Saturday, April 12, 2014

Battle of the Books, Bracket Seven, Second Round :: The Demoness of Waking Dreams by Stephanie Chong vs. The Rise of Ransom City by Felix Gilman


We begin the second round of Bracket Seven of the Battle of the Books, after a short delay due to the Windows XP apocalypse. Our first match in the second round features The Demoness of Waking Dreams by Stephanie Chong vs. The Rise of Ransom City by Felix Gilman. The winner will be the book I (Amy) most want to continue reading after 50 pages.

The Demoness of Waking Dreams: Harlequin MIRA paperback, August 2012, 259 pages. The Demoness of Waking Dreams is book two in the paranormal romance series The Company of Angels.

In the first 25 pages of The Demoness of Waking Dreams we were introduced to the beautiful demoness Luciana Rossetti, who escaped home to Venice, Italy after her plans were foiled by the Company of Angels. Luciana hunts during the Festival of the Redeemer each year for a single victim to offer to the Prince of Darkness.

We were also introduced to ruggedly handsome, Brandon Clarkson of the Company of Angels in Chicago. Before his death, Brandon was a police officer. Brandon is assigned to capture the dangerous Luciana, who has concocted a poison that can kill even demons and angels. Brandon works alone.

Brandon peruses Luciana's file on his plane flight to Italy. When Brandon falls asleep, his recurring nightmare is invaded by Luciana and she tells him to turn back. Meanwhile, Luciana wakes from a brief reverie with a mysterious feather, after envisioning a man, undoubtedly Brandon.

Later, Brandon finds Luciana easily, she's at the Redentore Church, as every year. Brandon thinks Luciana is stunningly beautiful. Luciana recognizes Brandon as an angel and she talks to him defiantly. He tries to handcuff her. Luciana runs. Brandon chases her through the streets of Venice. Luciana leads him to a narrow street called Rio Tera dei Assassini, a place that feels to Brandon of death.

The Rise of Ransom City: Tor Books, November 2012, 366 pages. The Rise of Ransom City is Felix Gilman's fourth novel, and is a loose sequel to The Half-Made World.

The Rise of Ransom City is the fictional autobiography of self-educated inventor and businessman, Professor Harry Ransom. It's set during the Great War between Gun and Line. The first 25 pages told of Harry's childhood in a coal mining town, and how Harry was cured of a mysterious illness by an electrical apparatus made by the Line. That apparatus inspired the prototype for Ransom's Light-Bringing Process. Professor Ransom and his assistant are traveling through towns on the Western Rim in a wagon with their apparatus seeking investors.

After one of his demonstrations, Professor Ransom takes a late night stroll. He catches sight of two weary people walking along the road in the darkness, a younger woman and an older man. Professor Ransom introduces himself. The woman says that she's Miss Harper. Ransom asks the man if he's her father, and he nods. Ransom assumes they are avoiding the patrols of the Line for some secret reason, which he is curious to learn. Ransom offers to let them travel with him and his assistant.

Readers of the previous book, The Half-Made World, will know who these characters actually are.

Professor Ransom shows his Light-Bringing Process in another town, at a Smiler (a type of Church) meeting hall. His assistant initially works the pedals of the apparatus. There are magnetic cylinders and coils. Ransom's lamps start glowing. There are no connecting wires. This is not electricity. Ransom unwisely delivers, instead of his usual pitch of how the Process could make money for a canny investor, his opinions about the War. Then the Process becomes unbalanced, power surges into the Ether, and all the lamps burst. Ransom and his assistant barely manage to pull the emergency lever on the apparatus. Ransom says that he didn't know then how dangerous the Process could be.

The Battle: This matchup is a battle between a paranormal romance featuring a demoness and an angel, and a steampunk fantasy set in an alternate world inspired by the Old West.

The Demoness of Waking Dreams is, so far, entertaining. The setting in Venice is interesting. I liked that one of Brandon's first lessons as an angel was that beauty can be deceptive, and to not equate beauty with goodness.

I found it difficult to believe that Luciana could find her way into Brandon's dream before they even met in person. How would she even know that he was coming after her?

This is undoubtedly a paranormal romance. Brandon "falls" into Luciana's green eyes. The energy of their bodies is like a magnetic force. Pheromones are making a presence. I think I can guess where The Demoness of Waking Dreams is leading, but I'm not sure that I want to go there. To be honest, I don't usually read romance.

The Rise of Ransom City is an old-fashioned tale told in first-person in rambling style which I happen to like, but some people might find somewhat long-winded. The writing contains quirky humor that seems patterned on that from over a century ago.

Not all that much has happened yet, plot wise, and I'm unsure where the story is going, but I'd like to follow this adventure and learn more. I enjoy the world building, and the unreal, not fully explained, weird aspects. Professor Ransom comes off as eccentric, but likable.

If you enjoy reading romance, maybe give The Demoness of Waking Dreams a try. But for me, after 50 pages, I'd prefer to continue reading the steampunk western.

THE WINNER: The Rise of Ransom City by Felix Gilman

The Rise of Ransom City advances to the semifinals, where it will take on either The Doctor and the Rough Rider by Mike Resnick or River Road by Suzanne Johnson.

