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Thursday, March 31, 2016

Horror Review: Tonight, Again by Clive Barker

Tonight, Again is a slender little collection from Clive Barker that slipped out of Subterranean Press last November with little fanfare  - and, it pains me to say this, for good reason.

There were a few interesting stories here, and his drawings are always interesting to look at, but there are far too many half-page and single-page entries that amount to nothing more than stream of consciousness narrative snippets. Whereas the original Books of Blood spread 4 stories over 160 pages at their most slender, Barker crams a whopping 32 titles in just 106 pages here.

Feel free to do the math.

The collection opens on a positive note, with Tonight, Again, a short story that serves as a framing device, similar to The Book of Blood in his first collection. Craw: A Fable was an interesting tale with a classic Barker twist  in the end, but some readers may be uncomfortable with the sexual interplay between a thirteen-year-old girl and a talking beast.

Martha was a really well-developed story with something of a Firestarter flavor to it (a coming of age tale with pyrotechnics), while Dollie was a darkly realistic favorite (even if I saw the final transformation coming). A Blessing and An Incident at the Nunnery were two of my favorites, with the deliberate juxtaposition of the sacred and the erotic that Barker has always done so well. Finally, Mr. Fred Coady Professes His Undying Love for His Little Sylvia was weirdly erotic, exploring the love between a 28 inch tall woman and a 6 foot 2 inch tall man, but oddly tender for the master of the erotic macabre.

In the end, Tonight, Again has some good stories and a few pieces of art that are worth more than a glance, but even the e-book edition isn't worth the price of admission


Kindle Edition, 106 pages
Published November 30th 2015 by Subterranean Press

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Waiting On Wednesday: In the Shadow of the Gods by Rachel Dunne

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

In the Shadow of the Gods by Rachel Dunne
Expected publication: June 21st 2016 by Harper Voyager

A breathtaking talent makes her debut with this first book in a dark epic fantasy trilogy, in which a mismatched band of mortals, led by violent, secretive man, must stand against a pair of resentful gods to save their world.

Eons ago, a pair of gods known as the “Twins” grew powerful in the world of Fiatera, until the Divine Mother and Almighty Father exiled them, binding them deep in the earth. But the price of keeping the fire-lands safe is steep. To prevent these young gods from rising again, all twins in the land must be killed at birth, a safeguard that has worked, until now.

Trapped for centuries, the Twins are gathering their latent powers to break free and destroy the Parents for their tyranny—a fight between two generations of gods for control of the world and the mortals who dwell in it.

When the gods make war, only one side can be victorious. Joros, a mysterious and cunning priest, has devised a dangerous plan to win. Over eight years, he gathers a team of disparate fighters—Scal, a lost and damaged swordsman from the North; Vatri, a scarred priestess who claims to see the future in her fires; Anddyr, a drug-addled mage wandering between sanity and madness; and Rora and Aro, a pair of twins who have secretly survived beyond the reach of the law.

These warriors must learn to stand together against the unfathomable power of vengeful gods, to stop them from tearing down the sun . . . and plunging their world into darkness.


I actually snagged an e-ARC of this back in January, but with the release date creeping closer, it's just about time to dive in and give it a read. I love the idea of mismatched heroes and resentful gods.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Horror Review: The Devil's Serenade by Catherine Cavendish

When it comes to horror, sometimes the best scares are those just hinted at, kept off the page, or left open to explanation. It's that sense of doubt, that inability to trust our senses, that makes the reader so perfectly uncomfortable. It's a large part of why Gothic horror endures, and why the haunted house tale remains a classic.

The Devil's Serenade by Catherine Cavendish is a brilliant example of the genre, and even if it does show a bit more than we might expect in the end, the entire story is built up to justify it. This is a haunted house tale as full of memories and regrets as it is demons and spirits. More importantly, it's a story where the house itself is part of the story.

On the surface, Hargest House seems like your typical Gothic haunted house. It's large, looming, dark, and cold throughout. There is a definite sense of age, as evidenced by its lack of heating, its scarcity of illumination, and its dusty antique furniture. The attic is full of those ghosts and memories, striking Maddie with a fear she can't explain, but it's the cellar where Cavendish puts her mark on things most strongly. Down there are tree roots that seem a part of the house's foundation, with no tree close enough to justify their intrusion, and . . . well, let's just say their frequent comparison to tentacles is an apt one.

As for Maddie, she's an interesting twist on the Gothic heroine. Neither an innocent young damsel nor a crooked old maid, she's a strong, confident middle-aged divorcee looking to reclaim a life on her own terms. As surprised as she is to have inherited her aunt's estate, there are fond memories attached to it that make for a welcome return. There's also a gap in her memory, however, coinciding with the last summer she stayed there as a child. As each lost memory is triggered by something sinister inside the house, we begin to get a fuller picture of what happened then, and what is happening now.

Like the best haunted house stories, The Devil's Serenade is something to be experienced for yourself. I could go on and on about the characters, the setting, and the plot, but they're only part of the story. It's the narrative itself . . . the air of mystery . . . the slowly building tension . . . and the overall atmosphere that make it so effective. There are subtle twists aplenty as well, with Cavendish playing on our assumptions. Much to her credit, while I had figured out some of what was going on, there were still some genuine surprises in the climax.


ebook, 166 pages
Expected publication: April 19th 2016 by Samhain Publishing

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary ARC of this title from the publisher in exchange for review consideration. This does not in any way affect the honesty or sincerity of my review.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

From the Shelf to the Page: This Week in the Ruins

In case you missed any of it, here's what happened in the Ruins this week . . .


Fantasy Review of Forge of Darkness by Steven Erikson

An Open Letter to Will Klingner (and all the other spamholes)

Waiting on Wednesday of The Wheel of Osheim by Mark Lawrence


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Stacking The Shelves and Mailbox Monday are a pair of weekly memes that are about sharing the books that came your way over the past week, and which you've added to your shelves - whether they be physical or virtual, borrowed or bought, or for pleasure or review.

