Let me tell you about a place

The Black Fire ConcertoA post-apocalyptic place unlike the world we know. Where people eat the flesh of ghouls under the misguided belief it will prolong their lives. Where magic, light and dark, exist. Where machines are a thing of the past but knowledge of their misuse has shaped the sad state of the present. A place where humans hide not wanting to live out a half-dead fate if bitten by a ghoul. A place ruined by storms that scorched the land and transformed its people. A place where music can shape destiny. A place of creatures shaped by magic. A place full of fantastical landscapes. A place to instill wonder and fear.

This is the world of The Black Fire Concerto.

Erzelle is 12 years-old and a captive on a riverboat called the Red Empress. Imprisoned when she came aboard with her parents — musicians invited to play for guests  —- Erzelle waits, knowing she will one day meet the same horrible death. While she waits for that day to come, she plays her harp while guests feast on the flesh of ghouls. When a new guest, a fellow musician named Olyssa, befriends Erzelle, her life changes forever. Once they escape the Red Empress, Erzelle accompanies Olyssa on her journey to find her sister. Along the way, Olyssa teaches her new music — music fueled by magic that can tame ghouls and kill their enemies. Music that will forever change, not only Erzelle, but their world.

I listened to the first part of this book when it was featured on Tales to Terrify. It was wonderfully creepy and I had a picture of this world in my head so when the book arrived I was anxious to get started. The world of Erzelle and Olyssa held true and I found myself rushing through this story full of ghouls, flesh eaters, magically driven harvesters of the dead, and creatures in hiding from a terror that will bring on a long and sad death.

One thing I wanted more of, well, was more of the story. At less than 200 pages, The Black Fire Concerto packs a lot into it’s few pages. I was satisfied by the end but I wanted more. It was just that good and I was so sucked into the story by this point that when the end snuck up on me, I wasn’t ready for it. That’s a good thing.

If you’re the type of person that likes to hoard creepy books for October, this is one more. I should caution though, reading this book during lunch will probably make you want to stop eating. Descriptions of stretched sinew and joints popping aren’t conducive to eating. Just a warning.

Thanks to the author, Mike Allen, who sent me a copy of this book for review.

If you’re interested, some other thoughts on The Black Fire Concerto:

Little Red Reviewer

Lynn’s Book Blog

Lynn also asked Mike a few questions too.

Are you listening?

Statement of fact — I rarely listen to audiobooks or podcasts. (My husband would agree on the non-listening part no matter what it referred to though…)

Why? I’m a visual person and a writer. In order for me to remember something, I need to see words on paper, and in some cases, write words on paper. Hence, the not listening to books part. (Fun fact about me, I’m an excellent list maker.)

I decided I’d try a podcast though. Ya know, new things and all. Of course, I needed it to be interesting for this experiment to work.

My choice? Well, as the fates would have it, a tweet came across about a podcast with potential. It was part one of a book that I’m really looking forward to reading — The Black Fire Concerto by Mike Allen. The first part of the book, The Red Empress, was being featured on Tales to Terrify, an audio horror fiction magazine.

So, I pull it up on my phone and curl up on the couch to do this thing.

Let me tell you. The narrator, CSE Cooney stuck the perfect tone. Her voice a perfect fit for the story, which takes place on a riverboat named none other than The Red Empress. The Empress is inhabited by a cast of creeptastic ghouls that feed on the flesh others in their quest for immortality. A young girl named Erzelle, whose family was murdered on the doomed Empress, lives out her numbered days playing the harp while the elite feast. When a newcomer, Olyssa, arrives her life changes dramatically.

It’s creepy. It’s got some interesting magic which I want to hear more about. And as it turns out, I get can with the ghoul thing. The first part sets the stage for more to come and I want more of this broken and deranged world.

In fact, I’ll fess up now. The author, Mike Allen, was nice enough to offer me a copy of the book and I can’t wait. It’s going to be perfect fall reading.

To listen to the podcast, and you should: Tales to Terrify No 85 Mike Allen.

