Wednesday, December 31, 2014

My favorite reads of 2014

It's that time of year again when all the "best of" lists arrive. I do those over on my music site, but I do something a little different here.

Because my reading time is limited, and there's really no possible way that I could read every book in every genre that I enjoy, I don't believe it's really reasonable for me to say what the best books of the year are. Instead, I simply offer up my favorite reads of 2014.

Not all of them will be from 2014. There are a couple from 2013, one that's nearly 20 years old, and even one from 2015. They're also in no particular order. The first three or so stand out as the ones that had the biggest impact, but after that things get a little muddy and, if I rewrote this list 10 times, the order would likely change every time.

Enjoy, and I'll see you next year.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Reader Picks: Your favorite posts of 2014

Before I get into my favorite reads of 2014, I want to give my two loyal readers the spotlight. So, based on page views, here are the Top 10 reviews of 2014, according to readers of The Royal Library. There will be some overlap with my list, coming soon.

Thanks for reading the blog this year, and I hope to see you again in 2015.

10. "Raising Steam" by Terry Pratchett. Published May 7. It's hard to go wrong with Sir Pterry, even if there's not quite as much bite as there used to be in his work.

 9. The Legend of Drizzt: "The First Notch," read by Felicia Day. Published August 20. So, my experiment with Audiobooks got derailed quickly as I found it hard late in the year to spend an hour or so listening to a story. You guys seemed to enjoy the first installment (or maybe it just had to do with the flirty cosplay photo of Felicia Day?), so I may try to finish this series up in the new year.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Review: "Owl and the Japanese Circus" by Kristi Charish

Though I read a good bit of it, I’m really quite picky about urban fantasy. There seems to be a lot of sameness in the genre, and it’s hard to sell me on a new series. Kristi Charish did it quickly, however with “Owl and the Japanese Circus,” ($18, Simon and Schuster).

“Owl and the Japanese Circus” contains all of the expected elements of urban fantasy – the prickly and clever heroine, a little bit of mystery, a little bit of horror, fast-paced adventure, vampires. It also sets itself apart in a lot of ways.

Owl is an antiquities thief. She was once an archaeology student named Alix Hiboux, until she stumbled on something that she shouldn’t have. Her discovery got her kicked out of school and made her a pariah in the archaeology community.

Now, she lives in a Winnebago with her Mau cat – a natural vampire hunter – and procures artifacts for shady clients. One of those happens to be Mr. Kurosawa, owner of the Japanese Circus Casino in Vegas. After she delivers him an ancient egg, he requests a personal meeting, which Owl doesn’t do. Mr. Kurosawa is quite insistent, though. He’s also a dragon.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Review: "Veil of the Deserters" by Jeff Salyards

Events begin to take shape and become a little more clear in Jeff Salyards’ second volume of Bloodsounder’s Arc, “Veil of the Deserters” ($24.99, Night Shade Books).

I was intrigued by the first book in the series, “Scourge of the Betrayer,” and the way that Salyards slowly doled out information to our viewpoint character, the scribe Arki. In this volume, Arki has gained more confidence from his commander Braylar Killcoin and the other soldiers and isn’t quite as in the dark.

In the midst of a plot to cause chaos in a neighboring kingdom, Braylar and his Syldoon warriors receive surprising visitors. A pair of Memoridons – memory witches – arrive to order the company back to their homeland in the name of the new emperor.

One of the Memoridons, Soffjian, just happens to be Braylar’s sister, but the reunion is not a happy one. The siblings are uneasy in each other’s company at best, and openly hostile toward each other at worst. Unfortunately, Soffjian may be Braylar’s only hope for surviving his cursed flail Bloodsounder.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Review: "Fool's Assassin" by Robin Hobb

It’s been a little while since we’ve caught up with FitzChivalry Farseer. At the end of 2003’s “Fool’s Fate,” it seemed that his tale might be done. But 11 years later, Robin Hobb returns to the tale of our favorite reluctant royal bastard assassin in “Fool’s Assassin” ($28, Random House), the first volume of The Fitz and the Fool trilogy.

