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review 2016-06-17 14:04
WTF Friday: The Erotic Worlds of the Janus Key Chronicles by Alana Melos
The Erotic Worlds of the Janus Key Chronicles: Volume 1: Worlds 1-5 - Alana Melos,Rev. Jotham Talbot
Every once in a while, as the mood strikes me, I like to indulge in those titles that are a bit odd . . . a bit different . . . a bit bizarre . . . and a bit freaky. These are books that don't always get a lot of press, and which rarely benefit from any prominent retail shelf space.

They're often an underground of sort of literature, best shared through guilty whispers, and often with embarrassed grins. These are our WTF Friday reads!


Wonderland, Oz, and The Dark Tower. Sliders, Quantum Leap, and Stargate. Whether it's on the page or on the screen, portal fantasy is one of the oldest tropes in science fiction and fantasy. While it's often abused as a lazy sort of storytelling cheat, it works best when there's interesting puzzle or mystery behind the portal itself to be paired with unique adventures on the other side.

That said, I'm not sure you'll find adventures any more unique than those offered up by Alana Melos in her Erotic Worlds of the Janus Key Chronicles series. These are fun stories, vintage pulp adventures that are as absurd as they are erotic, driven by the magical mystery of the Janus Key. Like Dr. Sam Beckett, twin siblings Dirk and Debbie find themselves leaping blindly from one alternate reality to another, never knowing where they'll end up, driven not by good deeds, but by orgasmic encounters.

Not surprisingly, the first adventure (Rump Raiding Raptors) is the weakest of the bunch. Marred by several typos, some awkward narration, and a few confusing shifts of POV, it didn't make the greatest first impression. On top of that, the idea of a dinosaur-based society, with a horny Raptor cop abusing poor Dirk, just seemed a little too silly. It was original, however, and the erotic aspects were actually very well done.

Fortunately, the quality of both the writing and the storytelling improved dramatically with The Perils of Penetrating Pixies. It felt like there was more plot to this one, and grounding it in more familiar mythologies certainly made it more accessible. The erotic scenes here were both frantic and inventive, especially with Debbie's first erotic explorations by the tiny pixies.

Riddled by the Sphinx, the third book in the series, is where things really hit their stride. This one had a very Stargate feel with its take on an alternate Egypt, and the use of a living Sphinx as the erotic protagonist was actually quite clever. It's a fun, sexy tale, but also the first one where we begin to understand the dangers Dirk and Debbie face in losing themselves to such sensual temptations. Here is where that mystery/puzzle starts becoming more prominent.

Personally, I found Savaged by Sadistic Spirits to be the most uneven of the collection, but I give Melos full credit for introducing a new, Quantum Leap like twist. The whole 70s séance scene is actually very well done, complete with leisure suits and groovy slang, and while I found the story took a while to really hit its peak, Debbie's erotic mauling by unseen spirits (taking her on the ceiling, a la Poltergeist) is as chilling as it is erotic.

With Knob Gobblin' Hobgoblins, this first collection definitely ends on a high note. This is true pulp fantasy, complete with dragons, elves, water spirits, Amazonian warriors, and hobgoblins. Once again, it's Dirk's turn to provide the orgasmic energies for their next leap, but the way it's done (and the reasons for it) are fantastically creative. Not to give anything away, but his role as something of a surrogate conduit is suitably bizarre, and I particularly liked that Melos resolved his own doubts about his supernatural sexuality.

Despite a rocky start with the first story, The Erotic Worlds of the Janus Key Chronicles turned out to be everything I could have hoped for. There's solid storytelling, great world-building, over-the-top eroticism, and plenty of geeky references for readers to pick up on. Given that she's just released the 10th volume, Reamin' Demons, here's hoping there's a second omnibus on the way.

