By Chuck Wendig
Release date: May 28, 2013
Angry Robot has been hit or miss for me, but Chuck Wendig is a hit. I guess it’s not really fair for me to single out a publisher, but they’re memorable. That is due to their tag system; the back of every book has a list of descriptions. File under Occult Underworld/Psychedelic Color Drugs/Not Your Mother’s Elektra-Complex. I made those ones up. But you get the gist. Also, this book doesn’t come out for another month, but we all need something to look forward to, right?
If you’ve read Wendig’s Miriam Black series (Blackbirds, Mockingbird), you know he can write. And you know the characters he writes aren’t really people you want to invite to your house. Wendig is gritty. His characters are damaged, not always likeable, and likely to make off with the good silver. I also want to add an “o” to the end of his name because how awesome would that be? But I digress. The Miriam Black series skirts the paranormal. For the most part, it’s the world as we know it, only with more trailer trash and serial killers than Ohio. (It’s OK, I can say that; I live in Ohio. No, I lied; it will never be OK. I live in Ohio.) In The Blue Blazes, Wendig finally takes the plunge and brings us Neverwhere‘s crackwhore stepsister with serious daddy issues. I mean that in the nicest way possible.
Mookie Pearl is a thug, an estranged father, and a soldier in the Polish mob. He likes eating meat, beating the shit out of goblins, and doing the eponymous Blue. Blue is a drug mined from the Underworld, a literal chthonic nightmare situated under NYC. It makes the user stronger, faster, and open to seeing disturbing magical things, which also come from said Underworld. The most common are goblins: primitive, man-eating, and possessing disgusting spawning habits. There are more things in the depths too, things that drive mere mortals to gibbering insanity. It’s a Lovecraftian setup with nary a “ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn.”
And then comes Nora AKA Persephone: Mookie’s dear drug-dealing daughter who has daddy-issues. She’s started a rival setup and is heading toward war with Mookie’s Polish friends. Now Mookie isn’t a total monster, he really does care about Nora. But it would be very bad if his employers found out about their relationship. Then the boss-to-be approaches Mookie about a very special mission in the Underworld… Of course, things just go to subterranean hell from there.
I enjoyed the fantasy element a lot. Wendig made very entertaining characters and factions. The potential love interest grows a little bland at parts, but Mookie and Nora set a high bar. I’m also a sucker for well-meaning but utterly dysfunctional family stories. Mookie and Nora’s relationship is not good. And they both have very good reasons to be unhappy with each other. Lister and Werth also have extremely…unhealthy but compelling relationships with Mookie. I won’t go into spoilers, but I enjoyed their interaction too.
The street gangs get a little silly (roller derby rockabilly chicks that don’t use guns are cool in theory, but not using heavier weapons makes it hard to take them seriously). The Blue Blazes has a more distinct questing element than Miriam Black. Parts of the treasure hunt feel a little too convenient, but I can suspend disbelief because of the writing. Also because Wendig throws in fun crazy shit: construction worker-warriors, zombie-towns, delicious meats… It’s gritty, but fun. Maybe a bit more uplifting than the Miram Black books; which is weird because this definitely has more disturbing imagery.
The journal entries before each chapter are a nice bit of milieu. Very Lovecraftian. I don’t think the super bad things are quite as scary as they should be, but I took this more as a dark urban fantasy romp than a horror story. The ending is a little predictable, but still satisfying.
So if you need something dark, gritty, and fun, I recommend The Blue Blazes.
Edited by Paula Guran
Published March 19, 2013
I love short story anthologies, especially the kind that provide a sampling from several authors. I know going in that there are going to be some stinkers, but usually there are at least a few good ones, and if I’m lucky, there will be a new author to pick up. And the topic matter makes for great stories.
Weird Detectives has a lot of heavy-hitters. This guarantees good solid reads that won’t make you go “Oh God I spent $16.99 on this book, and now I can’t afford lunch, and it sucks!” Unfortunately, most of the things by the people we know best are reprints. In fact, everything in here is a reprint, but since some of the authors aren’t so well-known some of the stories were new to me. The only really new content is case summary. Each chapter has a case summary, if you will, outlining the who and the what of the crime.
