Book Review: Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine

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Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine

The Great Library was started to ensure that the wisdom of mankind was safeguarded. However, since its advent during the reign of the Egyptian Pharaohs, the Library has stagnated, hoarding its knowledge, and stifling any dissent.

Jess is the son of a book smuggler. Printed books outside the Library’s control are contraband, and the penalty for owning these forbidden tomes is death. Though he has lived his life defying the Library’s hold on the printed word, he understands the value of protecting knowledge. When his family is able to get him a coveted position to train as a Library Scholar, he is secretly excited for the opportunity. Once his training starts, however, he discovers he may have been safer as a smuggler.

First of all, I can’t believe I waited this long to read this book, it has been filling up my feed for ages now, and the third book in the series is due out soon.

The world building in this book is fantastic. Caine manages to combine steampunk with dystopian near-future, and it works. This is a world built on steam, alchemy, and high technology. It manages to feel both nostalgic and futuristic at the same time. The characters that inhabit the book are similarly complex and well-crafted.

As Jess starts out his training with the Library, we begin to hope that we can stay with the “Hogwarts with Books” aspect. Alas, soon any illusions about the Library are tugged away and we find ourselves in a dystopian world where knowledge is a coveted resource, and this supreme entity will go to any lengths to keep their monopoly.

Honestly, it’s a bit like Amazon took over the world. The Library is a repository of knowledge, and the information deemed “acceptable” to be released to the public is done via “blanks,” electronic books to which the texts can be sent via alchemy. In a world where increasing digitization has vastly changed the concept of ownership, Ink and Bone feels like a cautionary tale. It certainly made me look at my kindle in a new light.

This book is a great adventure story, and fans of books like the Hunger Games will enjoy this series. Though I’m sure this book is considered YA, the subjects being dealt with are mature and complex, and there is a lot here for older readers (like me). Now I’m off to get the next book in the series (hard copy, not in kindle format).

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher via Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Lotus Blue by Cat Sparks

Lotus Blue by Cat Sparks

Hundreds of years in the future, the Earth has been rendered nearly unlivable by centuries of warfare. Some fortunate souls remain safe in their underground bunkers, enjoying the comforts their decaying technology has to offer, but the majority of the human race is forced to scrape out a living on the radioactive sands. Star and her sister, Nene, are part of a caravan that travels the wastes between villages. Their already dangerous lives are torn asunder when a flaming light shoots across the sky. The relic “angel” satellite is a harbinger of something much worse, something that has lain dormant for centuries, and is only now waking up . . .

The world building in this novel is crazy good. Sparks has built up a horrifying, sci-fi (but no too out there) future Earth. The use of artificial intelligence, chemical and biological warfare, and weather manipulation as an offensive weapon has stripped the planet of anything green, and poisoned the sky and the land. The devastation is so complete that no one remembers the world as it used to be, and though technology is everywhere, the decaying, almost feral mechs are beyond their comprehension. This is a world that, while horrible, is easy to get lost in.

This is only slightly problematic in that next to such a complex and vividly realized world, the characters that populate it seem small and flat by comparison. Star, Nene, and the others who populate Spark’s world are interesting, and decently developed for (what I assume is) a first book in a series. Yet, throughout the book, the setting is definitely the star of the show.

This is a great book for any lover of sci-fi, post-apocalyptic and/or and speculative fiction. Cat Sparks has created a brilliant world, and I dearly hope she is planning on writing more in this setting.

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher via Goodreads Giveaways in exchange for an honest review.

Book Box Review and Unboxing: The Nocturnal Reader’s Box – May – Corporate Overlords

Well, after a whole lot of delivery company drama, my May Nocturnal Reader’s Box has finally arrived (yay!). I’ve been looking forward to this one since the twisted souls who put the box together every month dropped some hints about what would be included for May. (And those same evil people have been teasing the June box for about two months now, and I am actually  salivating)

So let’s get down to business. The featured book this month is Borne by Jeff VanderMeer. 