For Review:

Saint's Blood by Sebastien de Castell
Expected publication: June 7th 2016 by Jo Fletcher Books

How do you kill a Saint?

Falcio, Kest, and Brasti are about to find out, because someone has figured out a way to do it and they've started with a friend.

The Dukes were already looking for ways out of their agreement to put Aline on the throne, but with the Saints turning up dead, rumours are spreading that the Gods themselves oppose her ascension. Now churches are looking to protect themselves by bringing back the military orders of religious soldiers, assassins, and (especially) Inquisitors - a move that could turn the country into a theocracy. The only way Falcio can put a stop to it is by finding the murderer. He has only one clue: a terrifying iron mask which makes the Saints vulnerable by driving them mad. But even if he can find the killer, he'll still have to face him in battle.

And that may be a duel that no swordsman, no matter how skilled, can hope to win.


Department of Temporal Investigations: Time Lock by Christopher L. Bennett
Expected publication: September 5th 2016 by Pocket Books/Star Trek

An all new Star Trek e-novella from the world of Deep Space Nine, featuring the fan-favorite Federation bureau the Department of Temporal Investigations!

The dedicated agents of the Federation Department of Temporal Investigations have their work cut out for them protecting the course of history from the dangers of time travel. But the galaxy is littered with artifacts that, in the wrong hands, could threaten reality. One of the DTI's most crucial jobs is to track down these objects and lock them safely away in the Federation’s most secret and secure facility. As it happens, Agent Gariff Lucsly and his supervisor, DTI director Laarin Andos, are charged with handling a mysterious space-time portal device discovered by Starfleet. But this device turns out to be a Trojan horse, linking to a pocket dimension and a dangerous group of raiders determined to steal some of the most powerful temporal artifacts ever known...


Kindle Deals & Freebies:

    

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It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is another weekly meme, this time focused on what books are spending the most time in your hands and in your head, as opposed to what's been added to your shelf.

Tonight, Again by Clive Barker
Published November 30th 2015 by Subterranean Press

Tonight, Again: Tales of Love, Lust and Everything In Between marks Clive Barker's first collection since The Books of Blood over 25 years ago. It contains more than twenty primarily erotic short stories and vignettes, along with explicit illustrations by the author in his signature style.

As an exploration of extremes, in lush prose and evocative images, Tonight, Again is not to be missed by the author's many fans.


The Devil's Serenade by Catherine Cavendish
Expected publication: April 19th 2016 by Samhain Publishing

Maddie had forgotten that cursed summer. Now she’s about to remember…

“Madeleine Chambers of Hargest House” has a certain grandeur to it. But as Maddie enters the Gothic mansion she inherited from her aunt, she wonders if its walls remember what she’s blocked out of the summer she turned sixteen.

She’s barely settled in before a series of bizarre events drive her to question her sanity. Aunt Charlotte’s favorite song shouldn’t echo down the halls. The roots of a faraway willow shouldn’t reach into the cellar. And there definitely shouldn’t be a child skipping from room to room.

As the barriers in her mind begin to crumble, Maddie recalls the long-ago summer she looked into the face of evil. Now, she faces something worse. The mansion’s long-dead builder, who has unfinished business—and a demon that hungers for her very soul.


The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu by Joshua Hammer
Expected publication: April 19th 2016 by Simon & Schuster 

To save precious centuries-old Arabic texts from Al Qaeda, a band of librarians in Timbuktu pulls off a brazen heist worthy of Ocean’s Eleven.

In the 1980s, a young adventurer and collector for a government library, Abdel Kader Haidara, journeyed across the Sahara Desert and along the Niger River, tracking down and salvaging tens of thousands of ancient Islamic and secular manuscripts that had fallen into obscurity. The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu tells the incredible story of how Haidara, a mild-mannered archivist and historian from the legendary city of Timbuktu, later became one of the world’s greatest and most brazen smugglers.

In 2012, thousands of Al Qaeda militants from northwest Africa seized control of most of Mali, including Timbuktu. They imposed Sharia law, chopped off the hands of accused thieves, stoned to death unmarried couples, and threatened to destroy the great manuscripts. As the militants tightened their control over Timbuktu, Haidara organized a dangerous operation to sneak all 350,000 volumes out of the city to the safety of southern Mali.

Over the past twenty years, journalist Joshua Hammer visited Timbuktu numerous times and is uniquely qualified to tell the story of Haidara’s heroic and ultimately successful effort to outwit Al Qaeda and preserve Mali’s—and the world’s—literary patrimony. Hammer explores the city’s manuscript heritage and offers never-before-reported details about the militants’ march into northwest Africa. But above all, The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu is an inspiring account of the victory of art and literature over extremism.


What's topping your shelves this week?

Friday, March 25, 2016

Fantasy Review: Forge of Darkness by Steven Erikson

Forge of Darkness, the first book of Steven Erikson's Malazan prequel, The Kharkanas Trilogy, struck me in much the same way that Gardens of the Moon did so many years ago. In both cases, it took me several aborted attempts to get through the book. In fact, it was only the arrival of an ARC of Fall of Light that convinced me to go back and give this one more try.

Normally, I wouldn't invest so much time or so many attempts in a book, but my persistence with his first series paid off. While several aspects of Gardens of the Moon kept putting me off, something eventually clicked. There was no 'ah-ha' moment that I can pinpoint, just a span of pages that finally pulled me down into the epic maelstrom and refused to let me go. That series went on to be one of my all-time favorites, so I was eager to read more, and even more eager to explore the history of Anomander Rake and the mythology of his epic sword, Dragnipur.