For the authors you know, nothing really deviates from the expected. Neil Gaiman and Patricia Briggs are impressive as always. I prefer Jim Butcher’s novels to his short stories, but “Love Hurts” is decent read. Reprint or not it is a very good selection of stories. BUT, some of them are very old.
I’ve picked a few stories to highlight, and they’re spoiler free!
“Fox Tails” by Richard Parks surprised me. I’d seen his Yamada Monogatari: Demon Hunter, and decided to pass on that one. I’m very picky about Asian-themed lit. It’s either not very good or tends to play to stereotypes. His writing took a moment to get used to; the style was punchier than most Heian era tales. That put me off initially – it felt too anachronistic. The protagonist sounds like he’d be more at home in the Maltese Falcon than the Tale of Genji. It’s a little jarring.
As monsters went, youkai ran the gamut from “mildly annoying” to “slurp your intestines like hot noodles.” By the time you knew which sort you were dealing with, it was usually too late. (pg 371)
But a few pages into the story I was able to suspend my disbelief and just enjoy the ride. I don’t know if I’ll buy his collection of Yamada stories, but I liked his writing.
“Like Part of the Family” by Jonathan Maberry piqued my interest. He’s on my to-read list. This one doesn’t involve zombies and it’s a rather predictable private eye tale, but I enjoyed his voice and style. Definitely going to pick up more of his stuff.
“Imposters” by Sarah Monette held some very interesting post-modern magic and not a little social commentary. It’s Capgras Syndrome in reverse, which in these cases happens to be very terminal. The character dynamic was very compelling, but it felt a little preachy at the end.
“Cryptic Coloration” by Elizabeth Bear was not what I expected. The first time I read it, I was surprised, and not certain if I liked it. But after a reread I’ve decided that I do. It involves virgins, monsters, and a rather improper students/teacher relationship that has severe consequences. Elizabeth Bear recently put out a short story anthology Shoggoths in Bloom. This is printed in that as well ( and where I saw it first), and it is an excellent compilation.
“Death by Dahlia” by Charlaine Harris was a pleasant reread. Yes, I know, everyone knows Charlaine Harris and I was trying to highlight some of the less famous, but still good stories. I’m hypercritical and have been editing my words, but here I’ll be blunt. I don’t like the Sookie Stackhouse series; it’s a revolving door dating service for an only somewhat likeable but not very compelling psychic waitress. There, I said it. Bring on the fire and pitchforks. But while we’re waiting, I will admit, Charlaine Harris can write (despite my feelings about that series). Dahlia is a far more interesting character than Sookie, and she’s set in the same universe. A familiar character makes a cameo. So even if you don’t like Sookie, Dahlia is worth a read.
Overall, this is a great collection worth owning. BUT, you should definitely check to see if you’ve already read/purchased these stories elsewhere. Prime Books posted a copy of the table of contents here.
by Laura Moriarty (Riverhead Books 2012)
Fifteen-year-old Louise Brooks, a few years before she becomes famous as a silent screen actress, leaves Wichita for New York City with a chaperone, Cora Carlisle. Cora is neither family nor friend and has volunteered to chaperone this feisty teenager for propriety’s sake and because she has some reasons of her own to visit New York.
I didn’t know much about Louise Brooks before this book and I think I would like to see some of her pictures and definitely read her biography, Lulu in Hollywood. She is fascinating, precocious, driven and uncontrollable. She is kind of like the first female rock star with her behavior and how shocking she was for her time.
But this book is really about Cora and her journey. She follows society’s way of thinking, is upstanding and tries to teach Louise how to act and what to do and say in the few weeks they are together, but ultimately realizes she needs to look internally before she is fit to do any teaching.
“There was something entitled in the girls voice, something proud and unthinking.” (pg 40)
Oh Cora, if only she could see how today’s kids treat most everyone… Louise is a handful and is NOT respectful at all. She thinks Cora is ridiculous, rolls her eyes, basically hates her and tries to act as shocking as possible. She does what she wants to get attention and ultimately get what she wants.
