Review: “The Schwarzschild Radius,” Gustavo Florentin

Pros: A ton of tension; high stakes
Cons: “Torture porn”
Rating: 2 out of 5

Gustavo Florentin’s The Schwarzschild Radius is a high-stakes thriller in which a young woman, Rachel, tries to save the lives of both her adopted sister (Olivia) and her sister’s recently-discovered twin (Achara). Someone has been killing young women in particularly brutal fashion, and Rachel starts working as a stripper in an attempt to find Olivia. Apparently Olivia had been doing sex work in order to make enough money to bring Achara to the United States where she would be safe. Another sex worker brings Rachel along to her high-paying gigs, and while Sonia sleeps with the men, Rachel scours their houses and electronics for evidence to help her find Olivia. McKenna, who’s working Olivia’s disappearance for the police, occasionally finds anonymous dumps of information–sent to him by Rachel, of course. He’s a little ways behind her in his investigation. There’s a fair amount of predictable material in here; the obvious priest is very quickly found to be the obvious pedophile, for example.

“The Webmaster” finds and kidnaps young women, then auctions off methods of harm and finally method of death to perverted people who will pay thousands of dollars for the privilege. When he starts stalking Rachel things do get appropriately tense and taut. However, I found the detailed methods of torture went over the line into ‘torture porn’ for my taste. I like horror in general, and am okay with a certain level of graphic detail, but this felt like it was graphic detail for its own sake instead of adding to the story.

I could never reconcile myself with Rachel’s methods and investigation. It all seemed too tenuous a thread to pull to justify some of the situations Rachel put herself in. A lot of the separate threads in the book never came together for me; add that to the torture porn and I can’t bring myself to recommend this book.

Posted in Reviews Tagged with: , ,

Review: “In the House of Leviathan,” B.D. Bruns

Pros: Fascinating locale and time period
Cons: Occasional word salad
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Review ebook provided free by publisher via NetGalley.

 

B.D. Bruns’s In the House of Leviathan takes place in 1860s Amalfi, Italy. Giuseppe, whose nickname is Achilles, runs the family paper mill together with his younger sister (Carmelina) and older brother (Alessandro). Lucio is Carmelina’s boyfriend; he’s a fisherman, but wants to come to work at the paper mill. As does his older sister, Maria, who wants to catch the eye of Achilles. One of them finds a mysterious old letter in a pile of rags meant to become paper. Somehow, this triggers a series of killings and terrifying ‘natural’ events. Fishermen are running scared of whirlpools that go all the way to the bottom of the sea. Accidents start to happen at the mill–deadly ones. Achilles is no mystery-solver, but if he doesn’t solve this one he’ll lose everyone he loves.

 

Early on In the House of Leviathan has an almost Lovecraftian air to it. Historical is not my normal milieu, but here it totally worked. The town and its people were fascinating, the paper mill business was unusual and interesting, and–it just works. I love it. It made it easy to believe in miracles, saints… and the shade of a dead man.

I really only had one complaint. At the ends of some of the sections, a paragraph or so would devolve into ‘word salad’. One example reads:

The deafeningly within the curved stone amplify, repeat.

This wasn’t a one-off problem; it happened repeatedly. Small paragraphs got changed and rearranged badly enough that I couldn’t even guess at what was originally meant. However, I am reading an advance copy received through NetGalley. It’s possible that this is an artifact of an earlier version and that it might have been fixed before publication. Also, it only slightly detracted from the experience of reading the book since it didn’t happen often.

The story itself was great. A haunting amplified by a Lovecraftian shifting of the seas. I found plenty of action to be had, some of it in battling the fearsome seas; some in accosting the shade. I would have liked to see a little more about where the sea troubles came from, since it wasn’t clear to me that the ghost was responsible for that part.

The setting is highly visible and visceral. I felt as though I could see and feel everything very clearly in my mind’s eye. I found the paper mill processes highly fascinating, and enjoyed seeing the sort of village that emerges in such a region. The characters have some depth to them, and the plot was skillfully executed. By the end I couldn’t wait to find out what would happen next.

Posted in Reviews Tagged with: , , ,

Review: “Twilight’s Dawn”, Anne Bishop

Pros: Four wonderful stories!
Cons:
Rating: 5 out of 5

Anne Bishop’s Twilight’s Dawn is a collection of four stories that all take place within her Black Jewels world. Each one states where in the timespan of the other books it falls.

Winsol Gifts Takes place after Tangled Webs: It’s a winter holiday with gift traditions, and in the expansive (and wealthy) SaDiablo family such things can be tricky. All of the complex interactions of the Blood come into play, and it can be tough to find a new gift for people who live for centuries. There’s some entertaining push-and-pull between individuals.

