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Peter Higgins, author of Wolfhound Century

Myke Cole, author of Shadow Ops Series

John Brown John, translator of the Zamonia Novels

Jim C. Hines author of Libriomancer

Nick Harkaway author of Angelmaker (review here)

Martha Wells author of The Cloud Roads

David Tallerman author of Giant Thief

Mazarkis Williams author of The Emperor's Knife

Rob Ziegler author of Seed

Steven Gould author of 7th Sigma

Douglas Hulick author of Among Thieves (review here)

Mark Charan Newton author of Nights of Villjamur (review here)

Kameron Hurley author of God's War (review here)

Brent Weeks author of The Black Prism (review here)

Anthony Huso author of The Last Page (review here)

Brandon Sanderson author of The Way of Kings (review here)

Lou Anders Editor of Pyr Books

Ian Tregillis author of Bitter Seeds (review here)

Sam Sykes author of Tome of the Undergates (review here)

Benjamin Parzybok author of Couch (review here)

Kristine Kathryn Rusch author of Diving Into the Wreck (review here)

Ken Scholes author of Lamentation

Cherie Priest author of Boneshaker (review here)

Lev Grossman author of The Magicians (review here)

Character Interviews

Alexia and Lord Maccon from Gail Carriger's Soulless

Lord Akeldama from Gail Carriger's Soulless

Eva Forge from Tim Akers's The Horns of Ruin

Atticus from Kevin Hearne's Hounded


The Daylight War by Peter V. Brett

A Memory of Light by Robert Jordan & Brandon Sanderson

Scoundrels by Timothy Zahn

Cold Days by Jim Butcher

Year Zero by Rob Reid

Alif: The Unseen by G. Willow Wilson

Scourge of the Betrayer by Jeff Salyards

Redshirts by John Scalzi

Control Point by Myke Cole

Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway
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REVIEW | Nights of Villjamur by Mark Charan Newton (Spectra)

The Sun is red and getting dimmer year after year. The winters are getting colder and now a freeze is set to happen that will last for the next 40 years where the world will ice over and only those who have prepared may live to tell their children of how the world was before or so hope the leaders of this world.

With Nights of Villjamur Charan has landed and brought his unique insights and clear, distinctive voice to the world with a skill that belies his age. Nights of Villjamur is the first book in the Legends of the Red Sun series by Newton, which has been lauded quite well in the UK since it came out there last year. This is Charan's US debut, although his UK debut was The Reef from a small press that can be a bit hard to find. I've seen reviews that make Nights of Villjamur out to be a cross of Vance's Dying Earth and Mieville's early work, which is definitely on the spot. However, in many ways I found the writing and characters more approachable than in any of the Dying Earth books I've read to date.

Villjamur the titular city is the largest in the world, alluded to be a far future Earth. Villjamur is a character of its own few other fictional cities can be compare to. It is dark and moody, but shows signs of love and selflessness albeit with plenty of venom and conspiracy down dark alleys. Great and wonderful things happen in Villjamur, but even more dastardly and vile actions, people, and plenty else are a foot.

This is not a land of heroes, but of survivors. As the ice encroaches in on civilization people from all over are traveling to the largest cities of the world with Villjamur being the goal for the majority since it is the capital. Thousands have flocked to the city just to be shut out of its gates where they live in squalor and continue with the hope the city of their leaders will let them in for a chance of survival. But the leaders of Villjamur are not too kind and worry for the long term life of the city given the ice age approaching and only enough food and stores for so many citizens.

The story is told though about half a dozen points of view, but a few others pop up intermittently. Brynd the albino captain of the Night Guard was definitely my favorite as he appears to be the most together character. Still he is the most fragile in many ways, which is a mean feat for a warrior of his class as he follows the will of the empire. There is Radur the ne'er do well who has some real physical skill that I hope gets showed off more in the future. However, I couldn't get over my dislike for Randur at all, but found his chapters enjoyable especially his time in the darker parts of Villjamur. There is something that feels very questionable about him and what he is doing even after events change him. Still I want to find out what happens to him, which I think says a lot about the story and world Newton has created that despite my dislike I need to know what he is up to.

Jeryd is an investigator in search of a killer and his part definitely plans the noir murder mystery angle to its fullest. He is also a rumel, which is a sort of human/lizard, but I have trouble picturing the species well. This is only one of the many unusual species met in Nights of Villjamur and hardly the strangest.  Urtica, a leading member of the ruling council has the only tiresome point of view as his aims are quite opaque. But the most interesting character of all is Dartun who is a leader of a cultist group. Cultists were one of the most intriguing groups meet in Nights of Villjamur amongst many as they are a cross of wizard, scientist, and alchemist who safeguard ancient technology akin to magic. Well maybe safeguard is the wrong word. More like use for their own purpses while perpetuating their sect. Dartun is one of the oldest members of the cultists, which is why I couldn't wait for more of his chapters although they are a bit sparse except toward the end. He just knows so much about this world that I want revealed.

Nights of Villjamur is a story of a world far removed from our own comprised of very many different elements. It is a murder mystery, a love story, political novel, literary Fantasy, Horror (only slightly), but most of all it is inventive in the right ways and just plain weird at times. Making technology out to be magic and creating sub-human species worked really well and just wait until near the end to see what shows up. I'm still unraveling that puzzle in my head. Nights of Villjamur couldn't have been written at any other time. It feels perfect for the here-and-now with it sometimes strong prose and complex world worth visiting again and again packed with a beauty, starkness, and realism seldom seen in Fantasy. Newton's influences are plain to see, which he holds forth proudly.

This is a series to get lost in that will only get bigger, better, and weirder, which will ensnare you with its gracefulness and down-right oddness. It is without a doubt one of my favorite reads this year. There are some flaws although small. One of the evil doers is just too predictable as was a coming together of lovers, and I guessed one of the killers rather a bit too early on. Still fans of China Mieville, Richard K. Morgan, and Scott Lynch should take note. Scratch that. Fans of Mieville, Morgan, and Lynch should run out the door in search of a copy to find out for themselves how good this book is. I give Nights of Villjamur 8.5 out of 10 hats. Charan shows a lot of promise and I think he'll only get better from here with his beautifully demented mind. The sequel in the series, City of Ruin, has just been released in the UK and should be out in the US about this time next year.

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GUEST POST | Mark Charan Newton on the Proliferation of Online Reviews (Help or Hinderence?)

Some authors tend to be a bit tight lipped when sharing their opinion and some share a bit too much.  If you've been following Mark Charan Newton you'll know he skirts close to the second camp and often takes the contrarian point of view just to stir up good conversation. When Mark was talking about online reviews a little while back it made me wonder what authors think of all the reviews that happen nowadays. 30 years ago reviews came from major publications or your local newspaper and most authors hardly ever got a chance to see them and most were not in-depth. Now with so many book bloggers and publications online reviews are plentiful for even lower level authors. So it was with this in mind I asked Newton:

Do you think the proliferation of book reviews online makes authors better writers since they get more feedback on their work than ever before?


