A foray into Dieselpunk

Posted in Books, Recommendations, Reviews with tags , , on August 29, 2015 by crookedreviews

Courtesy of goodreads.comMy go-to genres of books are Urban Fantasy and Steampunk. Obviously, considering my posts. But every so often I’ll venture outside my comfortable little world with sci-fi, straight fantasy (you know, knights and castles etc) and now, dieselpunk.

I just finished reading The Mammoth Book of Dieselpunk, an anthology of dieselpunk stories edited by Sean Wallace. I’ve never read dieselpunk before and the fact that the era is right in my historical wheelhouse (yeah, I’m a historian by schooling) and the awesome cover made me pick this bad boy up.

Like any anthology, there are good and bad stories. Some of the stories in the book are more like novellas than real short stories. That’s fine. But the all of these stories seemed just…too post-apocalyptic. Now, given the wide ranging time frame I felt this covered (WWI through WWII), that’s understandable. And yet…I really feel that it doesn’t have to be. There was so much going on in that time frame that was of a hopeful or fun nature: like Charles Lindbergh crossing the Atlantic, Amelia Earhart (before she disappeared), the advent of race culture (both cars and planes).

It was a little darker and a little more depressing than I thought it would be given the cover. The 1920s, 30s and 40s are the height of pulp fiction and radio shows. There’s so much that authors could do with it, I feel that these stories sort of missed that. I was kind of hoping for stories that were a bit more along the likes of The Rocketeer than A Farewell to Arms.

That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t read more dieselpunk if I could find something, it just means that perhaps that book wasn’t the best introduction to the genre, at least for me. So if you like dieselpunk, this would probably be worth the read. There’s a bunch of stories in there. If not, give it a miss. There are other anthologies out there. If anyone has a suggestion for a dieselpunk book to read, I’m all eyes.

Rating: C+. Being a historian, there were a couple of stories where I was heartily impressed by the author’s attention to detail, such as the one with the Japanese internment camps from WWII America. Other than that, I might just donate this book to the local library.

Crown & Key

Posted in Books, Recommendations, Reviews, Steampunk with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on August 15, 2015 by crookedreviews

Courtesy of goodreads.comSo I troll through Amazon Kindle books on the reg to see if I can find anything that catches my fancy, especially when I’m between novels on my favorite series (Dresden Files, any and all Simon R Green etc). I picked up this steampunk novel The Shadow Revolution: Crown & Key by Clay and Susan Griffith. I wasn’t really able to figure out in this book if magic and such was on the DL  or if it was well known but considered ‘suspect’ (i.e.-practitioners are thought of in the terms of gypsies and such were at that time, an unwanted peoples). It certain seemed that everyone that our main character, Simon Archer, met was aware of magic on some level. But this is a first novel, so I give a little leeway on the world building ambiguity.

So, Simon Archer is a mage. Not just any mage, but a scribe. Supposedly he is the last one. From what I’m able to gather, scribes work magic through writing down spells and then speaking an activating word. Simon has taken this a little further and tattooed useful spells on his body. Therefore, all he has to do is speak the activating word to do the spells. The problem with magic in this world though is that if you use too much, you get ‘aether drunk’ (seems like an uber high, giggly feeling as it’s described).

Simon is a playboy. The illegitimate son of a scribe in some sort of protective society that seems to have fallen apart, Simon has made himself a bit of a name in the social scene. It isn’t unusual to see him at a party, even if he isn’t invited. This sort of lifestyle is all well and good for him until an old friend gets murdered by a werewolf right in front of him. She’d been trying to ask him for help regarding said werewolf but she was just a bit too late.

To try and get a little revenge, he crashes a very high society party (Prime Minister high) to confront the werewolf, a Peer whose name I have forgotten. Simon confronts him, gets in a fight and is helped out by a Lady by the name of Kate Anstruther. A self professed Alchemist, Kate has no time for societal games. She is much too logical to be swayed by some idiot lord trying to get in her knickers. She’s only there because her younger sister Imogene is a society person and it isn’t proper for a young lady to go out alone.

This fight brings together Simon, Simon’s teacher Nick Barker, and Kate in a race to figure out not only what’s going on but to save Kate’s sister. Imogene falls for the wrong sort (natch, always the way these things go) and it leads to a host of trouble. Throw in a Scottish werewolf hunter, a tinkerer named Penny and an evil doctor and you have a nice little mix.