Shades of Honor Takes place before The Shadow Queen: Lucivar’s Eyrien second-in-command, Falonar, has decided that he’s too good to serve a half-breed like Lucivar. He’s dividing Lucivar’s people, and he has a lot of notions that wouldn’t make people happy. His vision of Eyrien warriors is very narrow. The idea that women shouldn’t fight and the warriors shouldn’t bother with schooling are just the most harmless of his ideas. But Falonar underestimates Lucivar, and hasn’t counted on just how loyal Lucivar’s friends and family are–not to mention the number of Eyriens who actively want to stay under Lucivar’s rule. Add in Surreal, who was once lovers with Falonar and has reason to dislike him, as well as her friend Rainier, and the whole place is pretty much a powder keg.

Family Takes place “10 Years Later”: Sylvia and her two children (Mikal and Beron) have been lured into a trap by a man called “No Face” who kidnaps children and kills them horribly. (As the tags on this post suggest, ‘horror’ is a valid category for the Black Jewels series.) Saetan, his children, and their extended family need to figure out where Sylvia disappeared to, how many other children have disappeared lately, and how they’re going to save Sylvia and her sons. It’s a tense, frightening tale.

The High Lord’s Daughter Takes place decades later: Jaenelle was born from one of the short-lived races; Daemon always knew she would die long before he would. She made him promise to mourn for a year and then return to life. It’s time for him to do that. But he’s withdrawing from his family, and Surreal needs to figure out how to keep him sane and safe. Things get a little crazy for everyone: there’s a marriage and a birth within the family, and a whole lot of strong emotions putting in an appearance.

 

I teared up repeatedly while reading these tales; the final one in particular made me sniffle quite a lot. “Family” both brought me to tears and made me tense as hell as the events unfolded. I absolutely love this installment in the Black Jewels world, and having the four stories enables Ms. Bishop to fill in the blanks here and there. It’s perfect.

Posted in Reviews Tagged with: , , , , ,

Review: “Shalador’s Lady,” Anne Bishop

Pros: Delightfully dark, sweet, fun, tense in turns
Cons:
Rating: 5 out of 5

Anne Bishop’s Shalador’s Lady is a Black Jewels Novel. It comes right after The Shadow Queen in both book order and plot order; it’s a direct continuation of events from the previous book. Don’t use this novel to jump into the series.

 

Janaelle sent a Queen, Cassidy, to help the people of Dena Nehele–at their prince’s request–re-learn the Old Ways and the ins and outs of Protocol (the complex system that keeps the temperamental Blood channeled in positive directions). Unfortunately Theran, the prince, had built up an image of a beautiful, dazzling, powerful Queen, and Cassidy is low-powered and not considered pretty. He doesn’t want her presence, but he can’t exactly go back to the powerful SaDiablo family and say “thanks but no thanks”. He meets a new Queen, Kermilla, and is so captivated by her that he can’t see past the pretty face to the ugly personality behind it. While he bankrupts himself trying to keep up with Kermilla’s expectations, and makes plans to replace Cassidy at the end of her one-year contract, Cassidy moves the rest of her court to a village in another part of the territory. Not only do her loyal court members (all but Theran) go with her, but many of the local Blood and landen go with as well. They’re afraid of Kermilla and her hangers-on–in her they see the old Queens who devastated their territory previously. Somehow, Cassidy has to hold on to Dena Nehele while sparring with Kermilla, who hurt Cassidy in the recent past by taking her previous court out from underneath her.

 

I absolutely love Shalador’s Lady. The characters are, as always in Anne Bishop books, terribly fun. She has created a world with built-in reasons for people to be high-tempered, dangerous, and larger than life, and she wields that milieu with style. I enjoy Cassidy as a character. For a brief time I felt a little frustrated with her inability to see past what happened with her last court to the loyal court she has now, but to be honest she has been sufficiently scarred by her past experiences that it makes sense for her to be blind to certain details. I also like watching Gray develop–he starts out as a broken man with a stunted emotional development, but in wanting to be good for Cassidy he starts putting the pieces of his life back together. It’s so sweet to watch. (I cried.)

The hilarity in this volume (and some of the darkness as well) comes from the introduction of a bunch of Scelties (a ‘kindred’ race of dogs, who are considered to be of the Blood and who have the same range of powers as the human Blood, including the ability to speak mind-to-mind with others). An entire dozen comes to Cassidy’s relocated home and decides to settle in. They range from a small, over-excited mutt to a rather scary adult. While they’re often used for comic relief, they also instigate at least one of the darker moments of the book. (Additional tears may have been shed.)