The blogosphere. Innumerable readers and reviewers. We all know how good it is for word-of-mouth on the Next Big Thing, for news and gossip, or for offering bon-mots on cover design.

But lets get back to that first point: innumerable readers. It naturally follows that there exists a resource out there for authors to receive feedback on their output. It's true that bloggers are skilled, experienced readers, who are able to give opinions on what worked or what didn't in a novel's construction. So is it viable that collectively they can form a base from which an author can glean feedback?

It's something I've thought about quite a bit recently. Whilst the most useful thing for a writer is to receive opinions on something currently being crafted, there is merit to seeing what did or did not work previously. You can get an idea of what people generally love or hate about a particular approach to characterisation, or even to prose style. This is most useful if you're writing a series – because many of those qualities will continue for another book or three.

Here are some reservations though.

Firstly, you have to assume each writer reads all their reviews… Some do not do this for the sake of self-preservation. Some pick and choose the venues they trust to give certain levels of depth to reviews. Others will read everything the blogosphere ever says about them – thank you, Google Alerts.

So, moving forwards on the assumption authors are in fact reading their reviews (and I'll also make the assumption we already know that giving feedback is different than writing a review).

Many people who write blog reviews seem to also want to write novels, and this is an absolutely valid quality. But one problem is that so many writers who discuss books often (albeit subconsciously) project how they would have written it. Which is something that differs on a "what does or doesn't work" reader reaction - it's tainted by some other authorial bias, so what their review might pick apart is not completely a valid criticism on the grounds that it is that particular blogger's prose fetish. You would need to look where that bias is or isn't being expressed (and yes of course, all readers have bias) in order to find information that isn't simply someone's gut reaction according to their own designs on novel writing. You're not writing my novels - I am, just as I am not writing yours, and would not tell you how I think work of yours should be written according to my tastes.

But what's most important to me, is depth. Is stating that something is simply good or bad likely to help me as a writer? Not really. The review needs a special kind of insight, to dig deep into the meat of an issue, with examples, perhaps. Some reviews offer little more than a plot synopsis, and very few go to essay length, so for an author to benefit, he or she would need the reviewer to go into a depth that many simply can't or won't offer in a blog review – and that's absolutely fine, because many different reviewers cater for different needs. They're not reader reports for authors. Reviews are content for their site.

Then there's the issue of white noise – there are so many bloggers, with so many opinions, each of them valid, none of them objective, and if you listened to them all, you'd quite simply go mad. But what I will say, though, is that if there is a general consensus across several blogs on something that really didn't work, I think it's worth the author keeping that in mind, though I am wary of any utilitarian approach to constructing novels.

So I'm not sure, at the end of this, whether or not I'm hugely in favour of an author studying blog reviews for feedback. I think I am, in essence, but the opportunities for this to be truly effective are few and far between. What I'm more likely to do is – if I am impressed by a reviewer or a blogger because of the skills they show in picking apart a novel – ask them, behind the scenes, for some critical feedback on a current project. That's a resource I'd be happy to have.

Then again, bloggers keep complaining about how much they have to read as it is – how could I possibly cause such a gaucherie by asking them to commit to my current work-in-progress? :)


For more information on Mark Charan Newton and his recent US debut Nights of Villjamur, check out his website, twitter feed, or highly entertaining blog.

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New Procurements after my last major bookstore visit

With my limited book buying pledge taking effect in a few days this will be the last major haul of books I'll be purchasing for a while, but there are also a couple of review copies that showed up in the post this week including what I'll refer to as "the Mystery book". It is pictured below, but you can't tell at all what it is since it is a bound manuscript, which is a manuscript printed on normal paper which they than drive through pins to bind it. No fancy spine or cover. I guess you could call it a proto-galley. Any guesses as to what the Mystery book is? I'll give a couple hints. It is a new Fantasy book many people are looking forward to by a best-selling male author.

Death Most Definite by Trent Jamieson - Review copy. First in a new Urban Fantasy series that reminds me a little of a grown-up version of the Dead Like Me TV show.

Steven de Selby has a hangover. Bright lights, loud noise, and lots of exercise are the last thing he wants. But that's exactly what he gets when someone starts shooting at him.
Steven is no stranger to death-Mr. D's his boss after all-but when a dead girl saves him from sharing her fate, he finds himself on the wrong end of the barrel. His job is to guide the restless dead to the underworld but now his clients are his own colleagues, friends, and family.
Mr. D's gone missing and with no one in charge, the dead start to rise, the living are hunted, and the whole city teeters on the brink of a regional apocalypse-unless Steven can shake his hangover, not fall for the dead girl, and find out what happened to his boss- that is, Death himself.

Is Anybody Out There? ed. by Nick Givers & Marty Halpern - Review copy, which I hope to get to very soon as I've been talking it up for a while now. Includes stories by James Morrow, Jay Lake, Pat Cadigan, Paul Di Filippo, Matthew Hughes, Alex Irvine, Mike Resnick, Lezli Robyn, Kristine Kathryn Rusch and many others. I'm most eager to check out the Morrow and Rusch.

Are we alone in the universe, and if not, who else-or what else-is out there? Here are thought-provoking stories that explore such questions as: Do intelligent species invariably destroy themselves by nuclear war or ecological collapse? Are the sentient aliens that do exist just too far away? Do they exist in forms beyond our comprehension? Are they among us, but undetectable? These are just some of the possibilities explored by a stellar lineup of contributors.

Gravity's Angels by Michael Swanwick - Swanwick is one of those author's I've been meaning to try on a larger scale for years. I've had a taste of him through shorts in various anthologies, but this collection should give me a good feel for him over all. I nabbed this from the rare book room at The Strand.

Aliens who absorb the memories of those they've slain, magicians slugging it out in present-day Philadelphia, and Janis Joplin reborn as an obsessed-over saint in a barbarous post-technological U.S: these are a few of the motifs from one of science fiction's modern masters.

Kraken by China Mieville - Also, grabbed from The Strand. I went there in specific hope they'd have a copy. This will be read very soon.

With this outrageous new novel, China Miéville has written one of the strangest, funniest, and flat-out scariest books you will read this—or any other—year. The London that comes to life in Kraken is a weird metropolis awash in secret currents of myth and magic, where criminals, police, cultists, and wizards are locked in a war to bring about—or prevent—the End of All Things.

In the Darwin Centre at London’s Natural History Museum, Billy Harrow, a cephalopod specialist, is conducting a tour whose climax is meant to be the Centre’s prize specimen of a rare Architeuthis dux—better known as the Giant Squid. But Billy’s tour takes an unexpected turn when the squid suddenly and impossibly vanishes into thin air.

As Billy soon discovers, this is the precipitating act in a struggle to the death between mysterious but powerful forces in a London whose existence he has been blissfully ignorant of until now, a city whose denizens—human and otherwise—are adept in magic and murder.