Here’s the Goodreads description:

In a ruined, nameless city of the future, a woman named Rachel, who makes her living as a scavenger, finds a creature she names “Borne” entangled in the fur of Mord, a gigantic, despotic bear. Mord once prowled the corridors of the biotech organization known as the Company, which lies at the outskirts of the city, until he was experimented on, grew large, learned to fly and broke free. Driven insane by his torture at the Company, Mord terrorizes the city even as he provides sustenance for scavengers like Rachel.

At first, Borne looks like nothing at all—just a green lump that might be a Company discard. The Company, although severely damaged, is rumoured to still make creatures and send them to distant places that have not yet suffered Collapse.

Borne somehow reminds Rachel of the island nation of her birth, now long lost to rising seas. She feels an attachment she resents; attachments are traps, and in this world any weakness can kill you. Yet when she takes Borne to her subterranean sanctuary, the Balcony Cliffs, Rachel convinces her lover, Wick, not to render Borne down to raw genetic material for the drugs he sells—she cannot break that bond.

Wick is a special kind of supplier, because the drug dealers in the city don’t sell the usual things. They sell tiny creatures that can be swallowed or stuck in the ear, and that release powerful memories of other people’s happier times or pull out forgotten memories from the user’s own mind—or just produce beautiful visions that provide escape from the barren, craterous landscapes of the city.

Against his better judgment, out of affection for Rachel or perhaps some other impulse, Wick respects her decision. Rachel, meanwhile, despite her loyalty to Wick, knows he has kept secrets from her. Searching his apartment, she finds a burnt, unreadable journal titled “Mord,” a cryptic reference to the Magician (a rival drug dealer) and evidence that Wick has planned the layout of the Balcony Cliffs to match the blueprint of the Company building. What is he hiding? Why won’t he tell her about what happened when he worked for the Company?

Sounds pretty cool, right? Oh, and did I mention that the book comes with a signed bookplate?

The second book is Normal by Warren Ellis

From Goodreads:

Some people call it “abyss gaze.” Gaze into the abyss all day and the abyss will gaze into you.

There are two types of people who think professionally about the future: foresight strategists are civil futurists who think about geo-engineering and smart cities and ways to evade Our Coming Doom; strategic forecasters are spook futurists, who think about geopolitical upheaval and drone warfare and ways to prepare clients for Our Coming Doom. The former are paid by nonprofits and charities, the latter by global security groups and corporate think tanks.

For both types, if you’re good at it, and you spend your days and nights doing it, then it’s something you can’t do for long. Depression sets in. Mental illness festers. And if the “abyss gaze” takes hold there’s only one place to recover: Normal Head, in the wilds of Oregon, within the secure perimeter of an experimental forest.

When Adam Dearden, a foresight strategist, arrives at Normal Head, he is desperate to unplug and be immersed in sylvan silence. But then a patient goes missing from his locked bedroom, leaving nothing but a pile of insects in his wake. A staff investigation ensues; surveillance becomes total. As the mystery of the disappeared man unravels in Warren Ellis’s Normal, Dearden uncovers a conspiracy that calls into question the core principles of how and why we think about the future—and the past, and the now.

Doomsday seems a bit close for comfort lately, but I’m always up for some speculative fiction! 

And now we come to the goodies! As ever we get a pin (velociraptor, sweet!), and this month’s box includes two bookmarks, one from The Dark Tower series and one from The Southern Reach trilogy, which was also written by this month’s featured author, Jeff VanderMeer. 

Also included was charcoal soap from  the Paper Street Soap Co., in “Tyler Durden” scent (I was a bit nervous at first, but it’s quite pleasant)

A journal (Yay! What? I don’t have a problem, I swear) in a Southern Reach theme

And, as always a lovely custom art print, this one from The Dark Tower (now framed and hanging proudly in my house)

But the last two items really made my day:

A set of Ingen branded socks (I still love rereading Jurassic Park!)

And (squeeeeee) a towel with “Don’t Panic” embroidered on it!

Which, clearly, will have to start traveling with me. You know, just in case.

So if you haven’t already, you really should go to http://www.thenocturnalreadersbox.com/ and check out The Nocturnal Reader’s Box for yourself. I have to say that by far, this is one of the most consistently satisfying book boxes I’ve tried. Can’t wait for next month!