Fitz has retired to a quiet life at Withywoods as holder Tom Badgerlock. He’s married to his childhood love Molly and has little to do with the politics of Buckkeep Castle any more, even though his former mentor Chade Fallstar keeps trying to drag him back in.

While he misses his old friend, the Fool, terribly, life is mostly good for him, but things can change quickly and Fitz is about to be reminded of that.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Review: "The Red Magician," by Lisa Goldstein

Though it was a National Book Award winner in 1983, the recent reissue of Lisa Goldstein’s “The Red Magician” ($7.99, Open Road Media) was my introduction to the tale.

Kicsi, a young Jewish girl living in Hungary during World War II, dreams of adventure and exotic locales. So she’s naturally taken with a strange, red-haired wanderer calling himself Voros who comes to town and is invited by her father to dine with the family. Voros has traveled the world, and Kicsi longs to hear about his adventures.

Voros gets on the bad side of the controlling local rabbi when he breaks a curse the rabbi has placed on Kicsi’s school because they teach classes in Hebrew and because of Voros’ attempts to warn the people of the town that disaster is coming.

The feud is the talk of the town, but the evil that’s about to descend on Kicsi’s family and friends will make the skirmish between the two magicians seem unimportant.

Monday, October 06, 2014

Review: "Even White Trash Zombies Get the Blues," by Diana Rowland

I was looking for a quick, fun read for a busy week when I remembered how much I enjoyed Diana Rowland’s first White Trash Zombie book. It just so happened that I had the second, “Even White Trash Zombies Get the Blues” ($7.99, DAW) loaded on my Nook, and my decision was made.

Becoming a zombie has been good for Angel Crawford. Once a drug addict and on probation for possession of a stolen car, she’s turned her life around. She’s straightened herself out, found a steady job that she enjoys at the coroner’s office – which has the added benefit of giving her access to the brains she needs to survive – and is even dating a police officer.

But as with most things in Angel’s life, that peaceful existence can’t last for long. A mysterious death at a local research lab rocks her world after the body that she’s delivering to the morgue is stolen from her at gunpoint. The event puts Angel in the headlines and pulls her deeper into the complicated politics of the zombie world.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Review: "Red Rising" by Pierce Brown

When I started Pierce Brown’s “Red Rising” ($25, Del Rey), I spent a lot of time thinking that I’d read this book before. By the end, though, Brown had used some great storytelling to leave me hanging on every word.

Darrow is a Red, the lowest rung on the social ladder. He’s a miner in a colony on Mars, but not just any miner. Darrow is a Helldiver, which means he goes into the dangerous caverns – filled with explosive gases and deadly pit vipers – to harvest all-important Helium-3. He and his kind are pioneers, collecting the element that makes terraforming possible and paving the way for the human race to colonize the stars, where all of the Colors will live in harmony.

Or so he’s been told.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Legend of Drizzt: "The Third Level," read by Greg Grunberg

I hit the first bump on my audiobook journey with the third tale of this collection, “The Third Level,” read by Greg Grunberg of Heroes and Alias.

The story focuses on one of Drizzt Do’Urden’s arch-enemies, the thief and assassin Artemis Entreri. “The Third Level” tells of Entreri’s early years in Calimport and his meteoric rise from a teenage street thug in a poor neighborhood to a lieutenant in Pasha Basadoni’s thieves guild.

The story establishes the cunning and commitment of the young Entreri, and gives us a few glimpses of both the life that led him down this path and the ruthless man that he will one day become.

I always liked Entreri, as his mind seemed just as sharp as his blades, and I looked forward to the times when he locked horns with Drizzt because they always made for some magnificent combat scenes – one of R.A. Salvatore’s greatest strengths.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Review: "Hollow World" by Michael J. Sullivan

I almost didn’t want to read Michael J. Sullivan’s “Hollow World” ($15.95, Tachyon Publications).

Don’t get me wrong. I love Sullivan’s work. His tales of the Riryia are some of my favorite fantasy discoveries of recent years – the kind of rousing, old school adventure tales that brought me to the genre in the first place. Now, he suddenly shifts to science fiction, a genre that I don’t read often and am very picky about what I do read.