I quite enjoyed this book. I kept waiting for Kate to go all helpless damsel and it didn’t really happen. The only time she did get a little stereotypically weepy woman was when she was strapped down to a gurney and both she and her sister threatened with extreme bodily harm. I personally feel that is quite an acceptable circumstance for your strong female (or male) lead to have a bit of a breakdown. I’m still deciding if I want to move onto book 2 of this series but I think its definitely worth a read. Rating: B, solid but not outstanding. Also, they never really got to why it was subtitled “Crown & Key”…

One-Eyed Jacks are Wild

Posted in Books, Recommendations, Reviews, Urban Fantasy with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 8, 2015 by crookedreviews

Courtesy of elizabethbear.com. Open for full image.I love a good personification story. I find it interesting to see what an author can do with the idea that a city is literally alive, where there is one (or more) person who is the city. In the case of the world in One-Eyed Jack by Elizabeth Bear, most major cities have a genius (commonly referred to in fantasy novels as genius loci) that represent the idea of the city.

As you may have guessed from the title, One-Eyed Jack takes place in Las Vegas. Vegas has two geni, the One-Eyed Jack (Yes, his name is Jack-well, John Henry Kinkead-and yes, he has one eye) and the Suicide King (whose name is Stewart). They, like other geni, were once living humans who had a tie to the city they are bound to. That could mean anything from they were born there to dying there to being a significant part of the culture there (No, neither of Vegas’ loci are or were Elvis or Frank Sinatra).

I think that this book is part of a world but not necessarily part of a series. Its a little unclear because its called a novel of the “Promethean Age” but when I look up Elizabeth Bear’s other novels with that subtitle, their blurbs don’t mention Jack, Stewart or Vegas. In any case, some of the world building ideas seem to be already set in place, like mages being called Prometheans and having been wiped out (it sounds like mages are just bad news in this world. Again, don’t know why).

This book starts out with Jack and Stewart at the Hoover Dam. Something is up with the dam, it has some sort of hold on both Vegas and Los Angeles, beyond just the power of the Colorado River. Jack is convinced that this is a bad thing and tries to fix it. He uses Stewart, his partner in all senses of the word, the job of distracting the masses while he tries to put a date on a blank plaque of some sort on the dam.

Before he can do anything, Stewart “dies” from having thrown himself from the dam and missed actually killing himself (not that the Suicide King can kill himself because apparently that’s the only way he can’t die. Nice twist) and a genuis from Los Angeles interrupts Jack. Called Goddess, she is the personification of everyone who has tried and failed to make it in Hollywood.

Goddess and her sister genuis, Angel (the personification of the seedy underbelly of LA with a veneer of innocence), are up to something. Jack wants to know what but his curiosity gets him and Stewart in trouble. With the help of a couple ghosts (Doc Holliday and John Henry of steel driving fame), some “media ghosts” (They never come out and say it but I think the media ghosts were the two guys from The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and John Steed and Emma Peel from the Avengers) and a vampire named Tribute (also referred to as King and connected with LA and Vegas. Take a wild guess…Yes, you’re correct), Jack has to figure out what they’re up to and stop it.

Now the ideas behind this story were interesting. The genius loci, Prometheans, media ghosts, all pretty cool stuff. The writing itself could use some work. I’ve seen the technique of doing each chapter from a different character’s point of view (All of the Cal Leandros novels for instance) but this one was confusing because several of the main characters in the book didn’t have names. They were called the American, the Russian, the Widow, the Englishman and the Assassin. And there might have even been two Englishmen being referred to. It all got very confusing at times.

So if the writing got polished a little more and the novels continue with these characters, it could be pretty darn awesome. As it is, I just finished the book because I’d started it. I wasn’t really all that interested in the ending because I figured it pretty quickly. That’s not a knock to the writer. I just tend to figure out these things quickly. It took me less than half the movie to figure out that Bruce Willis was a ghost in The Sixth Sense (spoilers? Really, if you haven’t heard about that “twist” ending by now, it’s not my fault). Good ideas, like the fact that the main characters are a gay couple, love the media ghosts but overall…nothing to write home about and I’m glad I got it for all of three bucks (yay Kindle!). Rating: C-/C. Could be your cup of tea but it wasn’t really mine.