There is the Congregation of God Kraken, a sect of squid worshippers whose roots go back to the dawn of humanity—and beyond. There is the criminal mastermind known as the Tattoo, a merciless maniac inked onto the flesh of a hapless victim. There is the FSRC—the Fundamentalist and Sect-Related Crime Unit—a branch of London’s finest that fights sorcery with sorcery. There is Wati, a spirit from ancient Egypt who leads a ragtag union of magical familiars. There are the Londonmancers, who read the future in the city’s entrails. There is Grisamentum, London’s greatest wizard, whose shadow lingers long after his death. And then there is Goss and Subby, an ageless old man and a cretinous boy who, together, constitute a terrifying—yet darkly charismatic—demonic duo.
All of them—and others—are in pursuit of Billy, who inadvertently holds the key to the missing squid, an embryonic god whose powers, properly harnessed, can destroy all that is, was, and ever shall be.

Gateways ed. by Elizabeth Anne Hull - The last book I bought at The Strand on my birthday visit. I think Pohl's Gateway is an absolute classic and I couldn't pass up this collection honoring what he started. Great line-up as well, but a few too many appreciations instead of stories.

An anthology of new, original stories by bestselling SF authors, inspired by SF great Frederik Pohl and edited by his wife Elizabeth Anne Hull.

It isn’t easy to get a group of bestselling SF authors to write new stories for an anthology, but that’s what Elizabeth Anne Hull has done in this powerhouse book. With original tales by Greg Bear, Gregory Benford, Ben Bova, David Brin, Cory Doctorow, Neil Gaiman, Joe Haldeman, Harry Harrison, Larry Niven, Vernor Vinge, Gene Wolfe, and others, Gateways is a SF event that will be a must-buy for SF readers of all tastes, from the traditional to the cutting edge; from the darkly serious to the laugh-out-loud funny.

City of Ruin by Mark Charan Newton - Later this week my review of Nights of Villjamur will be going up. The week after I finished Nights I had to order the sequel, which just came out in the UK.

Villiren: a city of sin that is being torn apart from the inside. Hybrid creatures shamble through shadows and barely human gangs fight turf wars for control of the streets. Amidst this chaos, Commander Brynd Lathraea, commander of the Night Guard, must plan the defence of Viliren against a race that has broken through from some other realm and already slaughtered hundreds of thousands of the Empire's people. When a Night Guard soldier goes missing, Brynd requests help from the recently arrived Inqusitor Jeryd. He discovers this is not the only disappearance the streets of Villiren. It seems that a serial killer of the most horrific kind is on the loose, taking hundreds of people from their own homes. A killer that cannot possibly be human. The entire population of Villiren must unite to face an impossible surge of violent and unnatural enemies or the city will fall. But how can anyone save a city that is already a ruin?

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REVIEW | Dragonfly Falling & Blood of the Mantis by Adrian Tchaikovsky (Pyr)

If you haven't read my review of Empire in Black and Gold start with that as somethings below might be a bit spoliery. Or flip to the last paragraph to get my summation on both books.

To say that Dragonfly Falling is better than the Empire is putting it too lightly. After Empire my expectations were pretty high for Dragonfly Falling and it didn't just meet them, but knocked them out of the park with its decidedly militaristic tone. Dragonfly Falling picks up soon after the action of Empire In Black and Gold, which was a prelude of so much. While the first volume acted well to introduce a part of this incredibly rich world, some of its cultures, and an endearing cast of characters Dragonfly Falling blows everything up into Epic proportions. The battles get bigger, bloodier, and more intricate.

The Wasps while thwarted in their original plans are nonplussed as they change tactics from subversive to more straight forward means as they pit the Ant-kinden city-state of Vek against Collegium while they attempt to conquer other Ant-kinden holdings. Master Maker Stenwold's cadre of apprentices and wards again are cast to the wind as they try to unite the lowlands and defy the Wasps. This is no easy feat, but there are rumblings of troubles within the Wasp upper echelon as generals grab for power, which leads to some unexpected Wasp allies.

The majority of Dragonfly Falling is one big beautiful battle after another. We finally get to see the Collegium's techno innovations turned against other groups that shake their creators to their core with the repercussions. We also meet a few new characters who become very important as the series goes on including a very mad Dragonfly-kinden woman who is after a certain Wasp Major. Tynisa and Tisamon finally get some alone time with one another as they journey to the training ground of the Mantis-kinden in hope of Tynisa earning her heritage. If it is one things Mantis-kinden know it is how to make someone pay.

What becomes of Totho while not totally unforeseen plays out very nicely as his allegiance is tested time and again, but he finally gets to prove his worth even if it is for the wrong reasons. On the other hand Salma's role in things is all too predictable. I saw this coming from the moment he was first captured in Empire. and Cheer is being built up for a lot, but it still doesn't seem to be apparent just exactly what. This volume also has the B story of  the Shadow Box being sought after by the Wasp Empire and Achaeos trying to stop them. The Shadow Box is ancient and has a one ring kind of vibe to it at the moment where everyone wants it, but don't know precisely what to do with it.  Even though this is a long series in the planning each volume has a definitive end and beginning with a few things left over for the next go around.

Blood of the Mantis dials things back a bit after the in-depth action of Dragonfly Falling, but strives to widen the world as the Spider-Kinden lands and other unexplored parts of the world are uncovered. Don't get me wrong it still has plenty of action, but it is more on the level of Empire in Black and Gold with skirmishes or one-on-one fights rather than the big scale of Dragonfly Falling. Mantis is also the shortest of the series to date at a mere 300ish pages compared to the bulky 450+ pages of Dragonfly.

Blood of the Mantis takes to the skies as Cheer makes her way into the Spiderlands to see what the Wasps are trying to pull there. She meets up with an aviatrix, which sounds just a bit dirty every time I read it who leads her around the area. Cheer is finally becoming her own person this time around as she is more decisive, but still wary. The second main part of the story is Achaeos in hot pursuit of the shadow box in Wasp controlled lands we haven't seen before. We get to meet some new and very unusual Kinden in these parts and I can only guess what will go on when this group leaves their nesting ground.

Overall this is a series that doesn't disappoint. It has got everything a lover of Epic Fantasy could want plus offers many new and fresh innovations with steam-tech, but it is the world and cultures you'll keep coming back for as you meet the whole pantheon of insect Kindens throughout the lands and delve deeper into the back story as it unfolds. It definitely pays to read these books close together so some of the details and nuances of the characters aren't lost. The only problem with the series is the constant jumping around of points of view, but the author knows this is a big world and he is anxious to give you all the details. I give Dragonfly Falling 9 out of 10 hats and Blood of the Mantis 8 out of 10 hats. All of this has me wondering what is next as I'll soon be devouring Salute the Dark, which is the 4th book in the series. At this point the author hopes to do at least 10 total volumes in the series with the first 4 comprising one major arc so we aren't hanging open for some closures.

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Cover Unveiled for Cherie Priest's Dreadnought

The cover for Dreadnought is done by Jon Foster who did the Boneshaker art as well as the recent final version for Clementine. Great angle and positioning. How can I not love a gun-wielding heroine facing down a giant robot? I can't. Not one whit. Dreadnought will be released this October from Tor with at least two more volumes in the series to look forward to.
Mercy Lynch is elbows deep in bloody laundry at the Robertson Hospital in Richmond, Virginia, when Clara Barton comes bearing bad news. In her hand she holds a terrible document called the Atwater List, and on this list is the name of a union soldier who’s been missing for months.