But the Riryia tales were too good for me not to give “Hollow World” a go, and, oh man, wow.

Ellis Rogers leads an unhappy life. He’s stuck in a loveless marriage and has been since the suicide of his son, a tragedy that he’s still trying to cope with. Now, he’s been diagnosed with a terminal illness and is looking at six months if he’s lucky.

During his years of misery, Ellis has secretly built a time machine in his garage. With the news of his impending death, he decides to go against his character, throw caution to the wind and crank up the machine for a trip 200 years into the future. He misses slightly.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Review: "Scourge of the Betrayer" by Jeff Salyards

When I was about 20 pages into Jeff Salyards’ “Scourge of the Betrayer” ($14.99, Night Shade Books), it seemed like a book I might abandon. After reading the final page of the story, I’m still kind of wondering how I feel about it. If nothing else, it’s an interesting approach to storytelling.

We view the action through the eyes of Arkamondos, a scribe that has been hired by a group of savage Syldoon warriors to chronicle their actions. Arki isn’t sure exactly why these rough-edged soldiers need a chronicler, and he knows nothing about what their mission is or where they might be headed. He knows, though, that it won’t be dull. And he’s right about that.

That’s really about the best that I can do for a plot synopsis. Any other details that I let you in on would kind of spoil the way that the book is set up, and that’s something I try hard not to do.

Friday, September 05, 2014

Random Rants: Ten life-impacting books

I was tagged by a friend this week in the Facebook thing going around that asks you to name 10 books that had a big effect on you. I don’t usually participate in those sorts of things, but I thought this was an interesting question.

If you know me, you know that when you ask me about books that have affected me in some way, I can’t just give you a title. I must provide some sort of explanation. So, knowing that would go way beyond the average Facebook post, I decided to do it here instead, where I’d have all the room I need.
Of course, staying  true to my metal roots, my list goes to 11.

Feel free to add your own books in the comments, too.

1. "Green Eggs and Ham," by Dr. Seuss. I chose this one, but it could have been any of Dr. Seuss’ books. They were read to me from a young age by my mother, then I read them over and over on my own. When my son was born, I read them to him almost from birth. Without Theodor Geisel, I would not have the love of reading that I do today. He has to be No. 1.

Friday, August 29, 2014

The Legend of Drizzt: "Dark Mirror," read by Dan Harmon

My journey into audiobooks continues with the second tale of The Legend of Drizzt, "Dark Mirror," as read by Dan Harmon.

After he was absent from the first story, this second tale of the collection focuses on R.A. Salvatore's famed dark elf.

Drizzt is out of Mithral Hall on a journey to visit the lady of Silverymoon when he comes across the tracks of a band of ogres hauling human prisoners.

Drizzt begins to track the monsters only to encounter the men from a local village, ill-prepared to face their foes, but determined to get their families back. Among those men, though, is a brash leader by the name of Rico, who talks of teaching the ogres a lesson even as Drizzt urges the men to let him steal their prisoners away without a fight.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Review: "The Crimson Campaign" by Brian McClellan

“Conventional wisdom” often holds that the second book of a trilogy will be the weakest, as it’s usually a bridge between the beginning bang and the big conclusion. So much for conventional wisdom.

Brian McClellan’s “The Crimson Campaign” ($26, Orbit) is the rare middle book that not only lives up to the first, but surpasses it.

In “Promise of Blood,” McClellan introduced us to an intriguing magical system with his powder mages – wizards who burned black powder to fuel their magic. In “The Crimson Campaign,” that novelty has worn off a bit, but McClellan one-ups himself with exceptionally compelling drama.

The book opens with the Kez army gathered en masse at the Adran border, as Field Marshal Tamas attempts to hold them off with a much smaller army. Tamas believes that his son and war hero Taniel Two-Shot is in a coma after a massive explosion resulting from Taniel shooting, and supposedly killing, the god Kresimir. In reality, Taniel is trying to drown his sorrows with a drug known as mala.