There are plenty of ups and downs, laughs and bloodshed, romances and enmities. The plot and events provide plenty of tension–I stayed up late to finish the book because I couldn’t put it down. Frankly I read so many books that this doesn’t happen often any more. I also liked that Kermilla shows how thin the line can be between a Queen who’s spoiled, selfish, and narcissistic, and a Queen who’s evil.

Posted in Reviews Tagged with: , , , , ,

Review: “The Shadow Queen,” Anne Bishop

Pros: Interesting interactions between castes; lovely story
Cons:
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Anne Bishop’s The Shadow Queen: A Black Jewels Novel occurs some years after the events of The Invisible Ring. It would help to have that background, but I think as long as you have a basic familiarity with the world from any of the Black Jewels books you’ll be able to keep up. I like that many of the books that came after the original trilogy each seem to pick a different part of the world to explore rather than providing a strict, book-by-book track to follow.

In this volume, now that the tainted Queens are dead, the heir to Dena Nehele–Theran Grayhaven–wants to find a new Queen. He wants to restore the old Protocol, and rebuild the court. Jaenelle sends him Cassidy. Cassidy isn’t pretty and isn’t powerful, so she’s had trouble keeping any kind of court. Unfortunately for Cassidy, most of the men at Grayhaven still don’t trust Queens. Cassidy is doing her best to assemble her court, but it doesn’t help that Theran is angry at getting a ‘lesser’ Queen and sees her as a burden. Theran’s cousin, Gray, on the other hand, sees something worth caring for in Cassidy. He’d been damaged–emotionally and physically–by the last Queen, but around Cassidy he starts to pull himself together. The two of them have a love of gardening in common, and neither is put off by the other’s supposed shortcomings. Keeping a hold of the other Warlord Princes, however, may break Cassidy’s resolve to stay.

 

I love Cassidy as a character. It’s nice to have a protagonist to identify with who isn’t stunningly beautiful, perfectly proportioned, and capable of making everyone melt at her feet. Those stories have their places, but this is nice too. I very much disliked Theran, so I was glad Ms. Bishop didn’t try to match him with Cassidy romantically as I had at first feared she might (I should have trusted Ms. Bishop, who understands character chemistry quite well). It’s fascinating to watch Cassidy interject Protocol and the old ways when most of the people around her don’t even know if they can trust her. They’ve lived under the tainted Queens’ rule long enough that it’ll take a lot to convince them that Cassidy is genuine.

I can’t say a lot more about the plot–it’s a relatively simple plot, but there’s so much interesting character development and interaction that I never felt as though the book were missing something.

We do occasionally see glimpses of Jaenelle, Daemon, Lucivar, and Saetan around the edges–they’re having difficulties of their own.

The Shadow Queen is lovely, frustrating (in a good way), sweet, and fascinating. Gray and Cassidy seem perfect for each other even though both need room to grow first. I’m really enjoying catching up on Anne Bishop’s Black Jewels series!

Posted in Reviews Tagged with: , , , ,

Review: “Tangled Webs,” Anne Bishop

Pros: Odd and fascinating little murder mystery/haunted house theme!
Cons: Not as emotionally gripping; one thing I don’t understand yet
Rating: 4 out of 5

Anne Bishop’s Tangled Webs: A Black Jewels Novel tosses familiar characters Surreal and Rainier into the dangers of a haunted-house-gone-wrong together with a pack of children. Every time they use Craft one of 30 concealed exits closes, but there’s too much danger afoot for them to be able to go without shields, food, and so on. Before they know it, they’re battling for their lives against the dead, unable to tell what’s illusion and what’s real until it’s too late. Lucivar and Daemon were supposed to get caught in the trap, but for various reasons didn’t. They and Jaenelle need to figure out where Surreal and Rainier have gone, and find a way to get them out of the haunted house alive.

 

This book had an extremely different feel to it than the rest of the Black Jewels books have had. It reads like the literary equivalent of the ‘special Halloween episode’. That gave it the feel of an interlude episode, and perhaps contributed to the lack of deep emotional connection. That shows how deep and emotional the other books get, because this isn’t exactly light reading. There are children in danger, and Bishop doesn’t spare children from the darkness of her tales.

The room-to-room search, complete with the members of Surreal’s group getting mysteriously separated, provided plenty of thrills, chills, and danger. There’s a man behind it all who wants to take down the SaDiablo family, but he’ll come to regret that.

