Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Review: "Owl and the Electric Samurai," by Kristi Charish

In her third adventure, “Owl and the Electric Samurai” ($18, Simon and Schuster), things get even more sticky for Kristi Charish’s antiquities thief Alix Hiboux, better known as Owl.

As the book opens, Owl finds her loyalties divided and about to be divided further. She’s trying to retrieve artifacts for her dragon boss, Mr. Kurosawa, being pressured by the IAA to find the two creators of the World Quest game and being tempted by the possibility of stumbling into the fabled land of Shangri-La.

All of those things come together when she’s called home and given a new assignment by Kurosawa, to retrieve an ancient and magical suit of armor last worn by one of Genghis Khan’s generals. Dubbed the Electric Samurai by Owl, the suit has been missing since that time, and the faction that now wants it raises concerns about the stability of supernatural society.

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Tell-Tale Thoughts: Ligeia

If ever there were a Poe tale that I almost gave up on in my youth, it was “Ligeia.” As I started this story for the first time, I remember asking myself where was the Poe that I knew and loved. Where was the neurotic and deranged narrator? Where were the creepy horrors? Why was this guy spouting pages of praise for the beauty of his now-dead love? Romance has no place in my tales of terror.

Of course, I came to realize over the years that there was more depth to Poe than creepy-eyed old men, deadly diseases, living burial and the like, and while “Ligeia” still wouldn’t be my favorite story by a long shot, I came to appreciate it more.

The story tells the tale of a man who loses the love of his life. While he was singing the praises of her beauty and presence, though, the younger me failed to notice that, indeed, this subject does have some of the deranged tendencies of Poe’s unfortunate narrators. If nothing else, he’s certainly obsessed with his lost love, yet for all those lavish details, he claims to be unable to remember how they met and isn’t sure that he ever knew her surname.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Review: "The Grey Bastards" by Jonathan French

I started reading Jonathan French’s “The Grey Bastards” a few days before it was named the winner of this year’s Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off. Like its predecessor in the contest, it’s a most worthy recipient.

Numbers-wise, “The Grey Bastards” scored impressively in the second year of Mark Lawrence’s contest. It pulled down an average rating of 8.65 of 10, and scored the only perfect 10 awarded by any blog in the two years of the contest. If I awarded stars or scores here, mine would definitely be in that range.

The book follows the story of Jackal, a member of the half-orc hoof known as The Grey Bastards. After the last incursion of full-blood orcs, the hoofs, formerly kept as slaves, were granted the barren lands known as the Lots for their service to the kingdom of Hispartha. They exist to serve as the last line of defense against another orc invasion.

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Review: "Son of the Black Sword" by Larry Correia

I’ve enjoyed Larry Correia’s Monster Hunter novels quite a bit, so I decided to give his more traditional fantasy, “Son of the Black Sword” ($8.99, Baen), a go. It’s a bit different from what I’m used to from Correia, but still highly entertaining.

Ashok Vadal is perhaps the most fierce Protector that the world has ever seen. His devotion to the Law and its caste system is unrelenting and unquestionable. Unusual among the Protectors, Ashok wields the ancestor blade Angruvadal, a semi-sentient sword that retains the memories of all of the warriors who have ever carried it. The black steel ancestor blades can only be used by those that they find worthy and dishonoring the blade can destroy it. That’s why their numbers are dwindling, and they are highly valued by the houses that own them.

Ashok has never questioned his orders and never flinched from doing his duty, no matter how brutal, but a deathbed confession from the Lord Protector of his order could shatter all that he has ever known.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Review: "The Death of Dulgath," by Michael J. Sullivan

It’s been too long since I traveled with Royce Melborn and Hadrian Blackwater, so it was good to see them again in Michael J. Sullivan’s “The Death of Dulgath” ($14.95, Riyria Enterprises).

Riyria has drawn one of its strangest assignments yet. After three failed assassination attempts, Royce and Hadrian have been hired to protect the Lady Dulgath, who rules over a strange and prosperous land where it never rains during the day and crops never fail.

Well, not protect, exactly. Royce has been hired to find the best way to assassinate her so that the local officials can prevent it.

The Lady Dulgath, though, turns out to be quite a bit more than Royce and Hadrian expect. She seems to have knowledge beyond her years, and she’s also seemingly unconcerned about the attempts on her life.