Unfortunately, many of those little things that bothered me about Gardens of the Moon weighed on me even more wit Forge of Darkness. Don't get me wrong, there are some awesome moments in the book, and some fascinating revelations of how the world of the Malazan Empire came to be, but there's far too much filler. This is a book that, for all intents and purposes, comes across an epic fantasy soap opera. It could have made for an interesting evolution of the saga, but it lacks much of the humor of the original books, settling instead for something dry and overly melodramatic. To make matters worse, the very nature of a prequel means we get stuck with whiny, immature versions of some of our favorite characters, forcing us to endure the same coming-of-age aspect that was so refreshingly absent from the original 10 books.

I'm not saying this is Erikson's Phantom Menace, but we all know how well that approach worked for Darth Vader.

I think there's an element of too much, too soon with this book as well. We were introduced to a lot of characters in The Malazan Book of the Fallen, but that was over the course of 10 books. There, we had a chance to get to know them, to understand them, and to appreciate their contributions to the story. Each of them had an extended spotlight that made them both memorable and relevant. Here, it feels like there are even more characters thrown into the mix, but all at once, over the course of a single book. It's confusing at best, and bewildering at worst. Even with the 4 pages of Dramatis Personae, I found my brain glossing over as to who was who, where they fit, and why the hell I should give a damn.

Similarly, while many of the narrative tangents and philosophical discussions in the original series were interesting, adding color to the characters we already knew and loved, here it's too much again. There were pages upon pages where we got mired in nonsensical conversations about grand, esoteric concepts, which did nothing to advance the plot. Instead of accentuating the characters, these discussions defined them - and when you're already struggling to keep tabs, that makes a confusing tale a boring one as well. Add that to a serious pacing issue, with hundreds of pages passing between events of interest, and you have a book that is challenging even to fans.

I kept thinking of how Goodkind went off the rails with his repetitive, heavy-handed philosophy, and that's not a comparison I thought I'd ever make with Erikson.

Now, like I said, there are some awesome moments. T'riss was, for me, the absolute highlight of the book. Her emergence from the sea of Vitr and journey to Mother Dark is full of action, horror, imagination, and humor. It's like Erikson took everything that made the original series great and put it all into her. Anomander and Silchas Ruin had some great scenes together that evoked memories of Malazan (just not enough of them) while Lord Draconus was a welcome surprise in how strongly he dominated the tale.

Having said all that, I will still give Fall of Light a read, because I believe Erikson can do better, although I am worried a trilogy may not be enough time to win me back.


Paperback, 760 pages
Published September 3rd 2012 by Bantam Press

Thursday, March 24, 2016

An Open Letter to Will Klingner

Dear Mr. Klinger,

I am sure you are a wonderful person, beloved by friends and family, who truly wishes to help the world. You are clearly a true renaissance man, with limitless knowledge of the tea lifestyle, detoxing, caffeine, sugar, alcohol, SEO ranking, yoga, stress relief, herbal medicines, bone broth, old age remedies, weight loss snacks, smoothies, bonsai, and more - all of which you are eager to share with the world.

Judging by the 8 different email addresses you have used to submit your 17 review requests, I must also assume that you are a master communicator. Truly, it must be difficult keeping on top of so may conversations, and for that I applaud your dedication to your craft. Unless, of course, you have assistants, in which case please extend my compliments to Rayhan, Fahad, Willis, Mohammad, Abir, Rony, and the rest.

With all of that going on, it is completely understandable that you don't have time to read, especially for such nonsense as a review policy. While some people might assume you'd have noticed the bold red text regarding acceptable genres on at least 1 of your 17 visits, I understand. I do. When you are so busy giving advice to others, you can't possibly be expected to consider theirs.

Please, allow me to graciously take even more time out of my busy day to help you out by taking on the onerous task of doing all that inconvenient reading for you, and taking even more time to highlight those guidelines directly to you:
What you won't find here is faith-based fiction, religious themes, YA or NA fiction, romance novels, poetry, and self-help or how-to books. These are subjects that do not appeal to me, so please don't waste time your time or mine by submitting such titles.
In case there is still any doubt, your books fall under that self-help / how-to category.

I don't want them.

I don't care about them.

I don't ever want to see them again,

Please, stop wasting my time and yours.

Seriously.

Enough.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Waiting on Wednesday: The Wheel of Osheim by Mark Lawrence

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

The Wheel of Osheim by Mark Lawrence
Expected publication: June 2nd 2016 by Harper Voyager

All the horrors of Hell stand between Snorri Ver Snagason and the rescue of his family, if indeed the dead can be rescued. For Jalan Kendeth, getting back out alive and with Loki’s key is all that matters. Loki’s creation can open any lock, any door, and it may also be the key to Jalan’s fortune back in the living world.

Jalan plans to return to the three w’s that have been the core of his idle and debauched life: wine, women, and wagering. Fate however has other plans, larger plans. The Wheel of Osheim is turning ever faster, and it will crack the world unless it’s stopped. When the end of all things looms, and there’s nowhere to run, even the worst coward must find new answers. Jalan and Snorri face many dangers, from the corpse hordes of the Dead King to the many mirrors of the Lady Blue, but in the end, fast or slow, the Wheel of Osheim always pulls you back. In the end it’s win or die.


With just a few months to go, the hype machine is in high gear, with a copy available via a Goodreads giveaway, and a pair of creative giveaways going on over at that thorn guy. As for me, I'm keeping my eye out for a review ARC, as I'm hugely excited to see how Jal's story ends.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

From the Shelf to the Page: This Week in the Ruins

In case you missed any of it, here's what happened in the Ruins this week . . .


WTF Friday review of Stuck On You by Jasper Bark

Waiting On Wednesday with Stranger of Tempest by Tom Lloyd

Fantasy Review of The Last Mortal Bond by Brian Staveley


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Stacking The Shelves and Mailbox Monday are a pair of weekly memes that are about sharing the books that came your way over the past week, and which you've added to your shelves - whether they be physical or virtual, borrowed or bought, or for pleasure or review.

For Review:

The Vagrant by Peter Newman
Published May 10th 2016 by HarperVoyager

The Vagrant is his name. He has no other.

Years have passed since humanity’s destruction emerged from the Breach.