To see the whole bracket, click here.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Battle of the Books, Bracket Seven, First Round :: Apollo’s Outcasts by Allen Steele vs. Blood Zero Sky by J. Gabriel Gates


Our last first round match of Bracket Seven of the Battle of the Books features Apollo's Outcasts by Allen Steele versus Blood Zero Sky by J. Gabriel Gates. The winner will be the book I (Amy) most want to continue reading after 25 pages.

Apollo's Outcasts: Pyr Books, November 2012, 307 pages, cover illustration by Paul Young. Allen Steele is an American science fiction writer. He's written around 20 novels, including the Coyote series. He has won three Hugo Awards for his short fiction.

Apollo's Outcasts begins near Washington D.C. in 2097. Jamey, who is sixteen and physically disabled, is woken up after midnight by his dad and told to get dressed. He'd rather sleep, but he gets moving with the aid of his "mobil" device. Jamey has weak bones due to Lunar Birth Deficiency Syndrome. His seventeen year old sister, Melissa is awakened by their older sister, Jan. They are told to pack an overnight bag. They are going on an unexpected trip, and are not given any explanation.

Their dad, Dr. Stanley Barlowe, sneaks their van out of their neighborhood. On I-95, he doesn't switch to auto as required. He has replaced the van's traffic control and GPS chips to hide their track. Hovertanks and troop carriers pass them on the highway. Jamey and Melissa are informed that the President is dead, and their dad is going to be arrested for signing an ISC (International Space Consortium) petition.

They drive to the space launch facility at Wallops Island in Virginia, where Jamey meets his best friend, Logan, whose dad is also an ISC senior administrator. Another man is there with his wife and two kids. The parents are sending their kids on a cargo shuttle to the moon, to protect them. When they are about to board, a black government car arrives. The parents talk with the driver. Inside the car is a girl around Jamey's age, who needs to go on the shuttle, even though that means leaving one of other kids behind.

Blood Zero Sky: HCI, October 2012, 371 pages, cover illustration by Joshua Mikel at Sharkguts Design. J. Gabriel Gates has also written a teen horror novel, and is the co-author of the Tracks Series, a YA supernatural trilogy.

Blood Zero Sky is a dystopian novel set in the not-too-distant future. It begins with two peeks of things to come. The first scene features a young woman (probably May) who just shot someone outside N-Corp headquarters. The second scene introduces a group called The Protectorate, ready to do battle for freedom in a second American Revolution.

May Fields is the 25-year-old daughter of the CEO of N-Corp, the company that runs half the world. She works marketing N-Corp products. There are no competing products, but they constantly advertise to make people desire those products, such as on The Jimmy Shaw Hour in Christ. Earlier, May promoted the mandatory IC/Cross interface which requires a black, cross-shaped, cheek implant. The Cross, which is wired into the brain, allows people to control electronic devices with their thoughts, and, apparently, also influences their thinking.

Cities have been renamed as numbered N-Hubs. Almost all people are in debt to the Company. Those whose debt load is too high can be "repossessed" and sent to a Company work camp.

Randal, an old friend of May's, is working with her on a report for the board. Randal is on a neuro-enhacement drug that makes him a genius, but he stutters, can't sleep, and works 21 hours a day. Randal's revenue projections, which they double check together, show something terrifyingly unthinkable, that Company will lose money this year.

The Battle: This match-up features a YA science fiction book with political intrigue versus a dystopian novel with an oppressive ruling corporation.

Apollo's Outcasts begins with a sense of urgency and building tension. It isn't stated why Dr. Barlowe and his fellows at ISC fear being arrested, or what was in the petition they signed. The president's death appears to be part of a plot by the vice president to declare a national emergency.

Jamey is a likable teenage boy character. But Melissa seems to me to be a bit of a teenage girl stereotype. She lives in her own world of clothes and boys. She whines about having to leave home suddenly. Melissa's "pad" is taken away so she can't inform her online friends. Their older sister, Jan, seems relatively bland.

Blood Zero Sky tells of controlling technology and a repressive society. The setting achieves being unsettling. News stories point to the horrors of N-Corp, but most people don't care. It's not hinted yet why, or how, America went this far down this path.

I found it hard to emotionally connect with the protagonist May. She belittles the server at a coffee shop, and seems bothered even by her friend Randal. I have no problem with May apparently being a lesbian. But I would have liked to see more from her point of view. Maybe a tidbit of her back story would have helped to make her a more relatable character.

After 25 pages, both of these books have something to offer. But I'd rather read the book which I think is better written, and seems to be going somewhere faster.

THE WINNER: Apollo's Outcasts by Allen Steele

Apollo's Outcasts advances to the second round to face The Apocalypse Codex by Charles Stross.

To see the whole bracket, click here.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Battle of the Books, Bracket Seven, First Round :: The Apocalypse Codex by Charles Stross vs. Free Radicals by Zeke Teflon


Our seventh match-up, and second to last, in the first round of Bracket Seven of the Battle of the Books features The Apocalypse Codex by Charles Stross going head to head with Free Radicals by Zeke Teflon. The winner will be the book I (Amy) most want to continue reading after 25 pages.

The Apocalypse Codex: Ace Books hardcover, July 2012, 255 pages, cover art by Mark Fredrickson. Charles Stross is a well-known Scottish science fiction author, who has written around twenty books. The Apocalypse Codex is the fourth book in his Laundry Files series.