I have two things in this book that felt insufficiently justified. For one, the man who goes after Daemon, Surreal, and Lucivar, while obviously unstable, didn’t read as completely psychotic before people reached the haunted house. Also, given his low level of power, I had difficulty buying into the idea that he was able to kill two Black Widow witches, among others. He just isn’t that powerful.

Thus, while I did enjoy Tangled Webs, it didn’t pull me in the way all of the previous Black Jewels books have.

Note that there’s also a short story featuring Surreal at the end of the book, called “By the Time the Witchblood Blooms”. It’s a great little interlude that calls back to Surreal’s days as a high-end prostitute and assassin. It’s short but fun.

Of course, the usual rules of battle didn’t apply to a wife, which put him at a distinct disadvantage when it came to dealing with her.

Posted in Reviews Tagged with: , , , , ,

Review: “A Key, an Egg, an Unfortunate Remark,” Harry Connolly

Pros: Older protagonist; fun quirkiness
Cons: Aunt Marley starts out a little too precious
Rating: 4 out of 5

Aunt Marley Jacobs just lost one of her nephews–Aloysius–to murder, and one of her employees is in jail for the crime she didn’t commit. She needs her nephew Albert to jump in and help her. After all she has a murder to solve, she has an employee to clear of a crime, she has vampire hunters making trouble in her city, and someone’s about to make a mistake that could kill hundreds, even thousands, of people. Albert is young and just hanging on by his fingernails as he and Marley take on ghosts, werewolves, and even the police.

 

Harry Connolly’s A Key, an Egg, an Unfortunate Remark is unusual: it’s an urban fantasy with an older woman as the protagonist, as opposed to the standard snarky twenty-something. It’s wonderful to see. My only real problem with the book, in fact, is that Marley (Jacobs, the aforementioned protagonist)–also known as Aunt Marley–starts off a little too precious. A little too twee. She’s always right and comes across as exceedingly (and unnecessarily) eccentric. That put me off toward the beginning, but it cleared up well later on. We do finally see Marley make mistakes, we get a handle on the reasons for some of her seeming eccentricities, and get the message that no, she isn’t Super-Aunt. She really does need her nephew Albert’s help to keep the peace in her city between the vampires, the werewolves, the demons, the vampire hunters, and more. Also, her nephew makes a great stand-in for the reader as he learns to navigate Marley’s world.

Rather than the standard web of supernaturals, we see how Marley has spent years shaping the local communities. The vampires she allows in her city have a ‘rest home’ they live in, with blood shipped in daily. The demon is around largely to observe, but he’s also a mean cook. The ghost exudes despair so deep that it mires all of his visitors. Events build slowly, just as they would in any good mystery, and I didn’t guess the killer in advance.

A Key is a book that crosses a handful of genres or genre-niches. Urban fantasy without the snarky young protagonist; mystery that hovers somewhere between a cozy and a thriller, with elements of both. The bits from the not-quite-cozy aspect didn’t entirely appeal to me, but that’s because cozies aren’t my thing. I very much enjoyed the rest, however. This story probably isn’t for everyone, but if you aren’t sure where you’d fit on that line, I recommend giving it a read. I think you’ll find it highly entertaining and quite enjoyable.

Posted in Reviews Tagged with: ,

Review: “The House of Gaian,” Anne Bishop

Pros: Stunning and emotional climax of the Tir Alainn series
Cons:
Rating: 5 out of 5

The House of Gaian is book three in the Tir Alainn Trilogy, after The Pillars of the World and Shadows and Light. In this installment, the war between the Inquisition-led barons of the east and the witch- and Fae-led peoples of the west comes to a head. Adolfo, “the Witches’ Hammer” and leader of the Inquisition, falls deeper and deeper into madness and evil. Meanwhile, the Hunter and the Huntress–both part-Fae and part-witch, lead their own army into battle. Each side delves deep into their bag of tricks in the bloody meeting of forces.

 

The opening is nicely detailed, avoiding info-dumps while casually reminding the reader of the story-so-far in case it’s been some time since you last read Shadows and Light. You’ll get to see quite a bit of character transformation as each character completes his or her story-arc. The dividing line between witch and Fae in the west is all but done away with as the characters come to understand the origin of each and the ways in which they complement each other. Also, while there are characters with truly epic storylines, the series doesn’t pile all of the “special” events and abilities into one character, instead allowing all of the characters to shine. It’s wonderful to see Fae who don’t view witches and humans as prey or amusement, and the intermixing of the groups allows for great relationships and clashes. The Fae have become less uniform as the series has progressed, starting with an archetype and then drifting outward into fully-developed characters. I felt totally invested in the stories of Liam, Breanna, Selena, Ashk, Ari, Aiden and Lyrra, Morag, and so forth. I shed a few tears here and there because the characters had their hooks into me and my emotions rose and fell with them.

