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

              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,
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.