Meanwhile, Inspector Adamat, employed by Tamas to root out traitors in his alliance, is dealing with his own issues. A powerful man known as Lord Vetas is holding his family hostage, and he’ll be forced to attempt a daring rescue with a handful of Tamas’ men, while also maneuvering his way through the political wrangling in the capital city of Adopest.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Legend of Drizzt: "The First Notch," read by Felicia Day

R.A. Salvatore’s Drizzt Do’Urden stories were once among my favorites, but I really haven’t thought about them in about a decade. The last few I read seemed to be really losing steam, and I drifted away.

It’s funny that, of all things, it would be Ice-T that would bring me back around to Salvatore and Drizzt. A few months ago a blog post from the rapper/actor got some attention online with him cracking wise about being hired to read a Dungeons and Dragons book and the issues he encountered. We didn’t know at the time that it was for the audiobook version of “The Legend of Drizzt,” a collection of Salvatore’s short stories about his drow hero. 

I’ll be honest. I’ve only tried an audiobook once before and didn’t really care for it. One of the joys of reading a book for me is, well, reading. But once upon a time I felt the same way about e-books, and now I read about four or five e-books for every physical book. So, who knows?

Monday, August 18, 2014

Review: "The Rose and the Thorn" by Michael J. Sullivan

I’m not usually big on prequels. In most cases, I think it takes some of the suspense and tension out of the story because you know what happened. I’ll make a very big exception for Michael J. Sullivan’s “The Rose and the Thorn” ($16, Orbit), though. Not only is it a great prequel, but one of the best books in his Riyria series.

We rejoin Hadrian and Royce during the uneasy tension of their early days together, as Hadrian tries to prove to Royce that people are basically good and Royce tries to prove his position that everyone is selfish and uncaring. The book opens on this note as Hadrian pauses to help a woman who says she needs a drunken, threatening man removed from her barn. That man proves to be none other than Viscount Albert Winslow, and the woman, well, let’s just say she’s not as helpless as she pretended.

That sets the stage for the birth of Riryia. The pair heads back to Medford House to visit their friend Gwen DeLancey only to be shockingly turned away. They find themselves across the street at the establishment of the girls’ old boss Grue, where they find that Gwen was brutally beaten on the street. That sets Royce on a course of vengeance that will alter the political landscape and set some of the events of the Riryia Revelations into motion.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Memory Lane: "Wolf in Shadow" by David Gemmell

Reading Mark Lawrence’s latest novel, “Prince of Fools,” put me in mind of a writer I’ve long admired, but not visited with in a while – the late David Gemmell. So I decided to devote my next few Memory Lane pieces to his work.
Though I love Druss the Legend, arguably Gemmell’s best known character, it was not Druss that hooked me on his work. That distinction falls to Jon Shannow, The Jerusalem Man, and “Wolf in Shadow” ($7.99, Del Rey).

Technically, “Wolf in Shadow” is the third book of the Stones of Power series, but it is the first to feature Shannow, and the first Gemmell book that I read.

I believe that the third and final Shannow book had recently been released in the U.S. when I stumbled upon this one, in a discounted version to celebrate that release. I stayed up all night reading the book, and went back the next day to pick up the remaining two volumes, which I also blew through.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Review: "The Willful Princess and the Piebald Prince" by Robin Hobb

As I await the release of “Fool’s Assassin,” the latest tale of Fitzchivalry Farseer from Robin Hobb, I decided to step back into that world briefly for her novella “The Willful Princess and the Piebald Prince” ($4.99, Subterranean Press).

The brief tale provides us the backstory of the Piebald Prince as told by the nanny who raised him. The history told by the victors says that Charger Farseer was a pretender to the throne who used the now-reviled Wit magic and was ousted by nobles to remove the taint from the Farseer line.

We’re assured by our narrator Felicity, though, that this is the unvarnished truth about the rise and fall of the Piebald Prince, and it tells quite a different story.