Add to that the fact that Royce and Hadrian don’t exactly endear themselves to the local public upon their arrival, and you have a very uncomfortable situation for our favorite thieves.

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Celebrating 20 years: The top 10 posts and SPFBO thanks


The year was 1997, and I had just logged on to the internet. After a few months of cruising around and checking things out, I came up with some big plans. I'd always wanted to be an entertainment writer and own a bookstore, and the internet put those possibilities in front of me.

On the World Wide Web, I could reach an audience that would appreciate my reviews of heavy metal music and fantasy books like the readers of the newspaper that I was writing for at the time never would. Associates programs gave me the opportunity to have a book and music store without a lot of the hassle of actually running a book and music store. It was the perfect storm, so I thought.

That led to the launch of two sites on the old members.aol.com servers, The Hall of the Mountain King (viewable via the Internet Archive), which served as landing page and music site, and The Bookwyrm (also viewable via the Internet Archive), which housed my book content. In my mind, these two sites would eventually become go-to hubs for content on fantasy fiction and heavy metal. As you can see, that didn't work out quite as I'd planned.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Review: "They Mostly Come Out at Night" by Benedict Patrick

With “They Mostly Come Out at Night” ($3.99 ebook, $8.99 paperback), Benedict Patrick gives us something of a fairy tale that’s more than just a bit Grimm.

Lonan lives as an outcast, blamed for a long-ago incident that was not his fault. His village is terrorized by creatures known as the Wolves, who come in the night. As a result, every home has a basement with a sturdy door and every family is locked behind those doors when darkness falls. The night in question, Lonan shouted to try to warn people about the real culprit, but it was his shouts that were blamed for the violence that took the lives of several villagers, including his father, and severely scarred the love of his life.

He’s not only shunned because of that incident, but because he is Knackless, never having found his gift in life. Now an adult, Lonan is barely tolerated in the village, and only welcomed by a few – his younger sister, the healer Mother Ogma and her invalid house guest.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Review: "Stone Cold Bastards" by Jake Bible

How could I pass up a book called “Stone Cold Bastards” ($15.95, Bell Bridge Books) with a hero that’s a cigar-chomping gargoyle, umm, I mean grotesque, charged with saving humanity from a demon invasion?

I couldn’t, of course. So that’s why the latest from Bram Stoker Award-nominated author Jake Bible leapfrogged to the top of my to-read list.

The situation is dire. The Gates of Hell have opened, and most of the humans in the world are husks, walking around possessed by the demons that escaped. Think “The Walking Dead,” only the zombies are far more malevolent.

Humanity’s last hope may lie in a small sanctuary that was transplanted to the Appalachian mountains years ago. Inside lives a ragtag group of gargoyles and grotesques who woke at the same time demons began spilling into the world. They were imbued by their creators, the Stonecutters, with one goal, protect the wards within their sanctuary from harm. So far, the Gs, as they call themselves to avoid confusion, have held strong, but Hell is coming.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Review: "Miranda and Caliban" by Jacqueline Carey

Jacqueline Carey fills in some of the gaps of Shakespeare with her latest novel, “Miranda and Caliban ($25.99, Tor), based, of course, on “The Tempest.”

Carey imagines what life might have been like on Prospero’s island during the years of his exile, before the events of Shakespeare’s famous play.

We find Prospero and Miranda living fairly happily, at least Miranda thinks, in an old castle on the island, their everyday needs tended by elementals that the magician has bent to his will. Then Caliban enters their lives.

Prospero suspects he is the son of the witch Sycorax, and holds the key to unlocking the spirit Ariel from the tree where he is imprisoned. He captures the wild boy for the information, but Miranda convinces her father to give her a chance to tame and civilize him rather than using magic to take the information by force. It is the beginning of a friendship that will change the way that we see Caliban.

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Review: "Arm of the Sphinx" by Josiah Bancroft

It’s a rough life, but former school teacher Thomas Senlin is finding that piracy suits him somewhat in Josiah Bancroft’s “Arm of the Sphinx” ($14.99, self-published), the follow-up to “Senlin Ascends.”

Senlin, under the name of Capt. Tom Mudd, and his small crew navigate the skies around the Tower of Babel, finding ever more creative ways to rob his quarry and escape what passes for the long arm of the law in the Tower. Still, he searches for a way to find his lost wife, even as her ghost haunts his steps.