 



Kindle Edition, 160 pages
Published April 4th 2015

Source: beauty-in-ruins.blogspot.ca/2016/06/wtf-friday-erotic-worlds-of-janus-key.html
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review 2016-06-07 12:28
Fantasy Review: Bloodbound (Pathfinder Tales) by F. Wesley Schneider
Pathfinder Tales: Bloodbound - F. Wesley Schneider

I must admit, I cracked the spine on Pathfinder Tales: Bloodbound with no little trepidation. It was to be my first exposure to the Pathfinderuniverse, and I had no idea what to expect. While I have fond memories of cutting my genre teeth on the old TSR novels,Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms haven't stood up well over time. That said, I find I actually appreciate their Ravenloft horror/fantasy world more now than I did back then, so entering into the Pathfinderworld with vampires and clerics seemed like a good choice.

Having closed the book on my first Pathfinder journey, I'm pleased to say F. Wesley Schneider put together a pretty solid novel that incorporates some of the universe's overall world-building, but which is still accessible to a new reader. I feel like I came out of it understanding at least one corner of the world, and definitely curious to know more.

As for the story itself, this is largely a gothic horror story, within the setting and time period of a pseudo-medieval fantasy. There are so many little elements here that make it all work. The settings include including drafty old castles, sprawling places of worship, and an altogether chilling asylum; the characters include vampires, half-vampires, priestesses, and Inquisitors; and the plot lines involve exorcisms, possessions, family secrets, and betrayals. I'll be honest, I wasn't thrilled about the idea of a half-vampire heroine at the start - it's a tired old trope - but Larsa is sharp enough in terms of edge, wit, tongue, teeth, and blade to make it all work. Jadain, the conflicted priestess, was intriguing to me right from the start, and I really like the way Schneider explored the conflicts in her loyalties and her faith.

If the book struggled in one aspect, it's in the absence of a truly fearsome villain. This is a dark tale, set in what I understand to be one of the darker corners of the Pathfinder world, with some really dark acts taking place. While there are a few villains lurking about, none of them were strong enough or malevolent enough to be worthy of the plot. While the narrative structure is a bit weak early on, and kept me from really getting into a flow, this confusing/awkward changes of POV do eventually get smoothed out - and the rest of the narrative, especially the Gothic feel of the descriptions, is actually a cut above your standard tie-in fantasy fair.

I can't speak to its fan appeal, but as an introduction to the world, Pathfinder Tales: Bloodbound is a solid read, and one that ensures I'll make time in the reading schedule for a return to the world with Pathfinder Tales: Hellknight.

Source: beauty-in-ruins.blogspot.ca/2016/06/fantasy-review-bloodbound-pathfinder.html
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review 2015-12-31 14:38
Fantasy Review: Dragon Princess by S. Andrew Swann
Dragon Princess - S. Andrew Swann

For a book that I picked up on a whim, and which I fully expected to wear out its novelty factor early on, Dragon Princess was a pleasant surprise. S. Andrew Swann isn't quite up there with the likes of Terry Pratchett or Douglas Adams, but he strikes a nice balance between humor and storytelling that reminds me of Lee Battersby and his stories of Marius don Hellespont.

Dragon Princess is a story that tales great pleasure in twisting and toppling the gender tropes. Here we have a thief pretending to be a knight, a wizard with ulterior motives, a dragon with a gambling problem, a princess who would rather be a dragon, an stuffy old knight who actually serves the Dark Lord, an awkward barbarian who is the smartest of the bunch, and some of the greediest elves you're likely to ever set eyes on.

Much of the humor here is in the storytelling, with Frank Blackthorne a self-depreciating narrator with a sarcastic sense of pessimism. It's his narration that keeps the story from exhausting the novelty factor, while the personalities of Frank and Lucille serve to draw the reader in and elevate the story above its bodyswap/genderswap roots. I wasn't so sure about the late introduction of Brock, but I came away from the book hoping the barbarian has a prominent role in the sequel. Swann weaves a surprisingly complex story here, with multiple plots and schemes all coming together in the end, and a wide cast of characters who keep the story moving along.

Quirky and fun, Dragon Princess is that rare breed of novel that succeeds as both a work of fantasy and humor. It had me smiling throughout, and even laughing aloud at times.

