What I’m Reading Now

Fiction

Serafina and the Black Cloak – Robert Beatty : (4 stars) Much like Catherynne Valente’s Fairyland series, this is an engaging book with a strong, smart, spunky female protagonist who owns her agency within the story. I loved the setting at the Biltmore Estate which created the perfect ambiance for this story. Even though I’m an adult (at least by popular consensus), I thoroughly enjoyed the day spent curled up in bed with this book and a strong cup of coffee. It was a light, enjoyable read, and one that makes me look forward to reading more about Serafina.

Darwen Arkwright and the Insidious Bleck – A.J. Hartley : (5 stars) I’ve had this book in my TBR pile for a LONG time, and thought that reading this would be a great way to kick off my 2016 Recover from College initiative. I expected it to be light and fluffy reading. Well, in some regards, it is, but in others, it’s really NOT. Let me explain…in Something Like a Review.

Dead Man’s Reach – D.B. Jackson : (5 stars) This is the fourth installment in Jackson’s Thieftaker series. It lingered in my TBR pile for far too long. I’m not a huge urban fantasy fan, but there is something truly unique about this series. Not only is the setting of Revolutionary Boston a twist on the traditional, the use of magic is one of the most developed I’ve seen in any series. I’m hopeful that there will be more of Ethan Kaille’s adventures forthcoming because I’m not ready to let it go.

Scattered, Smothered and Chunked: Bubba the Monster Hunter Season 1 – John G. Hartness : (5 stars) This is one of those that just deserves more than a little blurb. So, instead of dithering, go read my Something Like a Review to see what I really thought about it.

Dark Heir – Faith Hunter : (4 stars) I enjoy the Jane Yellowrock series, and the last book in the series had me clamoring for more. I enjoyed it more than all the previous novels and was the first time I’d gotten so consumed with her work that I listened compulsively. I had high hopes for this one. Don’t get me wrong – the overall story and writing is still strong, the characters are fully-fleshed out and feel like real people. There’s significant development that I won’t detail to avoid spoiling anyone…however…  This book felt more like “The Philosophical Evolution of Jane.” In all the other books, Hunter does a fantastic job of finding the balance between including detail in a fight scene (or when Jane is in mortal peril) and maintaining the pace and urgency of the scene. In this one, there were times when it seemed like Jane was more consumed with what was happening in her head than in front of her – whether time was slowed or not. I enjoyed the story, and am satisfied with it as the next installment in the series, yet it didn’t feel like this one stood up to the previous installations in terms of pacing and sense of urgency. I’m sure there are people who would argue with me on the basis of what happens to Jane throughout the story as being a contributing factor, and to a degree, I agree. Even so, there were times I wanted Jane to stop asking questions of herself and do something – or just to stop musing so much in the middle of the chaos. I wanted the sense of peril and urgency that had me so hooked in the previous book, and have it well balanced against her development. In this book, I don’t think that balance was quite there.

Edge of Eternity – Ken Follett :  (5 stars) I love this series, but that statement lacks the depth of affection and attachment I feel. Follet does a masterful job of creating a historical fiction so rooted in fact, that sometimes it’s hard to remember that it’s indeed fiction. His research, evident throughout the Century Trilogy, strengthens his details until it becomes an immersive experience.  Even though I knew JFK would die, and could identify the details that led up to it, I still cried when it happened. Yes, I was that reader. It’s hard to be anything else in these books. There were a few little things that stuck out, like an American character referring to sneakers as “trainers,” but they were very few and far between, and easily forgivable considering the rest of the book. I listened to this entire series as audiobooks, but I think I’ll be making room on my shelves for this series. I really hope that there’s another installment before I die… 😉

The Boy Who Lost Fairyland – Catherynne Valente : (4 stars) I have a special place in my heart for the Fairyland series. Valente’s facility with incredible imagery appeals to the little kid in me and her intelligently wrought prose appeals to the word nerd. This isn’t my favorite in the series, but the ending certainly piques my interest in the rest of the series. This is the kind of book I want to curl up in a soft spot with lots of pillows and forget all of my adult obligations and responsibilities for a while. It is refreshing, escapist, and yet, I still relate to these stories to adult life. I will follow her on this journey as long as she is willing to lead it.

A Head Full of Ghosts – Paul Tremblay : (5 stars) I read this because Stephen King said it scared him. I understand why. This is a delightfully twisted story about a family in crisis. The elder daughter afflicted with…something terrible. Schizophrenia? Demonic possession? A father driven to both religion and reality television to save his family. The younger daughter caught in the maelstrom. A well written story that never lets you catch your balance and a payoff that gave me shivers. I highly recommend this, especially if you’re a fan of Blatty’s Exorcist, and/or any of the paranormal shows on TV.