And just like that, the young nurse is no longer a nervous newlywed, waiting for news of her absent husband. Now she is a widow, and the bad news doesn’t stop there. A second message—a telegram from the west coast—declares that her father is badly injured, possibly dying, and that he wishes to see her.

So Mercy sets out west, through war-torn border states on a trek to reach the Mississippi River. On the other side, she’ll catch a train over the Rockies and—if the telegram can be believed—she’ll be greeted in Tacoma, Washington, by a law officer who will take her up to Seattle to see her father.

Of course, it’s not that easy. Getting to the Mississippi is trial enough, and once Mercy reaches St. Louis, the only Tacoma-bound train is pulled by a terrifying engine known as the Dreadnought. Heavily armed and thickly armored from cow-catcher to hitch, the Dreadnought is more commonly deployed in the eastern war frontier, running supplies and artillery reinforcements along the Mason-Dixon to refresh Union forces.

Now, the magnificent war machine seems to towing deceased soldiers back to their homes in the west, for burial. But out past the river, on the plains, and up in the mountains, things are rarely precisely what they look like on the surface; and the Dreadnought’s mission is no exception.

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New Procurements

Books. I get a lot of them. Below is what has shown up in the last week or so. The first part is review copies and the second section are purchases. Lots of good stuff showed up including a few odd balls in the purchase section.

The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson - This is the second largest ARC I've ever received.  It is looks quite dangerous, yet I'll face that danger head-on before publication as this has to be one of the most anticipated Fantasy series debuts reads of the year.

The Dervish House by Ian McDonald - This is the finished book, which really shows off the art much better in person.  So far reviews have been stellar, but I wouldn't expect anything less of McDonald.

The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack by Mark Hodder - A Steampunk debut with a brilliant cover. Will definitely be giving this a thorough read.

Salute the Dark by Adrian Tchaikovsky - This is the fourth book in the Shadows of the Apt series, which closes out the first major story arc. I should be posting a review to books 2 and 3 very soon.

Recovering Apollo 8 and Other Stories by Kristine Kathryn Rusch - The short story collection from Rusch is looking mighty fine. It also has the original short story, which birthed Diving Into the Wreck. I'll peruse this between other volumes.

Stories edited by Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio - An all-star cross genre collections and according to The Spec Scotsman it shouldn't be missed. I'll definitely not miss it.

The Ninth Avatar by Todd Newton - This should be a good traditional Epic Fantasy.  Love the cover.

The Book of Joe by Jonathan Tropper - Grabbed this used when I saw it as I've been on a Tropper binge lately. If you haven't read my review of his latest book This Is Where I Leave You. This isn't fantasy, but a comedy ala Nick Hornby.

Thicker Than Water and The Naming of the Beasts by Mike Carey - These are the fourth and fifth books in the Felix Castor series. Carey's US publisher dropped the ball by not picking the rest of the series up, which upset my plans of matching hardcovers. However, the Orbit UK editions are now readily available in the US through Amazon.

The Society of Sinister Simians by Chet Phillips - Last year I grabbed a set of cards called Steampunk Monkey Nation, which are very cutely illustrated. At the time I wished Chet had done a book with a stories. Well now my prayers are answered with this nicely illustrated volume. Check some of the images out here and see for yourself. I think it will be a must for all monkey fans and enthusiasts.

Half the Blood of Brooklyn by Charlie Huston - The third book in the Joe Pitt Casebooks. This series is has a great style that works well for me, which is why I keep grabbing another volume.

The Passage by Justin Cronin - I succumbed to the hype. Everything I've read about this series say it is one to remember. It was Neth's great review that cinched it since we usually have similar tastes.

The Nesting by Christopher Golden and Illustrated by Mike Mignola - This is a limited edition chapbook which is signed by both Chris and Mike. With only 200 copies in existence I had to grab one. It is published by Earthling Publications, which is a great limited edition publisher best known for Mieville's King Rat. Definitely check them out if you are a horror fan.

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Confessions of a Bibliomaniac (My book flood and book buying pledge for the next 6 months)

This has been a long time coming. Ever since I flew the coop and had a place of my own to live I've been amassing books. A few at first and than slowly 2 or 3 at a time or whenever I happened by a bookstore. Than the list making began of books I wanted or knew were coming out and things started to get a bit more out of hand. I've always been a fast reader so I never minded having a lot of unread books around the house even when it started getting in the hundreds of titles. I like choice.

As a child my family didn't have much money so I was a library regular since I was 7 or 8. I knew all the librarians and they knew me. I even slipped up and called one mommy one day by accident because I was so use to being there and asking for something. I think the librarian got a kick out of that, but my cheeks turned quite red when I realized what I had done. In middle school my obsession was so widely known instead of study hall I was assigned as a library helper for a period every day.

Well now I still have hundreds of unread books lying around and buy often and now with blogging for more than a year quite a few publishers send me books regularly with a mix of some requested and some surprises. Which brings me to the point of the article. I am going on a book buy hiatus of sorts*. I am limiting myself to buying only 10 more books this year starting at the end of June**.

Why is this you may be asking? When I first started blogging I'd get a review book every once in awhile , which was very nice. Still is. Now I sometimes come home to 3 or 4 packages any given day, which my wife refers to as "The Book Flood." I've come to the realization that between the books I own and want to read and the books that I get for review I am running out of space. So this isn't a monetary issue. Merely a pragmatic decision. I don't have much more space to fill. My wife and I might be moving in the next year or two and we don't want to buy more bookcases because we'll probably be moving to a slightly smaller place or of similar size where they couldn't fit any better. Also, this will force me a bit more to read what I have and clear some space by either lending more read books to friends or getting rid of the ones that won't ever be re-read***.

Another reason this is coming up is the first half of 2011 is looking absolutely amazing in terms of new releases many of which will need to find a home on my shelf's of honor****. We've got a new Abercrombie (The Heroes), Lynch (The Republic of Thieves), and Rothfuss (The Wise Man's Fear) just to start. Than we have a new Christopher Moore (The Griff), Jasper Fforde (One of Our Thursdays is Missing), Jim Butcher (Ghost Story), Daniel Abraham (The Dragon's Path), and Jesse Bullington (The Enterprise of Death). So 2011 will already be a packed year and most publishers haven't even announced the majority of books on the docket.
*Any books already ordered or pre-ordered do not count. I believe I have 6 books on preorder at the moment, but I could be off.
** My birthday is coming up at the end of the month and I'm doing a last hurrah visit at The Strand with a friend. This obviously doesn't count, but I'll hold myself in check to a degree.
*** What? It happens. Sometimes.
****You know where you keep all your favorite books front and center so you can stare and visitors can drool.

You're probably a little interested in what these 10 will be. So here is what is on the must buy list:

China Mieville's Kraken - Have to grab this especially after all the great reviews coming along. For god's sake it has giant squids in it!

