Two more brief book reviewlets

Today is super exciting.  It is Friday, and yet I am home with my wife and son, who I get to spend an entire day with, and none of the three of us have to go to work or school!  Friday is always one of my days off, the boy is out because his school is doing parent/teacher conferences today (ours was last night; I was gratified to learn that, insofar as such things exist at my kid’s school, he’s in the high reading group) and my wife took the day off because my wife never takes days off and as it turns out if she doesn’t take every Friday off for the rest of the year she’s going to lose a lot of vacation days for no good reason.  So we’re all home!  I got up and had a cup of coffee and now I don’t need to hustle to get to work!

It’s exciting.

Anyway, I’ve been reading a lot in the last couple of days and there are more books I want you to know about:


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First, let’s talk about Corey J. White’s Killing Gravity, a book billed as book one of the “Voidwitch Saga,” which is awesome because my main takeaway from this little novella is that I want a lot more of it.  Tor has absolutely been killing it with their novella imprint; these are short books but I have most of a bookshelf dedicated to them already and I’m getting to the point where if I find out a new one is out I buy it instantly without further investigation.  I’ve never done that with an imprint before.

Anyway, Killing Gravity is compared to Firefly on the cover but I don’t find that to be an especially apt comparison; I think for most people what they look for in a Firefly lookalike is the sense of humor and this book is emphatically not funny.  It’s a 160-page exercise in tone and badassery and gene modification and bioimplants and psychic assassins and shadowy corporations and lots and lots of psychokinetic murder and oh there’s also sort of a flying squirrel?  But it’s not funny.  That’s not a complaint; most books don’t have to be funny to be good, but you do have to be funny to remind someone of Firefly.   The prose is a particular standout here; this is one of those books where it’s so distinctively written that it almost doesn’t matter what it’s about– the writing is that good– but it’s an awesome setting and a cool story too and I really want to see more of it.  (EDIT:  March of 2018!)


518d7K+AT4LThe second book I just read this morning, and will almost certainly take you less than an hour to get through cover to cover.  You Have the Right to Remain Innocent isn’t so much a good book as an important one.

The premise of the book’s pretty damn straightforward, and the author isn’t especially subtle about making the point over and over again: don’t talk to cops.  Don’t talk to cops, don’t talk to cops, don’t talk to cops.  Don’t talk to cops if you’re innocent, don’t talk to cops if you’re guilty, don’t talk to cops at all unless you have your lawyer sitting right next to you, in which case your lawyer will tell you not to talk to the cops, or unless you’re telling the cops clearly and unambiguously that you will say not one word until that lawyer is sitting next to you.

Sounds pretty simple, right?  That’s not really a book all by itself, but this is America and folks need to be constantly reminded of simple shit like this, so the book is full of examples of the cops and prosecutors fucking innocent people over who were stupid enough to “head down to the station to get things cleared up” and ended up in jail for crimes they didn’t commit.

Don’t talk to cops.  If that statement isn’t obvious to you, read the book a couple of times until it sinks in.

#REVIEW: A PLAGUE OF GIANTS, by Kevin Hearne

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I’m pretty certain I’ve read, or at least tried to read, all of Kevin Hearne’s books.  His Iron Druid series is about to conclude with… I dunno, book nine or ten or something like that, and I’ve read and enjoyed all of them.  He also wrote a Star Wars book that attempted to be a first-person Luke Skywalker story, and… well, I’ll just say it didn’t work for me.

A Plague of Giants is the first book in a brand-new series.  Iron Druid was Celtic-flavored urban fantasy.  APoG is much more traditional epic fantasy, with magic and monsters– or at least some really scary wildlife– and, well, giants.  It’s also much… weightier, maybe? than his previous work, both in the literal sense (over 600 pages, twice the length of most of the Druid books) and in the sense that he’s telling a story about a world and not just a dude.  Some quick research hasn’t discovered how many books he has planned in the series (I just asked him on Twitter, too; we’ll see if he responds) but I’d be surprised if it weren’t at least four or five.  (EDIT: Found an interview, it’s a trilogy.)

At any rate, it’s a big story, with a dozen or so POV characters scattered around six countries and one large continent.  The most interesting thing about the book is the structure, actually; it does the rotating-POV thing that’s been so popular lately, but all of the first-person accounts are actually being narrated by a bard, who is speaking in front of a large crowd over the course of fourteen or fifteen days, and is using his bard magic to appear to be each of these people as they’re narrating their parts of the story.  I don’t think this is where Hearne is going, but there’s an interesting opening in here for the bard to be an unreliable narrator for some or many of these people.  Rotating POV is all over the place, but I can’t think of anything I’ve read with rotating first-person POV, and rotating first-person POV narrated by a third-person POV character?

Yeah, that’s new.