In this tale, noble jealousy rears its ugly head when Charger, a bastard son of Queen-in-Waiting Caution, is named heir to the throne, resulting in the eventual ouster and disgrace of the Piebald Prince.

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Review: "The Serpent of Venice" by Christopher Moore

Christopher Moore returns us to the tale of Pocket, his version of King Lear's Fool, "The Serpent of Venice" ($26.99, William Morrow).

Pocket, now known by many in Venice as Fortunato, remains in mourning for his beloved Cordelia. He's invited to the home of an acquaintance, Brabantio, known often by his title Montressor, to his home to try a rare wine. Brabantio is upset because his daughter Desdemona has married the Moor general Othello. It was Pocket who defended Othello when Brabantio went before the council to try to break up the marriage and accuse the Moor of taking his daughter by magical means. Pocket ends up drugged by Brabantio and his cohorts Iago and Antonio and bricked into a wall in Montressor's crypts, a seeming end to the bawdy fool, until he receives a strange visitor.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Review: "Prince of Fools" by Mark Lawrence

One of the things that I always admired about the late David Gemmell was that, unlike many fantasy authors, he seemed to understand the truth of heroes – that they are usually men and women forged in the fire of a single moment, not people that scamper about committing one act of heroism after another for their entire lives.

Gemmell probably could have made a good career for himself writing book after book about his hero Druss the Legend, but gave us only a handful. Instead, he moved around the Drenai world both in time and location to give us glimpses of the rise and fall of other heroes.

It’s that same approach that Mark Lawrence uses as he begins his second trilogy, the Red Queen’s War, with “Prince of Fools” ($26.95, Ace), though I’m not sure that anyone would call Prince Jalan Kendeth a hero. But then, Jorg Ancrath was hardly a hero either.

“Prince of Fools” is set in the same world and time as Lawrence’s Broken Empire trilogy, and we do indeed bump into Jorg and his band of road brothers for a brief moment. But this book focuses completely on Jalan and his unlikely Norse companion Snorri ver Snagason (and speaking of Gemmell, how’s that for a nice tip of the hat?).

Friday, July 18, 2014

Tell-Tale Thoughts: "The Cask of Amontillado"

When I began this series back in February, I had planned for it to be a much more regular feature. Life happens, though, most of it good in this case, and it kind of fell by the wayside. Now, I pick it up again with the second Poe tale in that little book that I talked about – “The Cask of Amontillado.”

This is another of Poe’s most well-known tales, and one that most people read in high school. It is, oddly, one of the stories that I’ve returned to less frequently over the years. Maybe that’s because it is one that’s widely taught and the old contrarian metal head in me didn’t want anything to do with something the rest of the world finds familiar.

“The Cask of Amontillado” plays on a familiar theme in Poe’s works – live burial. It was a common fear in Poe’s time, and he used it to great effect in several stories.

New submission guidelines

I thought it was about time that I updated the old draconian submission guidelines that I had here on the site. At the time they were written, I was writing for several different outlets and getting about 8-10 books a week for review. They had become outdated as I'm a little more open to submissions these days. So, if you're a writer with an interest, check out my new submission guidelines.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Review: "Shattered" by Kevin Hearne

After a wild ride in “Hunted,” Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid Chronicles makes its hardcover debut, surprisingly, with a bit of a lull in “Shattered” ($26, Del Rey).

As the book opens, Atticus and Granuaile are still in the process of recovering from being chased all over Europe by members of the Greek and Roman pantheon. 

Atticus has freed his former archdruid Owen Kennedy (Eoghan O Cinneide) from centuries of imprisonment trapped in time and must now become the teacher as he acclimates his old tutor to a very strange world. He also needs Owen to restore his damaged tattoos so that he can shift shapes again. And he needs a bigger favor from his old archdruid, who is still viewed as a neutral party in Tir na Nog – he needs to know who among the Tuatha de Danann is plotting against him.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Review: "Skin Game" by Jim Butcher

Over the course of the past few books of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, wizard Harry Dresden has had quite the ride, but his assignment in “Skin Game” ($27.95, Ace) might be his most difficult and distasteful.