Catherynne Valente's The Habitation of the Blessed - Not much has been mentioned about this book yet, but it sounded intriguing and I've liked a lot of Valente's short work. The Prestor John mythos has always intrigued me as well. There's just something about lost/mythical cities that always pulls me in.

Jim Butcher's Side Jobs - Dresden collection. 'Nuff said.

Richard Kadrey's Kill the Dead - Sequel to the fabulously grungy Sandman Slim.

Ted Chiang by Stories of Your Life - I keep hearing how amazing Chiang's writing is and Small Beer Press is reprinting this hard to find short story collection later this year.

Ekaterina Sedia's The House of Discarded Dreams - New Sedia. 'Nuff said.

Tim Akers's The Horns of Ruin - I was intrigued by what Akers tried to do with Heart of Verdion and I want to see what how he is developing his Noird style. And that cover is rockin'.

Notice there are only 7 books mentioned? Well I have to leave room for impulse. Especially with the way Sub Press does things. You never know when they'll announce an awesome new book. Plus I could always read a series book and need the next immediately as keeps happening with Charlie Huston's Joe Pitt casebooks. And I am starting on a collective blog project that you'll be hearing more about in the coming months that may require me to buy a book or two. Let me just say it will be monumental in terms of book blogging.

There are some other books that should have been on this list as well, but I'm fairly sure review copies will show up. Heck some of the above might. Plus anything coming out in December might show up under the Christmas tree.

Wish me luck! Who wants the under/over on whether I can pull this off?

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Cover Unveiled for Jon Sprunk's Shadow's Son (UK edition)

Gollancz has opted to not use the Michael Komarck art from the Pyr edition of Shadow's Son much to my chagrin. When I first saw this version I knew it was a Chris McGrath piece just based off the color tones and position. It is a decent piece, but I prefer the US version. The blue of the tag line and the arrows feathers just seem out of place and the title treatment tries a little too hard to hammer home the shadow theme. But whether you go with the US or UK version it is what is between the pages that matters, which in this case is a very action packed Sword & Sorcery tale. Either way debut author Sprunk can't be disappointed that both his publishers sought the services of two top level illustrators, which in and of itself shows their hopes for him. Shadow's Son is now available in the US with the UK edition coming out July 1st.

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FREE FICTION | Ian Tregillis's What Doctor Gottlieb Saw

One of the very best debuts this year is Bitter Seeds by Ian Tregillis. What you haven't bought it yet because you were waffling despite my high praise and that of many, many, others? Well now you can get a taste of this world in a short story set there with "What Doctor Gottlieb Saw." The story focuses on oracle Gretel and her Psychoanalyst, which gives you a little bit deeper of an understanding of the working of Gretel's mind and about a death mentioned in Bitter Seeds that happened before the events of the book. Now we get to fill-in that gab, which is always a nice bonus for those who have read the book. However, the story more than stands on its own and introduces you to the world and some of the main characters well.

"What Doctor Gottlieb Saw" is available from on site or in a variety of download formats and definitely delivers the same level of reading pleasure that Bitter Seeds did so well. has consistently been publishing some wonderful short fiction so if you haven't visited recently drop on by.

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Contest Winners

The winners of the Brent Weeks and Greg Bear flip books are Tyson Mauermann from Washington and Michael Carter from Canada. Congratulations!

Look for another contest in a week or two.

Your friendly book-loving Mad Hatter

MISHMASH | New cover to Cherie Priest's Clementine and more Clockwork Century books to come

Subterranean Press announced about a month back they were changing the cover to Clementine the steampunk novella from Cherie Priest. They felt the original wasn't quite right and went for something more in line with what Tor has done for the Clockwork Century series using the same artist from Boneshaker and Dreadnought Jon Foster. This is definitely an improvement and jives much better with the contents, which are a bit down a dirtier than the original art reflected.

Two other big notes.  Sub Press will be doing a trade paper release of Clementine next year for those not wont to shell out for the hardcover and most importantly Cherie announced they'll be at least two more Clockwork Century novels coming from Tor with Ganymede in 2011 and Inexplicable in 2012. Bring on the steam!  The first could portend a steampowered visit to space. More details as I find them.

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REVIEW | Swords & Dark Magic ed. by Jonathan Strahan & Lou Anders (Eos)

With Swords & Dark Magic editors Lou Anders and Jonathan Strahan have amassed an all-original collection of Sword and Sorcery from both new and long established masters of the genre. Overall the volume doesn't disappoint. There are a few ruts which didn't take off for me, but for those that did work well made this a memorable volume. What surprised me most was the pacing of many of the stories. What I'd call the old school authors seem to go for more of a slow build-up while the newer entrants for the most part vie to grab you from the first page with action. Now on to some of the highlights.

“Goats of Glory” by Steven Erikson - A very slow moving story for the most part. I was getting bored until the magic part finally got introduced and at that point I was hooked. Demon hordes are a bunch of pushovers when a group of warriors comes out of the mountains. A very satisfying ending with good action in the last third.

“Tides Elba: A Tale of the Black Company” by Glen Cook - The Company is on a bit of a lull as they have been stationed in one city without anyone to battle for months. When all of a sudden they are again tossed into the machinations of their betters. Definitely one of the better Black Company shorts I've read as it shows they are more than just the brawn and have got brains to back it up. Croaker keeps his usual tone and aplomb as the company figures out away to solve the heart of the matter without getting their own throats cut.

“Bloodsport” by Gene Wolfe -  In some ways this reminds me a lot of a GRRM Dunk & Egg story without Egg. A new Knight is made to play the games of their sovereign, but when the games are over and all else is lost they strive to better the world around them and give themselves a purpose. The world is left vague as Wolfe wants you to connect and care for the characters more, which he succeeds at adequately. Quite good, but felt unfinished.

“The Singing Spear” by James Enge - This was one of my favorites in the collection. It was over before I wanted it to end. Just the right amount of action and humor and wonderfully paced. You don't mess with a mad Wizard's bartender and live to tell the tale. I'll definitely have to get to the copy of Blood of Ambrose I bought a while back soon. Enge has created quite a memorable character I'd like to explore a bit more.

“A Rich Full Week” by K. J. Parker - A zombie Sword & Sorcery tale with a Priestly Philosopher cum Wizard. As with most Parker stories she goes for a different angle than most would as the Philosopher doubts himself yet is still able to project the persona he needs to to survive and get the job done and get the walking deadman. Very good inner dialogue.

“A Suitable Present for a Sorcerous Puppet” by Garth Nix - The first Nix I've read and what an inventive world he has here which we just get a peek at. Sir Hereward a injured knight is recuperating as his puppet manservant is off exploring the area they are staying in. The knight wants to get a present for his puppet man Mister Fitz, which leads to a nice battle with a treacherous demon. I definitely want to check out some more Nix now. Nix also has a free story with the same characters available online, which precedes this one.

“Red Pearls: An Elric Story”  by Michael Moorcock - Big literary confession time. I can't remember ever reading an Elric story before in novel or short form. That will be changing since "Red Pearls" introduced me to an amazingly weird world and leading character. I'm not sure where it falls in the pantheon of Elric stories and I have a feeling it fills in a gap that fans have wanted, but nonetheless it was easy to follow and certainly gave you a good flavor for what Moorcock is known for.