In the prologue Bob Howard, the protagonist of the series, introduces himself. Bob is a computational demonologist working for an ultra-secret agency of the British government called the Laundry, which cleans up and defends the realm from occult, Lovecraftian threats. It's been nearly a year since Bob's last dangerous mission. He's only now recovered and returning to the job.

Chapter one begins with Persephone Hazard and Johnny McTavish secretly parachuting at night into Bavaria. They land on the roof of Schloss Neuschwanstein, the castle which inspired Disneyland's Castle. They break in and drill through the parquet floor. Persephone creeps into the space between floors, and returns a jeweled, occult amulet to its rightful place and removes the forgery from the display. Meanwhile, Johnny deals with a deadly, dog-like entity which enters their warding circle.

In chapter two, Bob Howard is being sent by HR to attend a week-long management training class for the civil service. Never mind that Bob works for an ultra-secret agency, he's given the cover story that he's a network security manager working on unpopular vehicle number-plate (license plate) recognition.

Free Radicals: A Novel of Utopia and Dystopia: See Sharp Press, June 2012, 303 pages. Zeke Teflon is a pseudonym of a nonfiction writer and performing musician. This is his first novel.

Free Radicals is set in the not-too-distant future. It's twenty years after the Troubles when EMP bursts destroyed electronics, including people's high-tech implants. Nano buildings have collapsed into ruins. Floating billboards show Uncle Sam urging the reporting of suspicious activities, and advertise emigration to the stars.

Kel (Kelvin) Turner wakes up surrounded by empty beer cans. He discovers that he has a wound on his head. Only after listening to his messages does he recall what happened. Yesterday Kel went to see Mig, his girlfriend, carrying a bottle of vodka. Mig was out. Kel got drunk with, then intimate with, Mig’s roommate. Mig is extremely pissed off.

There's a flashback about Kel's ex-wife. She got full custody of their young son and Kel didn't even get visitation rights. Twice after Kel merely tried to find out about his son, he was attacked by thugs.

Kel and several musician friends play a gig at Retro, an old-fashioned club. Kel is a guitarist. Mig comes in disguised as a "diesel dyke." The audience is unappreciative of their music. Drunks start calling for "Free Bird" and other oldies. A trio of Homeworld Protectors walk into the club and brutally haul off Kel. Apparently Mig reported Kel as a terrorist.

Kel is sentenced, without any defense or jury, to be deported to Extrasolar Penal Colony Number Three. Kel is put into cold sleep and shipped in a coffin-pod. He is one of thousands transported. Upon arrival, techs revive Kel and the other surviving prisoners.

The Battle: This match-up features an occult science fiction British spy thriller going up against a science fiction as social commentary misadventure.

The Apocalypse Codex is written in a sharp and witty manner. The characters seem to act and interact intelligently. What the occult amulet does isn't thoroughly explained. So far, Bob Howard is only dealing with the civil service bureaucracy. But Bob's office job can be curiously odd. In the preface, Bob says he's tasked to "keep an eye on some departmental assets that are going walkabout." No specific occult danger has been revealed, not yet anyway.

Free Radicals tells about Kel, a middle-aged man who has been screwed over in life, especially by women. This story line didn't play that well for me, but may work better for a male audience. The cynical, dark humor made this readable, for example, the song lyrics for "Abductee Blues" about extraterrestrials with a rectal probe.

There was more violence and sex than I needed, but it didn't seem gratuitous. Kel gets beaten up more times in the first 25 pages than I think any protagonist deserves.

The dialect of the judge who sentenced Kel to deportation, apparently a Black American, struck me as too politically incorrect, such as calling Kel Turner "Mistah Turna."

After 25 pages, I'm not sure where either of these books will go. But I know that I'd rather read about the clever characters fighting some occult threat to the world.

THE WINNER: The Apocalypse Codex by Charles Stross

The Apocalypse Codex advances to the second round to face either Apollo’s Outcasts by Allen Steele or Blood Zero Sky Coin by J. Gabriel Gates.

To see the whole bracket, click here.

Saturday, March 08, 2014

"Bedtime Story" by Rhonda Parrish :: Aaron's Story Recommendation of the Week

My Story Recommendation of the Week is for "Bedtime Story" by Rhonda Parrish, from the anthology Tesseracts Seventeen.

"Bedtime Story" is a simple tale of a young girl huddling in a closet, as an old doll of her mother's named Laura tells a chilling story of evil vultures and goblins. As much fun as the story itself are the audience reactions:
A brown slipper, dog-chewed and ratty, hopped out of the shadows and pressed itself against my side. I felt it trembling, and stroked its nappy surface. "It's all right." My voice sounded loud compared to Laura's creepy whisper. "Sometimes the stories have a happy ending, don't they, Laura?"

She was silent for a long while, and turned to stare at a spider scuttling its way up the wall. In profile her shadow was strangely flat and misshapen. "Sometimes. Sometimes."
Tesseracts Seventeen was published in Canada last Fall, but is just hitting American bookshops this month. The Tesseracts anthology series from Edge Publishing highlights Canadian SF/F authors like Rhonda Parrish. Parrish has been publishing since 2006, with emphasis on poetry and flash fiction.

"Bedtime Story" is a wonderfully written story, which challenges adults to remember how magical and frightening the world can appear to a child. Is a child's view of the world around her truly any less real than an adult's? Does it matter?