Harry has spent much of his time of late hiding out on Demonreach Island, learning how to be warden of his prison filled with evil beings and trying to figure out how to get rid of the parasite that’s growing within him. That isolation comes to an end as his boss, Mab, the Winter Queen of Faerie comes to call.

Mab has a job for her Winter Knight that will require him to leave the relative safety of his island and face, not only the dangers of the assignment, but the friends from which he’s largely been separated.

Things get worse for Harry when he realizes that Mab has hired him out to Nicodemus Archleone, host to Anduriel of the Order of the Blackened Denarius – a group of fallen angels bound to silver coins said to be those that Judas Iscariot received for his betrayal of Jesus.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Review: "Boy's Life" by Robert McCammon

Every so often I lament the difficulty of finding what I consider good horror and solicit suggestions. Almost every time I do, someone brings up Robert McCammon’s “Boy’s Life” ($8.99, Pocket Books).

I finally got around to picking it up, and I disagree. Mainly because I’d really hate to classify this book as “horror.” Yes, there are horrific things in it. There are monsters and ghosts, there’s magic, there’s even a dinosaur. But there’s so much more than any one genre designation can hold.

The story centers around Cory Mackenson, a young boy growing up in the 1960s in Zephyr, Alabama. One early morning, as he rides along on his father’s milk delivery route, his life changes. A car rockets across the dark road, barely missing the milk truck, and plummets into the deep waters of Saxon’s Lake.

Cory’s father dives in to try to save the driver, only to find that the man has been brutally murdered – beaten, choked with piano wire and chained to the steering wheel to keep his body from surfacing. The only clue to go on is a tattoo of a skull with wings on the man’s arm and a bright green feather that Cory found at the scene of the crime and only he knows about.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Review: "Dawnflight" by Kim Headlee

One of the first advance copies of a book that I ever received for review was the Pocket Books edition of Kim Headlee’s “Dawnflight” back in 1999. Nearly 15 years later, Headlee has revisited the book, making a few changes and relaunching the series that never happened back then.

The book tells a familiar tale – the love story between King Arthur and Guinevere – but approaches it in a different way. In place of the courtly Lady Guinevere of most tales, we have the Caledonian chieftaness Gyanhumara, a warrior through-and-through who takes heads as trophies. That alone is enough to set it apart from most Arthurian stories.

After the forces of Arthur the Pendragon defeat Gyan’s people, she finds herself bound to marry one of the former enemies of her tribe as part of the treaty. Urien map Dumarec seems the most obvious choice, and despite misgivings, she agrees for the good of her people.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Review: "Raising Steam," by Terry Pratchett

The steam engine has come to the Discworld, but is the Disc ready? We find out in Terry Pratchett’s latest, “Raising Steam” ($26.95, Doubleday).

Dick Simnel, a young lad out of Sto Lat, has succeeded where many others have failed – usually in a messy pink mist. He’s harnessed steam to create the Discworld’s first locomotive, which (or should we say who) he’s named Iron Girder. And where else would he take this new invention but Ankh Morpork?

Dick ends up in the offices of one Harry King, a man who has made a very good living for his family in sanitation, but is looking for something he and his wife can take a little more pride in. He sees the engine as a way to provide that.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Review: "Promise of Blood," by Brian McClellan

I’m still a little uncertain about the introduction of black powder into my fantasy, but I have to admit that Brian McClellan does it with flair in “Promise of Blood” ($23.99, Orbit).

The story opens with a coup. Field Marshall Tamas and a group of co-conspirators have overthrown the government and dethroned the corrupt king Manhouch who has spent the nation into poverty and plans to sign a deal with their enemies, the Kez, to bail it out.

After the king and all of the nobility meet their end at the guillotine, the tough business of rebuilding and running the country begins. Tamas is besieged by royalists, logistical problems and threats of war, but also troubled by a mysterious threat uttered by Manhouch’s Privileged, the sorcerers of the realm, as they died. They warned him that he could not escape Kresimer’s Promise.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Tell-Tale Thoughts: "The Tell-Tale Heart"

Where else should I start this series except where it started for me, with "The Tell-Tale Heart."