Jane Yellowrock: Dark Heir

Posted in Books, Recommendations, Reviews, Urban Fantasy with tags , , , , , , , , on August 4, 2015 by crookedreviews

Courtesy of goodreads.comOnce more, I’m going to have to put a SPOILERS warning on this. Since this book is the latest in the Jane Yellowrock series, it hasn’t been out too long.

Okay, so this is take two. I wrote out this whole thing and…it didn’t publish. *sigh* So, Dark Heir is Faith Hunter’s latest Jane Yellowrock novel. We come into it with Jane and her partner, Eli and Alex Younger, prepping the New Orleans vamps for their upcoming (though when exactly is unknown) meeting with an entourage from the Europeans Mithrans (yeah, I don’t really like that term for vampires. Why gussy it up?). They’re doing pretty well, things are relaxed, which is naturally when things go to shit.

New Orlean Master of the City, Leo Pellisier, is keeping a secret in the basement. One that’s a bit of an open secret among the vamps and the reason the Europeans are sending an entourage. Chained in one of his sub basements (clearly enchanted to keep out water since New Orleans is below the water table) is the original vamp. The son of Judas Iscariot (not the first time I’ve seen this sort of theme but not quite used enough to be trope-y either), Joses Bar-Judas is the progenitor and therefore the strongest with the strongest blood.

Leo keeps him chained and starved in the basement to feed off from. Joses is clearly gone round the twist at some point as evidenced by his killing of fifty-two people upon escaping his confinement (with help from some conspirators against Leo). He only fed on a few of them, the rest of them he just killed for the fun of it.

Jane (temporarily) resigns her commission as Leo’s enforcer to take a contract from the city and the state to hunt down Joses and bring back his heart. The trouble is, he’s not only the world’s strongest vamp (and getting stronger the more he consumes blood), he’s a vampire witch. Jane calls on some locals for help and gets a surprise visit from her best friend Molly Trueblood (I think…Maybe it’s Everhart? Can’t remember and too lazy to open the book up again right now), a witch from the Tennessee area.

Since this book is relatively new, I won’t do a play-by-play. Suffice it to say, there’s thrills and chills (I just had to. It was right there), chases and near misses. The thing I really like is that even though Jane is in a somewhat steady relationship with honorio George (better known as Bruiser), Faith Hunter hasn’t turned her into a damsel in distress. So many writers start out with strong female characters who “don’t need no man” but eventually get with a man and all of a sudden, they can’t do anything without said man. If they’re hurt, they need the man to care for them and get pissed if he doesn’t. If they were a no sex until marriage type, they’re suddenly porn worthy in how much sex they’re having (I’m looking at you Anita Blake).

Jane has been and looks like she always will be (knock on wood), a kick ass woman. She saves herself, even when it looks like she’s about six inches from death. And then she ends up saving the city/state/world.  Awe. Some. So do yourself a favor and pick up these books. You don’t have to read the other books in order to get this one, but it certainly helps. Rating: A.

From a Drood to a Kill

Posted in Books, Recommendations, Reviews, Urban Fantasy with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 26, 2015 by crookedreviews

courtesy of Amazon.comObligatory SPOILERS message be here. This book just came out so if you haven’t read it, skip this review.

Ah Simon. I do adore your writing. I am so sad that you’re going to be wrapping up your Secret Histories, Nightside and Ghost Finders novels. If you haven’t heard (and I think I may have posted on this earlier this year…? Maybe?), Simon R. Green has been diagnosed with diabetes and in anticipation of that perhaps having health complications, he is wrapping up his series quicker than he originally planned. He is then going to write individual novels a la Shadows Fall.

At any rate, I just finished up From a Drood to a Kill. This novel picks up, naturally, where the last one left off. Eddie’s parents are missing and he is heading to Drood Hall to demand they help him. Eddie and Molly make a right mess of the Hall and a bunch of Droods who, in theory, know how to fight but in reality just don’t Eddie’s skills. They make it to the Sanctity where they bargain with Maggie, the current Matriarch, for Drood help.