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Battle of the Books, Bracket Seven, First Round :: The Path of the Fallen by Dan O’Brien vs. Quantum Coin by E.C. Myers


For our sixth match in the first round of Bracket Seven of the Battle of the Books we have The Path of the Fallen by Dan O’Brien going up against Quantum Coin by E.C. Myers. The winner will be the book I (Amy) most want to continue reading after 25 pages.

The Path of the Fallen: self-published, September 2012, 602 pages, cover photo by John Allan. Dan O'Brien is the author of around a dozen self-published books.

Fe'rein, a half-man (or cyborg) goes to the space station. He tells a human military man that no peace is possible between humans and enhanced humans. Then Fe'rein goes on a fiery, murderous rampage. The last survivor, a brave girl, tells Fe'rein that he was not meant to have the power of the Believer. He angrily kills her by throwing her out into space. With a surge of his power, Fe'rein disintegrates the space station.

Next, the setting changes to Culouth, a domed city floating above Terra. E'Malkai, the young lord of the House Di'letirich is escorted to a meeting by his guardian, who is a giant creature called an Umordoc. There's concern that E'Malkai and his mother could be targets of the Resistance, since E'Malkai is Fe'rein's nephew. Even E'Malkai considers Fe'rein to be a monster in ways. E'Malkai is asked to begin the trials of Tal'marath, which is a great honor.

High Marshall Kyien, perhaps Fe'rein's Master, privately tells Fe'rein that his mission to the space station was successful but sloppy. Kyrien didn't want the space station destroyed. Kyrien and Fe'rein argue, and Fe'rein uses his power as mion to intimidate Kyien. Councilmen Augustine arrives and informs Fe'rein that his nephew will undertake the trials.

Quantum Coin: Pyr books, October 2012, 331 pages, cover art by Sam Weber. Quantum Coin is the sequel to Fair Coin, which was E.C. Myers first novel. Fair Coin was in our Summer 2012 bracket of Battle of the Books.

Ephraim Scott is a high school student. Last year, as told in book one, he acquired a special quarter coin that propelled him on a dangerous adventure through parallel universes. After that, Ephraim decided to stay in his own universe.

Ephraim is at Senior Prom. His date, Jena, and her twin girlfriends take an extended trip to the ladies room. While waiting, Ephraim talks with his geeky friend Nathan, who has been filming impromptu videos. When Ephraim and Nathan spot Jena, she looks frantic and she's no longer wearing her Prom dress. Ephraim goes to her, and she kisses him. Then Ephraim realizes that she is not Jena at all, but Zoe, an analog of Jena from a parallel universe. Ephraim met Zoe last year.

Jena returns, with her girlfriends, in time to see Ephraim and Zoe kissing on the dance floor. Before the two twin Jenas attract more attention, Ephram suggests that they leave, and all six of them go somewhere more private to talk.

Zoe has a controller device, which looks like a flip phone, that works in tandem with Ephraim's coin to shift realities. Strange things are apparently happening in the multiverse. Nathan's video camera captured ghostly double images from a parallel universe.

The Battle: This match-up features an epic science fantasy book going up against a YA science fiction book.

The Path of the Fallen may have a story to tell, but the way in which it was told was, in my opinion, difficult to follow. At times, I had to reread paragraphs. Some of the problem, I think, was due to an overabundance of adjectives. The word "dark" seemed to be overused.

I would have liked to see more of the big picture. This book is apparently set in Earth's future, but when is vague, perhaps a thousand years from now, and where is unspecified. Something happened to change "Terra," but there are no hints of what yet. There's little explanation of the cybernetic body enhancements.

After reading the first 25 pages of The Path of the Fallen, I didn't feel like I really knew any of the characters and I didn't truly understand their motivations.

Quantum Coin is told in an entertaining, readable style. The characters realistically interact. I liked how they joked with each other, even Ephraim and Nathan's "scatological repartee."

I think the author did a good job of incorporating references to what probably happened in book one. The information didn't come off as info dumps.

It was funny that the powerful controller device was pieced together with duct tape and superglue. I appreciated that the Morales twins were named Mary and Shelley. I liked that Shelley accepted the idea of the multiverse because Nathan was lending her comic books. I approved of Jena's disbelief that Zoe used ham radio to contact someone in another universe.

After reading the first 25 pages of Quantum Coin, my interest was piqued, and I'd like to read more.

THE WINNER: Quantum Coin by E.C. Myers

Quantum Coin moves on to the second round to face Clockwork Angels by Kevin J. Anderson.

To see the whole bracket, click here.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Battle of the Books, Bracket Seven, First Round :: Clockwork Angels by Kevin J. Anderson vs. Red Sand by Ronan Cray


Entering the bottom half of Bracket Seven, we have the fifth match in the first round of Battle of the Books featuring Clockwork Angels by Kevin J. Anderson going against Red Sand by Ronan Cray. The winner will be the book I (Amy) most want to continue reading after 25 pages.

Clockwork Angels: ECW Press, September 2012, 315 pages, cover art and interior illustrations by Hugh Syme. This is a novelization of the album Clockwork Angels by rock band Rush. It's from a story and lyrics by Rush's Neil Peart. I'm not that familiar with Rush, and I haven't heard this album. Kevin J. Anderson is a bestselling science fiction author who has written a multitude of books, including many spin-off novels in well-known fictional universes.

