Sunday, July 28, 2013

Hard Revolution

Hard Revolution: A Derek Strange NovelHard Revolution: A Derek Strange Novel by George Pelecanos
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Strange brothers grow up in Washington DC in the 1950's and 60's and take radically different paths. Derek becomes a cop while Dennis doesn't become much of anything. Can Dennis avoid ending up in jail for running with the wrong crowd? Can Derek keep his personal feelings out of his police work?

The fourth Derek Strange tale is a story from Derek's youth, showing what decisions he made that made him a bad ass private detective in the present day. Pelecanos uses historical events and the music of the time to paint a vivid picture of what it must have been like to be young and black in Washington DC in the 1950's and 60's.

Hard Revolution reminds me more of the DC Quartet than it does the other Derek Strange books. It feels more literary and, while there are elements of crime fiction, the book is more about the characters. Derek, who walks the straight and narrow for the most part, and Dennis, who is young and angry and living off of the Strange parents and a military pension. Strange, while thirty years younger, is still recognizable as the Derek Strange of the past three books. Even at a younger age, he's a ladies man, into Westerns, and into soul music. Some things never change.

All the usual things that thrill me about Pelecanos novels are here: period-appropriate pop culture references, cameos by other characters living in Pelecanos' DC, Big and Little Nick Stefanos in this case, and tensions simmering until they come to a explosive climax.

The assassination of Martin Luther King is the pin that gets pulled from the grenade in Hard Revolution and sets Washington DC into chaos. Strange and the other cops work themselves nearly to death trying to maintain order while the city burns. By the end, it's pretty apparent why Strange decides to quit being a cop sometime after this novel.

That's about all I have to say. Hard Revolution is yet another enjoyable novel from George Pelecanos. At this point, I expected nothing else.

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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl

Gideon Smith and the Mechanical GirlGideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl by David Barnett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When his father is lost at sea and his ship found abandoned, Gideon Smith leaves lonely Sandsend behind to venture to London and find Lucian Trigger, hero of many penny dreadfuls, to help him find who is behind it. En route, Gideon befriends a writer named Bram Stoker and a Mechanical Girl named Maria. But will Lucian Trigger be the hero Gideon needs?

I got this book from Netgalley. Thank you, Netgalley!

Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl is a steampunk adventure tale. I'll be honest, I was planning on tearing it a new orifice for the first 30% or so. Gideon, nearly twenty-four, is really naive, acting like he's fifteen a lot of the time. Also, there was a logjam of the usual Victorian and steampunk tropes hampering my enjoyment, namely Dracula, dirigibles, Jack the Ripper, automatons, and various others. However, I gave Barnett a chance to show me something and he did.

Gideon's travels take him from Sandsend to London and beyond, looking first for Lucian Trigger then for Trigger's partner and paramour, John Reed. Meanwhile, Bram Stoker and Gideon meet then part ways, Stoker pursuing frog-faced mummies in the company of the buxom Countess Dracula.

I love the way Barnett tied things together. I also loved that he went with the Countess instead of tired old Vlad and had the renowned hero Lucian Trigger wind up being an aging homosexual former army officer chronicling the adventures of his opium-addicted lover. Gideon's conflicted feelings for Maria were nicely done. By the time Cockayne started teaching Gideon about being a hero, I was pretty well sold on the book and it's inevitable sequels.

Once the threads converged and the gang headed to Egypt, the story started firing on all cylinders. When the true villain of the piece and the purpose of the MacGuffin were revealed, I couldn't put the book down. The ending was satisfying and not quite happily ever after but I smell a sequel on the horizon.

The writing style reminds me very much of Stephen Hunt's The Court of the Air and related books, only with more focus and less disappointment (I'm looking at you, Jack Cloudie).

Despite a rocky start, Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl wound up being one of the more enjoyable steampunk books I've read recently. 3.5 out of 5.

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Sunday, July 21, 2013

Of Dice and Men

Of Dice and Men: The Story of Dungeons & Dragons and The People Who Play ItOf Dice and Men: The Story of Dungeons & Dragons and The People Who Play It by David M. Ewalt
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Of Dice and Men is the story of Dungeons and Dragons and David M. Ewalt's lifetime of being a player.

I got this book from Netgalley. Thank you, Netgalley.

David M. Ewalt and I have several things in common. Both of our first names start with the letter D. He writes for Forbes and I was in an infographic Forbes did about Goodreads. And both of us are tremendous nerds in that we've both been avid Dungeons and Dragons players.

Ewalt explores the history of Dungeons and Dragons, starting from its humble beginnings in Gary Gygax's basement, to becoming a million dollar a year company, to Gygax getting forced out and the company being sold out from under him. Ewalt also covers the evolution of the game itself, from the original edition all the way to its current incarnation, D&D Next.