Go to Tales to Terrify for a longer list of podcasts.
I think I might give Nos 82, 83, and 84 a try. It’s At the Mountains of Madness by HP Lovecraft. I didn’t love the book like I wanted to but having it read to me might do it. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Reading much?

It’s hard to believe I managed to accidentally take off almost all of August. It’s even harder to believe I’ve had this blog for four years now. Time does go by quickly anymore.

So, I thought I’d do a quick re-cap of what I’ve been reading this summer, and for the most part, not talking about. What do I see in my future? Plans for some regular blogging…

I finally, finally gave in and read A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin. It took me forever to finish (my copy is 1100 pages) but I didn’t mind at all because it was all the characters I like, unlike the fourth book which was all characters I could do without. Although, I was left wondering who he’d have left to talk about since he kills almost everyone in this book and there are two more books left in this series. I’ll guess I’ll have to wait and see.

The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon was another good book. I’m torn about all the comparisons she’s getting to The Hunger Games and the Harry Potter series though. This is the first book in a seven book series and the setting is a bit Panem like but this is the first book and I think we need to give her time to sort it out. I did a review for The Book Reporter if you’re curious.

I have this huge stack of books staring me down (in a good way!) and I decided to finally give in. I was also in a read all the fantasy mode and went with Sabriel by Garth Nix. A good choice it was. Can I tell you how happy I am to find out this is a trilogy!? The dead, necromancers, old kingdoms, dark magic, free magic. Yes, please.

Kindred by Octavia Butler has been on my list forever. Elizabeth at Dark Cargo was nice enough to send this one to me. Actually, she sent me a ton of awesome books! Sabriel was also in that stack. She’s been keeping me in fantasy and science fiction lately. Time travel with an historical fiction take — it’s amazing. I think I might read it again because I know I missed so many details because I was rushing through to make sure a character lived.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman. I could go on and on about the wonderfulness of this book. There are so many great reviews out that I don’t think my telling you to go and read it will matter much. If you love Gaiman, you’ll love this. What everyone has been saying about this one is true.

Right now, I’m reading Broken Harbor by Tana French. It’s her fourth book and I’m still impressed, even a mere 50 pages in.

I think I’ll do another wrap-up in the next few days because as it turns out, I read several more books I do want to talk about.

Tell me what you’ve been reading. Anything good?

Review – Advent

AdventGavin Stokes is an awkward teenager. In fact, he’s always been awkward. He talks to people who aren’t there, see things that aren’t there, and has parents that want him to pretend everything that happens to him, doesn’t. When the opportunity comes to visit his aunt in the country, the only person he ever thought understood him, he jumps at the chance. One strange things after another happens to him and he starts to think that maybe he isn’t so awkward after all and there are a lot of things in this world that can’t be explained.

I don’t know what to make of this book. On one hand, I really liked it. On an entirely different hand, I didn’t really think much of it. Sadly, I’m having trouble pinpointing why this is so. Here’s the thing, the story has a bit of a time slip thing going on. So, when you’re not in the present watching a teenager make a total mess of things, you’re back in the 1500s with a magician who is also making a mess of things. I liked both stories. Each had their strong points. It was when the stories merged that I had trouble. Here’s the thing — the two timelines fit well together, character and plot wise. But I didn’t really care for them meshing. Does that make sense? Ignore me if it doesn’t, I won’t be offended.

One of the reasons I put this book on my list was because I knew it had a few Arthurian legend references and as we all know, (I’ve repeated it often enough) I’ll read anything that has Arthurian elements. That aspect of this book kept me reading and I liked the rather subtle way in which it was introduced. Although, I didn’t like when Gavin’s name went from Gavin to Gawain. It annoys me when characters change names halfway through a book. It was necessary and certainly made sense within the context of the story but it just doesn’t work me. I’m all for people (re: characters) finding themselves but, again, annoying for me. You may love it. Again, ignore me if needed.