Ultimately Cora does realize she herself is being taught by Louise.
“The young can exasperate, of course, and frighten, and condescend, and insult, and cut you with their still unrounded edges. But they can also drag you, as you protest and scold and try to pull away, right up to the window of the future, and even push you through.” (pg 157)
Cora, at 36 years old grows up and into herself. In a way, it is her coming of age as she begins to understand herself and her desires and realizes that you have to fight for what you want sometimes and not let life and your family, friends, expectations and society’s morays steamroll you into an automaton sleepwalking through a half existence.
She’d always assumed that this first, unremembered loss, even before she was sent out on the train, was the root of her unhappiness. (pg258) She’d lived too much of her life so stupidly, following nonsensical rules, as if she and he, as if anyone, had all the time in the world. (pg 273)
What this book really did for me, was help me further understand my grandparents from their silent generation, and make me wonder what we don’t know about their lives! We here in the US are encouraged to spill everything we are feeling, thinking and have experienced, but it wasn’t always like that. This book shows a juxtaposition of the WWI & depression era generation with the flappers and jazz age kids who flaunted and exposed because it was real, not just expected.
On a side note, I personally have never ever felt such loneliness until I moved to New York and didn’t know hardly anyone and really didn’t know the city yet. It is a great way to find out who you are. Moriarty captures that beautifully.
“But even then, even in her wonder, she couldn’t help but think that from up in the high and quiet, behind the glass of the observation booth, the city finally looked and sounded as apart from her as it felt.” (pg 201)
The book spans Cora’s life, and while it was interesting to see what she does and where everyone ends up at the end, it rambled a little bit for me and lost some steam. I called it “floppy” at bookclub and everyone agreed. But other than that, I really enjoyed this book. It illuminated and it didn’t answer every question about Cora’s life to make the reader think and guess and, I assume, to make it closer to real life. I would recommend it, it was wonderful, has many more themes than I mentioned and really does make you think, 4 black and white stars bouncing around making faces to the happy sounds of the orchestra, enjoy the icy air and listen to the audience laugh.
by Jonathan Maberry
I seem to be on a major zombie kick lately. It is fun, I haven’t read too many yet, but this book is more of a non-stop thriller, FBI-ish procedural, save the world from megalomaniacs and terrorists. But these are well-funded with nasty smart scientists who mess with mad cow type diseases to create, yep, you guessed it, zombies.
This book is serious and seriously messed up. But Joe Ledger is an awesome nearly superhero-esque character with amazing cop, warrior and army skills and also armed with snarky comments.
“He finished his cookie and took another vanilla wafer. I’m not sure I could trust a man who could bypass an Oreo in favor of vanilla wafers. It’s a fundamental character flaw, possibly a sign of true evil.” (pg 13)
The timeline is crazy fast because you read about Joe’s inclusion in a super secret government agency, as well as the six days ago count-down to present day movements of the terrorists. If you can keep it all straight in your head, you are revealed tantalizing bits of information that no mere mortal could possibly thwart…except for that fact that Joe is so kick-ass. His new boss is a bit of a scary bastard, mostly because you don’t get in his head to know how or why he does things.
“That wiped the smile off everyone’s face. We all knew he meant it, and I was starting to get a pretty good idea that he was a total whack job.
But he was our whack job.” (pg 116)
I really enjoyed this book, it was a mile a minute, wild ride that just happened to include the possibility of a zombie apocalypse. There are some extremely violent scenes, but the people involved are human, they have a hard time wrapping their heads around the fact they just had to kill a bunch of civilians that had been changed. Maberry juxtaposes real people who are genuinely trying to do good with money hungry jerkwads that don’t care except how much money they are going to make. Maberry doesn’t really let you get that immune to the violence because his characters can’t wrap their heads around it very well either. Plus there is a psychiatrist in on the top secret save the world stuff helping them cope.
“He turned back to me. “I hope they’re not so tough that they’re hardened, Joe. We’re not just fighting against something…we’re fighting for something and it would be a shame to destroy the very thing you’re fighting to preserve.” (pg 135)
I am definitely going to pick up the other three books and his YA zombie books. I am a fan! 4.5 stars, one has the virus, the other 3.5 are trying to shoot off its head before it infects them all.
