutherland

Dreams of Winter by Bob Freeman

Dracula’s Winkee: Bloodsucker Blues by Gregory L. Hall

I Fuck Your Sunshine by Lucy A. Snyder

A Soldier’s Story by Maurice Broaddus

Rattenkönig by Douglas F. Warrick

Vampire Nation by Jerry Gordon

Curtain Call by Gary A. Braunbeck

Favorites, because I have a few:

The Darkton Circus Mystery by Elizabeth Massie — A traveling circus full of wonders but what if one of those wonders is a blood sucking beast kept hidden and abused? What would happen if the mystery were solved?

Beneath a Templar Cross by Gord Rollo — How far will someone go to exact revenge? Far.

Skraeling by Joel A. Sutherland — Vampires in a frozen wasteland. As if you didn’t have enough to worry about.

Rattenkönig by Douglas F. Warrick — What if things, unexplainable things, appears in your house? Would you fight? Or would you succumb?

If you crave vampires without the sparkle, go ahead, get lost in this book like I did. Another great thing about this book, a part of the proceeds will go to support cancer research.

No sparkles, if it pleases.

Thanks to Andrea at Little Red Reviewer for mentioning this one.

Vampires Don’t Sparkle

Edited by Michael West

Seventh Star Press

ISBN: 9781937929602

 

Review – Bellman & Black

Bellman & Black by Diane SetterfieldAs a child, William Bellman once took aim with his slingshot, and on a lucky shot, took down a rook. While the moment was just a blink in time, faded by the years, the rooks never forgot, even after William did.

Working his way through life, successful in almost all his business endeavors, he begins to let himself think he’s a lucky man. But William’s not. A chance meeting with a stranger changes his life forever and he enters the business of death with an unseen partner.

I’ll say this, Bellman & Black is an interesting book. There are some strange twists and sad moments (it’s not a happy book by any means) and it is, overall, a dark novel. I read it on the train on a snowy evening and it was the perfect companion on that ride. It could have easily been the worst book choice ever if I’d been traveling on a warm, sunny day though. It all depends on your mood for this one. I know that’s true for almost all books and most people but I feel it’s particularly true in this case.

Setterfield is a great writer. A dark and dreary and somewhat strange writer but ultimately, a strong writer who can evoke that sense of time and place complete with subtle drama. She gives you just enough to imagine her world before she twists it ever so slightly. However, there are times in this book where it began to feel a bit repetitious. Something about Bellman repeating figures and tasks over and over began feeling, well, like he should be doing something else and she didn’t know what that was.

This is supposed to be a ghost story but in reality, it’s a story about a haunted man. Is the book as strong as her first book, The Thirteenth Tale? No, but I think it’s an introspective story on the things that haunt us.

Bellman & Black

By Diane Setterfield

Atria

ISBN: 9781476711959

 

Review – The Book of Apex: Volume 4

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When I got an email from Andrea at Little Red Reviewer saying that she was organizing a blog tour for The Book of Apex, I readily agreed because it was on my list of books to purchase and it sounded like all the awesome.

Luckily, the publisher was willing to share a copy with me and I read it like the obsessed reader I can be. Except for when I got down to the last few stories, in which I drug my reading feet. Seriously, getting to the end was a joy but also sad because all the stories, which are so amazing, different, macabre, scary, creepy, and excellent were over. But the good news is that I now get to talk about them.

First, I’m going to share the full list of stories because there are some amazing writers in this anthology and all deserve a mention.

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

I want to talk about every single story here because they were all that good but in terms of space, here are a few of my favorites.

The 24 Hour Brother by Christopher Barzak — This story will bring out all the feels. It traces the 24 hour life of boy as seen through the eyes of his older brother, who is only a child himself. The baby, then unruly teenager, and then old man, is so sad and absolutely amazing at the same time.

My Body, Her Canvas by A.C. Wise — A man gives his body, and his soul, to a woman he loves — an artist who doesn’t even see him as a person, only a canvas for her art. She calls on him when she needs to expel personal demons, and he answers her call each time.

The Silk Merchant by Ken Liu — A Young man wants to know the secret of the finest silk in all the world. He finds his answer, right next to his broken heart.

Always the Same. Till it is Not by Cecil Castellucci — A zombie story, but a zombie story where the zombies are, well, more than just zombies. They evolve.

During the Pause by Adam-Troy Castro — Your planet is about the be destroyed and we have a message for you. We are here to tell just how horrible your last few minutes of life will be. Aliens, please stay away.

Trixie and the Pandas of Dread by Eugie Foster — Trixie, a godmobile, and farting pandas. I laughed so hard at this one. A vengeful god, a self-doubting god, a god with farting pandas.

