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Livia Lone (Livia Lone #1)Livia Lone by Barry Eisler

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a fast-paced, fascinating, but disturbing thriller centered on human trafficking and its fallout. The title character is a survivor turned sex crimes detective -- with a vigilante streak a mile wide. Eisler never lets the reader forget that Livia is both highly competent and seriously damaged, and offers plenty of evidence for both traits.

I found the plot itself a little predictable, though it still kept me reading. And, occasionally, not wanting to. I hadn't expected this one to be an easy or completely pleasant read, and it definitely wasn't. Livia's skills are a wonder (possibly slightly unbelievable, but we are talking thrillers here), and her cause is just, but there are a few scenes I won't be able to un-see for a while.

The Kindle edition includes helpful chapter-by-chapter notes with links to online articles and video. Most of these relate to Livia's martial arts training and weapons, though there are a couple of articles on actual crimes which inspired the fiction. There is also a bibliography (with links) for those wishing to educate themselves further about human trafficking, police investigation techniques, and other topics.

Possibly recommended for thriller fans looking for an informative, intense read.

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Certain Dark ThingsCertain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you're looking for some remarkable worldbuilding in a fast-paced vampire adventure, this might be your next summer read.

Certain Dark Things has a vaguely YA flavor, but with a harder edge and a refreshing swap of the usual roles. In this one, the sympathetic human caught up in a dangerous alliance with a powerful-yet-wounded vampire is a young male, and the P-Y-W is female, the last survivor of a clan of indigenous Mexican vampires dating back to pre-Columbian times.

Moreno-Garcia makes the grittier aspects of Mexico City vibrantly clear, and the plot is a well-crafted chase-and-vengeance item with drug cartels that might be lurking in the back pages of tomorrow's paper. What made this a rewarding read for me, however, was the depth and international diversity of its vampire subculture. Make that subcultures: there are nearly a dozen subspecies, and a glossary worth the price of admission all by itself.

I for one am hoping to read more in this carefully constructed world.

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The 2017 Rhysling Anthology: The Best Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Poetry of 2016 Selected by the Science Fiction Poetry AssociationThe 2017 Rhysling Anthology: The Best Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Poetry of 2016 Selected by the Science Fiction Poetry Association by David C. Kopaska-Merkel

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This year's Rhysling Anthology offers an excellent snapshot -- make that a whole photo album, or rather a 200 page perfect-bound trade paperback -- of the current state of speculative poetry.

Trends I noticed this year include a swing away from formal poems (though there were a few), a more mainstream tone, and an increased use of mythology outside the traditional Greek/Roman /Norse pantheons. Strongly narrative verse continues to be favored, and pure science fiction (as opposed to fantasy, dark /weird, or "other") seems to be making a comeback.

The overall quality of the poems this time around is impressive. So is the variety, which means most readers are unlikely to enjoy each and every one -- but will assuredly have their horizons expanded.

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Children of Earth and SkyChildren of Earth and Sky by Guy Gavriel Kay

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I've actually been reading this one from my own hardcover and the library's borrowed Kindle edition. Given the size of this book, it only made sense to be able to carry it more easily and finally be able to read it more often in more places.

In either format, this is a gorgeous, if slow-paced (mostly) read. Set in a slightly alternate version of Renaissance Europe and ornamented with light touches of the fantastic, it follows several characters through one momentous spring of warfare, politics, and conspiracy. Intriguingly, these characters are on different sides of the conflicts -- and Kay manages to make us care about them all.

The overall message seems to be that war happens to people, not to faceless groups of them. Despite the historical/fantastic setting, this has a distinctly contemporary ring to it due to the religious conflict at its center.

I took my time getting through this, but Kay's prose isn't something to wolf down. It's meant to be savored, and thought about, and rolled around in the mind. Highly recommended for both historical readers willing to expand their horizons a bit, and fantasy readers open to a more subtle approach to the uncanny. There is also a short but highly informative acknowledgments section at the end, for those who are curious about which bits of history had their serial numbers filed off.

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summer thunder
Tiananmen ghosts
roll on

-- Ann K. Schwader
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People Who Eat Darkness: The True Story of a Young Woman Who Vanished from the Streets of Tokyo - and the Evil That Swallowed Her UpPeople Who Eat Darkness: The True Story of a Young Woman Who Vanished from the Streets of Tokyo - and the Evil That Swallowed Her Up by Richard Lloyd Parry

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I don't read -- or listen to -- a lot of true crime, but I bought this book for my dad a few years ago, & then recently saw it offered on Audible Channels. I'm glad I took the time with it, though the narrator's voice (clipped, matter-of-fact British) may have added to the experience.