Though I read the tale often for many years, I have to admit that college was likely the last time that I read it, and that's been a minute or two. I remembered it in broad strokes, naturally, but was surprised to realize that, even after all these years, I could still just about recite the first page of it word for word.

The genius of "The Tell-Tale Heart," as with so many of Poe's stories, is that the style of the story so essentially captures the madness and paranoia of the narrator.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Review: "The Hellbound Heart" by Clive Barker

Clive Barker's "The Hellbound Heart" ($11.99, Harper Perennial) represents a little unfinished business for me. You see, I'm a big fan of Barker, and I'm a big fan of the Hellraiser movies, at least the early ones, but I've never read the novella they were based on until now.

If you're familiar with the movie, you know the basic story. Unhappily married couple -- Rory and Julia -- moves into an inherited house and soon discovers that the husband's ne'er-do-well brother Frank is still in residence, sort of. He discovered a puzzle box, which opened a door that allowed a group of creatures known as the Cenobites to take him away for brutal torture. Now he needs Julia to help him restore himself and escape.

The movie and novella follow each other pretty much blow-by-blow. There are a few deviations in the movie, but in broad strokes it's the same. For the most part, it's one of those rare tales where I believe that I prefer the movie. I think I like the ending of the novella better, but the Cenobites, really, were made for the visual.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Tell-Tale Thoughts: An Introduction

"True! Nervous, very very dreadfully nervous I had been and am, but why will you say that I am mad?"

There are few phrases in the English language that have had the kind of impact on my life that one did.

I was in fourth grade, and while I was a regular reader, most of the stuff that I read wasn't very good -- TV show tie-in novels and the like. While on a trip to visit my aunt and uncle in southern Louisiana, I happened upon a shrink-wrapped package of three classics aimed at young readers. The one that caught my eye was an abridged version of "Moby Dick." Much to my chagrin, I have to admit that, to this day, I have never finished that novel.

It was another book in the package, though, that changed my world. "Tales of Mystery and Terror" by Edgar Allan Poe, a collection of four short stories -- "The Tell-Tale Heart," "The Cask of Amontillado," "The Fall of the House of Usher" and "The Gold Bug."

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Review: "The Golem and the Jinni" by Helene Wecker

In some ways, Chava and Ahmad, the main characters in Helene Wecker’s “The Golem and the Jinni” ($15.99, Harper Perennial), are not all that different from the thousands of immigrants that surround them in turn-of-the-century New York. As the title tells us, though, they’re far from the average immigrant.

Chava is a golem, a woman made of clay. She traveled to New York from Poland with her would-be husband, a ne’er-do-well merchant who, unable and unwilling to find a real-world woman, enlisted the help of a disgraced rabbi who doesn’t mind meddling in the dark arts for the right price. Unlike most golems, which are little more than mindless slaves, Chava’s master wanted her to have intelligence and curiosity. She was packed away on a ship to be awakened when they arrived in New York. Unable to wait, her master awakens her on the voyage, then dies, leaving her rudderless, a babe in a new world.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Memory Lane: "The Guns of Avalon," by Roger Zelazny

I began my second visit to Roger Zelazny's world of Amber with the intent to finish last year since the books are all fairly small, quick reads. Best laid plans and all that.

Finally, though, I cracked the cover on the second in the series, "The Guns of Avalon."

Prince Corwin of Amber has mostly recovered from his imprisonment at the hands of his brother Eric, and after his escape, his attention turns to revenge and reclaiming the throne, which he believes rightfully belongs to him. To do that, he must travel through shadow to Avalon, where he can get his hands on a secret that might allow him to do the previously unthinkable -- bring guns to Amber.

But more trouble is brewing in Amber than Corwin's escape and plot.

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Review: "The Emperor's Blades" by Brian Staveley

So I finally cracked the cover on my first book that was actually published in 2014, and I made a good choice to start with Brian Staveley's "The Emperor's Blades" ($27.99, Tor).
Sanlitun, the emperor of Annur, has three children set on three very different paths.