Friendless and alone he walks across a desolate, war-torn landscape.

As each day passes the world tumbles further into depravity, bent and twisted by the new order, corrupted by the Usurper, the enemy, and his infernal horde.

His purpose is to reach the Shining City, last bastion of the human race, and deliver the only weapon that may make a difference in the ongoing war.

What little hope remains is dying. Abandoned by its leader, The Seven, and its heroes, The Seraph Knights, the last defences of a once great civilisation are crumbling into dust.

But the Shining City is far away and the world is a very dangerous place.



Dancer's Lament by Ian C. Esslemont
Expected publication: April 21st 2016 by Tor Books 

Taking Malazan fans back to that troubled continent's turbulent early history. the opening chapter in Ian C. Esslemont's epic new fantasy sequence, the Path to Ascendancy trilogy.

For ages warfare has crippled the continent as minor city states, baronies, and principalities fought in an endless round of hostilities. Only the alliance of the rival Tali and Quon cities could field the resources to mount a hegemony from coast to coast -- and thus become known as Quon Tali.

It is a generation since the collapse of this dynasty and regional powers are once more rousing themselves. Into this arena of renewed border wars come two youths to the powerful central city state that is Li Heng. One is named Dorin, and he comes determined to prove himself the most skilled assassin of his age; he is chasing the other youth -- a Dal Hon mage who has proven himself annoyingly difficult to kill.

Li Heng has been guided and warded for centuries by the powerful sorceress known as the "Protectress", and she allows no rivals. She and her cabal of five mage servants were enough to repel the Quon Tali Iron Legions -- what could two youths hope to accomplish under their stifling rule?

Yet under the new and ambitious King Chulalorn the Third, Itko Kan is on the march from the south. He sends his own assassin servants, the Nightblades, against the city, and there are hints that he also commands inhuman forces out of legend.

While above all, shadows swirl oddly about Li Heng, and monstrous slathering beasts seem to appear from nowhere to run howling through the street. It is a time of chaos and upheaval, and in chaos, as the young Dal Hon mage would say, there is opportunity.



Into the Black by Rowland White
Expected publication: April 19th 2016 by Touchstone

The real-life techno-thriller from a bestselling author and aviation expert that recaptures the historic moments leading up to the launch of the space shuttle Columbia and the exciting story of her daring maiden flight.

Using interviews, NASA oral histories, and recently declassified material, Into the Black pieces together the dramatic untold story of the Columbia mission and the brave people who dedicated themselves to help the United States succeed in the age of space exploration. On April 12, 1981, NASA’s Space Shuttle Columbia blasted off from Cape Canaveral. It was the most advanced, state-of-the-art flying machine ever built, challenging the minds and imagination of America’s top engineers and pilots. Columbia was the world’s first real spaceship: a winged rocket plane, the size of an airliner, and capable of flying to space and back before preparing to fly again.

On board were moonwalker John Young and test pilot Bob Crippen. Less than an hour after Young and Crippen’s spectacular departure from the Cape, all was not well. Tiles designed to protect the ship from the blowtorch burn of re-entry were missing from the heat shield. If the damage to Columbia was too great, the astronauts wouldn’t be able to return safely to earth. NASA turned to the National Reconnaissance Office, a spy agency hidden deep inside the Pentagon whose very existence was classified. To help the ship, the NRO would attempt something never done before. Success would require skill, perfect timing, and luck.

Set against the backdrop of the Cold War, Into the Black is a thrilling race against time and the incredible true story of the first space shuttle mission that celebrates our passion for spaceflight.


Purchased:

Hit the used bookstore this week, traded in some of the stacks from under my desk, and came home with copies of Melusine by Sarah Monette (the mass-market edition is hard to find), The Pariah by Graham Masterton (love the original paperback cover), and Robotech, First Generation by Jack McKinney (an altogether very cool discovery).


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It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is another weekly meme, this time focused on what books are spending the most time in your hands and in your head, as opposed to what's been added to your shelf.

Forge of Darkness (The Kharkanas Trilogy #1) by Steven Erikson
Published September 18th 2012 by Tor Books 

Now is the time to tell the story of an ancient realm, a tragic tale that sets the stage for all the tales yet to come and all those already told...

It's a conflicted time in Kurald Galain, the realm of Darkness, where Mother Dark reigns. But this ancient land was once home to many a power. and even death is not quite eternal. The commoners' great hero, Vatha Urusander, is being promoted by his followers to take Mother Dark's hand in marriage, but her Consort, Lord Draconus, stands in the way of such ambitions. The impending clash sends fissures throughout the realm, and as the rumors of civil war burn through the masses, an ancient power emerges from the long dead seas. Caught in the middle of it all are the First Sons of Darkness, Anomander, Andarist, and Silchas Ruin of the Purake Hold...

Steven Erikson entered the pantheon of great fantasy writers with his debut Gardens of the Moon. Now he returns with the first novel in a trilogy that takes place millennia before the events of the Malazan Book of the Fallen and introduces readers to Kurald Galain, the warren of Darkness. It is the epic story of a realm whose fate plays a crucial role in shaping the world of the Malazan Empire.


What's topping your shelves this week?

Friday, March 18, 2016

WTF Friday: Stuck On You by Jasper Bark

Every once in a while, as the mood strikes me, I like to indulge in those titles that are a bit odd . . . a bit different . . . a bit bizarre . . . and a bit freaky. These are books that don't always get a lot of press, and which rarely benefit from any prominent retail shelf space.



They're often an underground of sort of literature, best shared through guilty whispers, and often with embarrassed grins. These are our WTF Friday reads!

Justice may be blind, but she's also cruel - and, in so far as Stuck On You is concerned, she has a razor sharp sense of irony.

All Ricardo had to do was drive across the border into Mexico, pick up some cheap little artesanias for his wife, and bring them back home for her hobby business. The side-trip to the cheap strip club might have been excusable, but agreeing to help Consuela smuggle her belly full of contraband back across the border certainly was not . . . and following her into forest for a little hanky panky even less so.

