Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Dream Stalkers

Dream Stalkers (Shadow Watch, #2)Dream Stalkers by Tim Waggoner
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A new drug called Shuteye is on the streets of both earth and Nod and Audra and Jinx are the Shadow Watch officers assigned to the case. But what, if anything, does that have to do with the First Dreamer and the Wakenists bent on waking him? And why have Audra and Jinx begun spontaneously swapping bodies?

I got this from NetGalley.

The Shadow Watch and the crazy worlds they inhabit are back in a second outing, one that expands upon events from Night Terrors.

The world setup, one of my favorite parts of the first book, is further developed. I'm still pretty intrigued with the idea of a police force preventing things from Nod, the dream world, from intruding on reality. Audra and Jinx's relationship has developed a bit from the first book as well and not in the usual urban fantasy way.

Speaking of urban fantasy, the series this book most reminds me of is Simon Green's Nightside, only better written and not so repetitive. Waggoner's humor with Jinx is very well done, not nearly as ridiculous and over the top as it could have been.

The Shuteye case is fairly interesting as well and I really enjoyed the ideas presented about the First Dreamer and the associated cult. I did wind up guessing who was being everything but not until a few pages before his or her identity was revealed.

The ending wrapped things up nicely but it wasn't all beer and pretzels, nicely leaving some loose ends for a sequel. For what it was, Dream Stalkers was quite an engaging read. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Alectryomancer

AlectryomancerAlectryomancer by Christopher Slatsky
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A field hand named Rey is ready to put his rooster up against Alectryomancer, the champion of the cockfighting ring. But what about the mysterious book Rey doesn't remember acquiring, or the ancient engines beneath the surface of the earth?

I bought this Dynatox Ministries chapbook shortly after reading the blurb on the back. "A Depression-era Weird tale about California laborers, cock-fighting, time travel, UFO abductions, and more..." was a pretty good description. It almost reads like a lost Flannery O'Connor short story that couldn't be published due to excessive weirdness.

It's a really short book so I don't want to give too much away. The story can either be read as the sun-born hallucination of a lonely field hand or a weird tale with hints of a deeper strangeness.

For what it is, a less than 50 page nugget of the purest weirdness, I easily gave it four stars.

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Sunday, February 1, 2015

The Skull Throne

The Skull Throne (Demon Cycle, #4)The Skull Throne by Peter V. Brett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Are Arlen Bales and Jardir dead or just missing? Who will step up to fill the power vacuum left in Jardir's absence? And what of Leesha Paper and the child inside her, or Rojer Half-Grip and his ever-growing group of wives? And what of Count Thamos? All of these questions and more will be answered in the penultimate volume of the Demon Cycle, The Skull Throne!

I got this from Netgalley.

After the wreckage that was the Daylight War, I decided nabbing an ARC was the only way I cared to continue the series. Fortunately, I got my wish. Was it worth the time?

That's hard to say. In many ways, I thought this was A Feast for Crows for the series. Why do I say that? Arlen and Jardir are barely in it! Once the cliffhanger from the last installment is resolved, I'd say they barely get 50 pages total. The rest of the book is split between the Krasians, Leesha and Rojer, and what's going on in Angiers.

While it didn't focus on Arlen and Jardir, what we did get was better than the Daylight War. Maybe not having to experience Arlen and Renna's fake-seeming relationship actually perked up the story a bit. I do like where the book seems to be heading for the conclusion of the saga, though. Too bad we get barely a taste of that in this volume, though.

My two main gripes with the series as a whole are that it seems to have been Martinized after the first book in that a lot of extraneous characters have been introduced and some of the existing ones have been detailed to an excruciating degree. Also, when the main character is the least charismatic of the bunch, you have problems. While I like Arlen in a D&D character sort of way, I don't really find him very interesting.

I'm giving this a 3- since I liked it more than the Daylight War but didn't "like" it like it.

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Monday, January 12, 2015

How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of de-Extinction

How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of de-ExtinctionHow to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of de-Extinction by Beth Shapiro
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of de-Extinction is a book detailing the trials and tribulations involved in bringing an extinct species back to life.

I got this from Netgalley.

Okay, here's the deal. I found this book very interesting but also very repetitive. After the fourth or fifth description of a possible cloning method, only to have it explained yet again why it wouldn't work for a mammoth, I was ready to commission Bill Bryson to write a cloning book for me.

There were a lot of interesting concepts, like back-breeding, that I'd never heard of. Apparently scientists in Europe have been back-breeding cows to produce something very much like an aurochs for decades. Could the same process be used to create something mammoth-ish from Asian elephants?

The book painstakingly chronicles the trials and tribulations of retrieving intact-ish DNA from frozen mammoth carcasses. Apparently dogs will gnaw bits off of a mammoth carcass once you get it out of the ground.

While de-extincting mammoths was the title feature, other species were covered, like the passenger pigeon, the dodo, and the woolly rhinoceros. I found it really interesting that mammoths survived well into human history and scientists still aren't sure why they went extinct in the first place. There was also some speculation that re-introducing mammoths or mammoth-infused Asian elephants to Siberia could turn the tundra into a grassland in just a few seasons. Interesting things to ponder.

The bottom line is the book covered some interesting topics but could have been more interestingly written. Three out of five stars.