The Mussorgsky Riddle – Darin Kennedy : (5 stars) Disclaimer: I know the author, but that doesn’t mean my Something Like a Review about it is anything but what I think. It would be hard not to be a fan of this book. Read what I had to say, and find out why.

Z-Burbia – Jake Bible : (5 stars) Zombies, zombies everywhere. I’m late to the Z-Burbia party, but that doesn’t mean the party’s over. Look out for Something Like a Review lurching out of the shadows here.

The Marketplace Series – Laura Antoniou : (5 stars) We all read smut. There’s no reason to deny it. But there’s no reason to read bad smut when there is intelligent, well-written, complex, and engaging erotica like this on the market. Just because something sells a bajillion copies doesn’t make it good. Quality matters, and what makes a good book, regardless of genre, is good writing. Laura Antoniou is a respected member of the BDSM community and clearly busts her ass to write a damned good book. I read the first Marketplace books (The Marketplace, The Slave and The Trainer) back in the 90’s, and I loved them then. Since that time, Antoniou has continued the Chronicles of Chris and Robin (my unofficial title) through 3 more books (The Academy, The Reunion and The Inheritor). I was fortunate enough to have an opportunity to meet the author in 2015 and started re-reading the series then. Due to (reasons), I wasn’t able to finish at the time, but have finally finished the last two books this year. Like many fans have already howled about, there are some seriously gut-wrenching moments in the last book, but it is a satisfying, gratifying, earned and well crafted end to a fantastic series. I highly recommend getting this series on audiobook because the voice talent embellishes the high quality of writing with a gloriously dignified and sophisticated accent. Besides, who doesn’t like hearing graphic sex scenes read in a wonderfully prissy British accent?

Neverwhere – Neil Gaiman :  (5 stars) I re-read this only because I found an audiobook read by the author himself. The story is still delightfully complex, mysterious, and enchanting. It was like being adopted and getting a bedtime story read/told me every time I turned it on. 🙂

Origins of a D-List Supervillian – Jim Bernheimer : (4 stars) I’ve always preferred the underdog-turned-hero (or anti-hero), and this is one of those series that drew me to the pessimistic, down-trodden Cal Stringel. I did read these somewhat out of order, but I didn’t have any trouble following the story. From Confessions of a D-List Supervillain, it was clear that Cal’s cloudy disposition had a deep, dark back story, and this is the payoff. I highly recommend this light-hearted and funny series, especially for the superhero junkies out there.

Grits, Guns & Glory : Bubba the Monster Hunter, Season 2 – John G. Hartness : (5 stars) I’m a Bubba convert. Like biscuits and gravy, shrimp and grits or chicken and dumplings, once you develop a taste for the Bubba stories, it’s hard to get enough. There’s a balance of horror, humor and downright awesomeness that come together to make Bubba who he is, a quintessential Southern redneck good-ol’-boy out fighting the good fight. Each of the stories in this, like the original, is a novella released individually and it seemed like there was less of the overlapping between stories (or I noticed it less). Either way, the stories were great, the voice talent lived up to the tales, and this still remains one of those books that makes me want to kick back with a little Skynard and a beer – though I hope Bubba won’t mind that it’s a Sam Adams. 😉

Year One: A Quincy Harker, Demon Hunter Collection by John G. Hartness: (5 stars) Quincy’s badass and Uncle Luke (aka Dracula) are living it up in Charlotte, NC. Find out why #HarkerTV is something that needs to happen by checking out my Something Like a Review here. 

Zer0es – Chuck Wendig : (4 stars) This one is totally SLaR worthy, especially given the hype, curiosity and controversy it generates. Check it out here…

N0S4A2 – Joe Hill : (5 stars) My infatuation with Joe Hill continues, and another SLaR awaits.

The Chosen – John Hartness :  (5 stars) I loved this one so much, I wrote Something Like a Review about it. You should check it out.

The Fireman – Joe Hill : (5 stars) I am very quickly becoming a Joe Hill fangirl, and not just because he’s awesome at picking up his dad’s legacy. Find out what I thought about this book in my Something Like a Review.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child: (3 stars) I’m a big Harry Potter nerd, and I wanted to love this story. I didn’t hate it, but there was something about it that didn’t ring true for me. Don’t get me wrong, I loved reconnecting with these characters and looking into their future lives, but there’s just something that … didn’t work for me. It might be the format (since this is a bound screenplay and not a novel). The reviews for the play were so positive that I think that I experienced a disconnect because of the format. It wasn’t a bad story, it was just… well, one of those “you can never go home again” kind of moments.