The eldest, Kaden, is heir to the Unhewn Throne and the strange, fiery eyes that mark the line of the rulers of Annur. Kaden finds himself in a remote mountain monastery, learning cryptic lessons from the monks in residence -- lessons that he doesn't yet understand the purpose of and doesn't see how they will make him a better emperor.

Kaden's younger brother Valyn is sworn to a group of elite warriors called the Kettral. Highly and brutally trained, the Kettral attack in small groups from the wings of the huge birds from which the warriors derive their name. They are the emperor's elite strike force -- the Navy Seals of Staveley's world.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Review: "Among Thieves" by Douglas Hulick

I'll take a break from the books that I should have read last year theme to revisit one I should have read several years ago, Douglas Hulick's "Among Thieves" ($7.99, Roc).

This one has been on my to read list for quite a while, but kept getting shuffled down thanks to a natural reaction I sometimes have to thieves tales. Once I started it, I was immediately sorry that I'd put it off for so long.

Drothe is a member of the Kin, a surprisingly well-organized group of criminals and cons. He serves as a Nose, which means that his job is to hit the streets and find important and interesting information for an Upright Man, the crime lord for whom he works.

When Drothe isn't doing that, he's running his own games on the side. His latest involves an imperial relic that has gone missing in transit. As Drothe attempts to find his missing relic, he stumbles into a much bigger game, one that will most certainly change his life, and possibly the world.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Review: "The Crown Tower" by Michael J. Sullivan

What do you do when you end your series with some finality, but your No. 1 reader wants more tales about your character? Michael J. Sullivan takes us back to the beginning in "The Crown Tower" ($16, Orbit).

As Sullivan explains in the introduction to the book, his wife wanted to read more about his hero Hadrian Blackwater, but he felt that any other story he had to tell about Hadrian and his partner Royce Melborn would feel tacked on. Instead, he takes us 12 years into their past, to the moment that they came together thanks to a university professor.

Arcadius, of the University in Sheridan, has purchased Royce's freedom from Manzant prison and asks for a service in return. The professor was also friends with Hadrian's father and calls the warrior to him to fulfill one of his father's final wishes. The result is a near impossible heist and an unlikely alliance between the fierce warrior Hadrian, who is looking for something a bit more noble in life, and the ruthless and amoral Royce, whose response to every problem is a knife to the throat.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Review: "The Ocean at the End of the Lane," by Neil Gaiman

I continue my journey through books that I should have read last year with Neil Gaiman’s “The Ocean at the End of the Lane” ($25.99, William Morrow).

I’m kind of embarrassed that I didn’t manage to get to this book in 2013. There are few writers in the world right now that I hold in higher regard than Gaiman, and he doesn’t disappoint with this short tale of a man transported back to his childhood.

The narrator of “The Ocean at the End of the Lane,” whose name we don’t know, has returned to his childhood home in England to deliver a eulogy at a funeral. Afterward, he wanders back through his past, visiting the place he once lived and a small cottage at the end of that lane where three exceptional women – the Hempstocks – reside. As he sits beside the pond at the back of the house, memories of his childhood, long locked away, come flooding back over him, and we, the readers, are taken along for an improbable and fascinating ride.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Review: "Doctor Sleep," by Stephen King

Long years have passed since the events of “The Shining,” and Danny, now Dan Torrance, has found himself in a position that, considering his father, he never thought he’d be in. He’s a raging alcoholic. After years of trying to deal with his talents, he turned to booze to numb them and drive them away. He wanders from place to place, finding work, usually at a local hospice, for as long as he can until the drink causes problems that he must run away from. His latest drunken misadventure, though, may be rock bottom even for him.

Running from it, he ends up in a small New Hampshire town. He stops there because his childhood “friend” Tony appears after a long absence, indicating this is the place. In Frazier, he finds something he needs – friends who are willing to help him and a job, which because of his talents, he’s quite good at in the local hospice. His talent, in fact, earns him a nickname on the staff, Doctor Sleep.