Since Eddie wants their resources for a private quest, he needs to do one for them. And only Eddie. Molly gets sidelined, which she isn’t happy about, but she takes the time to go visit her equally impressive and troublesome sisters, Isabelle and Louisa (or is it Isabella and Louise? Can’t remember and too lazy to go back and find the right page to check). It seems that some intelligence is leaking from Britain’s latest high tech listening station, nicknamed the Big Ear. No, I don’t know who came up with that name. Its a little ridiculous. Okay, it’s a lot ridiculous.

The mission delivered and agreed to, the Armourer (Jack Drood and my personal fav.), gives Eddie his old Bentley (man, I wish I had that car. It would be awesome) for the trip. The Bentley is much more than just a car. Or even much more than one of James Bond’s cars. It can travel through dimensions, among other things, so it allows for a trip across Britain much quicker than driving a regular vehicle or taking a train.

Of course, the mission starts out with a bump. The Bentley gets sidetracked, kidnapped to the subtle realms by a group of rogue fae that includes a former aunt of Eddie’s, Melanie Blaze. Eddie preps himself for a fight, because faeries don’t just give up, when Melanie…just gives up. She lets him go when just moments before she was planning on using him as a bargaining chip with the Drood (good luck with that). Utterly perplexed, Eddie completes his mission without having to kill anyone (his new vow, tough one to keep for a Drood).

When he finishes, he finds out exactly why Melanie gave up so easily. The one Drood she’d really wanted to deal with, the Armourer Jack Drood, died. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! Not Jack! I was so upset by this! Even though it was established that Jack was really quite old, it was a hard it. It was such a likeable character. Luckily enough, it wasn’t murder (which is something of an issue with Droods) but just old age. Rare that an agent can die peacefully at home.

After a solemn ceremony on the Drood estate, a wake for friends (plus Eddie and Molly) gets held at the Wulfshead, Eddie’s usual club. People come from all walks of life to say goodbye to Jack in grand, drunken fashion. Including Cedric Drood, the Sergeant-at-arms, that Eddie doesn’t get along with in the least. They put their animosity aside for the night to celebrate Jack’s life. Eddie learns there was more to his beloved uncle than he ever knew. It doesn’t make him feel good, that he didn’t even bother to learn these things. He always thought he’d have the time to talk to Jack more, I suppose.

After the party, which goes off without a hitch oddly enough, Molly gets kidnapped. Right out of the Wulfshead, which is supposed to be impossible. Angry, grieving for his uncle, Eddie goes on a tear to find her. Kidnapped by the grandiosely (and self) named Powers That Be, Eddie kicks arse and takes names as he tries to find their home base of the Shifting Lands.

Molly has been kidnapped for the Big Game. A supposedly private and hush-hush event strictly for the Powers That Be and their amusement. They kidnap people who owe debts so large (usually on their soul and/or body) to powerful beings (Heaven, Hell, Powers, Dominations. You name it, they’ve probably done it) that they could never repay those debts even in death. Like Molly, who made deals upon deals with Good and Bad in order to gain the power to destroy the Droods for killing her parents.

The Big Game is a fight to the death and the last one standing has all of their debts paid for by the Powers That Be. To make things interesting, the Shifting Lands are ever changing based on the mood and force of will the players can enforce upon it. One minute, it can be your place of power, the next it might be your opponent’s place of power.

I won’t give away what happens with that. Its really too good and I wouldn’t do it justice. It was obvious from the writing that this series is, indeed (and sadly), winding down. That doesn’t make it any less interesting or well written though. In most cases of Simon’s writing, I would say you really don’t need to read the previous book to get the gist of this one. And while that is true to a certain extent with From a Drood to a Kill, I think it would definitely make more sense if you read Casino Infernale before reading this book. That one was absolutely amazing and the events in that have a direct impact on those in From a Drood to a Kill. Hell, I suggest you read the whole damn series. Its so much fun and the titles are delightful puns on James Bond titles. Rating: A.


Posted in Books, Recommendations, Reviews with tags , , , , , , , on July 11, 2015 by crookedreviews

Courtesy of goodreads.comAnd I’m back! Finally have internet back up at our new place after two weeks. I’ve gotten to read a few books in that time so I have something to review. Woohoo! I don’t often times go for scifi books. My genre of choice is urban fantasy. But I had an urge to see if there was anything good at Amazon in that genre and I managed to stumble upon a winner.