Anyone have any good recommendations for other zombie reads?
Sonny James and Luki Vasquez are back for another adventure. This time they’re working their way into a relationship, trying to understand each other enough to be together and work through their problems. Things never run smoothly though, which they find out the hard way.
I don’t want to give away too much of the story but I really liked this book, better than the first one even. It’s not very often that I find myself crying over a character, especially within the first few chapters but I had to have a few tissues handy when I started this one and even in a few spots through the rest of the book.
Even with the sad start, I found myself enjoying the story. Luki may have gone back to Chicago to work but when Sonny needs him most, he drops everything to be there for the man he loves. Sonny is broken and trying to deal with his pain and with Luki’s help, he manages to. I enjoyed seeing how the two men interact, dealing with their own problems and trying to help each other. When someone from Sonny’s past shows up and throws more fuel on the fire, I worried that they couldn’t work things out but by learning to trust each other, they did.
The mystery is good, even if who the person trying to kill them is a bit predictable the why is a nice surprise. It helped keep things flowing, adding tension and uncertainity into Luki and Sonny’s fates, and helped the boys on their road to trusting each other. I really enjoyed this book and can’t wait for the next one in the series, which I hope comes out soon.
This book deserves a solid 4 stars and Lou Sylvre is becoming one of my favorite authors.
With his days occupied with duties as Captain of the Guard, and nights consumed with upholding his reputation as a rake, Lord Sebastian Hastings’s schedule is filled. There’s no extra time to be anyone’s bodyguard, but the royal family’s safety is a task he sees to personally.
Prince Colton Townsend has loved Sebastian for as long as he can remember, but he’s done pining for a man who has vowed never to remarry. So he consoles himself with the second love of his life—horses. Stable building and horse racing consume his every thought, at least until he’s stuck with Sebastian dogging his every step.
While looking over the prospects at an auction, Colton is trying to ignore his sexy, pesky bodyguard when he feels compelled to take on a bully to protect an abused horse. Sebastian is dragged into the fray, and their good deed sparks a string of nasty rumors.
There’s only one way to quell the political storm: marry. But instead of solving everything, Colton realizes his new husband is a bundle of secrets, none of which he’ll give up easily. Unless Colton makes one, last-ditch effort that could break his heart for good.
Warning: Contains an obnoxious filly, a love-struck prince, a meddling king, a matchmaking duke, vicious rumors and hunky ex Special Forces soldiers.
J.L. Langley was one of the first m/m writers I encountered, and is still an autobuy for me. She’s not terribly prolific, so it’s always a reason for celebration when one of her books comes out.
My Regelence Rake has been a long time coming—the previous book in the series, The Englor Affair, was published in 2008. I wish I could say that it was worth the wait, but of the three books in the series (begun with My Fair Captain) My Regelence Rake is easily the weakest.
Don’t get me wrong—if you like Ms. Langley’s writing, and I do, hence the autobuy status—MRR is still a fun romp through what is a cleverly built futurescape. The conceit of these books is that there are planets in the far future (the date of January 12th, 4831, opens the book) which have chosen to replicate the era of Waterloo, the Prince Regent, and Jane Austen. One of these planets is Regelence, where same-sex marriages are the norm, and young males as protected and hedged ´round with rules as young girls were in the original. (The other is Englor, and the second book takes place there; while it is also Regency in culture, same-sex marriages are not the norm, and the situation creates a different type of tension.)
The planet is ruled by King Steven and his Consort, Raleigh; they have five boys, each of whom (at least so far) gets his own novel in the series. My Regelence Rake tells the story of Colton, who is in love with Sebastian, Viscount Wentworth, the rake of the title, who has demons of his own to battle—although he is and always has been in love with Colton, he has a Past that makes him feel that he is not good enough for the young prince. Circumstances throw them together, of course, and between Sebastian being assigned as Colton’s bodyguard and the mystery of Sebastian’s past, the two find themselves in various predicaments.