This is a journalist's view of a fairly nasty serial killer case. That said, there isn't a lot of extreme graphic description, and what there is seems to be well documented. The Japanese setting was also a plus for me, since I know very little about the country (or its approach to law enforcement, which is very different from the U.S.). The primary focus is on lives and personalities, both the killer's and his victims' (and their families and friends).

I did feel as though there were some slow sections that might have been edited out, but it's hard to judge from audio. The carefully attributed, balanced viewpoint probably had something to do with this. Despite the sensational title, it's a reporter's narrative, not a thriller.

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Tor.Com is celebrating Space Opera Week (yes!). Author Judith Tarr has contributed an article of particular interest to those of us intrigued by women's literature:

"From Dark to Dark: Yes, Women Have Always Written Space Opera"

This one's worth every minute of reading time, but be warned. It is loaded with useful, fascinating, & time-eating links on female writers of space opera, gender inequalities in the field, & even the Smurfette Principle (of which I was totally ignorant until today).
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Agents of DreamlandAgents of Dreamland by Caitlín R. Kiernan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One of the most elegant bits of Lovecraftian writing I've read in some time. Kiernan delivers a genuinely chilling riff on "The Whisperer in Darkness" with a touch of the X-Files (or a close approximation) and a dose of botany, all set in the farthest reaches of the Southwest. A mysterious agent known as the Signalman is investigating the aftermath of a cult gone wrong, but is he already too late? And for whom is he too late?

There's quite a bit of time-shifting and viewpoint-shifting here, and not all loose ends are neatly tied up by the novella's bleak conclusion. For me, at least, the prose style (verging on prose poetry) more than made up for a little uncertainty. The plot may be slightly predictable in an apocalyptic way, but the beauty of the writing carries it.

One caution: this one is definitely for those familiar with Lovecraft. It might or might not work as well for horror/dark fantasy fans coming in cold. As with much of this kind of fiction (Charles Stross's Laundry series comes to mind), the more you know, the more entertaining it is.

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I have a somewhat speculative haiku up today (April 29th) on the Haikuniverse site:

If you're reading this after 4/29, the site will give you options to view previous haiku.
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If your National Poetry Month is starting to feel a little tired & mundane, don't forget to check out the 2107 Rhysling Poets' Showcase offered on the SFPA's SPECPO blog.

The Showcase features poems from this year's Rhysling Anthology, a Rhysling Awards voting tool for members of Science Fiction & Fantasy Poetry Association -- and an excellent snapshot of the year's best speculative poetry, for everyone.

Find six exciting poets -- & links to eight of their poems -- here:

And don't forget to check out the rest of the Showcase, as well!
ankh_hpl: (DEquinox)
Norse MythologyNorse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An absolutely beautiful rendition of these myths, with a distinctive "voice" that somehow manages to be both plain and deeply poetic. I went through this one slowly, because many of the stories read more like prose poems, & seemed far too musical to just breeze through.

Gaiman manages to call up the true dark / hopeful spirit of these myths, drawing a clear distinction between the more familiar Greek or Roman stories and the grim Northern ones with their certainty that even the gods are doomed.

This book includes an extensive & very helpful glossary of names & places, though I found a few missing when I went to look them up from the stories. All in all, a must read (and probably must buy) for mythology enthusiasts, and anyone who enjoys ancient tales told well.

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Looking for more speculative poetry in your National Poetry Month?

Check out SPECPO, the blog site for the Science Fiction & Fantasy Poetry Association.

This month, all month long, they're showcasing the poets featured in this year's Rhysling Awards anthology -- a voting tool for members, and an excellent read for all fans of SF/F/H poetry.

The first two Showcases are already up, here & here.

Each Showcase offers links to several 2016 poems nominated by the SFPA membership. It's all free (of course), but you can also learn how to order a PDF anthology, pre-order a print anthology, or even join SFPA yourself.
ankh_hpl: (DEquinox)
National Poetry Month starts tomorrow (in the USA, anyhow)!

Are YOU ready?

If not, here's a list of helpful links to take you from bad to verse. Don't get caught with your pantoums down!

What is National Poetry Month, anyhow?

How can I celebrate it?

How can I get more free poetry in my life? (Try Poem-a-Day, Poetry Daily, Rattle -- I use all of these.)

Where can I find out more about speculative (SF, fantasy, horror, etc.) poetry?

OK, that should get you started. I'll be posting more -- I hope -- on poetry all during April.

Truth in LJing: I commit poetry. Fairly regularly. I'm a member of SFPA, & the author of several collections of speculative poetry. My most recent, Dark Energies (P'rea Press 2015) was a Bram Stoker Award Finalist.
ankh_hpl: (DEquinox)
Mira's Last Dance (Penric and Desdemona, #4)Mira's Last Dance by Lois McMaster Bujold

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a slightly iffy five stars, because it's actually the second half of a plot begun in Penric's Mission . .. but five stars none the less, if you're a Bujold fan.