“In the Stacks” by Scott Lynch - Hands down the best story in the volume. Lynch's imagination is in top form as Wizards in training must venture into the bowels of an ancient magical library to return books to their proper stations. In some ways this is what we'd get if Jasper Fforde decided to go for more of a traditional Fantasy tale. Splendid and just plain fun. The prose and characters are as always well done and this shows the gentler side of Lynch.

“The Sea Troll’s Daughter” by Caitlin R Kiernan - For some reason this is one of the stories that is most staying in my mind and I'm having a hard time pinning down why that is. It is a story that shows heroes are not always the best people as the heroine in this case has a drinking and attitude problem. In a juxtaposition the Sea Troll's daughter comes off more humane than that of the heroine although it has a bit of a non-ending.

“The Fool Jobs” by Joe Abercrombie - As always Abercrombie does an amazing job at introducing an unusual cast of characters and putting them in a very awkward situation as they search for a magical something, but what that magical something is is not at all clear. This takes place in the North of the First Law world with Craw who some of you may remember unless you blinked. Great twist of an ending like only Abercrombie can do, but I do think his work is more suited to long form. Or it could just be "The Fool Job"s feel too much like a prelude of what is to come in The Heroes. Which in essence it is.

If you are a fan of old school Sword & Sorcery this is a collection not to be missed. It is filled with everything S & S lovers want: action, magic, grey characters, and evil baddies. A few key stories brings this up a few notches in the anthology pantheon with the Nix, Enge, and Lynch being the biggest standouts. As for the goal of being a definitive look at Sword & Sorcery it missed the mark, but not by much. A few of these deserve inclusion in one of the Years Best Anthologies at the least. I give Swords & Dark Magic 8 out of 10 hats. Overall, I'll have to throw some curses at Anders and Strahan for putting such a good anthology together and exposing me to so many authors I've been meaning to try, some for more than a decade, and by extension making me buy a few books by these authors. I'm definitely going to try a Nix and have to decide on what Elric book to start with. Any suggestions?

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Cover Unveiled for Ghost Story (Dresden Files 13) by Jim Butcher

WARNING: For those fans who haven't read Changes yet don't look too closely at this cover.

After the amazing and life changing events of Changes we have to wait a little while until the next volume Ghost Story is released in March 29, 2011.  Again the art by Chris McGrath Dresden illustration regular is veering away from the alleyways of Chicago as was done with Changes for something a bit different. At first glance I thought it was a bit too close to White Night, but the position and detailing make it work.

To tide us over for our Dresden fix we'll have the short story Dresden Files collection Side Jobs to look forward to this October 26th, which has a post Changes short called "Aftermath" from Murphy's point of view. Also for those hardcore fans and RPGers out there we have the Dresden Files RPG debuting any day now.  I just got my preview PDFs and they look quite amazing. I can't wait until the final printed book shows up.

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GUEST POST | Ekaterina Sedia on Anthology Editing

The creation of anthologies have always intrigues me.  Some are definitely better than others and generally if you have an editor who holds to a certain level you'll end up with a quality selection even if you don't love every story.  I've been following Ekaterina Sedia's work for the last couple of years ever since a friend told me about The Secret History of Moscow. Since then Sedia put out the outstanding The Alchemy of Stone and is now working on her third anthology after the World Fantasy Award winning Paper Cities and the just released Running With the Pack.  With all her recent work with anthologies I invited her to discuss her process for selection.  We also discussed a "What is Urban Fantasy" post, which she touches on as well.

All You Need To Do To Get Published is Haunt Your Editor's Dreams

Putting together an anthology is an interesting proposition – and I suspect that methods differ widely from anthologist to another. I, of course, can only talk about my approach. I'm currently working on BEWERE THE NIGHT, another urban fantasy antho I'm doing for Prime. This is my third solo urban fantasy anthology, and I'm starting to feel that I finally have some idea of what I'm doing.

The stories that I select are chosen by a highly idiosyncratic method – if I love it, I buy it; there's no telling in advance of what I'm going to love. Usually, there are more good stories than I have openings, so I retain the stories I like until everything is in, and then make my final selections. Keep in mind that some slots are allocated in advance – to solicited reprints and originals. And the process of selection is just like that – but generally, if I think the story is good, I'll buy it.

Many writers seem to get hung up on irrelevant details though – recently, I've been getting a lot of questions about my formatting requirements, what exactly do I mean by urban fantasy, etc etc. And the thing is – I don't think anyone was ever rejected for wrong font or an extra space after a period, or a summary of the story in the cover letter. All of those things don't matter if the story is good. Also, most editors (I'm guessing, although it is certainly true for me) don't know what they're looking for until they read it. So asking me whether I want ass-kicking chicks-urban fantasy or Charles de Lint-urban fantasy is a tad unnecessary – unless the guidelines specify some very narrow niche, you should just send in anything that you think might fit. Editors know when they cast a wide net – vague guidelines usually is not an oversight that needs to be corrected or clarified but an invitation. I've certainly acquired my share of stories that were neither urban nor particularly fantasy at that. But it's a sin to turn away a great story because it didn't meet some silly limitation, you know?

Now, what makes a story good? Usually, the stories I pick have surprised me somehow. For example, Molly Tanzer's story "In Sheep's Clothing" (from Running with the Pack) surprised me by an ingenious way it fused some very modern concerns with the werewolf myth. Others, like Kaaron Warren's "The Gaze Dogs of Nine Waterfalls" (which will be reprinted in Bewere the Night), delighted and shocked with their very strangeness, with the language and imagery that created an uncanny, dreamlike feel. I even dreamed about the story the night after I read it, and the next day emailed Kaaron asking her for the reprint. See? All you have to do is to haunt editors' dreams.

And since the host of this blog asked, I'd also like to touch on the whole what-is-urban-fantasy thing. The supernatural detective who kicks ass and sleeps with whatever it is she's investigating became as much a cliché (or a convention, if you will) as a magical school or a put-upon orphan who is secretly royalty. None of those are necessarily better or worse than the others. But here again we come against the issue of unnecessary limitation. Why write about vampires when everyone is writing about vampires? Why artificially narrow the genre, which is completely self-described in its own name? Fantastical happenings in (modern) cities are so much richer and more inspiring than whatever the current mold happens to be. It's like people who argue that steampunk has to take place in Victorian England – they are certainly entitled to their opinion but it doesn't mean that everyone else agrees.

So to me, urban fantasy can be pretty much anything, as long as it's somewhat modern day and somewhat fantastical. Same with were-creatures – if there's a change from a human to animal or vice versa, it fits. Genres are really just for the book shelving convenience; don't let anyone tell you that these are scriptures. Too strict adherence to rules can be misguided; adherence to the rules that don't really exist is just puzzling.