That's all backstory, though, and Jasper Bark makes us wait for the explanation. Instead, he throws us right into the ironic carnage, with Ricardo waking up fused to the hideously charred corpse of his little piece of Mexican tail, having been struck by lightning at the moment of climax. Trapped, far from civilization, he has to drag their melted bodies through the forest in an agonizing attempt to reach his Jeep and the cellphone locked inside.

It's a tense story, full of sex and gore, that seems increasingly hopeless as Ricardo's dilemma drags on. The level of detail is just about perfect, with Bark's style echoing the efficient yet eloquent prose of masters like Laymon and Little. As deliciously cruel as it all is however, it's the series of final twists in the end that really make it work. Without giving anything away, if you thought being melted to a rotting corpse, with your manhood permanently locked inside her, was as bad as it could get . . . well, as Ricardo would no doubt tell you, assumptions can be dangerous things.

Kindle Edition, 42 pages
Published March 25th 2014 by Crystal Lake Publishing

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Waiting On Wednesday: Stranger of Tempest by Tom Lloyd

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

Stranger of Tempest by Tom Lloyd 
Expected publication: June 16th 2016 by Gollancz

Lynx is a mercenary with a sense of honour; a dying breed in the Shattered Kingdom. Failed by the nation he served and weary of the skirmishes that plague the continent's principalities, he walks the land in search of purpose. He wants for little so bodyguard work keeps his belly full and his mage-gun loaded. It might never bring a man fame or wealth, but he's not forced to rely on others or kill without cause. Little could compel Lynx to join a mercenary company, but he won't turn his back on a kidnapped girl. At least the job seems simple enough; the mercenaries less stupid and vicious than most he's met over the years. So long as there are no surprises or hidden agendas along the way, it should work out fine.


I have been woefully remiss in giving Lloyd a read up until this point, so diving in with a new series seems like a great plant - especially one that sounds so awesome.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Fantasy Review: The Last Mortal Bond by Brian Staveley

With the publication of The Last Mortal Bond, Brian Staveley bids a fond farewell to The Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne. Looking back on the scope of the story and impact it's had upon the genre, it's hard to believe the first book only hit shelves a little more than 2 years ago - and even hard to believe it was his debut work.

This is the kind of series that has only gotten bigger and bolder as it's gone on. The first seemed a rather intimate, close-knit tale of family legacies, woven with the threads of political treachery. While there was an element of the magical to it, it was largely a tale of human struggles . . . or so it seemed. It was in the second book we learned what lay beneath those struggles, with Staveley ripping open a whole new story of world-shattering mythological significance.

Coming out of that second book I was a bit worried that the mythological would overwhelm the familial, but I am in awe of the way threads come full circle with The Last Mortal Bond. Somehow, even as it reveals deeper complexities within the centuries-old mythological struggle (revealing that it's the fate of humanity, not just an empire, that's truly at stake), this final volume manages to put Valyn, Adare, and Kaden firmly at the forefront. Here we have three siblings, already weighed down by a family legacy, now faltering under the weight of world-crushing expectations, with no idea of who or what they can trust. There's an entire story hidden within each sidelong look, each secret withheld, and each lie so carefully crafted.

More than all of that, though, this is a story about humanity . . . about the human condition . . . and what it is about us that makes us so fascinating (and terrifying) to the gods.

Ironically, for a book that's so big and so bold, it's almost the most bloody of the three. While we're aware of the larger conflicts taking place, and are doubly aware of the casualties piling up, it's the one-on-one conflicts that are the most terrible. Valyn's chapters are especially dark, taking the story to places even deeper and more deplorable than the underground caverns of the slarn. Adare may have made a pair of huge sacrifices for what she thinks is right, but her brother is forced to make one after another after another. As for Kaden, he seems to be taking the most heroic arc of the three, compromising family for the sake of politics, peace for the prospect of survival, there's no question that his decisions are some of the hardest to justify. Other characters, many of whom we'd be forgiven for assuming lost, come back into play as well, with the dual story lines around the Kettral and Valyn's lost wing some of the most intensely satisfying.

For a long time I couldn't see where it was all headed. I knew the plots and counter-plots (or, at least, I thought I did), and I could see where certain character arcs were headed, but how Staveley planned to resolve everything was a complete mystery. Fortunately, it was also a genuinely remarkable surprise, with a climax that delivers on the potential of all three books, and which does justice to the myriad themes, conflicts, and struggles. All in all, the perfect ending to a fantastic trilogy.

Kindle Edition, 640 pages
Expected publication: March 15th 2016 by Tor Books

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary ARC of this title from the publisher in exchange for review consideration. This does not in any way affect the honesty or sincerity of my review.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

From the Shelf to the Page: This Week in the Ruins

In case you missed any of it, here's what happened in the Ruins this week . . .


Fiction Review of The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu

Waiting on Wednesday with A Blade of Black Steel by Alex Marshall

Horror Review of Drop Dead Gorgeous by Donald Allen Kirch


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Stacking The Shelves and Mailbox Monday are a pair of weekly memes that are about sharing the books that came your way over the past week, and which you've added to your shelves - whether they be physical or virtual, borrowed or bought, or for pleasure or review.

Going with an all Canadian theme this week . . .


For Review:

Children of Earth and Sky by Guy Gavriel Kay 
Expected publication: May 10th 2016 by NAL

The bestselling author of the groundbreaking novels Under Heaven and River of Stars, Guy Gavriel Kay is back with a new novel, Children of Earth and Sky, set in a world inspired by the conflicts and dramas of Renaissance Europe. Against this tumultuous backdrop the lives of men and women unfold on the borderlands—where empires and faiths collide.