Written by Marissa Meyer, Cinder is a cyberpunk retelling of the classic Cinderella tale. Set in the Eastern Commonwealth of a far distant future, Linh Cinder is a cyborg mechanic. Cyborgs are considered second class citizens in this future and Cinder is no exception. An orphan who was saved by a man called Linh Garan, Cinder is treated harshly by her stepmother Adri who blames Cinder for her husband’s death. Cinder is only allowed her mechanic shop because the money she earns goes to Adri.

Cinder is a very talented mechanic. Considered the best in New Beijing, she is the one that Prince Kai, the Emperor’s only son, is referred to when something happens with his personal tutoring android. Cinder and Kai connect on a personal level. Cinder doesn’t treat him like royalty, Kai doesn’t treat Cinder like she’s nothing. Cinder eventually agrees to see what she can do about the broken android and the pair go their separate ways.

This is just a bit different from the usual Cinderella tale in that they meet first thing and not at a ball. Kai knows that Cinder is a mechanic, though she doesn’t let on that she’s a cyborg. Cinder thinks that she’ll maybe see Kai once more when he comes to pick up his android but events conspire to bring them together again and again. And yes there is a ball, but that doesn’t happen until the very end of the book.

First, there is her stepsister Peony getting sick from a plague called letumosis. Originally coming from the Lunar population (a group of people that had, at some point, been human but had evolved over time to become a separate species that can manipulate bioenergy that appears as magic to humans), letumosis is universally deadly to those who catch it. If you’re human and you catch it, you die. Peony getting sick causes Adri, the stepmother, to be even worse to Cinder. She does, in fact, sell Cinder to the cyborg draft which has been set up specifically to use cyborgs as test subjects for plague cures.

This brings her to the attention of one Dr. Erland. He’s been trying to work on a cure since Emperor Rikan, Kai’s father, got sick. Unfortunately, he’s come up negative from twenty-seven attempts. He injects Cinder with the plague and finds…she’s immune. Some how, her body gets rid of the letumosis. Intent on using her blood to find a cure, he bullies and blackmails Cinder into willingly working with him by promising Peony would get any potential cure right after the Emperor himself.

Unfortunately for him, part of Cinder’s cyborg programming is a built in lie detector. She knows when people are outright lying or even when they’re just holding something back. So there’s something more to what Erland wants than just her blood. She can do nothing about that though, as once she agrees to become a test subject, she runs into Prince Kai again while he comes down for an update from Erland.

At this point, Kai tries to get Cinder to attend the ball with him. And…she refuses. Because she’s a cyborg and she doesn’t want to draw attention to herself. Because there’s something more unusual about her that’s making Erland lie right to the Crown Prince. Cinder doesn’t want to drag Kai into whatever is going on but that wish is fruitless.

We find out later that the reason that Cinder is immune to letumosis is because she is herself a Lunar. And not just any Lunar but the long-lost beloved Princess Selene whom many presumed dead at the hands of her aunt, Queen Levana. So of course, her path crosses with Levana at the ball. There is a mess and an unveiling and Prince Kai ends up handing Cinder over to Levana as technically, Lunars are not allowed to live on earth (there’s a whole treaty because Levana wants to keep all of her people under her thumb or kill them if they can’t).

The book ends on a cliffhanger with Cinder in jail awaiting execution by Levana and Prince Kai refusing anything to do with her (rather understanding as she did kinda lie to him). She faces two choices, given to her by the somewhat barmy Dr. Erland: stay and die or use her newly found Lunar powers (‘magic’) to escape prison and go with him to Africa. Its a chance to save Kai and indeed many others from the clutches of Levana, who wants to conquer Earth.

The best I can describe this is: Cyberpunk Cinderella. And its actually pretty good. I’m strongly considering continuing with the series but Simon R. Green has just released two new books and there’s a new Jane Yellowrock that is calling my name. But I have to say, if you like cyberpunk and you like fairy tales, you should check this out. It just grabs your attention and keeps it. Cinder isn’t a damsel in distress and I hope she continues in that vein for the other books. Rating: B+/A-. The female characters could have talked about more than Prince Kai and the ball but otherwise a very well done and fresh take on Cinderella.


Posted in Books on June 15, 2015 by crookedreviews

Okay, so I may not get around to writing a new review until next month. The hubby and I have bought a house and it’s going to be a long slog move. We’ll see if I get around to one before then but don’t be surprised if not. Until then, keep reading! :-D


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