You may be able to glean an idea of the plot from the title, with one big twist: there are two different giant-plagues, or at least giant invasions, going on.  Giants (the Hathrim) and humans normally get along, but one particular group gets driven from their home by a volcanic eruption and decides to basically invade one of the other countries, set up a new city, and basically squat until their presence is accepted.  Meanwhile, across the world, an entire different group of giants from a different continent are invading and killing the hell out of everyone, and finding out who they are, where they came from, and why they’re there is one of the big threads of the book that I won’t spoil.  Toss in the fact that every country in the book has their own form of magic (the titular “kennings”) except for one, and that that country finds its kenning through the course of the book, and you’ve got plenty of intrigue and political and military machination to go around.  I like the story quite a lot but I realized partway through that the structure robs the story of a bit of its drama– one of the disadvantages of the idea that the whole story is being narrated by a bard as oral history is that at some point the story had to be told to the bard, which means that if someone is the POV character it’s safe to assume they’re going to survive their chapter.

Just look out if they happen to meet one of the other POV characters in their chapter.  That’s a bad sign.  🙂

At any rate: if you’ve read any of Hearne’s books in the past and enjoyed them, you should definitely pick this up; if you aren’t familiar with him but are in the mood for some meaty epic fantasy you should definitely pick this up, and I even think it’s worth checking out purely for the craft involved because the structure is so intriguing.  This will end up in my top 10 for the year, I think.  Go check it out.

#REVIEW: STILLHOUSE LAKE, by Rachel Caine

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Rachel Caine is– and I hope somebody out there understands what I’m talking about here, because I feel like I might be talking out of my ass– an author that I’m a stealth fan of.  She’s one of the most prolific authors I’m aware of, up there with Seanan McGuire and Stephen King, and I have eighteen of her books.  That is a lot of books!  There are probably not many authors who I have that many books by; in fact, King is the only writer I can think of who I’m certain I have more books by than I do by Rachel Caine.

And yet I’m pretty sure I’ve not listed her previously on any list of my favorite authors, despite that, and I think Stillhouse Lake is the first of her books that I’ve been moved to review here.(*)  Her books, to me, are like candy.  This isn’t an insult!  Everybody loves eating M&Ms!  Sometimes you find yourself really craving them!  But you don’t really talk about your love of M&Ms with other people, right?  They’re just there, and they’re delicious, and there are always new M&Ms available whenever you’re ready for a new M&M.  Yummy.

(I swear.  That’s supposed to be a compliment.  I’m not very good at this.)

Here’s the thing about Stillhouse Lake, though: I feel like Rachel Caine was writing outside of her comfort zone for this book.  Her series tend (not all, but mostly) to fit squarely into the Urban Fantasy genre: first-person stories about impossibly attractive women with some sort of supernatural abilities who fight against some sort of shadowy world-dominating evil cabal of some sort.  Sometimes there are genies.  Sometimes there are zombies.  But there’s a theme.

This is the only Rachel Caine book I own that fits squarely into the modern world.  There’s nothing supernatural about it at all.  It’s also the only book of hers I’ve read that is undeniably a horror story.  (She has a series, called the Morganville Vampires, which I haven’t read and could conceivably be a horror series?  But vampires are rarely scary anymore and I suspect it’s more urban fantasy.)

So it’s quite different from her previous work that I’ve read.  And I’m about to say something about this book that I’m fairly certain I’ve rarely if ever said about a book before: it scared the hell out of me.  The premise is pretty simple: the main character was once married to, and in fact had two children with, a man who turned out to be a serial killer.  She had no idea about what kind of person she was married to until he was caught.  He was convicted and is on death row, and she was tried as an accessory to his crimes but acquitted.  Since then, she and her kids have been on the run, both from her husband’s inevitable cadre of fans and hordes of Gamergate-style internet assholes who think she got away with being a serial murderer and want to see her destroyed.  Over the years, she and the kids have gotten good about dropping everything, burning their identities and fleeing town whenever anyone seems to figure out where they are before the hate mail and the rape fantasies and the death threats can start up again.

The book starts off making the internet the enemy, and letting us inside Gwen’s head as she tries to protect her kids both from external threats and from finding out about the external threats– understandably, she wants to keep the worst of the harassment and the details of their dad’s murders from them, but without understanding just how dangerous the world around them is, the kids aren’t especially happy about constantly having to uproot themselves.  Her relationship with the kids, especially her teenage daughter Lanny, is my favorite thing about the book.

And then they find a couple of bodies in the lake they live by, bodies of young women killed in much the same way that her ex-husband killed his victims, and all fucking hell breaks loose.  And the strength of the book– Gwen’s relationship with her kids– started really working against me, as what were theoretical threats against her family and her children become terrifyingly real.  I read the last half of the book in one giant gulp last night, wanting nothing more than to go to bed but knowing for goddamn sure that I wasn’t going to put the book down until I knew everybody was safe.  The book tapped directly into my daddy-brain, and it scared the shit out of me, and when you combine that with pure expertise in page-turnery, you have a book I’m proud to recommend.  Go give it a look.

(*) EDIT: Not true, as I reviewed the last book I read by her, Ink and Bone, back in November.  And a lot of the praise I had for that book reads similarly to what I have said here– hell, the first few paragraphs of the reviews are interchangeable, basically– but Ink and Bone retains the supernatural elements of her previous work and Stillhouse Lake jettisons it entirely.  I&B is still a damn good read, mind you, but I think Stillhouse is a cut above.