More interesting to me, however, is David's account of his own gaming experiences, until he drifted away from the game only to come back as adult and find the old fires still burned, culminating in a pilgrimage to Lake Geneva and Gary Con, the memorial/convention dedicated to Gary Gygax. Separating the sections are material from his gaming sessions, frequently paralleling what topic is being discussed.

It's not all bags of holding and cloaks of displacement, however. Too much time is spent covering LARPing and not enough is told of D&D from 3.0 on. Other than that, I have no complaints. It was a pretty entertaining read and even a grognard like me learned a few things from the early days of Dungeons and Dragons. It brought back some fond memories of evenings drenched in nerd sweat, trying to slay some beast or other. 3.5 out of 5.

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Kinslayer - Spoilers, sweetie

Kinslayer (The Lotus War, #2)Kinslayer by Jay Kristoff
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In the wake of Yukiko slaying the Shogun, Hiro is tapped to wed Aisha and be the new Shogun to save the Shima Imperium. Meanwhile, Yukiko's powers are out of control and she and Buruu head north seeking knowledge. Will they return in time to aid the Kage and stop Hiro's impending wedding?

I received this book from the fine folks at St. Martin's in exchange for reviewing it.

Kinslayer is the second book in the Lotus War trilogy and Jay Kristoff Empire-Strikes-Backed the hell out of it. Things start off rough, with Yukiko bleeding and having headaches every time she uses her Kenning, Hiro being tapped to be the new Shogun, and the Kage doing their best to make Kin feel unwelcome, and keep getting worse.

Kristoff bounces between multiple plotlines, further fleshing out the Kage and their various cells. Michi-chan and her romance with Ichizo, Hana and her brother, Daichi and the bulk of the Kage, and Yukiko and Buruu share more or less equal time. Pretty much all of the characters go through the wringer, multiple times in many cases.

The story of Hana, her brother Yoshi, and her brother's boyfriend was my favorite, complete with the reveal at the end. Poor Kin. After Isao and the others treated him like crap, I didn't hate him very much when he Lando-ed everyone at the end. Hell, everyone except Daichi was an asshole to him so what did they expect to happen?

Yukiko and Buruu didn't actually do much that pertained to the main plotline, heading north to find the tattooed monks and encountering two more arashitora and some gajin. Although, that wasn't completely true. I should have seen what was really wrong with Yukiko coming a mile away and Kristoff surprised the crap out of me. Good show, old sport.

Kinslayer was very nearly as good as Stormdancer and I can't wait to see what Jay Kristoff is planning for the next installment of the series. He sure left things as messy as a frat house bathroom when he left off.

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Friday, July 19, 2013

Three (plus nine) Questions with Jay Posey

Today's guest is Jay Posey, author of Three.

How long was Three in your head before you put pen to paper?
I had the seed of the story for a good couple of years, but I’d never been able to find quite the right home for it in terms of setting.  I ended up writing a short story that I thought was going to be completely unrelated but a few months after I finished it, I discovered it inspired some of the missing pieces for Three, and it all finally fell into place for me.

How did you hook up with Angry Robot?
I had the support of two great writers, Richard Dansky and Matt Forbeck.  They were both kind enough to point me in Angry Robot’s direction and provide the necessary introductions.  And then of course the Robot Overlords were kind enough to extend their Assimilation Forceps and everything is a little hazy after that, but from what I recall they’re the greatest publisher ever and we should be thankful for their soon and coming benevolent reign.

What are the big inspirations behind Legends of the Duskwalker?
In terms of themes and setting, the Classic Western I think is a pretty obvious one, with a splash of anime and cyberpunk mixed in.  I think the heart of the story, though, really comes from a personal desire to explore some ideas about sacrificial love and surrogate fatherhood.

How many books in the series do you have planned?
I’m finishing up the second now, and have the framework for a third.   I think after that I’ll probably take some time to see how my brain is doing creatively and whether or not people actually want more books in the series.  There are a lot of stories still to be told in that world, but I’m hesitant to get too far ahead of myself.

Who would you cast in a Three movie?
This is one I’d rather leave up to the readers’ imaginations.  I’m actually very curious to see how other people imagine the characters from the book.  Several of the people who read the early manuscript had wildly different ideas of what Three looked like, which I thought was awesome.

What are you reading now? 
Well, I was supposed to save it as my reward for finishing The Sequel to Three, but I decided to sneak a peek at Wesley Chu’s The Lives of Tao.  I’m on Chapter 26 now.

What is your favorite book of all time?
Good grief, you’re not one for softball questions are you?  There are so many great books out there and so many I still have yet to read.  If I don’t overthink it though, I guess my reflexive answer is The Hobbit.  It has such a great mix of humor, adventure, danger, and wonder, and it manages a great balance between light and heavy things.  It’s probably the book I’ve read the most times in my life.