“We are the Fae,” the man said angrily. “We are the Mother’s Children.”
“The Mother’s spoiled children,” Liam snapped.

There exists unequivocal evil in this world. In some stories this would feel cartoonish, but it’s appropriate to the larger-than-life feel of Bishop’s characters and world. Note that Bishop pulls no punches–you’ll find some seriously dark material in here. The Inquisitors are foul creatures who take their rage out on women of all kinds and the men who support them.

The climax of the book pulled me in to the point where I couldn’t put the book down; obviously I’m not going into further detail so as to avoid spoilers. If you enjoy Anne Bishop’s larger-than-life characters, unusual world-building, and epic storylines, then I think you’ll find that The House of Gaian satisfies!

Posted in Reviews Tagged with: , , , , ,

The Stigma of Bipolar

Over at Bipolar Scorpio, there’s a post called I THINK HE’S LIKE, BIPOLAR OR SOMETHING…. It includes two tales that represent the stigma that surrounds bipolar people. In both cases, people labeled someone as “bipolar” simply because the person disturbed them. It’s a case of “that person bugs me, so I bet he’s mentally ill,” with bipolar being the go-to because people don’t understand it. Amy, the poster, mentions that she has hidden the fact that she’s bipolar for just this reason.

I’ve been extremely lucky. My mother understands. My husband understands. Most of my friends understand. This has given me the freedom to be open and honest about my illness, but most people don’t have that option. I’d like to see more representations of bipolar in the media that don’t depict us as dangerous lunatics or disturbed (or disturbing) individuals. I’d like to see more media representations of bipolar people who have stability due to proper treatment, as well as more realistic depictions of those who are struggling.

Bipolar and its treatments produce a wide spectrum of results, and I want to see that reflected in the media. It would be a nice step on the road to understanding.

Posted in News & Musings Tagged with: ,

Review: “Shadows and Light,” Anne Bishop

Pros: No second-book slump here!
Cons:
Rating: 5 out of 5

The Inquisition is working their way westward, turning the barons who rule the land against the witches, the Fae, and even their own women. Women can no longer publish books. Women must be obedient. Women must not be allowed to enjoy sex. The Inquisition has set its sights on the western barons next–but they’ll have a harder task ahead than they realize. In the west, the Fae never abandoned their witch relatives. Aiden (the Bard) and Lyrra (the Muse) realize they’re going to have to give up the eastern Fae mistrust of the western Fae if they want to save the lives of the witches–and any woman with an ounce of independent spirit in her.

 

Anne Bishop’s Shadows and Light is the second book in her Tir Alainn Trilogy, after The Pillars of the World. Thankfully, there’s no second-book slump–if anything, this installment in the series is more tense, more driven, just… more. The cast of characters has increased a bit, but I rarely had trouble keeping track of them.

Shadows dives straight into the relationship between Aiden (the Fae Bard) and Lyrra (the Fae Muse). Fae don’t tie themselves down to one partner with oaths and promises, but that’s exactly what Aiden and Lyrra want to do. They just need to keep it a secret from the other Fae, because they’re having enough trouble making themselves heard. They’re traveling to and from the Fae enclaves warning them about the thing that’s been destroying both the mystical roads that lead to their realm, but also pieces of the realm itself. Unfortunately helping out would require the Fae to do things they don’t care to do, and that’s enough to turn the other Fae against Aiden and Lyrra.

We do get to see some of the main characters of Pillars–they just aren’t the central characters this time. As usual with Anne Bishop books I love the characters and the interactions between them. Relationships turn out to have unusual twists; characters have extra dimensions they don’t reveal up front; feelings between people are both strong and strained. The reader largely ends up following two groups of characters, with occasional time out to take in the point of view of the Inquisitors. In Pillars the amount of room devoted to the Inquisitors and their actions left me with a sense of dread greater than I was comfortable with, but Shadows seems to space them out better. They’re certainly still quite dark–Bishop doesn’t pull punches. I also enjoy the way the point of view shifts from person to person so we can learn more about each one. Each town or village or enclave we see has its own unique collection of characters, making each one new and different.

I kept getting a little teary-eyed at the emotional stuff, which means it was easy to get wrapped up in the characters’ emotions. That’s always a good sign. I also got invested in the life and safety of the characters, leaving me on the edge of my seat whenever things got dangerous.

If anything this book is even better than the first in the series. Time to go read the third book!

Posted in Reviews Tagged with: , , , , ,

Stuff for Gamers

Take a look at the shirts-n-things in our stuff for gamers store.

Archives