Book Review: Gil’s All Fright Diner by A. Lee Martinez

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Gil’s All Fright Diner by A. Lee Martinez

This is A. Lee Martinez’s debut novel, and I recently had the hankering for a reread. I still remember picking it off an end cap in my local library as I looked for something the read over the winter break. The bold title and the one-eyed, tentacled monster on the front had me hooked. I’ve been a huge fan of Martinez ever since.

This book revolves around Duke (a werewolf) and Earl (a vampire), who stumble upon a diner in the middle of the desert that is besieged by zombies. In an effort to earn a couple of bucks and help out Loretta, the diner’s owner, Duke and Earl agree to stick around and do some light repair work. And find the source of the restless dead. As it turns out, Rockwood County has a rather bizarre and supernatural past, and the Law of Anomalous Phenomena Attraction (weird shit pulls in more weird shit) means that things are only going to get stranger and more difficult.

With this book, Martinez set his style as something of an American Terry Pratchett. His style of writing is zingy and humorous, sarcastic and witty. His subject matter tends to be a little out there, whether lovecraftian, sci-fi, sword and sorcery, or what have you. The writing in Gil’s All Fright Diner is a bit rougher than his later work, but nevertheless you can see the promise in the colorful characterizations of Duke and Earl, the flow of the banter, and the arcane twists of the plot.

If you enjoy science fiction, fantasy, or monsters, but would like a light-hearted read rather than something overly serious (and who wouldn’t in these abysmal times?), Martinez’s books are a good bet.

Gil’s All Fright Diner is current;y available for purchase.

Book Box Review: Nocturnal Readers Box – “Paranoia”

This book box subscription is exactly what I have been looking for! It is surprisingly hard to find a decent sci-fi/horror subscription box that is not YA focused.

Each box contains two books, one new release and one older release, a custom-designed wearable, an art print, and assorted other goodies. Each box is also based upon a theme. February’s is “Paranoia.” (The March 2017 theme has just been announced: “Lost in the Woods” check it out here).

The featured book is Under a Watchful Eye by Adam Nevill. From the Goodreads description:

Seb Logan is being watched. He just doesn’t know by whom.

When the sudden appearance of a dark figure shatters his idyllic coastal life, he soon realizes that the murky past he thought he’d left behind has far from forgotten him. What’s more unsettling is the strange atmosphere that engulfs him at every sighting, plunging his mind into a terrifying paranoia.

To be a victim without knowing the tormentor. To be despised without knowing the offence caused. To be seen by what nobody else can see. These are the thoughts which plague his every waking moment.

Imprisoned by despair, Seb fears his stalker is not working alone, but rather is involved in a wider conspiracy that threatens everything he has worked for. For there are doors in this world that open into unknown places. Places used by the worst kind of people to achieve their own ends. And once his investigation leads him to stray across the line and into mortal danger, he risks becoming another fatality in a long line of victims . . .

Even the description is anxiety-inducing!

Perhaps my favorite thing in this box was seeing Silence of the Lambs when I took Under a Watchful Eye out of the box. But wait! That gorgeousness was actually a box, and inside I found a copy of Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho!

Extra goodies included sunglasses with “Don’t Follow Me” emblazoned on the sides, and a branded case, a beautiful journal with a quote from Phillip K. Dick embossed on the cover, and American Psycho-themed videotape pin, and a bookmark and art print featuring the monsters under your bed.

In all, I’m incredibly happy with this book box! This is my first experience with Nocturnal Readers, and I am thrilled! I can’t wait for the March box!

If you’re interested in subscribing to the Nocturnal Reader’s Box, click here.

Book Review: Chapelwood by Cherie Priest

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Chapelwood by Cherie Priest

Fair Warning: This book is the second in the Borden Dispatches series, and so this review will unavoidably contain spoilers for the first book.

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Thirty years have passed since the events of Maplecroft. Emma Borden is dead, as is the good doctor Seabury. The town of Fall River is quiet and peaceful, and Lizzie Borden (now going by Lizbeth Andrew) has settled into quiet infamy with a great many cats.

But a new celestial threat is rising in Birmingham, Alabama of all places. A shadowy group calling themselves The True Americans, supported by a strange new church known as Chapelwood, is looking to cleanse Birmingham of its undesirables, namely blacks, Jews, Catholics, and those who don’t want to see the world end screaming in the tentacles of an Elder God.