He’s learned that she’s in the Ringdom of Pelphia, a tightly-guarded aristocratic port where his ship, the Stone Cloud, was almost shot down the last time he tried to dock. To make matters worse, his crew is running out of places where they’re welcome, and Tom is running out of ideas.

Desperation leads them to the top of the Tower, to a being that many think is a myth – the Sphinx. Edith, now known as Mister Winters aboard the Stone Cloud, knows well that he exists. He created the fantastic mechanical arm that replaced her lost one. She also knows well what making a deal with the creature costs, but Senlin and his crew may have no other choice.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Review: "The Bone Witch" by Rin Chupeco

Rin Chupeco delivers a promising beginning to an interesting story in “The Bone Witch” ($17.99, Sourcebooks Fire).

Tea’s world is shattered when her brother, Fox, dies fighting a daeva, dark magical creatures that plague the land. She is so distraught at her brother’s funeral that she does something quite remarkable – and dangerous. In her grief, her hidden magic manifests, and she raises her brother from the dead.

That’s how she learned that she was Dark Asha, a necromancer, known and reviled by most of the public as a bone witch. Luckily, an experienced necromancer is nearby when she performs the feat, and rushes in to whisk her away from danger – at least of one sort.

Tea soon finds herself among the world of the asha, a geisha-like society of female magic users. But even among her own, her dark power makes her something of an outcast. It also may allow her to change the world.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Tell-Tale Thoughts: "Alone"

I thought it only fitting that I celebrate Edgar Allan Poe's birthday by sharing some thoughts on my favorite poem, not just by Poe, but by anyone.

By the time I was in junior high, I was pretty well familiar with most of Poe's work. I had several collections that touted themselves as "complete," including a leatherbound volume that was the pride of my bookshelf at the time. Still, every time I got an American literature textbook in school, I went immediately to Poe, hoping to find something new. Eventually, I did, and it was a piece that spoke to me like no other piece of poetry had before or has since.

"Alone" is, in equal parts, melancholic, majestic and sinister. It appealed to the weird teenager who discovered it, and though the weird adult I am now is quite a bit different than that kid, it still hits very close to home.

Monday, January 09, 2017

Review: "Paternus" by Dyrk Ashton

Why just play with one mythology, when you can play with them all? That’s the way Dyrk Ashton sees it in “Paternus,” a finalist in this year’s Self Published Fantasy Blog Off.

Fiona Patterson lives with her Uncle Edgar, an eccentric but kind man, and has a relatively normal teenage life. She has insecurities and love-life problems. She works as an intern at a local senior care center, where she seems to be the only person who can get through to an invalid named Peter. She’s managed to determine that he likes flowers and figs, and she’s been the only person at the facility able to get a smile out of him.

When she’s confronted by a menacing beggar in a freak rainstorm on her way to work one morning, she thinks it’s strange, but she has no idea just how strange things are about to get for her. She’s about to learn that nothing around her is what it seems.

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

My favorite reads of 2016

This past year was a busy one for me, so I didn’t get to read nearly as many books as I would have liked. Such is life these days, though, for many people, so who am I to complain?

Of the books I did get to read, there were some fantastic selections. Some of my own reading prejudices were also challenged in 2016 (actually, beginning in late 2015), and you’ll see more self-pubbed authors than ever before on my list of favorite reads.

As I do every year, I want to remind anyone reading this that it is not a “best of 2016” list. I read far too few books to make such judgments, and a number of the books that you’ll find on the list were not released in 2016. It’s simply a list of the books that I most enjoyed this year, and though I’ll admit the first few are my favorites, there is no particular order after that, so don’t read in any “rankings” that aren’t there. If you asked me to rank them 10 times from 1 to 10, you’d probably end up with 10 completely different lists.

“The Shepherd’s Crown,” Terry Pratchett. Published May 16. I’ll admit that this is a very sentimental pick for my favorite read of the year, but it will be my last visit to a world that I’ve been a regular tourist in for more than a quarter of a century. I waited a long time after Pratchett’s death to read this, not wanting to say goodbye, but I decided the time had come about mid-year. It was a fitting farewell, and fitting also that one of his most beloved characters went out with the author and the Discworld.