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review 2017-04-18 18:30
Nightmare of the Dead by Vincenzo Bilof
Nightmare Of The Dead - Vincenzo Bilof

 

Nightmare of the Dead was a different kind of zombie/cannibal novel and I'm torn over it.

 

On the one hand, I enjoyed the creativity and imagination that went into this story. We have the Union and the Confederacy battling it out, with one side using medical experimentation to create the perfect type of soldier. And somehow this was done with a horror/western type feel to it-kudos to the author for that.

 

On the other hand, the writing felt disjointed. At times there seemed to be parts that were rewritten and inserted without regard for the paragraphs before and after. There were also a lot of missing words. These issues did bother me and took me out of the flow of the story more than once.

 

The author's descriptive skills were excellent and believe you me, there is a lot of blood, gore, torture, and rape here to describe. In that vein, Mr. Bilof's writing put me in mind of Tim Curran, whose imagination is beyond compare.

 

This was a quick reading, short novel and I did enjoy it, it's just that the writing could have been better. I would read more of this author's work in the future, in the hopes that he's honing his craft. If that's the case, then we certainly have not seen the last of Vincenzo Bilof.

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review 2017-04-16 16:56
Naamah's Kiss by Jacqueline Carey
Naamah's Kiss -

Note: This is the first book in the third trilogy set in the Kushiel’s Legacy series. However, this last trilogy is set a few generations later and stands on it’s own so don’t be afraid to start here if this book intrigues you.

The Bear Witches of Alba are all but extinct but for those few that remain, they do possess small magics and the Great Bear does look out for her own. Moirin grows up in a cave in the depths of a forest and from these humble beginnings she will be tasked by her divine Bear to fulfill a destiny that lies over seas. First she travels to Terre D’Ange to find her D’Angeline relatives, including her father. A D’Angeline lord and healer is intrigued by her small gifts and she’s soon wrapped up in a semi-secret demon summoning circle. She also meets a Chi’in Master and his student/body guard Bao. Perhaps her destiny lies even further than she could imagine.

I read this for the second time as part of a group read and there were weekly discussions which hold plenty of detail on what I think of the book. Once again, I was wrapped up in Carey’s world building. I fell in love with the D’Angelines when I read Kushiel’s Dart so many years ago. I recall my first time reading this book and how it didn’t wow me as much as the first 6 books. However, knowing this round that this is Moirin’s tale, I gave it a better chance. Indeed, I did like this book quite a bit more the second time through. I think with the first read through, I was constantly looking for reflections of the characters I had come to know and love from the first 2 trilogies. Now with the second reading I was focused on Moirin.

I loved Moirin’s small magics. She’s inherited a few from her D’Angeline side as well as her Alban side. Each individual one is rather small, but as we see Moirin grow from a child to a young lady to a woman, she learns to use her powers to great effect. Carey does a most excellent job of showing the reader this growth as the story unfolds.

Moirin is of the Maghuin Dhonn, the Bear Witch people, which we learned a little about in earlier books in the series. I thoroughly enjoyed learning more about the Maghuin Dhonn directly through Moirin. While much of Maghuin Dhonn live in near isolation, they are still a connected people and will come together in larger groups for certain occasions, such as Moirin’s coming of age ceremony. Moirin has to work hard to be acknowledged by the Bear Witch herself, but that acknowledgement comes at a steep price, one that I think we won’t fully understand until the end of this trilogy.

As usual with this series, there are several lovely sex scenes. Carey doesn’t skimp but she also doesn’t toss in throwaway love scenes. These interactions always reveal something more about the characters involved. I found this especially true in the later part of the book where there is a princess and a dragon. I won’t say anything further as I don’t want to be spoilery. Just know that it’s worthy.

I do have one quibble for this book. At the end, there is some drama and death and I did feel there was some deus ex machina involved. It involves the ultimate bad guy and why he wasn’t properly trussed up. Even with this one small criticism, I did enjoy how the ending leaves our heroes in a complicated place, setting us up for the next adventure.

The Narration: Anne Flosnik is a joy to listen to. She does such an excellent job with the multitude of accents needed for this book. She’s also great with a voice for Moirin that ages as she comes of age throughout the story. Her male voices are quite believable.