What writer would you say is your biggest influence?
Probably unsurprisingly, I would guess J.R.R. Tolkien, though I think I’m more influenced by how he thought and talked about writing than I am by his actual (legendary) works.  When I get stuck, I don’t really ask myself “What would Tolkien do?” or anything (because if I did I’m pretty sure the answer would be “He’d do something you are incapable of because he’s a genius and you’re a hack!”), but I’ve read some of his essays and lesser known works, and just found a lot of what he had to say about Story to be compelling and personally significant.  His essay On Fairy Stories in particular meant a lot to me.  Also, in the foreword  to one of the editions of The Lord of the Rings that I have, he recounts the difficulty he had in completing it (over a 13 year period) and his honesty throughout that piece helped me realize that a lot of the doubts I’ve faced as a writer weren’t mine alone.

Is there a particular book that made you want to be a writer?
I can’t think of a single, particular book that made me want to be a writer, and I really can’t even identify a specific time where I felt like I suddenly decided “I want to be a writer!”.  I’ve pretty much always enjoyed making up stories, and I think it was more of a gradual discovery for me to think that maybe I could take writing more seriously and do it professionally.  I grew up reading a lot of Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman’s work, and I remember using my assigned journal time in middle school to write short stories in a similar vein.  It wasn’t really until I was in my twenties though that I decided to give it a shot as a profession.

What is your favorite post-apocalyptic book, movie, and video game?
The Road by Cormac McCarthy (book), The Road Warrior (movie), and The Last of Us (video game).  I really appreciated how The Road handled making such small things significant.  And of course watching The Road Warrior is pretty much a rite of passage.  I actually haven’t gotten to spend very much time playing The Last of Us yet, but already from the little bit I’ve played, I just feel like Naughty Dog did an amazing job of capturing the feeling of a post-apocalyptic world while keeping it accessible.

Any non-Duskwalker books in the works? 
I have several projects on various back- and side-burners.  The Duskwalker series is definitely my focus for now and the immediate future, but I have a more military sci-fi thing that I’d like to put more time in eventually.  I also have more of a fantasy-type thing that’s been lying dormant for a number of years that I would like to get back to one day.

Any words of wisdom for aspiring writers?
Get in the habit of writing every day (or five days a week), even when you don’t feel like it.  Maybe especially when you don’t feel like it.  Writing is a lot like exercise, and if you can stick with it and make it a habit, you’ll eventually find that you feel weird if you go a day without writing.  And of course, the most important thing to remember: no one can actually keep you from being a writer but you.

Special Bonus Feature:
Angry Robot is giving away two signed copies of Three.  Each stop on this Blog Tour of Three by Jay Posey has a unique question.  Be sure to enter your answers into the giveaway by dropping by My Shelf Confessions and enter your answers in the rafflecopter widget! You can answer as many or as few as you like as each answered question gets you an extra entry!

Here's the questions for my stop: Question #3  "What genre does Three get filed under?"

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Rod of Seven Parts

THE ROD OF SEVEN PARTS (Advanced Dungeons & Dragons: Tomes Adventure)THE ROD OF SEVEN PARTS by Skip Williams
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The forces of Chaos threaten to overrun the world and only three intrepid heroes can stop them by searching out the seven fragments of the Rod of Law, travel to limbo, and slay Miska the Wolf-Spider. Can the three players controlling the heroes put aside their teenage bickering to actually employ teamwork and finish this mega-module before their Dungeon Master quits playing Dungeons and Dragons out of frustration?

Okay, so the summary doesn't match what's on the back of the box but it's how it all went down for our group. This was the capstone of my teenage Dungeons and Dragons experience, before the group fragmented and decided chasing girls and getting liquored up was more fun that nerding it up in the basement slaying monsters.

It was pretty tough from what I remember. The bard nearly got killed in the first adventure after a one ton block of stone fell on him, the fighter and the psionicist both nearly died from poison by wolf-spiders on a lot of occasions, and lots of shit got killed.

The plot isn't all that complicated. The forces of Law recruit the characters to gather the seven fragments of the Rod of Law, piece it back together, go to limbo (as I recall), and kill Miska the Wolf-Spider. It was a long and brutal adventure. The plot was pretty loose, actually. Apart from reading the adventure, all the DM had to do was place the fragments in whatever world he played in, Oerth if he was hardcore, and point the PCs on their way.

If I remember right, this set of linked adventures took close to a year for us to get through. By the end, all of the characters were level 15 or above, had more treasure than they could ever spend, and didn't have much more they could accomplish.

We played a few times after this but couldn't recapture the old magic. Still, they were memorable times.

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Wednesday, July 10, 2013

In Pursuit of Spenser: Mystery Writers on Robert B. Parker and the Creation of an American Hero

In Pursuit of Spenser: Mystery Writers on Robert B. Parker and the Creation of an American HeroIn Pursuit of Spenser: Mystery Writers on Robert B. Parker and the Creation of an American Hero by Otto Penzler
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Otto Penzler and a slew of writers give their thoughts on Robert B. Parker and his ground-breaking detective, Spenser.