American Gods – Neil Gaiman : (4 stars) This was such a quirky tale that I found myself quickly enthralled. Gaiman does a fantastic job weaving a story threaded with mythology, tall tales and American fables. I love the concept – what happens to the gods brought to America by the believer immigrants, especially after faith in waned. I’m particularly glad I was able to listen to this as an audiobook read by Gaiman, since I think that his reading brought even more to the story.

 

Anthologies

Brave New Worlds – edited by John Joseph Adams : (5 stars) I love dystopian fiction. As depressing as it can be, there’s something reassuring about it. This collection is a wonderful collection of stories that show us that no matter how bad it gets (and we know it might get pretty damned bad for the next four years), there’s still a grain of hope. If the artists can imagine a life that continues under even the most arduous conditions, we can survive this. And if the artists can make that life something eerily beautiful and tragic, maybe we can even thrive.

Cinched – edited by John G. Hartness: (5 stars) This is a great collection with a wide variety of genres and concepts, all centered around corsets. It was one of the most unique anthologies I’ve read in a long time and I was hooked from the first story. There’s a little something for any taste in this volume, and it’s a great sample of the type of stories we can expect from Falstaff Books.

The End is Nigh – edited by John Joseph Adams : (4 stars) This is one of the most unique ideas for anthology I’ve encountered and I really enjoyed it. This is a three part anthology – a triptych – and this volume covers the days, hours and moments just before the apocalypse happens. Definitely worth a read. The stories are satisfying enough as stand alone works, however, I found myself far too curious about what happens in the next two parts of the triptych to not continue.

The End is Now – edited by John Joseph Adams : (4 stars) The apocalypse has arrived in this part of the triptych, and the stories not only deliver as independent stories, but some continue the stories from The End is Nigh. This is such a cool concept for an anthology and such a satisfying experience as a reader, that I recommend getting the series just for the experience. Of course, quality stories make the experience worth it, and there are certainly plenty of those in this volume.

The End has Come – edited by John Joseph Adams : (4 stars) The final installment of the triptych is my favorite part of the apocalypse – the post apocalypse. The disaster has come and abated enough for the recovery and resurgence to happen. It’s the most hopeful, even if grim set of circumstances. What’s particularly great about this series is following some characters throughout their respective disasters. It’s like reading several books at once and following their progress through a wide range of apocalyptic disasters. The stories are great, and the experience is one I haven’t had before. I recommend it. Either pick your favorite part of the apocalypse and indulge, or take the journey with many characters from beginning to end.

 

Non-Fiction

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America – Erik Larsen : (5 stars) This is one of the most addictive stories I’ve read lately, made more so since it is true. Larsen bewitches the audience by bringing history to live in an enchanting way that feels like a work of fiction. He does a masterful job of interweaving the stories of the Chicago World’s Fair, and the serial killer Dr. H. H. Holmes (Herman Webster Mudgett). His manner of story telling spurs the imagination by allowing the reader to “witness” history – both its light and dark, and giving illumination into both where the concept of American exceptionalism had some of its roots, and a glimpse into our own dark side that has never really gone away.

Writers Workshop of Horror – edited by Michael Knost : (4 stars) Like any compendium of writing advice, this book includes a wide range of opinion, suggestion and the expected warning “all writing advice is subjective, so you do you…” What makes this volume special is the wide range of authors included, the engaging and intimate way each chapter is written, and (for the horror writer) the focus on the quirks specific to the genre. This book doesn’t contain revelations previously unknown, but its method of presenting the material makes it feel like a private writer’s convention, or of a series of mentoring sessions with names that the eager horror fan will readily recognize. What I appreciate most about this book is that the topics are timeless. With the exception of references to “recent” books, or upcoming releases, the information is still as relevant as when it was published.

The Constant Art of Being a Writer : The Life, Art & Business of Fiction – N. M. Kelby : (4 stars) This one’s worth the time for any writer, from a beginner to someone who is interested in the business and craft of writing who hasn’t yet put butt in chair to get the work done. The information is a little dated in some chapters, but since I got it while Borders was thrashing about in death throes, that’s to be expected. Overall, there’s good information ranging from the “basics” of craft (story craft, character development) through surviving a book tour and NOT making a pest of yourself with the media. It’s a good resource for writers of any stage to add to their collection, but it’s not a definitive volume.

Gumption – Nick Offerman : (4 stars) I miss Jon Stewart on the Daily Show. His commitment to sharing books with his audience isn’t something easy to replace. This is one of those books that probably wouldn’t have shown up on my radar without him, and I’m glad it did. Offerman does a fantastic job of making history relatable, portrays historical figures as “real” people and highlighting a quality that feels missing in today’s America – gumption. I recommend this book to people who don’t think history is interesting, that non-fiction is boring, or anyone who wants to learn something new. America’s “greatness” was grounded in gumption and these stories help us find a little bit of it again.

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