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review 2017-03-30 03:56
Revisiting an enjoyable author
Last Year - Robert Charles Wilson

Although I'm a longtime fan of Robert Charles Wilson's books, it's been awhile since I last read one of his new novels. While I can't say for certain why (it's been that long), I suspect the Spin saga had something to do with this; I've always felt that the others were unnecessary, and I didn't want to sully my memory of the first one with inferior sequels. Having fallen out of the habit of reading his books, I really didn't feel motivated to pick up the ones that followed.

 

That changed after reading the description of this one. I'm a sucker for time travel and well-done (i.e. no WWII wank) alternate history, and this one had both intertwined in its premise of modern-day Americans touring their Gilded Age past thanks to a time portal. As I read it, I was reminded of everything I loved about Wilson's books, which mix interesting ideas with well-developed characters and bring the plot to an enjoyably satisfying conclusion. In some ways it reminded me of Paul McAuley's Cowboy Angels, which also offered a mix of the two genres, though far less successfully than Wilson achieves here. While it falls short of my favorite Wilson work, I finished it determined to read the other novels that I missed. It's good to be back.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2017-03-29 20:30
Wolf By Wolf
Wolf by Wolf - Christa Lewis,Ryan Graudin,Hachette Audio

***Note: this review assumes that you've read the book.***

 

One-sentence review: the hand of the author was too visible to allow me to fully immerse myself in this one.

 

My favorite part: Brava to Ms. Graudin for showing so subtly and clearly that, no matter how hard one tries, one can never inhabit another person's thoughts or fully understand that person. This was the subtlest theme of the novel, and one I truly enjoyed--watching Yael realize the tiny ways in which human relationships, even when public, are by their nature intensely private, and how another person's mind and life are impossible to grasp, despite intense research and investigation.

 

Premise. The most common praise I've heard for Wolf by Wolf is that it has a unique and fascinating premise. The alternate-history aspect, in which Germany and Japan have won the war, is not in itself unique. (See this Wikipedia article entitled "Hypothetical Axis Victory in World War II.") Even the element of an underground resistance movement that wants to kill Hitler has been done before in this same alternate-history context.

 

So the unique aspects in Wolf by Wolf are the facts that Yael is a shapeshifter, and that she has to win a cross-continent motorcycle race in order to get her shot at the Führer. Unique, perhaps, but these two features actually weaken the novel somewhat in my opinion: 

 

Road Race. For me--and this may not be true for other readers--a race is just not interesting enough to sustain the entire book. It very quickly felt like a series of hurdles: problem introduced, problem solved; another problem introduced, etc. Sometimes solving one problem created the other. Many times, Yael solved the problem simply by revealing her plan or identity to the person involved. (More on that below.)

 

Shapeshifter. Alternate history and historical fiction are a great pairing, but the fantasy element of Yael being able to shapeshift made the history less believable. In every other way, the world was like ours: unmagical. And other than the implied existence of other shapeshifters, nothing else is fantastical in this book. It made me wonder whether a) shapeshifting was necessary to accomplish what Ms. Graudin wanted to achieve, and b) if it was necessary, why this world didn't have more fantastical elements.

 

The science. Because let's face it, the science-fiction aspect was not convincing. When your plot device is medically based, I want some sort of plausible mechanism. You can make it up, but it should be based on something scientific or biological. What sort of injectable agent could possibly cause a person to be able to change their body, right down to bone shape and length, within minutes? The reader is meant to accept this as the premise and move on, but I got stuck in Untransported Land.

 

The hand of the author/author devices. When the author allows implausible things to happen just to keep the story moving, it becomes difficult to stay transported as well. How likely is it that in a concentration camp the gate guard would allow Yael to exit the camp when she tells him the doctor has requested to see her? Wouldn't he accompany her from the gate to the doctor's door? How likely is it that the nurse wouldn't accompany her from the clinic to the commandant's door? Ms. Graudin needed to develop a more sophisticated escape route, rather than ask us to believe these two impossible moments could occur.