Although there are plots and subplots in each of the books, they are linked by a common thread—another mystery, involving the intergalactic navy that protects the planets in the union of whatever part of the galaxy, and betrayals and kidnappings and all sorts of fun stuff.
In fact, I think that that was what disappointed me the most about this book. The other two played more with the intergalactic stuff, and that world-building and the interplay between the sci-fi elements and the Regency-like cultures made the stories fun. This book sacrifices that interplay to focus on the social constructs of Regelence culture. But the “historical” elements of the planetary societies are the barest minimum, basically what everyone “knows” about the period: Tattersall’s, private clubs, gambling, balls. Nothing in depth, nothing that smacks of any real research, so while it might appeal to those with a Regency jones, it falls short of feeling real. The main plot is situational, based on Sebastian’s Past and his involvement with Colton; while there are occasional references to the intergalactic naval mystery, they don’t affect the story one way or another.
Another problem I had was with the relationship between Sebastian and Colton. Part of what I enjoyed in the first two books was the culture clash between Nate—a starship captain—and the prince Aidan, and Simon—officer of the more conventional Regency planet of Englor and heir to that throne—and first-time-away-from-home Payton. Here there is no such culture clash; it’s more of the traditional romance with difficulties thrown in, and there’s nothing of the sense of wonder and exploration and edginess that made the encounters in the previous two books so entertaining… and hot. MRR is still pretty hot, but not up to the level of the first two books.
My Regelence Rake is still an entertaining book by anyone’s standards. If it had been the first book in the series, though, I might not have read the others. As it is, I have hopes for the other two brothers in the royal family of Regelence and really look forward to reading those. Hopefully in sooner than four years, though.
Z.A Maxfield’s newest book Gasp! is not to be missed. The characters are strongly written and will pull you into their story right from the beginning. Jeff Paxton is former military, and after serving in Afghanistan the young man is suffering from not only PTSD, but survivor’s guilt as well. Nigel Gasp is a famous/infamous rock star. Unfortunately, Nigel is not as young as he used to be which is causing more than a few insecurities to pop up. Jeff never expected the favor he was doing for his sister to turn into anything more, yet the author chooses just that situation to bring together two men in desperate need of love, and ends up giving the reader a story that will hold their attention until the last page.
However, while the author brings these two together, she does not make their journey an easy one. Between the issues that Jeff carries as a result of his time in the military, and Nigel’s sudden desire to check out, the men have more than a few obstacles to overcome. The angst in this story is, at times, a little heavy but necessary to the story line. Readers should know though that there are some light heart moments in Gasp! as well. Not only does Nigel’s need for cross dressing lead to more than a few laughs, but Jeff’s encounter with a bear had me laughing out loud and I almost felt sorry for the young man, especially when the sheriff showed up .
Fans of Ms. Maxfield are sure to love her newest story and if you have not yet read one of this author’s books, then Gasp! is a great place to start.
by Neal Shusterman
After reading this book I am extremely disturbed. It is a YA dystopia and there was a second civil war and some reason, it doesn’t really matter why, the two sides decided that all people have a right to life until age 13. Between 13 and 18 a kid can be unwound, sold for parts (a sort of later in life abortion) if they are wards of the state, their parents decide they are too much work, or their guardian signs them away. There has been a breakthrough in medicine so arms, skin, teeth, muscles everything can be harvested and implanted on people who need new parts. There are tons of cops making sure these unwind kids don’t run away because it is big business for the government. But the kicker and rhetoric is the kids are still alive because around 95% of each kid has to be used by law. They are just disassembled and they live on in the people who need their body parts. Yay! I didn’t have my kid killed, he lives on in hundreds of different people. Isn’t that wonderful? Shusterman makes sure you know if the kid is still “there” and it is a little bit horrifying.
The adults in this world allow this to happen knowing that it isn’t a wonderful thing, regardless of the rhetoric spouted by the government and they all feel guilty when they send a kid to be unwound. However, they spout the same marketing BS to try to make the kid and themselves feel better about it, because many parents send their kids for unwinding. The other issue is that you can stork a baby (leave it on someone’s doorstep and they are required by law to raise the child if they don’t catch you leaving it). So many families have more kids than they can handle. YA books usually have adults as clueless or evil or stupid and the kids know better, but wow, these adults can be quite harsh, though not all of them, because some are amazing. But society has deemed it acceptable, so there you go.