From the small coastal town of Senjan, notorious for its pirates, a young woman sets out to find vengeance for her lost family. That same spring, from the wealthy city-state of Seressa, famous for its canals and lagoon, come two very different people: a young artist traveling to the dangerous east to paint the grand khalif at his request—and possibly to do more—and a fiercely intelligent, angry woman, posing as a doctor’s wife, but sent by Seressa as a spy.

The trading ship that carries them is commanded by the accomplished younger son of a merchant family, ambivalent about the life he’s been born to live. And farther east a boy trains to become a soldier in the elite infantry of the khalif—to win glory in the war everyone knows is coming.

As these lives entwine, their fates—and those of many others—will hang in the balance, when the khalif sends out his massive army to take the great fortress that is the gateway to the western world…


The Voodoo Killings: A Kincaid Strange Novel by Kristi Charish
Expected publication: May 10th 2016 by Vintage Canada

For starters, she's only 27. Then there's the fact that she lives in rain-soaked Seattle, which is not exactly Haiti. And she's broke. With raising zombies outlawed throughout the continental USA, Kincaid has to eke out a living running seances for university students with more money than brains who are desperate for guitar lessons with the ghost of a Seattle grunge rocker--who happens to be Kincaid's on-again, off-again roommate.

Then a stray zombie turns up outside her neighbourhood bar: Cameron Wight, an up-and-coming visual artist with no recollection of how he died or who raised him. Not only is it dangerous for Kincaid to be caught with an unauthorized zombie, she soon realizes he's tied to a spate of murders: someone is targeting the zombies and voodoo practitioners in Seattle's infamous Underground City, a paranormal hub. When the police refuse to investigate, the City's oldest and foremost zombie asks Kincaid to help. Raising ghosts and zombies is one thing, but finding a murderer? She's broke, but she's not stupid.

And then she becomes the target...As the saying goes, when it rains it pours, especially in Seattle.

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It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is another weekly meme, this time focused on what books are spending the most time in your hands and in your head, as opposed to what's been added to your shelf.

Continuing the all Canadian theme this week . . .



Forge of Darkness (The Kharkanas Trilogy #1) by Steven Erikson
Published September 18th 2012 by Tor Books 

Now is the time to tell the story of an ancient realm, a tragic tale that sets the stage for all the tales yet to come and all those already told...

It's a conflicted time in Kurald Galain, the realm of Darkness, where Mother Dark reigns. But this ancient land was once home to many a power. and even death is not quite eternal. The commoners' great hero, Vatha Urusander, is being promoted by his followers to take Mother Dark's hand in marriage, but her Consort, Lord Draconus, stands in the way of such ambitions. The impending clash sends fissures throughout the realm, and as the rumors of civil war burn through the masses, an ancient power emerges from the long dead seas. Caught in the middle of it all are the First Sons of Darkness, Anomander, Andarist, and Silchas Ruin of the Purake Hold...

Steven Erikson entered the pantheon of great fantasy writers with his debut Gardens of the Moon. Now he returns with the first novel in a trilogy that takes place millennia before the events of the Malazan Book of the Fallen and introduces readers to Kurald Galain, the warren of Darkness. It is the epic story of a realm whose fate plays a crucial role in shaping the world of the Malazan Empire.


What's topping your shelves this week?

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Fiction Review: The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu

Good morning, all.

I'm over at The Speculative Herald today, talking about The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu.


Stop by, check it out, and let us know what you think. While you're there, be sure to check out the latest reviews from the rest of the gang.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Waiting on Wednesday: A Blade of Black Steel by Alex Marshall

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

A Blade of Black Steel by Alex Marshall
Expected publication: May 26th 2016 by Orbit 

The sequel to Alex Marshall's A Crown for Cold Silver, an outstanding, game-changing epic adventure featuring an unforgettable female warrior.

After five hundred years, the Sunken Kingdom has returned, and brought with it a monstrous secret that threatens to destroy every country on the Star.

As an inhuman army gathers on its shores, poised to invade the Immaculate Isles, the members of the Cobalt Company face an ugly choice: abandon their dreams of glory and vengeance to combat a menace from another realm, or pursue their ambitions and hope the Star is still there when the smoke clears.

Five villains. One legendary general. A battle for survival.


I picked up the first book of this series as a digital ARC, but just wasn't in the right mood to appreciate it. I could see enough potential that I went out and bought the hardcover, but I haven't found time for it yet. Of course, with the revelation that Alex Marshall is actually Jesse Bullington, I'm extra motivated to make time soon.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Horror Review: Drop Dead Gorgeous by Donald Allen Kirch

While it opens with a scene that's reminiscent of a Criminal Minds episode, Drop Dead Gorgeous quickly veers into something more akin to a Roger Corman movie, before reaching a conclusion that could have come straight out of the Twilight Zone.

What Donald Allen Kirch weaves here is a twisted story of revenge, medical experimentation, and outright insanity that only gets more intense as it races along. Here we have a young man who wakes up in a strange basement, surrounded by stacks of rotting bodies, bound and gagged, with no memory of how he got there. The revelation that his kidnapper is an impossibly beautiful woman is certainly an interesting twist, but her backstory is the biggest twist of all.

You see, 7 years ago Eve Doe - the world's most perfect woman - was a man known by the name of Steve Kane. Forget the usual horror cliches, because Eve is neither a crazy drag queen nor a tormented transsexual. Instead, she is a perfect punishment, a genetic life sentence for cheating on Steve's mad scientist wife.

That's about as much as I want to say about the plot, as you really need to discover it for yourself. It's the interplay between Ray and Eve, between captive and captor, that is at the heart of the story. Kirch establishes them both very well, allowing their own fears and failings to play off one another. It's not often a book like this successfully manages to switch the roles of monster and victim so many times so successfully, but be prepared to have your assumptions challenged.

Drop Dead Gorgeous is a book that goes to some very dark places, with some of the most imaginative scenes of torture and transformation that I've encountered in some time. It's not the book I expected it to be, and the reading experience is that much better for it.