The good thing and why this book is worth a try. It’s a book about magic! The magic follows traditional rules, there’s nothing wrong with that, I’m just pointing it out. And I liked that it was dark and sinister, the way I think magic should be. The way the magic is tangled throughout the centuries is great too. The estate, Pendura, in Cornwall that Gavin retreats to where his aunt is living, is an interesting place as well. It’s almost suspended in time and home to creatures that are only known to exist in the imagination.

Advent is the first book in a trilogy, and according to the author’s website, the second book, Anarchy, it will be out in September in the US. After writing this review, I think I might have talked myself into looking at the second book after all.

Advent

By James Treadwell

Emily Bestler Books/ATRIA

ISBN: 9781451661668

Review – Clockwork Phoenix 4

Clockwork Phoenix 4Clockwork Phoenix 4 is a collection of 18 stories edited by Mike Allen. Who, I will tell you now, is a master editor. And the authors, all masters as well. This collection is really fantastic. I took my time reading it and was rewarded each time a new story began. You can call it speculative, fantasy, science fiction, but what it is, is good reading. After each story, I was left thinking of the characters and settings which were believable and yet unbelievable at the same time. I’m not always a fan of short stories, and soon after the book arrived, I become a little apprehensive and worried I wasn’t going to enjoy it. I shouldn’t have worried. There are stories in this collection that I’ll go back to again and again. They are so rich and detailed I know I’ll find something new each time I pick up a story.

Not to give away anything, I’ll do a short sentence or so about each because I feel each story deserves a mention. You’ll note I have many favorites.

Our Lady of the Thylacines by Yves Meynard – A Girl learning the value of life from the Lady. A slightly dark tale containing that all important lesson of the value we place on life. This is a great story to start the collection.

The Canal Barge Magician’s Number Nine Daughter by Ian McHugh – Behra is the ninth daughter of the Canal Barge Magician and she is full of the magic her father harnesses for his use. When she finds her magic and learns to use it, all bets are off and she wants out. Fantastic piece — I love stories like this. Blood magic is used in cruel and vicious ways in this story and the world building is amazing. A favorite of mine.

On the Leitmotif of the Trickster Constellation in Northern Hemispheric Star Charts, Post-Apocalypse by Nicole Kornher-Stace – A post-apocalyptic world full of ghosts and the person who collects and catalogues them. I had a bit of trouble following this one but it’s such an interesting concept that I think I will go back and re-read it. A world ravaged yet full of ghosts is appealing.

Beach Bum and the Drowned Girl by Richard Parks – Do the dead get lonely? A drowned girl floating away her days wonders much about the world after meeting the beach bum. There’s a creepiness to this story but not the creepy you think of when you think of ghosts. I think it’s the idea of floating around, never knowing where you’ll land or what will happen that’s creepy. Maybe it’s just the great unknown and how scary it can be or maybe it’s just me. It’s a wonderful story though.

Trap-Weed by Gemma Files – A heart-broken selkie running from loneliness is captured by a collector. I love tales of sea creatures and the magic infused in this story is perfect. It rocks you slowly along bringing you to a bittersweet end that’s a strange metaphor for life and where we should place our trust. A favorite.

Icicle by Yukimi Ogawa – A half human, half snow-woman leaves the only home she’s ever known to look for her father and finds a love she can’t have. Oh, is this one a hard lesson of family life. Heartbreaking and yet wonderful. A favorite.

Lesser Creek: A Love Story, A Ghost Story by A.C. Wise – Two hungry ghosts haunting the world in the only way they know how. This is such a sad story but instead of disliking the ghosts, I just pitied them. When you open yourself to love, you open yourself to heartbreak. So good.

What Still Abides by Marie Brennan – Throw some Norse gods and the undead together and what do you get? This story. It’s told using Germanic derived words, according to the author’s website. Yes, I looked that up. I needed to know. In fact, the language makes this one. It brings it to a whole other level. Reading this one is an experience.

The Wanderer King by Alisa Alering – A post-apocalyptic world of the dead and dying and two women looking for a way out and the king that can get them to a new world. Oh, what a wonderfully sad, terrifying world. It’s brutal and full of menace. A favorite.