Called in by her old aquaintance Inspector Simon Wolf to help solve the murder of a local priest, which may or may not be tied into the nighttime activity of an ax-murderer known as Harry the Hacker, Lizzie Borden must shoulder her ax once more to defeat a cosmic evil growing strong in the dark southern soil.

I began this series because I could not say no to a Lizzie Borden-Cthulhu mashup (who could?). The first book in the series was enjoyable (though with some tweaks to the mythos and to geography that irked me a bit). The second in the series is weaker, less cosmic horror, more plain old crappy human beings. I will say, however, that I enjoyed the Ku Klux Klan as despotic bringers of the elder god apocalypse angle. That part of the story was done quite well, and should resonate with anyone who’s been following American politics recently. Though I will say that it made this book a bit of a dud when it comes to escapist fiction (but not entirely in a bad way).

In all, if you enjoyed the first book, this one is a different creature altogether, but still worth your time. New comers to the series should definitely start with the first book, both because that one is a bit more in the Lovecraftian style, and because you will be thoroughly lost if you try to start this series in the middle.

The Great Zoo of China

The Great Zoo of China

The Great Zoo of China By Matthew Reilly

3 out of 5 Stars

 

It’s summer, time to sit back, relax, and enjoy some brainless fun. This is the season for all those huge, plotless action blockbusters come out during this time of year; summer is made for mindless entertainment. Hence this pick, a 400+ page rollicking thriller: Jurassic Park, with dragons.

I’m absolutely serious. The book begins with the prerequisite shady death, cluing us in to serious problems within the titular Zoo. We’re then introduced to CJ Cameron (a strong female lead, yay!), expert herpetologist (she studies reptiles, get your mind out of the gutter), vet for the San Francisco Zoo, and occasional reporter for National Geographic. It seems CJ’s boss over at Nat Geo got an invite he can’t refuse: There’s a mysterious new Zoo opening up in the remote Guangdong Province of China, and CJ is the perfect person to document the grand tour for the magazine (did I mention she speaks mandarin?).

Arriving in China, we meet the mysterious corporate and political entities who are behind the creation of the zoo, and now are preparing to show it off to the western world for the first time. CJ brings along her little brother, former war-zone photographer, as her back up. We also meet the US diplomat to China, his (rather mysterious) aide, a New York Times journalist, and a popular internet blogger. The group flies from Hong Kong in a private jet with blacked out windows, finally landing at the entrance to “The Great Dragon Zoo” of China. And before you ask, yup, these are real life dragons. Turns out dragons are more or less living fossils, like the coelacath, hibernating since the age of dinosaurs. The Chinese government stumbled upon a nest of the reptiles, and decided to build a huge tourist attraction around them. What could go wrong?

Matthew Reilly knows what his reader is there for: shit hits the fan a mere hundred pages into the book (whereas Crichton waited nearly 200). Limbs start flying, blood starts gushing, and CJ and the rest of the humans trapped in the Zoo must find a way to survive the dragons and make their escape.

Alas, Reilly is no Crichton. After a bit, the plot becomes simply unbelievable. And before you point out that I’m talking believability in a book about dragons, remember: In Jurassic Park, Crichton introduced us to genetically revived dinosaurs stomping around the Caribbean, eating mathematicians, but we believed it. Jurassic Park was a hit because while the subject matter was out there, the story was so down to earth that it seemed just this side of possible.

The dragons, naturally, are very intelligent. Think velociraptors who went to school for 8 years to get their doctorate in badassery. At times, I’m pretty sure they’re smarter than most of the humans in the cast. Additionally, most of the time our heroes are saved, not by their own wit, but by the little fish-big fish scenario, where our valiant heroes are menaced by something impossibly ferocious with no hope of escape when BAM! something even bigger and more terrifying eats the first monster. Once or twice I can take, but constant little fish big fish gets a bit old.

Aw well. I certainly didn’t pick this book for its intellectual merit. And it did manage to keep me entertained for the most part. So read it, if you enjoyed Jurassic Park, or Meg, or Jaws. You’ll likely have fun, and that’s what summer is all about.