Kindle Edition, 169 pages
Published February 5th 2016 by Double Dragon Publishing

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary ARC of this title from the author in exchange for review consideration. This does not in any way affect the honesty or sincerity of my review.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

From the Shelf to the Page: This Week in the Ruins

In case you missed any of it, here's what happened in the Ruins this week . . .


Insecure Writer's Support Group - Letting Loose

Waiting on Wednesday with The Librarians and The Lost Lamp by Greg Cox

Fantasy Review of War God Rising by Tim Marquitz

Interview with Kristi Charish (Owl and the City of Angels)


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Stacking The Shelves and Mailbox Monday are a pair of weekly memes that are about sharing the books that came your way over the past week, and which you've added to your shelves - whether they be physical or virtual, borrowed or bought, or for pleasure or review.

For Review:

Night Show by Richard Laymon
Expected publication: May 3rd 2016 by Samhain Publishing, Ltd. 

When the horror becomes real.

Dani Larson is the queen of horror movie special effects. Grisly murders and mutilated corpses are all in a day’s work for her. Nothing frightens her—not even watching herself torn to pieces on the screen. But now the gore is real, and Dani is terrified. She’s being stalked by the Chill Master, a psychopath who wants to be Dani’s apprentice, her lover, and eventually…her replacement. Can Dani find a way to survive? Or will this real-life horror movie scare Dani to death?


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The Rules of Supervillainy (The Supervillainy Saga #1) by C.T. Phipps 
Published June 8th 2015 by Amber Cove Publishing

Gary Karkofsky is an ordinary guy with an ordinary life living in an extraordinary world. Supervillains, heroes, and monsters are a common part of the world he inhabits. Yet, after the death of his hometown's resident superhero, he gains the amazing gift of the late champion's magical cloak. Deciding he prefers to be rich rather than good, Gary embarks on a career as Merciless: The Supervillain Without Mercy.

But is he evil enough to be a villain in America's most crime-ridden city?

Gary soon finds himself surrounded by a host of the worst of Falconcrest City's toughest criminals. Supported by his long-suffering wife, his ex-girlfriend turned professional henchwoman, and a has-been evil mastermind, Gary may end up being not the hero they want but the villain they need.


The Games of Supervillainy (The Supervillainy Saga #2) by C.T. Phipps
Published December 19th 2015 by Amber Cove Publishing

Get ready for the action-packed follow up to The Rules of Supervillainy. This time with zombies, zombified heroes and villains, cults, magic, superscience, a dragon, a Greek demigod, and so much more!

Gary and Cloak have returned from the supervillain prison on the moon only to discover the city he plans to conquer and rule with an iron fist has been overrun with the living dead. Once again taking up the mantle of Merciless, the villain without mercy, Gary will have to pull it together quickly, find his wife, his gang, and a whole lot of help to stop the Brotherhood of Infamy from slaughtering the population of Falconcrest City and opening a portal to summon a Primal force of creation.

But Gary has a plan, or at least he's sure he'll have one soon. Just give him a second.


Good Girls by Glen Hirshberg
Published February 23rd 2016 by Tor Books 

Three-time International Horror Guild and Shirley Jackson Award Winner Glen Hirshberg brings his flair for the grim, grisly, and emotionally harrowing to this standalone sequel to Motherless Child.

Reeling from the violent death of her daughter and a confrontation with the Whistler--the monster who wrecked her life--Jess has fled the South for a tiny college town in New Hampshire. There she huddles in a fire-blackened house with her crippled lover, her infant grandson, and the creature that was once her daughter’s best friend, who may or may not be a threat.

Rebecca, an orphan undergrad caring for Jess’s grandson, finds in Jess’ house the promise of a family she has never known, but also a terrifying secret.

Meanwhile, unhinged and unmoored, the Whistler watches from the rooftops and awaits his moment.

And deep in the Mississippi Delta, the evil that spawned him stirs…


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It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is another weekly meme, this time focused on what books are spending the most time in your hands and in your head, as opposed to what's been added to your shelf.


The Last Mortal Bond by Brian Staveley
Expected publication: March 15th 2016 by Tor Books

The trilogy that began with The Emperor's Blades and continued in The Providence of Fire reaches its epic conclusion, as war engulfs the Annurian Empire in Brian Staveley's The Last Mortal Bond

The ancient csestriim are back to finish their purge of humanity; armies march against the capital; leaches, solitary beings who draw power from the natural world to fuel their extraordinary abilities, maneuver on all sides to affect the outcome of the war; and capricious gods walk the earth in human guise with agendas of their own.

But the three imperial siblings at the heart of it all--Valyn, Adare, and Kaden--come to understand that even if they survive the holocaust unleashed on their world, there may be no reconciling their conflicting visions of the future.


The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu
Expected publication: March 8th 2016 by Saga Press

A publishing event: Bestselling author Ken Liu selects his award-winning science fiction and fantasy tales for a groundbreaking collection—including a brand-new piece exclusive to this volume.

With his debut novel, The Grace of Kings, taking the literary world by storm, Ken Liu now shares his finest short fiction in The Paper Menagerie. This mesmerizing collection features all of Ken’s award-winning and award-finalist stories, including: “The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary” (Finalist for the Hugo, Nebula, and Theodore Sturgeon Awards), “Mono No Aware” (Hugo Award winner), “The Waves” (Nebula Award finalist), “The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species” (Nebula and Sturgeon award finalists), “All the Flavors” (Nebula award finalist), “The Litigation Master and the Monkey King” (Nebula Award finalist), and the most awarded story in the genre’s history, “The Paper Menagerie” (The only story to win the Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy awards).

A must-have for every science fiction and fantasy fan, this beautiful book is an anthology to savor.



Forge of Darkness (The Kharkanas Trilogy #1) by Steven Erikson
Published September 18th 2012 by Tor Books 

Now is the time to tell the story of an ancient realm, a tragic tale that sets the stage for all the tales yet to come and all those already told...