#REVIEW: MJ-12: SHADOWS, by Michael J. Martinez

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Let us begin with the obligatory disclaimer: I’ve read all of Mike Martinez’ books, and reviewed all but the first one in this space.  Mike apparently noticed my review of THE ENCELADUS CRISISand he actually thanked me by name in the Afterword of THE VENUSIAN GAMBIT.  I’ve gotten both of his last two books early as ARCs, with the request that I review them honestly.  And Mike was also kind enough to do a cover blurb for TALES FROM THE BENEVOLENCE ARCHIVES, which is going to be out super soon.  (Stand by for an announcement in the next couple of days, actually…)

So anyway.  I read MJ-12: SHADOWS on my trip last week.  And it’s interesting; I didn’t actually review the first Michael Martinez book I read, THE DAEDALUS INCIDENT, because I like my narratives straightforward and TDA is anything but and it kind of bounced off of me a bit.  But I loved the sequel, which is still my favorite of his books.  Now that I’ve read his second MJ-12 book, though, I’m starting to wonder if Martinez is just really good at hitting the ball out of the park when he writes a sequel.  The premise to the series is thus: the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II led to certain individuals around the globe randomly acquiring superpowers.  Of course, this being the beginning of the Cold War, both Russia and the United States have a distinct interest in acquiring those individuals and using them to advance their own national security.  The series, effectively, is a historical fiction Cold War spy thriller with superheroes, only there’s no crazy costumes and no saving cats from trees.  SHADOWS, cut loose from having to set up all that background, gets to focus solely on superpowered individuals (“Variants”) being badass spies, and it’s both a more densely plotted and more historically interesting book than INCEPTION was as a result.  This book must have been hell to write; it snakes in and around a bunch of actual historical events and pulls them into its orbit and its narrative (and the characters are spies, right, so the Actual Historical Narrative we know about is just the cover story!) and I think it’s one of those cases where the more you know about the actual history of the early Cold War, the more you’re going to like the book.  I mean, I know a little bit about James Forrestal, right?  And I hit a Certain Moment with him in the book and then spent an hour in a Wikipedia spiral.

Again: this book had to be a bastard to write, but at the end of it we’ve got a great spy novel involving dueling world powers with superpowers against the specific setting of the CIA interfering with early independence movements in Syria and Lebanon, with a little stop in Kazakhstan in October of 1949 along the way, and I’m not going to tell you what happened there because it counts as a spoiler if you don’t know the history.  I find it kind of fascinating, too, that the two most interesting characters are a deeply Christian African-American former day laborer whose powers cause him to age or grow younger when he uses them– hurting people makes him younger and healing them makes him older– and Harry Truman.  Toss in a former Nazi scientist and a couple of coups and, oh, something that may very well be a parallel dimension inhabited by the dead, because this is a Michael J. Martinez book and it just wouldn’t do to not have something completely bananapants insane in it and you have a book that I very much enjoyed reading, a book that neatly avoids feeling like the second book in a trilogy precisely because it’s tied in so closely to actual historical events and history doesn’t work in a three-act structure and you have what probably isn’t my favorite of his books (that’s still ENCELADUS) but may well rank as his best work nonetheless.  Yes, he gave it to me for free.  Yes, I’m buying it anyway, once it comes out on September 5, because I can’t not have this in print.  And you should too.

(“Completely bananapants insane” is your pull quote, Mike.  Just FYI.)

#Review: SOVEREIGN, by April Daniels

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You may, perhaps, recall my exuberant review of April Daniels’ Dreadnought  from back in February.  I bought that book early and was kind of taken by surprise by it when it showed up in my mailbox, and then I was taken by surprise a second time when I enjoyed it as much as I did.  And it’s not only still on my shortlist for the best books of 2017, right now it’s still easily the best book I’ve read all year.

The sequel, Sovereign, showed up in my mailbox on Wednesday.  I preordered this motherfucker the second I found out it was available.  Thursday night, despite having slept all day and being generally exhausted, I made the terrible mistake of starting the book before bed, and as a result did not get nearly as much sleep as I wanted to.  Friday I woke up, took the boy to day care, came home, made myself breakfast, sat down in my recliner, and didn’t move again until I’d finished the book.  Partway through all that, I sent the following Tweet:

And I was telling the truth!  I did, indeed, have shit I wanted to do yesterday!  Shit involving my own books!  And I did absolutely none of it, because once I picked up Sovereign there was absolutely nothing else in my life that I needed to do other than finish that gatdamb book as quickly as I could.  April Daniels is the real deal, Goddammit, and now she’s written both of my two favorite books of the year.  I love this world, I love Danielle Tozer, I love the way this book does everything Book 2 in a series needs to do while setting up the third book quite nicely, and every single damn one of you needs to go pick up both of these books and read them right now because they are fantastic.  I wish I was half as good as Daniels is at this stuff.  Half.  I don’t know when the third book is coming out, but I plan to literally be the first person to preorder it when it does.

Why are you still here?  Go buy books, dammit.