A Little of the Night by Tanith Lee – Fleeing from a murder, a man comes upon an evil place, and instead of continuing to run, he feels compelled to search for the source of that evil. He becomes drawn to it. A great, great story. A favorite.

I Come From the Dark Universe by Cat Rambo – Sex in a far off place. A brothel manager takes in a woman who says she came from the dark universe but offers no more. She’s quiet, mysterious, and maybe just the right bit of love needed for another lonely soul. Love in a whore house is so complicated. Eventually, what we come to learn is that there’s a love for all of us, if we’re willing to be patient. It’s hard to describe this as romantic (brothel and all) but it’s the best way to describe this so I’m going with it. It’s my absolute favorite in this collection. It’s one I will read again and again.

Happy Hour at the Tooth and Claw by Shira Lipkin – A witch who can switch between realities and is happy to play around with the boundaries of love but shies away from her own heart. Zee, the witch, is such an intriguing character and I love how she plays around with everyone else’s heart and ignores her own. It’s a keeper and by that I mean it’s another favorite.

Lilo Is by Corinne Duyvis – Being a single mother of a spider-girl can be interesting, to say the least. Oh, my god. So wonderful. I laughed my way through this one thankful I didn’t need to deal with a spider-girl. Mostly I laughed nervously because spiders completely freak me out. I went back and re-read parts too. Love it. You’re tired of reading this, I know, but, a favorite.

Selected Program Notes from the Retrospective Exhibition of Theresa Rosenberg Latimer by Kenneth Schneyer – A critic takes us on review of an artist’s work. It’s such a strange story but very interesting. The descriptions make you see not just the artwork but the artist. A good read.

Three Times by Camille Alexa – Do you know what it means to be alive? An entity takes human form to learn what it feels like. Sweet, sad, than utterly heartbreaking. A lovely little gem of a story.

The Bees Her Heart, the Hive Her Belly by Benjanun Sriduangkaew – A universe of replicated humanoids each with a role. When one being begins to die, she undergoes surgery only to wake with a chest full of bees where a heart should be. This reminded me of The Wind-Up Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi. A strange world that not only confuses but fascinates. A great story.

The Old Woman With No Teeth by Patricia Russo – A scribe attempts to note the life of the Old Woman, who constantly interrupts and berates him. It’s amusing, warmhearted, and slightly sad. A good story.

The History of Soul 2065 by Barbara Krasnoff – An extended family gathers for a Seder, and in doing so bring together the universal soul. The history of soul 2065 evolves, and in turn, becomes a most wonderful story. Spanning 70 years, the soul changes but never forgets. An amazing way to end the collection. A favorite.
Ask me what this collection is about and I’ll tell you it’s about life, it’s about love, it’s about tragedy, it’s about the alluring nature of sex, it’s about the feeling of belonging. There’s so much more to these stories than you think there will be. Go and read them. That’s all I have left to say.

Mike Allen shared a copy of Clockwork Phoenix 4 with me for review.

Clockwork Phoenix 4

Edited by Mike Allen

Mythic Delirium

ISBN: 9780988912403

 

Review – At the Mountains of Madness

At the Mountains of MadnessThis turned out to be a difficult review to write (one of the reasons why it’s taken me so long to post it). After reading The Shunned House, also by Lovecraft, I had very high hopes for At the Mountains of Madness. Unfortunately, I’m torn. I alternately liked and disliked this book and I’m not at all sure what to say about it.

There is one thing this man can do really well and that is freak you out. I read several chapters of this book before bed one night and woke up every hour with the strangest dreams. I stopped reading it in bed after that. While the story is slow, it’s a re-telling of an Antarctica expedition that went bad, it does have some great parts. Notably, the descriptions of alien-like cities, worlds, and creatures left behind. The expeditions to and explorations of these alien cities are some of the most interesting parts of this book. I also enjoyed the descriptions of the equipment on the expedition. I know that sounds boring but it’s not. Don’t forget, this is a recounting of an expedition so these details are important to the story and while they may seem boring, they set the scene, if you will.