Owen Hardy lives in a village in Albion where life is extremely orderly and everyone knows their place. Owen's seventeenth birthday and official adulthood is soon. His future working at the apple orchard is already planned, but he wonders of other possibilities.

Owen daydreams on a hill. Lavinia, his true love, wants to leave because a rainstorm is scheduled for 3:11 PM, but Owen waits to see the steamliner go by, with its floating dirigible cars. They rush back to the village. Owen daringly asks Lavinia to meet him at midnight for a kiss under the stars.

When hurrying home, Owen encounters an old "pedlar" who gives Owen a small book titled Before the Stability. Owen reads the book which tells how horrible things were before the Watchmaker came.

Owen and his father hear the day's announcements at the Tick Tock Tavern. Before going to bed they wind all their clocks. Owen sneaks out at midnight. Eventually he realizes Lavinia isn't going to meet him.

Red Sand: Cray Press, November 2012, 184 pages. Red Sand is Ronan Cray’s self-published first novel.

Newly single Mason is on a cross-Atlantic cruise. By chance, a hungover Mason sees two odd, inverted triangles sailing on the horizon.

On the same cruise ship, horny sexpot Bailey dresses up and leaves her husband Eddie sleeping in their cabin. She goes man-hunting at the ship's bar and restaurant. First she accepts a drink and joins the table of an older man, the fat man Howie, and a steward. The steward talks of people falling overboard and being lost at sea. Next at the Captain's table, Bailey meets Emily, Max, and Max's wife and daughter. Emily mentions shipwrecks and asks the Captain about a ship that supposedly went missing on their route. Finally, at the bar, Bailey meets Mason, and a short time later they leave together. After Bailey and Mason have sex, Bailey's husband breaks down the door to Mason’s cabin and shoots Bailey. Suddenly the ship's orientation goes wrong.

Next thing, debris and survivors are in the water. The fat man Howie is floating, as he has been through life. Howie never intended to have two wives. Howie is pulled into a lifeboat. Already in this boat are the steward, Emily, a sick Max, and another woman. They haul Mason aboard. The boat is being rowed by two strange white-haired men that don't talk. An island is spotted.

The Battle: This match-up features a steampunk fairy tale going up against a mysterious shipwreck thriller.

In Clockwork Angels, Albion is ruled by the loving Watchmaker in far away Crown City. Everyone is happy, but life seems routine, even scheduled. The protagonist Owen is a daydreamer who doesn't quite fit in, he craves something more exciting.

I enjoyed the instances of Owen thinking more creatively than others. Owen considered Lavinia's hair to be "the color of warm hickory wood, or fresh pressed coffee with just a dollop of cream." But Lavinia considered her hair to be merely brown.

This book has a nicely different feel than many fantasies. More fanciful and less gritty. I liked the alchemical energy, the coldfire lanterns, and that Atlantis is across the Western Sea.

Red Sand, on the other hand, just didn't work for me. This is a first novel, and in my opinion, after reading the first 25 pages, it shows.

The major event, the demise of the cruise ship, happens almost entirely offstage. Apparently it happened suddenly, but I would have expected the survivors to be more upset, asking each other what the hell happened, and speculating on the cause of the mishap.

Bailey, the sexpot, seemed to me to be a caricature. The same could be said of Howie, who had not only one, but two controlling wives. They unfortunately weren't used for comic effect.

I don't think any twelve-year-old girl, especially when out with her parents, would tell a woman she has "great tits." Max's daughter then goes on to tell Bailey that she just got her "first training bra" and had "high hopes." This conversation struck me as wrong.

Also, norovirus isn't spread only by tainted food. Noroviruses can survive on contaminated surfaces.

As to what book I’d rather continue reading after 25 pages, it's really no contest.

THE WINNER: Clockwork Angels by Kevin J. Anderson

Clockwork Angels advances to the second round to face either The Path of the Fallen by Dan O’Brien or Quantum Coin by E.C. Myers.

To see the whole bracket, click here.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Battle of the Books, Bracket Seven, First Round :: Guardians of Stone by Anita Clenney vs. River Road by Suzanne Johnson


Our fourth match in the first round of Bracket Seven of the Battle of the Books, the last match in the first half of the bracket, involves Guardians of Stone by Anita Clenney and River Road by Suzanne Johnson. The winner will be the book I (Amy) most want to continue reading after 25 pages.

Guardians of Stone: Montlake Romance, December 2012, 311 pages. Anita Clenney is a paranormal romance author. She has also written the four book Connor Clan series. Guardians of Stone is the first book in Clenney's The Relic Seekers series. The second book in this series, Fountain of Secrets, is also out.

Kendall Morgan has a sixth sense, she can see the history of things. She works for rich relic collector Nathan Larraby. One evening her boss calls and tells her to come immediately to his Virgina estate. There she's surprised to meet Jake Stone, who Nathan has also called in on short notice.

Nathan has a job, for both Kendall and Jake. He's sending them to straight away to Italy in search of an ancient box, which for centuries was guarded by a secret order, containing something powerful. There's urgency because a mysterious, possibly dangerous man is also seeking this box. When Kendall is shown a mere sketch of the box, she has a traumatic vision of blood and bones.