Source: beauty-in-ruins.blogspot.ca/2015/12/fantasy-review-dragon-princess-by-s.html
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text 2015-12-10 18:33
Most Anticipated Fantasy Reads of 2016

As we approach the end of another year, it's time to look ahead to the Most Anticipated Fantasy Reads of 2016. It's already shaping up to be a magnificent stack of books from some of the biggest names in the genre, and these are only the titles with confirmed release dates.

There are plenty of other books we should see (Bradley P. Beaulieu, Mark Smylie, Michael R. Fletcher . . . we've got our fingers crossed), and several others I hope we might see in the coming year (Brandon Sanderson, George R.R. Martin, Patrick Rothfuss . . . we're looking at you), but rather than complain about what we don't have promised, let's take a look at what we do.


JAN-MAR

City of Blades, the 2nd book of The Divine Cities by Robert Jackson Bennett, hits the shelves on January 26th from Broadway Books. Critics have already hailed it as "astonishingly good" and a book that builds "beautifully upon the richly detailed world introduced in the first book of the series."

Chains of the Heretic, the final book of Bloodsounder's Arc by Jeff Salyards, arrives on February 2nd from Night Shade Books. Take my word for it when I tell you this one rips the world wide open and shoves us headlong into a heap of betrayals

Dragon Hunters, the 2nd book of The Chronicle of the Exile by Marc Turner, storms into port on February 9th from Tor Books. I've had good luck with second volumes blowing me away of the past two years, and I have a feeling this will continue the trend.

The Last Mortal Bond, the final chapter in the Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne byBrian Staveley, swoops in on March 15th from Tor Books. As we reach the epic conclusion, war engulfs the Annurian Empire.

Fall of Light, the 2nd book of The Kharkanas Trilogy by Steven Erikson, is scheduled for release on March 22nd from Bantam Press (Canada). Prequel sagas are always a tricky thing, but there's a wealth of mythology here to be explored.


 
 

 

APR/MAY/JUNE

Saint's Blood, the 3rd Greatcoats book by Sebastien de Castell, is scheduled for release on April 7th by Jo Fletcher Books (UK). How do you kill a Saint? Falcio, Kest, and Brasti are about to find out, because someone has figured out a way to do it and they've started with a friend.

Dancer's Lament, the 1st book of Path to Ascendancy by Ian C. Esslemont, arrives on April 21st from Tor Books. Another prequel saga, this one explores skilled assassin Dancer and mage Kellanved, founders of the Malazan empire.

 

Twilight of the Dragons, the 2nd volume of The Blood Dragon Empire by Andy Remic, explodes into the wild on May 3rd from Angry Robot. This time our, our heroes makes dangerous bargains in order to overthrow the dragonlords.

Children of Earth and Sky, the latest epic by Guy Gavriel Kay, is destined to dominate the shelves on May 10th from NAL (USA) and Penguin (Canada). This time around the story is inspired by the conflicts and dramas of Renaissance Europe, featuring a young artist and a fiercely intelligent, angry spy.

King of Ashes, the 1st book of The War of Five Crowns by Raymond E. Feist. appears to be on the books for May 15th from HarperCollins Publishers (but it's already been delayed a few times). It's to be a non-Midkemia book influenced by medieval history and Arthurian legend.

A Blade of Black Steel, the 2nd book of The Crimson Empire by Alex Marshall, is scheduled to march onto shelves on May 26th from Orbit. Five villains. One legendary general. A battle for survival.

The Wheel of Osheim, the 3rd book of The Red Queen's War by Mark Lawrence, is set to roll on June 7th from Ace. The Wheel of Osheim is turning ever faster, and it will crack the world unless it’s stopped.

Age of Myth, the 1st book of The Legends of the First Empire by Michael J. Sullivan, will be revealed to world on June 28th from Del Rey. Inaugurates an original five-book series, the Age of Myth is over and the time of rebellion has begun.