The best of this, for me, was the continuing exploration of Learned Penric's relationship to his very complicated "demon" Desdemona. She is actually several separate personalities, and one of them (Mira, a noted courtesan dead for over a century) turns out to have exactly the skills needed to resolve the situation Penric & Co. found themselves in at the end of the last novella.

Pen being male doesn't slow Mira down a bit, though it does add to the lighter feel of this entry in the series. It also adds a bit to Bujold's examination of what it means to be male or female, and the importance of recognizing / honoring the gray areas.

If you're new to this series, be sure to start with Penric's Demon. These novellas are very serialized -- and besides, why miss out on more of a good thing?

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ankh_hpl: (DEquinox)
Want to help find Planet 9? (No, it's not Pluto. Nor, alas, Yuggoth.)

According to several sources of space news -- like,, & EarthSky -- NASA and the University of California, Berkeley are looking for a few good citizen scientists to check through images from WISE, NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer. Apparently, there are still things the human eye does better than a computer program -- and noticing moving bright spots is one of them.

The project is called Backyard Worlds: Planet 9. To learn more, or join in the search, check here.

Good luck! I haven't joined yet, but I'm seriously considering it. After all, this is pretty much how Pluto got discovered by Clyde Tombaugh back in 1930.
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The Turn of the ScrewThe Turn of the Screw by Henry James

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A slow-burn classic of supernatural horror, with a side order of psychological suspense. This is pretty much the definitive Evil Children/possession tale, but James' writing style takes some settling into. The payoff is well worth it, however.

Probably best for those willing to enter into the Gothic game of shadows, suggestions, and ambiguities. If mysteriously troubled country houses and imperiled governesses don't enhance your horror experience, this might be one to avoid. If they do, though, this one's your catnip.

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I don't usually post about crowdfunding projects, but I've recently backed one (also rare for me!) that I'm pretty excited about.

Tony C. Smith of the District of Wonders podcasts is doing a Kickstarter for a new SF/F anthology.  It's entitled Everyone: Worlds Without Walls.  Its stated goal is to:

explore and celebrate how we are greater together – and, conversely, the need to tear down walls of ignorance, prejudice, and injustice.

The TOC for this one is international, diverse, & impressive -- and will expand as stretch goals are met.   Dr. Amy H. Sturgis[ profile] eldritchhobbit will be writing the introduction. At this point, there are 21 writers involved!

With 10 days to go,  the project's original goal and one stretch goal have been met.  Pledge levels range from the extremely reasonable -- which gets you a e-copy of the anthology -- to more generous amounts for additional rewards.

All details, including that expanding TOC, can be found here.

(Full disclosure: I am backing this, but I am not one of the writers or otherwise involved with the project.)
ankh_hpl: (DEquinox)
Penric’s Mission (World of the Five Gods, #3.7)Penric’s Mission by Lois McMaster Bujold

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This third entry in Bujold's Penric & Desdemona series (long may it prosper!) has a distinctively darker tone than the two previous novellas, though it never veers into grimdark territory.

When the young Temple sorcerer and his much more experienced demon find themselves betrayed during a diplomatic mission, they must use all their skills to escape from almost certain death. The action and interpersonal intrigue never stop after that. Bujold delivers a coherent magical system, well-crafted fight scenes, and even a touch of honest romance in this one, and any fan of her World of the Five Gods will find this a must read.

Those new to these novellas should definitely start with Penric's Demon, since the plot is quite serialized. A fourth adventure -- Mira's Last Dance -- should be available soon, and I'll be preordering that for my Kindle at the earliest opportunity.

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Sacrificial NightsSacrificial Nights by Bruce Boston

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a dark and effective novella-in-poems (with some prose / prose poem passages), weaving the lives of several characters into a compelling plot. The collaboration of Boston and Manzetti is nearly seamless, and the pages turn far more quickly than one would expect. The overall effect is one of noir hallucination, with several photomontage illustrations (by UK artist Ben Baldwin) enhancing the experience.

Aficionados of free verse, modern prose poetry, or noir fiction will probably find this a five-star ride. I prefer a little more structure and music, but still found myself unable to look away before this urban apocalypse reached its conclusion.

Full disclosure: I was supplied with an e-copy for Bram Stoker Award consideration.

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The Girl on the TrainThe Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you enjoy figuring out unreliable narrators, this one is definitely for you. Told through the perspectives of three young (to me, anyhow!) women, all of whom have serious problems in their lives, a fairly ordinary whodunit becomes something very hard to put down.

Recommended for those who enjoy female-centered thrillers, modern UK atmosphere, and a heavy dose of interpersonal drama. I found myself liking this one more than I expected to, possibly because I've ridden the London area commuter trains that figure so heavily in the plot.

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