In Italy, Jake and Kendall are booked into a luxury hotel suite, with separate bedrooms. In the elevator, a man looks at Jake and Kendall and does a double take. Kendall sneaks out of their shared room, without telling her bodyguard Jake, to spy on the man. When Jake finds her missing he worries, but eventually he finds Kendall lurking on another floor of the hotel. After overhearing the man from the elevator talking on his cell phone, they are not reassured.

River Road: Tor books, November 2012, 332 pages, cover art by Cliff Nielsen. River Road is the second book in the Sentinels of New Orleans series. The first book in the series, Royal Street, Suzanne Johnson's first novel, was in our Fall 2012 bracket of Battle of the Books. A third book in series, Elysian Fields, is also now available.

River Road is set in New Orleans. After Hurricane Katrina, unbeknownst almost everyone, old gods, historic undead and other preternaturals flooded into New Orleans. The Elders employ wizard sentinel Drusilla Jaco, aka DJ, to handle paranormal problems.

At a hotel in the French Quarter, there's a meeting between Drusilla and the historical undead pirate Jean Lafitte. He saved her life during Hurricane Katrina and now he's requesting her help for a friend. Lafitte wants DJ to try to negotiate a truce between the feuding merpeople clans living near the mouth of the Mississippi. Each clan blames the other for poisoning the waters. Lafitte also wants as repayment a dinner date with her.

DJ drops by the apartment of her co-sentinel, the shapechanger Alex Warin, to inform him of an upcoming meeting, but Alex is out on a date. She encounters Alex's cousin, Jake, a former Marine, who is now, because of Drusilla, a loup-garou, a werewolf. When DJ arrives home, she trips over toilet paper unrolled by the cat.

The Battle: This match-up features a paranormal romance going up against an urban fantasy.

Guardians of Stone is a paranormal romance, with the emphasis on the romance part. Nathan is the handsome, rich guy and Jake the hunky, tough guy. Kendall is described as blonde with "killer" legs. Kendall's breasts get mentioned multiple times in the first 25 pages.

Jake's banter with Kendall, which is occasionally humorous, is often overtly sexual, which I don't think is appropriate for people who have just met, working together on a job. Kendall merely slams a door in Jake's face.

Kendall and Jake are supposedly in Italy, but, in my opinion, there weren’t enough descriptive details to make me believe that they were truly in Italy. In this age of heightened security, it bothered me that the supposed good guys are traveling under fake passports, and Jake brought a gun overseas.

River Road is an urban fantasy full of slang expressions and references to things in New Orleans. French words are sometimes thrown in. For the most part, I found the results to be sassy and fun. But occasionally I think the author went a bit overboard, such as when a DJ admitted, "My face warmed to the shade of a trailer-trash bridesmaid’s dress, one whose color had a name like raging rouge."

I liked that DJ got annoyed with her high heels, and took her shoes off.

This is book two in a series, and I think the author did a good job of incorporating back story elements that probably happened in book one.

It bugged me, somehow, that the historical figure, Jean Lafitte, has the hots for the female protagonist, Drusilla. For me, another case of a historical figure out of their context. But I'm OK with DJ finding the undead Lafitte sexy.

Both of these books contain romance elements, with their female characters admiring "hot males". To be honest, I've never been a reader of romance. So, after 25 pages, I'd rather continue reading the book that contained more fantastic or paranormal elements, which I also found to be more colorfully written.

THE WINNER: River Road by Suzanne Johnson

River Road moves on to the second round, to take on The Doctor and the Rough Rider by Mike Resnick.

To see the whole bracket, click here.

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Battle of the Books, Bracket Seven, First Round :: Wolf Hunter by J.L. Benét vs. The Doctor and the Rough Rider by Mike Resnick


Our third battle in the first round of Bracket Seven of the Battle of the Books is Wolf Hunter by J.L. Benét versus The Doctor and the Rough Rider by Mike Resnick. The winner will be the book I (Amy) most want to continue reading after 25 pages.

Wolf Hunter: Belfire Press, December 2012, 199 pages, cover art by Tamar Karataş. Wolf Hunter is Denver horror writer J.L. Benét’s first novel.

During WWII, a group of Nazi scientists under the command of a high ranking SS officer secretly transform Viktor Huelen and a trio of other men into werewolves. The items they use to perform this are an audio device called a Feraliminal Lycanthropizer, a pungent all-body salve, and a wolf-hide girdle with a pentagram of iron rivets.

Huelen tries hard but is unable to control the werewolf he becomes. In the first test, Huelen helps kill the weakest member of their werewolf pack. Afterward, Huelen is thrown into a dungeon-like cell where he is repeatedly given drugged raw meat and experimented upon. In another test, two men are released in the forest and Huelen is told which one to hunt. The beast inside Huelen tracks the wrong man and kills him.

A group of armed SS soldiers arrive and they escort everyone outside the castle. Apparently the werewolf experiment has been terminated.

The Doctor and the Rough Rider: Pyr Books, December 2012, 304 pages, cover art and interior illustrations by J. Seamas Gallagher. Mike Resnick is the author of over seventy novels, and over two-hundred and fifty stories. He has won five Hugo Awards for his short fiction. He has also edited over forty anthologies. The Doctor and the Rough Rider is Resnick’s third book in his ongoing A Weird West Tale series.

Doc Holliday is a card dealer at a saloon in Leadville. Two young men, seeking to make a reputation for themselves, confront Holliday supposedly over their friends’ deaths at the O.K. Corral. Later they threaten Holliday's life and he shoots them in self-defense. The Sheriff arrests Holliday and throws him in jail.