The Performance Artist by Lettie Prell — This is the last story in the anthology and it’s simply one of the most amazing. It’s also terrifying. A performance artist puts herself on display, downloads herself into a machine, and becomes the installation.

If you missed it, I posted a few thoughts from author Cecil Castellucci earlier this month. Take a look.

Final thoughts: buy this one.

The Book of Apex: Volume 4

Edited by Lynne M. Thomas

An Apex Publications Book

ISBN: 9781937009205

Review – Red Rising

Red Rising by Pierce BrownDarrow is a driller, a Red — a member of the lowest class of humanity — living below the surface of Mars toiling in hot tunnels all for the greater good of human civilization. A displaced person of a conquered Earth, he’s among the settlers mining the precious minerals that will be used to make the surface habitable for future generations. He’s always stretching the limits of what he can do, knowing he’s the best driller in his group and wanting to prove it. What he really wants though is to win the laurel and be able to provide more food for his family.

Just when Darrow thinks he’s won the laurel, everything changes. His wife opens his eyes to another world — a world he didn’t know existed and one he wishes he could instantly forget. When his wife is sentenced to death for showing Darrow the surface world, and the truth about class distinctions, his life shatters. Sentenced to death days after his wife’s public hanging, Darrow finds death isn’t so easy to come by. Taken in by a rebel group, he becomes part of the revolution — transforming into a Gold, the highest class of society on Mars, to infiltrate and bring down the system from the inside. With his wife’s death as motivation, Darrow assimilates into Gold society learning to live among the decadent and immoral people he didn’t know existed, and couldn’t even imagine in his previous life. He’s physically changed through surgery, learns a new language, and becomes, for all purposes, a new person — a person who must now win a game to find revenge for his wife, and his family.

When children are of age, the Golds enroll their children in an institute where survival is more than just an academic term. In order to earn sought after positions in society, the Golds fight their way through a game of life and death, all striving to be at the top. Darrow understands very little about the people and situation he’s been thrown into but quickly takes to the game becoming one of the most conniving and fierce players the institute has ever seen. His unpredictable nature works for and against him propelling him to an end he seeks but doesn’t necessarily want.

Darrow understands the game better than any of the other students and has much more at stake. He’s also slightly unlikable and unreliable. He knows who he is at heart but he also knows he needs to be a killer to survive. He has no problem holding himself above the others believing that what he’s doing is for a greater good. Darrow is now a man with a purpose even if he’s a man who no longer recognizes himself. He’s internalized being a Gold — he’s dark, cold, and mysterious to those around him.

This game that’s being played among the students, and the Gold society in general, is just brutal. You quickly understand the players and what they need to do to survive and even though some are thoroughly unlikable, you like them anyway because the situation is absolutely vile. Reading this book is like watching a fight to the death cage match. Brown’s Mars is a dark and unforgiving place where death is always close, especially for Reds like Darrow.

It happens but I wish it wouldn’t — book comparisons. This book is a mix of things — The Hunger Games, Ender’s Game, and The Lord of the Flies. There’s a competition among the students, it takes place on Mars, and well, in the end, it is mass chaos; students killing students all in the name of winning a game that can’t be won. What that means for the reader is that time will disappear as soon as the first page is read, because once you start, you’re not going to put this book down until the end.

Red Rising is the first book in a planned trilogy.

In addition to this blog, I also do reviews for The Book Reporter website. The above review was done for the Book Reporter which can be found here. The book was provided to me by the publisher.

Red Rising

Pierce Brown

Del Rey

ISBN: 9780345539786

 

The Book of Apex Volume Four Blog Tour

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Welcome to The Book of Apex Volume Four Blog Tour. If you’d like more info, Andrea at Little Red Reviewer has the full schedule of interviews, guest posts, and reviews. Looking at the schedule, I have to say, February is going to be a good month.

Today, I’m hosting author Cecil Castillucci who wrote Always the Same. Till it is Not which is a must read in The Book of Apex Volume Four. She was more than willing to answer a few questions for your reading pleasure. But first, a quick intro:

Cecil Castellucci is the author of books and graphic novels for young adults including Boy Proof, The Plain Janes, First Day on Earth, The Year of the Beasts and Odd Duck. Her picture book, Grandma’s Gloves, won the California Book Award Gold Medal. Her short stories have been published in Strange Horizons, YARN, Tor.com, and various anthologies including, Teeth, After and Interfictions 2. She is the YA editor of the Los Angeles Review of Books, Children’s Correspondence Coordinator for The Rumpus and a two time Macdowell Fellow. She lives in Los Angeles. She has a new book coming out February 25, 2014, Tin Star. More about her and her work is on her website: http://castellucci.wordpress.com/.