I grabbed this off of Netgalley. Thank you, Netgalley!

Penzler and the gang (Ace Atkins
Lawrence Block, Reed Farrel Coleman, Max Allan Collins, Matthew Clemens, Brendan DuBois, Loren D. Estleman, Lyndsay Faye, Ed Gorman, Parnell Hall, Jeremiah Healy, Dennis Lehane, Gary Phillips, and S.J. Rozan) tell stories about Robert B. Parker's and/or Spenser's influence on them and crime fiction in general.

I'm not as big of a fan of Spenser as some reviewers. In fact, I've only made it as far as Looking For Rachel Wallace and actually prefer Robert Crais's take on the wise-cracking detective and his deadly partner. Still, I do enjoy Spenser and gave this a try.

It's pretty interesting. It reads like a bunch of eulogies at times. Actually, Lawrence Block's reminds me of Bob Newhart's eulogy of Krusty the Klown in that classic Simpsons's episode where Krusty fakes his own death.

The individual entries range from okay to pretty good. My favorites were Dennis LeHane's story about a rude kid at a party he and Parker were attending and Ace Atkin's story about how reading Spenser taught him how to be a man.

Things got a little repetitive once I passed the halfway mark, however. It seems like everyone talked about Hawk, Spenser's cooking, westerns, and the same few Spenser books. A little more on how earlier detectives influenced Parker and Spenser would have been nice.

Still, it was an interesting read and any fan of Robert Parker and/or Spenser should read it.

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Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Godborn

The Godborn (The Sundering, #2)The Godborn by Paul S. Kemp
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Raised in an abbey, Erevis Cale's son Vasen lives a life of peace despite being born of shadow, until he gets caught in the schemes of demons and devils. Can Vasen and his new friend Orsin stop the machinations of Mephistopheles and prevent the world from being destroyed?

I got this courtesy of NetGalley and Wizards of the Coast.

When I got the first two books of The Sundering from Netgalley, I assumed they were closely linked. They are not. They both are set in the Forgotten Realms around the same time period but that's about as far as it goes.

The Godborn is the tale of several beings that are the chosen of various gods, some trying to prevent the Cycle of Night, others trying to stop it. Vasen Cale, son of the presumed deceased Erevis Cale, was whisked forward in time 70 years while still in the womb in order to hide him from his father's enemies. He lives a life of peace in an abbey until trouble comes knocking.

I was not a tremendous fan of this book, especially compared with The Companions. First of all, the Companions was accessible to me, a Forgotten Realms noob, whereas this one had me in the dark a lot of the time. None of the characters were very likeable or interesting and a lot of the book seemed like filler between battle scenes.

The thing that stopped me from giving this a one was Paul S. Kemp's writing. I'd like to read something of his not set in the Forgotten Realms and featuring likeable characters. Also, the ending was pretty good, from what I understood of it.

The Godborn is a hard 2. I'm not sure if I'm going to read the final book in The Sundering series.

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Sunday, July 7, 2013

The Companions

The Companions (The Sundering, #1)The Companions by R.A. Salvatore
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Drizzt's deceased friends are reincarnated with the intent to meet in 21 years and resume their companionship. Will Regis, Cattie-brie, and Bruenor survive a second childhoold? And will Drizzt be alive when they meet in adulthood?

I got this for free from NetGalley. Thank you, NetGalley!

Despite what you may have heard, I was a tremendous geek as a kid, even playing Dungeons and Dragons on quite a few occasions. Still, I always steered clear of D&D related fiction. It all seemed pretty derivative and Drizzt seemed like Michael Moorcock's Elric in a change of clothes. Wizards of the Coast invited me to read this on NetGalley and I decided to give it a shot for old times' sake. It wasn't bad.

Regis the halfing, Bruenor the dwarf, and Cattie-brie, human sorceress, proved to be fairly interesting characters despite all of them being D&D cliches. Bruenor's rage and impatience pushed his story along, seeing him growing in prowess while alienating his fellow dwarfs. Regis was born to rags but was taken in the Grandfather of Assassins and did pretty well for himself. Cattie-brie's tale was actually the least interesting, a wandering sorceress learning from five teachers by the tale's end.

Despite never reading the trio's initial adventure with Drizzt, the tale was easy enough to follow. Salvatore guided me by the hand, relating what I'd need to know while actually making me want to read some of the old stuff. There was a lot of action, as I expected. Also as I expected, Salvatore's prose is not going to rival David Foster Wallace's any time soon.

That's about all I have to say. I enjoyed it enough that I'll probably pick up the next book in the series. It's a fun read with little thinking required.

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