 
 

 

 

JULY/AUG/SEPT

The Dragon Round is the first novel by Stephen S. Power, coming on July 5thfrom Simon & Schuster. A swashbuckling adventure and a timeless tale of revenge, with a dark side, for fans of George R.R. Martin and Naomi Novik.

The Dinosaur Knights, the 2nd book of The Dinosaur Lords by Victor Milán, also stampedes into bookstores on July 5th from Tor Books. In a world where armored knights ride dinosaurs to battle, the dreaded Grey Angels have come to rid the world of sin...including all the humans who manifest those vices.

Assassin's Fate, the 3rd book of The Fitz and The Fool Trilogy by Robin Hobb, looks to be scheduled for July 14th from Harper Voyager. There's no cover or synopsis available at this point, but it should be epic. Robin Hobb has indicated that we're likely waiting for Spring 2017 for this now.

The Obelisk Gate, the 2nd book of The Broken Earth by N. K. Jemisin, lands onAugust 16th from Orbit. This is the way the world ends . . . for the last time.

 


Is there a title that I've missed? A must-read epic that you're looking forward to?

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text 2015-12-03 12:34
Best of 2015: A 5-Star Year in the Ruins

Apparently, I read (or attempted to read) a lot of books this year. An impressive 116 books passed through the Ruins this year, with around 20 of those being abandoned to the DNF list along the way, which is pretty darn close to what I managed last year. Of those that successfully made it through, 11 were perfect 5-star reads, which is exactly the same as the year before.

Last year I held off on sharing my picks, but with all due consideration to your holiday shopping for the avid reader in your life . . . here you go!


In chronological order, this year's 5-star reads are . . .


A Play of Shadow by Julie E. Czerneda kicked the year off right with a 5-star review way back in January. Not only did this second volume expand upon the magic of Marrowdell and the Verge, it successfully founds a way to take us beyond that world - all while honoring the rules and limitations of A Turn of Light. In all honestly, even though this second volume lacked the novelty factor of the first, I do think I enjoyed it more. It was broader in scope, more magical in every way, and benefited from what I think most readers will agree is a more even, more exciting pace. This was everything I could have hoped for in a sequel.




Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson was a lengthy, detailed, in-depth narrative exploration of historic events, with some odd pacing, and a lot of talking. It was almost Dickensian in the way Larson spends so many pages talking about minor characters and their stories, but it's those passengers, crew, politicians, and more who bring the Lusitania to life and humanize the tragedy. This is a must-read for history buffs and literary fiction lovers alike. They say truth is stranger than fiction, and the sad tale of this great ocean liner proves that once again.




The Hellbound Heart by Clive Barker was actually a rare reread, a revisiting of the original appearance of Pinhead and the Cenobites. Everything in this early novella just works, from the characterization, to the plotting, to the themes, to the dialogue, to the visuals. It's a perfect length, as well, capturing the essence of Barker's tale with nary a wasted word or scene. It's a horribly dark story, of despicable people committing atrocious acts, but so beautifully told, you really do come away with a proper sense of just how close pleasure is to pain, and just how wondrous the intersection of the two can be.




By far my most anticipated read of the year, The Scarlet Gospels by Clive Barker proved to be the dark, bloody, brutal, magnificently epic horror novel we've needed from him for so long.This was a book that seamlessly meshed sadomasochistic brutality with epic mythology, while incorporating the same depth of character we've come to expect. More than that, it recaptured the power of his narrative voice, marking a return to the kind of storytelling where you're compelled to linger over every word. As works of epic mythology go, this was absolutely magnificent, breathtaking in the way he just keeps upping the tension and expanding the scope, adding layer upon layer to the horror, even as he takes us deeper and deeper into Hell.




The Grace of Kings (The Dandelion Dynasty) by Ken Liu was, in a word, stunning. A huge, sprawling epic, with a cast of characters that are challenging, but so well-rounded and distinct as to be immediately memorable. There was a little bit of everything in the tale, with influences ranging from Asian culture to Middle Eastern mythologies, from the depths of political and ethical philosophy to the heights of steampunk and magic. The storytelling was exquisite, complex and poetic, but natural and easily flowing. It was a narrative that served to draw in the reader, with characters who insist we stick around and enjoy the story.