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Friday, December 19, 2014

Atlanta Burns

Atlanta Burns (Atlanta Burns #1-2)Atlanta Burns by Chuck Wendig
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I got this Atlanta Burns omnibus from Netgalley.

Shotgun Gravy: When a friend of a friend is violated by bullies in an attempt to set him straight, Atlanta Burns goes on the offensive. But can a teenage girl everyone is afraid of get the job done?

Add redneck noir Young Adult fiction to the list of things Chuck Wendig is good at. Shotgun Gravy is tale of fighting against bullying by a teenage girl that's seen a lot in her young life. I've seen her referred to as Nancy Drew with a shotgun but she's more like another Wendig character, Miriam Black, only younger and without supernatural abilities.

Shotgun Gravy isn't a trip to the YA parade, either. There are neo-Nazis, bullies, and even the protagonists are damaged goods. It's way more like Winter's Bone than stereotype YA love triangle mush. I was halfway through the first novella before I realized it. I kept thinking "Is Atlanta going to Red Harvest these shitheads?"

Side note: One thing I think Chuck Wendig excels at is creating gay characters that have an identity outside of being gay. You wouldn't think that would be as rare as it is in this day and age but here we are.

Bait Dog: One of Atlanta's friends dies, apparently a suicide. When a classmate hires her to find her who stole her dog, Atlanta stumbles upon a dog fighting ring. Are the two connected? And can Atlanta find out AND make enough money to keep the bank from foreclosing on her mother's house?

Bait Dog is a powerful little book. When you hear a book described as Young Adult, you don't think of this. Well, maybe if someone speculated what a Young Adult book by Jim Thompson would read like. You know what really puts the cherry on top of killing gays? A dog fighting ring! There sure are some galaxy-class douche bags in Atlanta Burns' general vicinity.

This is some bleak shit. Shotgun Gravy was just the tip of the iceberg of despair. Atlanta goes through the meat grinder once again, this time dragging her friends with her. It was novel length but felt a thousand times longer because of the unrelenting hopelessness of Atlanta's plight. Dirty cops, dirty millionaires, dirty dog fight ring owners, dirty, dirty dirty. I enjoyed it and thought it was very well done but I was glad as shit when it was over.

Side note: I have to think Chuck Wendig is a fan of the Wire since there are characters named Bird and Bodie and a dog named Omar.

If Atlanta Burns is any indication, 2015 is going to be another stellar year for Chuck Wendig. Four out of five stars.


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Sunday, November 16, 2014

It's Only Death

Its Only DeathIts Only Death by Lee Thompson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When he was a teenager, Elmore James Jackson killed his father, a cop, in an attempted bank robbery and has been on the lam ever since. When his sister contacts him, saying their mother is dying of pancreatic cancer, James heads home to find a number of people want him dead...

I got this from the fine folks at DarkFuse via Netgalley.

This is one of those books that's hard to quantify. Is it a noir tale at redemption? Is it about family and loss? Does it emphasize that we all make our own choice and life is a circle? Or is it about a bunch of fuck-knuckles doing each other dirty?

Yes. I'd say it's all those things.

When James rolls into town, it sure seems like he's going to be rolling out in a pine box. Killing his father six years earlier threw his family life off the rails. His once angelic sister is a stripper. His father's old partner is gunning for him. His sister's douche bag boyfriend and his biker pals have it out for him. His only ally is the guy whose been pining over his sister since they were kids and even that's not on solid ground.

It's hard to root for a screw-up sociopath but Lee Thompson does a great job making me feel sympathy for James. When almost every character in the book is a gaping asshole, James is the least assholish, I guess. It would have been easy for Thompson to use the tale's setup to do the Jack Reacher-style tough guy rolls into town and becomes a gun-toting super hero on all the bad guys but it doesn't go down like that. It's Only Death is more or less a bleak tale about facing the music and getting what's coming to you.

That's not to say there isn't bloodshed. I'm pretty sure everyone is dead or dying by the end apart from one or two characters. There is gunplay, brutal fisticuffs, knives, and even an alligator. It wasn't a long book but I was pretty worn out by the end of it.

It's Only Death is a bleak dysfunctional noir tale that only someone with the last name Thompson could write. Four out of Five Stars.

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Friday, November 14, 2014

The Art of Growing a Beard

The Art of Growing a BeardThe Art of Growing a Beard by Marvin Grosswirth
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Art of Growing a Beard is a book about the history, selection process, and maintenance of beards from throughout history.

I got this from Netgalley.

This book was written in the 1970's and has been reissued. It is also a hilarious text on all aspects of bearded life and essential for the bearded or wannabe bearded gentleman.

Did you know we haven't had a bearded president in over a century? Or that it's perfectly acceptable to draw beards on photographs of oneself when selecting your beard? Or that the perfect accessories for a goatee are a string tie, mint julep, and a pillared mansion in some state of decrepitude?

Grosswirth also covers the impact growing a beard will have on your life, be it increased attention from the opposite sex or giving you an air of authority.

The Art of Growing a Beard does show it's age a bit. It was written in the 1970's and 70's slang and attitudes are prevalent, which makes it even more hilarious, in my opinion.

If you have a beard, know someone with a beard, or want to know someone with a beard, you will find this book both informative and hilarious. Four out of five stars.

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