What I didn’t so much enjoy was the slowness of the story. I know I should’ve had sympathy for the narrator who was having trouble telling his story but I wanted to poke him and tell him to move it along. The tension does build this way and you do end up wondering what happened because he doesn’t come right out and tell you. He holds back; obviously the story is terrifying for him and re-living the story isn’t something he wants to do. You need to stay with him and listen carefully because those details provide a much larger and scarier picture. The problem for me was that I didn’t have much patience for the character and I wanted to know more about the aliens before he was ready to divulge info. Yes, the story does provide ample time to use your imagination but mine didn’t seem to be working when I was reading. This happens.

The version I borrowed from the library had an introduction by China Mieville, a favorite author of mine. But thanks to schedules and the library wanting their books back, I didn’t have the chance to read his breakdown of the story which I think would’ve gone a long way for me in thinking more deeply about the story itself. I was saving it for the end and never got to it since it took me longer to read than anticipated. I’m thinking I might need to request this again to read that introduction.

I still want to read more Lovecraft though. Is there something you’d recommend?

At the Mountains of Madness

By H.P. Lovecraft

The Modern Library

ISBN: 0812974417

 

Review – The Hollow Hills

The Hollow HillsThis is the second book in Mary Stewart’s Arthurian legend series following The Crystal Cave. Some spoilers may apply.

Arthur is about to be born and Merlin is called on by Igraine and Uther to keep him safe, which he agrees to do until the time is right for the world to know of the new High King who will unite the land of Britain. Keeping a small child safe and well-hidden is not an easy task in a country fighting over land. When the time to reveal Arthur comes, Merlin is left in awe of the gods and Arthur as the new High King.

I love Arthurian legend and I liked The Crystal Cave very much. I’ve read only a few stories told with Merlin as the narrator and that was certainly a reason for picking up the series. However, this second book was extremely slow reading for me. At one point, I considered scrapping it and moving on but decided to keep going. I was rewarded in the end but there were way too many info dumps to get to that point. Stewart takes this story slow telling you everything about Merlin and repeating often told tales more than once. Yes, Merlin is the one telling you these things so he can explain how wrong it is or how valuable the tale is for the ages but, I don’t want all that. Maybe it’s because I’ve read so many Arthurian based books that I get bored with the back story sometimes, but I don’t think that was the case here. Frankly, the first part of the book was just boring. Merlin is roaming around making sure no one knows about Arthur but it’s boring with him meandering around. When he finally settles down, and meets Arthur, it does get more interesting.

Also, I wanted more of the magic and there isn’t much of that here. It’s not necessarily a bad thing as I don’t usually want magic in these tales but honestly, I just wanted something, anything other than what I had here. It was slow moving, meandered just as badly as Merlin rambling about the countryside, and was just boring in parts. Yes, I know I already said that but if Merlin can do it, so can I.
Here’s the deal I made with myself about this series. I have the third book in my house. I will read it and if it gets better, I’ll turn to the library for the rest. If it bores more, the series is done but I can say I gave it a good try. My quest to read Arthurian legend has not come to an end and I’m hoping Stewart’s third book makes up for it.

Did you read this? Thoughts? If you liked it, I want to hear why. My opinion is not the last. Also, here’s my review of The Crystal Cave. As you can see, I loved the first book.

The Hollow Hills

By Mary Stewart

William Morrow & Company

Book Club Edition

 

The Shadow of the Sun Read Along – Part 5

The Shadow of the SunIt’s week five of The Shadow of the Sun read along. Also, the end of the read along so I’m writing this post with a glass of wine to celebrate the conclusion of a good book. This week, we’re covering chapters 29 – end. Once again, thanks to nrlymrtl of Dab of Darkness for putting together the questions.

As a side note, this has been a fun read along and I’m looking forward to book two more than ever. I’ll be doing a review soon and tying together a few of the posts because if you haven’t heard of this one, I’m going to try and make sure you do.

1) These final chapters show us much more of Iminor’s character and his growing Talent. What stuck out the most for you about how he handled the various exploding aspects of his life?