Ekaterina Sedia resides in the Pinelands of New Jersey. Her critically acclaimed novels, The Secret History of Moscow and The Alchemy of Stone were published by Prime Books. Her next one,The House of Discarded Dreams, is coming out in November 2010. Her short stories have sold to Analog, Baen's Universe, Dark Wisdom, and Clarkesworld, as well as Haunted Legends and Magic in the Mirrorstone anthologies. She is also an award-winning editor ofPaper Cities anthology, with Running with the Pack just released and Beware the Night coming in 2011.

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Contest for Brent Weeks / Greg Bear flip Chapbook

I have a two copies of the Brent Weeks and Greg Bear mini-flip book that Orbit was giving out at Book Expo this year.  I grabbed two not realizing it was a flip so that's more for my fine readers.   The Weeks half is the first three chapters of The Black Prism and the Greg Bear portion is the first four chapters of Hull Zero Three. This is a very nice chapbook style production with a sturdy cover and the text printed on nice gloss so it should make a good collectible for the Weeks and Bear fans out there.

To enter send an email to madhatterreview (AT) gmail (dot) com with your full name and snail mail address and "WEEKS-BEAR" in the subject line. Include the name of your favorite Weeks or Bear character along with the title of the book they appear in. The deadline is midnight June 15th. I'll announce the winner on the following day or as soon as I remember. This contest is open to the people of the United States and Canada only since I'm paying for shipping. If you send multiple entries you will be disqualified from the contest.

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VIDEO | Steampunk Panel from School LJ at BEA 2010 w/ Cherie Priest, Scott Westerfeld & Cory Doctorow

This is a rather interesting video from this years Book Expo as part of the School Library Journal portion of the show. The panel is different than the one I mentioned in my BEA rundown, which was on the show floor.This particular event was with Cory Doctorow, Scott Westerfeld, and Cherie Priest was meant more for a Librarian audience with a focus on YA Steampunk.

As soon as the Steampunk panel from the show floor is online I'll let you know.  That was a good one as well from what little I caught with Catherynne Valente and Cherie having very differing views on Steampunk out of England.

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MEME | Book Habits Meme, Summer 2010 Edition

This meme has come back around again so I figure I'd do an update.

What is your favorite drink while reading?

Cool water or sometimes a diet Cherry Dr. Pepper.

Do you tend to mark your books as you read, or does the idea of writing in books horrify you?

Horrifies me to no end. I hate marring books in any manner.

How do you keep your place while reading a book? Bookmark? Dog-ears? Laying the book flat open?

Generally one of the many bookmarks I have. If it is a book I've been looking forward to I'll try to use a green leather bookmark I picked up in Ireland 8 years back.  It is sort of like my lucky sock when playing football only for books.

Fiction, nonfiction, or both?

Mostly Fiction for the last year.  Although I have a special place in my heart for travel narratives ala Bill Bryson and J. Maarten Troost (The Sex Lives of Cannibals). But I enjoy a good Science or History read for time to time as well. Such as 1491 by George Mann (no relation to the steampunk author) or the books edited by John Brockman (What Do You Believe But Cannot Prove).

Are you a person who tends to read to the end of a chapter, or can you stop anywhere?

I can stop anywhere, but I usually will wait to the end of a chapter or section break. I rather wait until the end of the chapter because otherwise I'll end up re-reading a page.

Are you the type of person to throw a book across the room or on the floor if the author irritates you?

Not that I can't remember. I'm much more verbal than physical. I might curse it out, but that rarely happens.

If you come across an unfamiliar word, do you stop and look it up right away?

Not usually. I'll usually have an idea of what it means given the context.

What are you currently reading?

I won't read two novels at the same time, but I'll certainly mix in some shorts and graphic novels. The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem is the novel right now. So far it is quite amazing. On the graphic novel front I've been making my way through The Goon by Eric Powell. Really great series that I'll have to get more of soon.

What is the last book you bought?

Graphic Novels: Witchfinder by Mike Mignola, B.R.P.D.: 1946 by Mike Mignola, and The Mice Templar: Destiny.

Books: Plan B by Jonathan Tropper and Four and Twenty Black Birds by Cherie Priest.

Are you the type of person that reads one book at a time, or can you read more than one?

Answered above. No more than one novel at a time, but shorts and comics do get worked in.

Do you have a favorite time/place to read?

Any place, any time. But weekends are the best as I'll usually get through one book while it takes me 5 workdays to get through one.

Do you prefer series books or stand alones?

No real preference, but I guess series.  I like to see characters and worlds grow and change so they usually work best for me.

Is there a specific book or author you find yourself recommending over and over?

Many. The names I've been saying for the past few years would be: Walter Moers, Jasper Fforde, Neil Gaiman, Patrick Rothfuss, Joe Abercrombie, Matt Ruff, Jim Butcher, John Scalzi, & Robert J. Sawyer.  Some newer names would be Ken Scholes, Mark Teppo, Cherie Priest, & Mike Carey.

How do you organize your books? (by genre, title, author’s last name, etc.)

By size and level of interest, but not much else.  Check out this post for more.

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New Procurements (My mail person must hate me)

The last couple weeks were pretty quite for books and than all of a sudden I got 7 packages in one day. A couple of those were books I ordered and below few others were nabbed while I was out and about.

Thunderer by Felix Gilman - This I picked up at Tor's Steam Salon and while I was there Gilman signed it.

Four and Twenty Blackbirds by Cherie Priest - Also from the Steam Salon as I can never find it in store.

Twelve by Jasper Kent - My UK counterparts have been talking this Vampire read up for a year now and I'll definitely be partaking of this review copy at some point in the near future.

Shadow's Son by Jon Sprunk - This is the finished copy of Sprunk's fine debut (review here), which shows off the art wonderfully.

Absorption by John Meaney - Part of my Book Depository order, which is still rolling in. How could I pass up a Sci-Fi series with Ragnarok as the series title? Well I couldn't, so there.

Plan B by Jonathan Tropper - I've been itching for some more Tropper after enjoying last year's This Is Where I Leave you so very much. Tropper's publisher is reissuing his books so I snagged this on my last trip to Borders with a coupon.

Hamlet's Mill: An Essay Investigating the Origins of Human Knowledge And Its Transmission Through Myth by Giorgio de Santillana and Hertha von Dechen - I've long been a fan of Ancient Mystery type books regarding past civilaztions and lost history.  Think Graham Hancock.

Dog Blood by David Moody - This is the sequel to Moody's debut Hater sent from the publisher. I'll definitely check it out soon.

The Machinery of Light by David J. Williams - The third and final book in the Autumn Rain trilogy sent by the author. Review of the first book is still to come.

Terminal World by Alastair Reynolds - Another review copy that I'll be devouring by the end of June.

Antiphon by Ken Scholes - Galley of one of my most anticipated series now. If you haven't tried Scholes get off your butts and do it.  You won't regret it. I'm anxious to read it now, but I try to hold off until close to publication.

Shakespeare Undead by Lori Handeland - I'm a little wary of this mash-up take off after my abortive attempt at reading Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter, but I'm a big Shakespeare fan so I just might try it out. Review copy from publisher.