Geronimo visits Holliday in jail in the middle of the night. In this world, Geronimo is a shape-shifting magic man. The United States is prevented from expanding west of the Mississippi by an Indian barrier spell. Geronimo is willing to negotiate an end to the spell with only one man: Theodore Roosevelt. Bat Masterson knows Roosevelt. Geronimo magics Holliday and a clerk to the telegraph office in order for Holliday to send a telegram to Masterson telling him that it's essential to bring Roosevelt to Tombstone as quickly as possible.

Bat Masterson arrives in Medora in the Dakota territory seeking out Theodore Roosevelt at his ranch.

The Battle:This match-up features a werewolf horror book going up against a steampunk weird west fantasy. These books are very different in tone. So far, Wolf Hunter is dark and bloody, and The Doctor and the Rough Rider is a lightweight, sometimes humorous, adventure.

In Wolf Hunter, I liked that there were codified items and a pseudo-scientific method used to make werewolves. I found it interesting that the Lycanthropiser machine utilized Latin chants and made Huelen's mind feel "floaty".

Huelen seemed like a decent guy, but he had little backstory. He merely reacted to the things happening to him. I wondered why Huelen was chosen for this werewolf experiment.

There were a couple of instances of sexual content that I felt were gratuitous. In my opinion, these could have been dialed back a notch.

The Doctor and the Rough Rider uses historical figures as main characters, instead of as supporting characters, in an unreal fantasy setting. I'm not sure that I’m totally on board with doing this. I feel it’s using these people out of their context. This being book three in the series probably didn’t help the issue. Yet The Doctor and the Rough Rider is easy to read and the dialogue is good.

Resnick wrote that the day in Leadville was as hot as Tombstone (and hotter than hell), which I found difficult to believe. According to Wikipedia, the all-time record high temperature in Leadville is 85 degrees, not exactly sweltering.

I liked the illustration of the steampunk gun at the head of chapters, and the talking prairie dog was cute.

After reading 25 pages of each of these books, I found this to be a fairly close match. Both of these books are potentially interesting, in their different ways. But for my pick, I’ll go with steampunk western.

THE WINNER: The Doctor and the Rough Rider by Mike Resnick

The Doctor and the Rough Rider moves into the second round, to take on either Guardians of Stone by Anita Clenney or River Road by Suzanne Johnson.

To see the whole bracket, click here.

Monday, February 03, 2014

Battle of the Books, Bracket Seven, First Round :: Beautiful Monster by Jared S. Anderson & Mimi A. Williams vs. The Rise of Ransom City by Felix Gilman


The second match-up in the first round of Bracket Seven of the Battle of the Books features Beautiful Monster by Jared S. Anderson & Mimi A. Williams going against The Rise of Ransom City by Felix Gilman. The winner will be the book I (Amy) most want to continue reading after 25 pages.

Beautiful Monster: Damnation Books, August 2012, 185 pages, cover art by Dawné Dominique. Beautiful Monster is Jared S. Anderson's first published novel. Mimi A. Williams is a pen name of children's author Kim Williams Justesen.

Sterling Bronson is good looking, and he knows it. He's also rich. At the gym he's been watching a woman for weeks. He corners her to ask her out, acting like Mr. Nice Guy. But, since this is told in first person, we know his snide thoughts about her. The woman, Melanie, gives Sterling her phone number. They agree to meet the next evening at a restaurant for dinner and drinks. Afterwards, Melanie unwisely follows Sterling to his home, where Sterling seduces and kills her.

Brenna Carlson is a student taking classes to become a social worker. She works at a clinic with kids. Brenna chats with her roommate Courtney. Brenna is pondering if her boyfriend Trey is "the one". Brenna has been waiting until it feels right to go all the way.

The chapters of Beautiful Monster alternate point of view between Sterling and Brenna.

The Rise of Ransom City: Tor Books, November 2012, 366 pages. The Rise of Ransom City is Felix Gilman's fourth novel, and is a loose sequel to The Half-Made World, which I have read.

The Rise of Ransom City is the autobiography of the once famous, or notorious, Mr. Harry Ransom. In the forward, the editor, fictional newspaperman Elmer Merrial Carson, states that it took him years to track down parts of the scattered manuscript.

The book begins with Harry's childhood. He grew up in a coal mining town, youngest of four children, son of a undertaker. His home town was neutral in the Great War between Gun and Line, but near Line territory. When young Harry became deathly sick with a mysterious illness, Harry's proud father pleaded with some Linesmen, who had more advanced medicine, to save Harry's life. The Linesmen demanded a heavy price from Harry's father, including publicly supporting the Line, to cure Harry with a strange electrical apparatus.

Harry was self-educated. He sold encyclopedias to help pay his family's debts. By the time he was nineteen he had built a prototype for his Ransom Light-Bringing Process, inspired by the electrical apparatus the Linesmen used on him. He started calling himself Professor and traveled seeking potential investors. Harry barely escaped being killed in Melville City's Main Street Hotel by an off-target, Line-made, poison gas rocket.

The Battle: This time we have a battle between an erotic horror book and a steampunk fantasy set in an alternate world inspired by the American Old West.