 

Similarly, how likely is it that the race organizers have stocked fuel but not drinking water at the checkpoints? They've lugged spare motorcycles to each checkpoint, but no water? This was an author device to get Yael to approach Luka for a favor. And even that is unbelievable: why would Yael go to Luka, her nemesis, for a canteen, rather than to Adele's brother, who has said he wants to protect her? And why would Luka bargain the water for a mere favor, rather than demand that she partner with him, which is what he really wants?

 

Why does it take so long for Yael to ask Felix where he got his information about a "big event" happening at the race. Wouldn't Yael be suspicious of him?

 

How is it that the Russian partners in the resistance don't know Yael's code name, or that she's on this crucial mission, even though the race goes through their territory?

 

The Russian commander says that his life and the life of his men are forfeit if he lets her go, yet if she "happens" to escape "that's a different matter?" Really? He wouldn't be punished in the extreme for his incompetence in allowing an escape? 

 

Linearity. Although Ms. Graudin tries to break up the monotony of the motorcycle race by inserting flashbacks of Yael's origin story (which I did find interesting), it's hard to stop this book from feeling very...linear. There is a hurdle, then a solution, repeat. The solutions are often Yael skinshifting her way out of the problem, spilling her plan--to the soviets, to Felix--or provided by a deus ex machina (e.g. Felix fixes her bike for her).

 

The Soviet side-trip. Why is this in the novel? It achieves nothing in service of the plot. I can only think that Ms. Graudin thought the monotony of the race needed something to break it up. Everything that she achieved (getting the competitors to rely on each other) could have been done another way.

 

Research. There were some errors here:

 

Ms. Graudin painted a picture of Cairo with "carts full of pomegranates and figs." Well, this race begins in early spring (late March, early April) and Egypt's pomegranate season runs from early September to December. Figs are more complicated (they have two seasons, a big one and a small one), but since Ms. Graudin doesn't specify dried or fresh, we should probably cut her some slack by assuming the cart had dried figs.

 

Luka says, "Not such a great bullet point on your curriculum vitae." And the narrator says, "No number of bullet points and biography facts could pin the soul behind her eyes." Unfortunately the term "bullet point" is from 1983, and the advent of wordprocessors.

 

Miriam reassures Yael that Babushka and Mama, both deceased, will be "watching" her escape from beyond. This implies a Christian view of heaven, doesn't it?

 

The writing. The language is meant to be evocative, but sometimes it simply doesn't make sense: "Act like you belong, not a hollow stuffed girl."

 

Sometimes the descriptions are so unspecific as to not be helpful, visually:

 

[To reach the knife in her boot,] she had to bend her body at awkward angles (which might have been impossible if Yael hadn't used her skin shifting to lengthen Adele's arms a few centimeters)...

Tell us how her body is bending, please.

 

Ms. Graudin also likes to serially pair nouns and/or adjectives, which might be fine in moderation, but there's a little too much of it of it. For instance, in describing Luka's lips:

Moving and melding. Soft and strength, velvet and iron. Opposite elements that tugged and tore Yael from the inside. Feelings bloomed, hot and warm. Deep and dark.

And speaking of "soft and strength," she has an interesting habit of using nouns for adjectives (strength instead of strong) and adjectives for nouns ("the tight of his fist"). Pretty, or distracting? I truly couldn't decide.

 

I had questions:

 

Why was the Japanese racer crying, only to be murdered without our finding out why? 

 

What the heck are the rules of the motorcycle race, and how is it timed? We're given some information, but if I had to reconstruct it to hold an actual race, I couldn't.

 

In sum: This was refreshing YA fantasy for not being yet another Beauty and the Beast retelling, and for choosing an alternate history for its "dystopia." I was totally happy to keep reading it, but now that it's done I find I'm enjoying watching The Man in the High Castle more.

 

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text 2017-03-28 15:27
Reading progress update: I've read 143 out of 352 pages.
Last Year - Robert Charles Wilson

Reading this makes me wonder why I've gone so long without picking up one of Robert Charles Wilson's books. I'm really enjoying this one, not the least of which because it's hitting that time travel/alternate history sweet spot dead on. It;s just frustrating to have so much else to do, when all I want is to blow it off and binge through to the end.

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