Black Blade Blues by J.A. Pitts -  I like Urban Fantasy, but the cover turned me off at first. Having re-read the back cover copy it does pique my interest again as a not your run of the mill UF mixing sword forging with dwarves in a modern setting. Review copy from publisher.

Twisted Metal by Tony Ballantyne - Not picture because it just showed up. Another from Book Depository. Did someone say robot war?

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Away and Contest notice

By the time you read this I will be somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean.  Hopefully the waves won't get to me and I'll be having a blast.  There will still be plenty going on here for the next week although I won't be quick on replies to e-mail or comments here. I've got a great guest post from Ekaterina Sedia coming up and a neat little giveaway for Brent Weeks and Greg Bear fans out there.  Also, Harry over at Temple Library Reviews has a great contest going on for a bookcase.  Go on and stop by because you know those piles of books would look nicer on that beautiful shelf.

REVIEW | Health Agent by Jeffrey Thomas

This review is a little late. I read Health Agent a few months back, but when I moved back to my house the book got misplaced. But here now are my thoughts after a bit of a re-read and finding my original scribbles.

Health Agent is a very early version of Punktown. It was the first originally intended long form visit to Punktown by Thomas, but the first publisher dropped the ball. Now more than 20 years later we finally get a look at what Thomas had cooking, which has grown so much since Health Agent was originally written.

Health Agent is a penetrating read that sticks in your soul for a good, dark time. In many ways Health Agent is a very disturbing read. Firstly the subject matter is communicable diseases, which must be controlled or completely eradicated. Whores, both male and female abound in Health Agent along with hardcore drug use, depraved sex acts, and horrific blood chilling scenes of a very graphic nature, especially in the second half. In some ways it reminded me of some of the sicker scenes of the Saw movies, which for me is a bit too much, but I pressed through my discomfort because I had to know the out come which shows what a compelling story Thomas has here.

Health Agent is the story of Agent Montgomery Black and his partner Opal Cowrie. They are responsible for tracking down and arresting people infected with alien diseases in particular Mutstav 670, which is running rampant and causes death in every person infected in less than a year. While on investigation Black and Opal get infected in an odd arts show so they get to see how the other side fairs. This isn't a case of good agent gone bad, but of good agents thrown into the worst of circumstances and seeing a conspiracy wherever they look. Black eventually survives, which leads to the second part of the book where he is no longer an agent.  Now he is taking it easy working in a train station as a magazine seller when a beautiful girl catches his eye, but his skills as a detective quickly takeover as he notices she is injured sometimes when he sees her. This is the point in the story where the really bad and sick train rolls in to Punktown.  Black suspects connections between the art show that infected him and the show this girl is now involved in. The connections work well and the Sci-Fi aspect comes more into play as quite a few alien species get more involved with the story.

Health Agent is at its core a detective novel set in a Sci-Fi enviroment, but if you are sqeamish you might want to pass it over as it can get pretty extreme at times.  The ending wraps thing up well and shows there is redemption in Punktown. It is just hard to get and earn, but Monty eventually gets his due. I give Health Agent 7.75 out of 10 hats.  I found this fresher than even the more recent Blue War, but the Punktown shorts are still my favorites. All in all this gives a deeper insight into what Thomas has been brewing for over 20 years. Recommended for recent fans of Charlie Huston's Sleepless and other Sci-Fi mixed with Horror elements.

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Recent Read Run-Down

Well I've been reading a lot even if I haven't had time to review everything. I wanted to share my thoughts and continue a log of sorts of what I've been reading. I especially wanted to get this down as I'll be on vacation next week and didn't want these to fade from memory too much. Don't worry about my absence as I have plenty of posts scheduled for my time away, which includes an author guest post.  As you'll see below I'm still avoiding books over 500 pages at the moment. I've definitely been in the mood for lighter reading fair and that will probably continue for the next couple of weeks.

The Prince of Mist by Carlos Ruiz Zafon - This is the first book Zafon ever wrote, which also happens to be a YA book.  You can definitely see how The Shadow of the Wind developed from here.  The prose isn't nearly as beautiful, but accomplishing that would be difficult given the intended audience.  YA books just don't stretch your vocabulary as an adult book intends to do.  Still it was a very fine read that I recommend all Zafon fans seek out.  The ending was a bit off, but the first two thirds built up well. I'd love to hear thoughts about this one from someone who hasn't read The Shadow of the Wind to see what an outsider without the high expectations gets from it.   Zafon's publisher Little Brown is planning on releasing his other two YA books a year apart.

The Mirrored Heavens by David J. Williams - Recommended.  Full review to come.

Divine Misfortune by A. Lee Martinez - Yet another great comic romp.  Martinez is solidifying his place as one of American's best Speculative Humorists. The ending was a bit predictable, but I can overlook that for the entertainment value as Martinez's baggage-laden gods show how truly gone wild they are, especially after being invited into someone's home. In some ways this is a humorous version of Gaiman's American Gods that doesn't take it self too seriously, but using gods little used in literature elsewhere.  Highly recommend for those looking to laugh.

Strata by Terry Pratchett - An okay read that I was expecting more out of.  Definitely not the Pratchett we've come to know and love.  This was him striving for more of a hard Sci-Fi story.  While it does the science part fine the characters were difficult to care for and a section at the beginning of the main journey bothered me in its execution.  It is a good read to see the evolution of the idea of a disc world, but I prefer other early Pratchett such as The Carpet People and The Bromeliad Trilogy.

A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr - I thought I had read this years ago, but I think I might be mistaken.  Either way I doubt I would have appreciated it as much in the past.  This is a classic not to be missed by anyone.  The third section lost me a little as it feels a little dated, but the first two are timeless and amazing in their style and execution.  This story is a forbearer to so much Apocalyptic fiction it is scary to think where that subgenre would be if it had never been published.

The Goon Vol. 1 through 5 and The Goon: Noir by Eric Powell and others - I am officially addicted to this truly awesome graphic novel series.  I'd rank it close to Hellboy in terms of quality of art with the cover paintings being especially grabbing.  The stories are pretty darn good as well as the mob muscle/anti-hero known as The Goon battles a Zombie Priest and his hordes.  With each passing chapter The Goon gains unexpected complexity, but it is the all out fights you'll stick around for.  He combats a mad scientist, werewolves, mutants, and a host of other creatures.  All in all it is a great mix of 30's Noir and the paranormal with a deep humor bent that can border on the inappropriate. Highly recommended.

Swords and Dark Magic edited by Lou Anders and Jonathan Strahan - Highly recommended. Full review to come.

Stalking the Vampire by Mike Resnick - The second in the John Justin Mallory series of uber hard-boiled Detective stories in an alternative Manhattan infested with creatures of myth and legend. The story moves along at a quick pace, but some of the repetitive dialogue between certain characters was tiring. This mostly had to do with Mallory and his cat-girl protector Felina arguing about what she is going to eat.  Still I like Mallory and his no nonsense attitude plus their are loads of funny lines between other characters. Recommend for those looking for a light read with some laughs.

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Recent Read Run-Down, March 2010
Recent Read Run-Down, April 2010