It’s hard to say. On one hand, he’s calm about all that’s happening to him and seems to be taking it in stride, as if he knew something like this might happen along the way. The seething hatred he’s nurturing toward Ellion may be a side effect of the stress he’s feeling (and Ellion’s night activities with Letitia which he has to know about) and I think he’s channeling that stress into not dealing with the problems with his growing Talent. As with the other Tan, he’s pretty good at hiding some, not all, of his feelings and I think he’d doing that and putting up a front so no one really knows what’s going on with him. I don’t see good things for him though in the future though.

2) While Rohini is a late addition to the party, she is an interesting one. What aspect of her character or objectives would you like to see more of in forthcoming book(s)?

I want her to kick more ass. That is all. Thank you. 🙂

3) Amien has been managing and maneuvering Ellion quite a bit in this last section. What do you think his motivations are?

Amien. I don’t know what to think of him. I want to like him, and in some respects, I can and do appreciate his skills, but I don’t trust him. He’s incredibly manipulative and that shows in the way he’s been treating Ellion. I don’t know what he’s up to and maybe he doesn’t know either which is why he’s pushing Ellion so hard. Or maybe he knows something that no one else does and that’s his motivation. Secrets, secrets…

4) Letitia continued to learn more about her abilities, but everyone agrees she still lacks the ability to go toe to toe with Nechton. What more would you empower her with?

Confidence. Loads and loads of it. I think she’s got some skill but having been groomed for something all her life, she’s not confident in the end goal. While she certainly has her convictions and very distinct lines of right and wrong, as well as a healthy respect for duty and responsibility, she’s not mentally equipped to deal with what she has to face. Does it sound like I’m worried about her? A bit. Not sure she has what it takes, although I’m hoping she pulls out all the stops in the end.

Also, another thing that sort of worries me, she makes bad choices. I won’t name him, oh why not, Ellion! How many times can she keep showing up naked with this boy.

As a note to clarify, I complain because I like it. 🙂 I’m totally enjoying all the bad choices they’re gettin’ on here.

5) Throughout this entire book, the deities have played an important, if a backseat driver, role. As a reader, how has this worked for you in the world-building/plot department?

I’ve enjoyed the way the gods have been interacting with the characters. On a larger scale, it’s set a tone for the book and shows just how important the gods are in the characters’ lives and the driving force, even on the sidelines, they can be.

Ellion’s making choices based on what he thinks the gods want but he doesn’t really know what they want, and no matter, he’s still guessing. In many ways, for as prominent as the gods are, they’re still not telling anyone what to do and that I do like.

As for the world-building, it’s an inventive way to show this world. I read in pictures and this book has been a great stream of images for me.

6) We had yet one more assassination attempt in the hot water baths of Sucello. Now that we are at the end of the book, what are your insights into who is behind these attempts?

I still have no idea. I want to say it’s Nechton but I’m not sure about that theory any more. Maybe it’s Carina back from the not-so-dead out to stop everyone after having gone crazy from the battle with Nechton.

7) Bealtan reveals much about our narrative hero, Ellion. From his reuniting with Conar, to the revelation of Amien’s intentions, to his argument with Letitia, and his own internal recriminations about himself. Here at the end, what are your lasting impressions of Ellion?

He’s still not sure of who he is or what he wants to be. I’m good with that actually. I’m enjoying his folly and I don’t think badly about him because I like him. Yes, I’m willing to gloss over some major flaws in his character because I think he’s a good guy at heart even if he isn’t so sure.

Some of you might disagree with me about this but sometimes a character like Ellion is what makes a story. Stories don’t move along when everyone gets along and everything happens according to plan. Bad choices make the story go round.

How long until book two? 🙂
Question for Barbara this week: Have you ever thought of a graphic novel adaptation of The Shadow of the Sun? Maybe Ellion’s early life or a spin-off dealing with the gods, or the Deluge, the battle between Nechton and Carina? nrlymrtl’s question about illustrations got me thinking about this one. There are so many great scenes that I think it could easily work in that form.