The first real surprise of the year was Knight's Shadow (The Greatcoats Book 2) by Sebastien de Castell. I had some challenges with the first book, and some definite reservations going into this, but it blew me away and won me over. It was, quite literally, a must-read book that I could not put down. A fantastic mix of adventure, thrills, dark humor, and even darker cruelty. I laughed aloud at several points, while I also found myself regularly cringing and cursing de Castell for what he put his characters through - especially Falcio. The battle of Carefal is one of the most powerful I've ever encountered in a fantasy novel. Thoroughly entertaining and emotionally intense, this was the kind of historical fantasy that makes everything else pale in comparison.




Beyond Redemption by Michael R. Fletcher was a book I almost didn't read. It sat lingering on my shelves as a digital ARC for about 6 months before I decided to take a chance . . . and was completely blown away. This is dark, grim, and gritty stuff, with a wild imagination that is just as often manifested in moments of bleak, black humor. In a world where the collective belief of a group of people can remake the landscape around them, the power of madness here is as easily accepted as that of magic and prayer anywhere else. The characters here are all worthy of the story they've been asked to carry; the pacing here is just about perfect, careening along from one scene to another with madcap intensity; and the action is intense, with beautiful moments of blood and brutality, and awe-inspiring feats of madness and delusion.




Fool's Quest: Book II of the Fitz and the Fool trilogy by Robin Hobb was my second real surprise of the year. The first book was one of my most disappointing reads of last year, but this not only proved to be a return to form, it even resolved enough aspects of the first book to make me rethink it and adjust my appreciation for it. An absolutely brilliant book that works perfectly on all levels, this takes the story that was introduced in the first volume, builds upon it, develops it, and sheds new light on what has gone before. The pacing is perfect, the characters ring true, and the world building continues in some delightfully surprising ways. The final chapters are some of the most satisfying she's ever written - and that includes the agonizing cliffhanger we've come to expect.




Another pleasure surprise, arriving just in time for Halloween, was Voices of the Damned by Barbie Wilde. Blasphemous and perverse, equal parts horrific and erotic, this was a short story collection as compelling as it was disturbing. While other authors may be equally adept at getting their hooks into the reader, she has that rare literary talent to be able to twist the chains, to drive those hooks even deeper . . . and to make the reader cry out for more. While it's her most famous cinematic as a Cenobit that first revealed something dark within her soul, its in her fictioon that the darkness takes root, spreads its arms, and embraces a new audience. This is not just a collection that's shocking and obscene, however, but one that's imaginative, meaningful, and exceptionally well-written.




Why it took me over a decade to read Kushiel's Chosen: A Novel (Kushiel's Legacy) by Jacqueline Carey, I don't know, but I think the years allowed me to appreciate it even more. This series was a game changer for me, a graduation of sorts from the pages of traditional fantasy to something more. Here was a blend of fetish and fantasy, spiritualism and sadomasochism, hedonism and heroism, with the most profound of messages at its heart - "Love as thou wilt” indeed. As powerful and original as the first book was, this was an even stronger read, and one that I enjoyed lingering over without the obligations of release dates or review commitments.




Technically, Chains of the Heretic: Bloodsounder's Arc Book Three by Jeff Salyards isn't out until next year, but I finished it this weekend, so it makes the list. You'll have to wait to read my full review, but as much as the second book expanded upon the world and the story of the first, this one rips it wide open and shoves us headlong into a heap of betrayals. The second book was a textbook example of how you build to a climax - this one schools the genre on how you successfully deliver it.




αωαωαωαωαωαωαω


Even though it's been a while since I last did a WTF Friday post, I love the weird, wild reads I've discovered through those experimental dips into the e-book pool. A few of the books that caught my eye and stuck with me after the read this year were:

 

 
Source: beauty-in-ruins.blogspot.ca/2015/12/best-of-2015-5-star-year-in-ruins.html
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