It's a conflicted time in Kurald Galain, the realm of Darkness, where Mother Dark reigns. But this ancient land was once home to many a power. and even death is not quite eternal. The commoners' great hero, Vatha Urusander, is being promoted by his followers to take Mother Dark's hand in marriage, but her Consort, Lord Draconus, stands in the way of such ambitions. The impending clash sends fissures throughout the realm, and as the rumors of civil war burn through the masses, an ancient power emerges from the long dead seas. Caught in the middle of it all are the First Sons of Darkness, Anomander, Andarist, and Silchas Ruin of the Purake Hold...

Steven Erikson entered the pantheon of great fantasy writers with his debut Gardens of the Moon. Now he returns with the first novel in a trilogy that takes place millennia before the events of the Malazan Book of the Fallen and introduces readers to Kurald Galain, the warren of Darkness. It is the epic story of a realm whose fate plays a crucial role in shaping the world of the Malazan Empire.


What's topping your shelves this week?

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

#IWSG - Letting Loose

The Insecure Writer's Support Group is a once-monthly blog hop aimed at sharing our doubts and concerns, while encouraging one another with assistance and guidance. As the lighthouse image suggests, it’s a beacon in the dark and a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!

While I'm still feeling a but insecure about the whole waiting game, with my book floating in limbo, being read/judged/evaluated as part of two open-submission windows, I'm choosing not to dwell on it.

Instead, I've chucked all expectations, given myself permission to let loose, and and have started working on a few short stories that I'll likely self-publish under a pen-name. With my novel, I found that I was far too concerned with what other people might think or how they might react, and I fear that might have held me back a bit. I know I absolutely cannot hold back with my next novel - it goes to some really dark places - so I'm trying an exercise in self-expression.

I just want to have some fun, delve deep into the extremes of my imagination, and put some stuff out there without a care for what people might think. To bizarre? Too gory? Too twisted? Too kinky? Too weird? Too messed up? People can think whatever they want about that other guy, and I can sort of disconnect myself from those reactions while I pay attention to what people enjoy about the stories.

Waiting on Wednesday: The Librarians and The Lost Lamp by Greg Cox

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

The Librarians and The Lost Lamp by Greg Cox
Expected publication: October 11th 2016 by Tor Books

The Librarians is one of the biggest new hits on cable. Spinning off from a popular series of TV-movies, the TNT series begins its second season this Fall. The Librarians and the Lost Lamp is the first in a series of thrilling all-new adventures that will delight fans of the TV series and movies.

For thousands of years, the Librarians have secretly protected the world The Librarians from dangerous magical relics and knowledge, including everything from Pandora’s Box to King Arthur’s sword.

Ten years ago, Flynn Carson was the only living Librarian. When the ancient criminal organization known as the Forty steals the oldest known copy of The Arabian Nights by Scheherazade, Flynn is called in to investigate. Fearing that the Forty is after Aladdin's fabled Lamp, Flynn must race to find it before the Lamp's powerful and malevolent djinn is unleashed upon the world.

Today, a new team of inexperienced Librarians, along with Eve Baird, their tough-as-nails Guardian, is investigating an uncanny mystery in Las Vegas when the quest for the Lamp begins anew . . . and the fate of the world hangs in the balance.


The Librarians is one of my biggest guilty pleasures. It doesn't seem to get the same level of hype (or the respect) that so many other genre shows do, but I enjoy it immensely. It has the perfect blend of tongue-in-cheek humor, history, and adventure - and I'm anxious to see what Cox can do with the literary equivalent of an unlimited budget.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Fantasy Review: War God Rising by Tim Marquitz

You know, "Monty Python meets Gladiator" certainly has a nice ring to it, and there's no denying that it has definite cover appeal, but in my humble opinion it's not quite right for War God Rising.

If I were in charge of marketing Tim Marquitz's latest, I'd have to go with "Monty Python and the Holy Grail A**hole Sword meets A Knight's Tale (minus the foot-tapping musical numbers) by way of a medieval Fish Called Wanda."  Sure, it doesn't quite roll off the tongue as nicely, but I can't think of a better way to sum it up.

This was one hell of a fun read, full of groans, moans, and even a few belly laughs. It's so stupid at times that it approaches brilliant, and even the jokes you see coming from pages away somehow land perfectly. Comedic timing is tough, especially when it comes to the written word, but Tim has it nailed. Whether he's making excuses for sheep molestation,

“They attacked me. Vicious, foul demons those creatures were. Vampire sheep."

having a pair of wannabe War Gods engaged in a lively philosophical discussion,

“Yeah?”
“Yeah!”
“Yeah?”
“I already said yeah!”
“Well, yeah to you too!”
“You!”
“No, you!”

or making little penis jokes,

“You have a plan?”
“I have an inkling of one,” she answered, holding her hand up, thumb and forefinger separated by about a half inch.
“So your plan involves Sand’s penis?”

it all works.

Surprisingly, though, it also works as legitimate heist/con fantasy novel, complete with some solid characters to carry it along. Bess and Kaede make for a fantastic pair of protagonists, playing off one another like the best mismatched, odd couple, road trip buddies imaginable; Mother Calliope and Alvernon are two very different, but very amusing, magical scoundrels with secrets; Sand is absolutely perfect as the dumb-as-dirt sheep boy turned insane-swordsman (with a flatulence issue); and Whineblade may just be the funniest sentient sword in fantasy. There are no heroes here, no paragons of virtue, just a parade of idiots, scoundrels, jerks, and sarcastic jerks who pull the story together.

If you're in the mood for a little sophomoric dark humor, over-the-top brutality, sheep jokes, rather imaginative monsters, and a gladiator tournament that actually pays off, then War God Rising is well worth the read. If you don't laugh out loud at least once while reading it, then there's something seriously wrong with you.

Kindle edition, 191 pages
Published January 31st 2016

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary ARC of this title from the author in exchange for review consideration. This does not in any way affect the honesty or sincerity of my review.