1 – I enjoyed Always the Same. Till it is Not immensely. It’s a different take on the zombie idea. Can you tell readers about your inspiration for the story?

To be honest I don’t like zombies. I’m afraid of them. I’m afraid of their shuffling. Of their rotting bodies. Of their eating brains. Of their rambling and relentless groaning. They freak me out. But I was at a shindig and I met Angela Kang who is a writer and producer on The Walking Dead. I told her I’d likely never watch the show, because, you know. Zombies. She told me I should give it a chance. I went home that night thinking about zombies and wondered how I would write a zombie story. The idea was born when I started thinking about how in zombies there is always an infection. A bite that transmits something. I thought what if the infection was becoming human? I thought about the zombie invasion winning and how everyone would be turned and wandering the earth and if there was no one else to infect, maybe infection would swing back. So the story is about becoming other, just like you do when you become a zombie, only in this world other and different is becoming human. It was an exercise and I’m pretty happy with it! For the record, after I wrote it I went and watched The Walking Dead, and I love it!

2 – Every author has a different approach to the writing process. Can you tell us how you prepare to write and a little bit about your process, if there is one? Is it different for each book or story you write or do you have a system you try to follow?

It is a little bit different for every project but many parts of it stay the same. For example, I usually know I’m really going to write a story if I get a flash of the beginning and ending all at once. I usually write those down and then I fill in the middle and build a kind of skeleton. Then I fatten up the baby! With each story I usually have a little exercise or game or challenge for myself. So, like I said, in this one, the challenge was to make a zombie story where the infection was different than what we expected. In my new novel Tin Star I wanted to see if I could write a human who in order to survive has kind of become an alien herself and then is confronted with humans again. I also have different themes that I work on till I’m done. Humanity being a current fave! But then it’ll change and morph into a different emotional question for the next few stories that I’ll write. I also try to write the parts that I am excited to write and not worry about it being in order. Then I mix things around, swap and switch, until I find that right skeleton. Then it is revise, revise, revise. For me it is essential to get words on the page. Any words. Because even if they are all the wrong words, you have something to work with. I don’t have a schedule per se. But I do give myself deadlines. I’ll say, OK I’m only going to work on this project for the next two weeks (or two months) and that’s my time to dream and play within that world. But what I love about process is that it is ever changing and that no two authors write the same way.

3 – You mentioned you have a new book coming out. Can you tell readers about it?

Tin Star is book one in a two book sci fi series. It’s about a girl named Tula Bane who is abandoned and left for dead on an alien space station at the brink of a galactic war. She’s the only human and humans are not really known or liked in the galaxy. It’s about her trying to survive when a lot of bigger political stuff happens and humanity is trying to make itself better known in the galaxy. I was inspired by Casablanca.

4 – I love sneaking a peek at people’s bookshelves. What are you reading right now and is there a book you can’t wait to get to?

I just finished The Space Merchants by Frederik Pohl and CM Kornbluth. That was great. I have Hild by Nicola Griffith on my night table. But I’m traveling as I write this so I’ve got two books loaded up on my kobo: City of Dark Magic by Magnus Flyte, Cocaine Blues – A Miss Fisher Mystery by Kerry Greenwood and Uncharted Territory by Connie Willis.

Thanks, Cecil!

Reading while sick

I spent good quality time with nasty cold germs last week. I haven’t been sick in so long that I forgot just how bad it is. My lucky streak has come to an end but now that I’m on the other side of it, things are looking better.

I’d like to say I got a ton of reading done but that’s not the case at all. I find it hard to focus when sick so I don’t read much even though I always think I will. I did manage to finish the last few pages in Anthony Huso’s Black Bottle which is the sequel to The Last Page. It’s going to take me a while to sort out my feelings about this book. It was good, had a satisfying ending, and some very interesting magic but I want to think about it more before I write about it.

I also picked up Marie Brennan’s A Natural History of Dragons which was great. It was light, entertaining, and had dragons. It was what I needed. When I picked up this book, I was already nearing the end of the cold and was ready for some reading. I needed something that wasn’t a reminder of normal life and dragons checked that box.

Today, I’m starting The Yard by Alex Grecian. Victorian London, Jack the Ripper, I think it’s a good follow up. I’ve already read the second book in this series (I always do these things out of order and I’m OK with it.) and it’ll be interesting to see how this first one goes down.

February is The Book of Apex Blog Tour! There will be guest posts, interview, and reviews by bloggers and authors. More info, and you know you want to know, is at the Little Red Reviewer. On Tuesday the 4th, I’m hosting author, Cecil Castellucci. On February 15th, I’ll be posting my review of The Book of Apex Volume Four.

Happy Sunday.