Read this book. It is horrible, it is tough and it is so well done. Some terrible decisions are made by all sorts of people young and old. I liked it from the first few pages. So, think back on your life, when you were 13 or 15, not the best of years for many of us. You go through puberty, you fight with your folks, you feel sullen and removed…how many of us would have ticked off our folks and been unwound? Or had a sibling unwound? Seriously. There is this scene, well a couple of them actually that are so intense. I think some of them will haunt me for some time to come. Much like an after image of a bright light on my retinas.
This book is well-written, makes you think, has full, well-rounded primary and secondary characters and has a crazy idea but shows you how it could really happen. It also has dangling storylines that get woven together seemlessly. I loved that certain things were brought back up and answered or just came full circle. There will soon be another book and I imagine any open-ended storylines or remaining questions will be answered. Also, discord has been sown…I am hoping we will eventually see the fall of this unwinding business. This book scared me, was well written, had characters I cared about and made me think, I give this book 5 stars.
When you read a lot, you begin to notice the little trends that occur. At the moment one of those trends is the single gay man unexpectedly becoming a father. Usually when this happens, it is because the guy is helping someone else become a parent and has to take responsibility after a tragedy occurred. Other times, it is because a sibling has pasted and the main character has to now raise his niece or nephew. One Small Thing takes a totally different path however. In this story main character, Rue Murray, ends up having a one night stand. When the girl ends up pregnant, with no desire to be a mother, Rue doesn’t hesitate to step up to the plate. I liked this new turn as it gives this new trend a fresh spin. The authors did a wonderful job showcasing the uncertainty and fear that Rue goes through during this time in his life, which allowed the story to come across realistically.
The other main character in this story is Erik Van Nuys. Erik is a science fiction writer who suffers from a variety of phobias. These phobias have caused a number of problems in his life. When he’s forced to move into a new apartment, he becomes Rue’s new neighbor, which leads to more than he can handle. I really loved Erik. The way he works around his issues made me laugh, especially after he starts babysitting little Alice. Another area which will keep the reader entertained is watching Erik as he shifts from straight science fiction to gay romance science fiction.
Erik and Rue are two vastly different characters. That the authors kept this in mind and allowed the men to move from total strangers to friends, and then to lovers, made their relationship more believable. Due to their differences, however, the men have many stumbling blocks to overcome and when misunderstandings occur it looks as if those differences may just end up keeping them apart. I liked watching as these two become, along with baby Alice, a family. The authors brought the connection between these two across wonderfully, as well as showed the men’s growing maturity as they dealt with being parents.
Piper Vaughn and M.J. O’Shea make a great writing duo. Their books are always entertaining and keep the reader’s attention. After reading one of their stories I always find myself looking for more. If you have yet to try one of their stories I would say give One Small Thing a try, you won’t be sorry.
Seizing It, is a terrific story that’s centers on two interesting characters, Kit Hall and Dale Miller. Kit is the receptionist at a veterinary clinic. Much to his family’s dismay the young man as become withdrawn from others because of his epilepsy. The fact that he has also been dealing with an abusive ex hasn’t helped matters much. Having known people who have suffered from epilepsy, as well as those in abusive relationships, it was easy to see the author had done her research. This made the story more realistic and made for a better all around story.
Dale is the new vet taking over the clinic where Kit works. The way that these two first meet is intense and makes for some oops moments later in the story. There is a chemistry between the two men that’s hard to miss. But in order for them to have a relationship Dale has a lot of hurdles to over come where Kit is concerned. With his history, it is easy to see why Kit behaves the way he does, and I like that Dale knows just what to do to help the young man.
Between the actions of Kit and Dale, as well as the many wonderful secondary characters, readers will enjoy this fast paced story that will grabs their attention from page one. Seizing It, was my introduction to author Chris T. Kat, and this story made me a fan of the author. I can’t wait to see what the she plans on next.