Beautiful Monster, in my opinion, contained a disturbing mix of explicit sex and graphic violence. In the first 25 pages there were two sadistic sex scenes. The writing was very direct, and, I felt, lacked subtlety.

The authors of Beautiful Monster successfully made Sterling Bronson into a nightmarish character, which is good, I guess, if you like this type of horror. But I'd prefer not to read about a serial killer, and especially not from the killer's point of view.

The Rise of Ransom City is a rambling tale, told in a chatty, old-fashioned style. There were teasers for where the story is heading in Harry Ransom's humorously long-winded manuscript title, of which this is only the first third:
          AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY, in Parts,
Written on The Road Between Here and The Western Rim,
          And Mostly On The Run, I expect

  CONTAINING AN EXPLANATION OF SORTS
              And An Apology OF A Kind
     For Some Recent Events in The Great War

         and SOME ADVERTISEMENTS for
     Ransom City, soon to rise In The West,
          "THE CITY OF THE FUTURE"
Battle of the Books is inherently subjective. I read 25 pages of each of these books. For me, The Rise of Ransom City wins this match hands down.

THE WINNER: The Rise of Ransom City by Felix Gilman

The Rise of Ransom City advances to the second round to face The Demoness of Waking Dreams by Stephanie Chong.

To see the whole bracket, click here.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Battle of the Books, Bracket Seven, First Round :: The Demoness of Waking Dreams by Stephanie Chong vs. The Hour of Lead by Kathleen De Grave with Earl Lee


We begin the first round of Bracket Seven of the Battle of the Books with The Demoness of Waking Dreams by Stephanie Chong vs. The Hour of Lead by Kathleen De Grave with Earl Lee. The winner will be the book I (Amy) most want to continue reading after 25 pages.

The Demoness of Waking Dreams: Harlequin MIRA paperback, August 2012, 259 pages. The Demoness of Waking Dreams is book two in the paranormal romance series The Company of Angels, sequel to Where Demons Fear to Tread.

The beautiful Rogue demon, Luciana Rossetti, escaped home to Venice, Italy. She just had her plans for revenge foiled and narrowly eluded capture by the Company of Angels, events covered in the first book, in which Luciana is a secondary character. Luciana goes on the hunt. Each year during the Festival of the Redeemer she makes an offering of a single victim to the Prince of Darkness. Luciana's attention falls on a striking man. Upon a closer look Luciana realizes that he's not human, he's an angel. Luciana delights at the thought of making an angel her victim.

Then the book steps backward a day to introduce the angel. Brandon Clarkson is a supervisor in the Company of Angels in Chicago. Before his death ten years ago, Brandon was a police officer. Brandon was killed in a shooting which still gives him nightmares. Brandon's unit is called into the office in the middle of the night for a conference call with the Archangel Michael and the L.A. unit of the Company of Angels. Their assignment is "disposal" of the demoness Luciana. She concocted a poison with which she killed another demon and so could kill an angel. Brandon decides to go after Luciana himself, alone.

The Hour of Lead: See Sharp Press, September 2012, 255 pages, cover photo by Emilia Ungur. This is Kathleen De Grave's second novel. She has also written a nonfiction book.

The Hour of Lead is set in Kansas, in the near future, approximately 2040. It's a time of deadly tornadoes, new diseases, robots and nanotechnology. There's a Corporate Government called CorGo.

Weylan Collins is a nanotechnology scientist who created a pychobiotic nanobot which can untangle memories. A traumatized young boy named Mikey, one of hospital's displaced children, was made Weylan's first human test subject. Weylan believed his experimental nanobot would heal Mikey by allowing Mikey to understand that what he went through wasn't his fault. Instead the treatment left Mikey semi-catatonic.

Weylan feels guilty and considers himself a failure. But before giving up on Mikey, Weylan wants to try something first. His partly native-American grandfather years earlier showed him how to use psychedelic mushrooms.

The Battle: Here we have a battle between two very different books: a science fiction book and a paranormal romance.

The Hour of Lead begins with a new technological treatment that failed. Given what I learned in the flashbacks, I'm not sure this experiment should have been done in the first place, but maybe that's the point.

The first 25 pages of The Hour of Lead, in my opinion, didn't entirely pull me into the story. How Mikey was traumatized, when he and his sister suffered heat stroke, was heart-wrenching.

The Hour of Lead presented some speculative ideas. The futuristic setting with severe weather changes was interestingly different. I particularly liked the wind-resistant igloo homes.

The Demoness of Waking Dreams did not, in my opinion, exactly blaze new ground. It has angels and demons instead of vampires and werewolves. Nothing extraordinary or superhuman has happened yet. But the book is well written. I liked the touches of humor, such as when the old woman caused a commotion in church because she recognized Luciana as what she really was, a demoness, and the old woman was silenced by her embarrassed family.

I found The Demoness of Waking Dreams to be pleasantly easy to read. I enjoy fantasy, but I don't usually read paranormal romance.

I need to choose one book over the other based on only their first 25 pages. Who knows if I'd judge these books differently if I read them entirely. But at this point, I have to admit that I'm more interested in reading about the demoness and the angels.

THE WINNER: The Demoness of Waking Dreams by Stephanie Chong

The Demoness of Waking Dreams advances to the second round, to take on either Beautiful Monster by Jared S. Anderson & Mimi A. Williams or The Rise of Ransom City by Felix Gilman.

To see the whole bracket, click here.