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2017-08-21 03:56 pm

My Goodreads review: Shards of Honor

Shards of Honor (Vorkosigan Saga, #1)Shards of Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


This is the first time I've listened to Shards of Honor rather than reading it, and it may have made the experience even better. (Or at least easier to fit into a busy summer!)

Shards is the opening volume of Bujold's Vorkosigan saga. Without spoiling any of the plot for first-time readers, suffice it to say that it offers a remarkable, character-driven space opera read, with a central (but never intrusive) romance between two actual grown-ups. It also has some of the loveliest ending lines of any SF novel around.

Lois McMaster Bujold just won a Best Series Hugo Award for these books. It was richly deserved.






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2017-08-02 03:36 pm
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My Goodreads review: I Am Legend

I Am LegendI Am Legend by Richard Matheson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Though this classic post-apocalypse thriller is showing its age a little (especially, to me, in its view of women), it was still an amazing read. Though generally spoken of as a horror novel, it's actually pure SF at its bones. The vampire theme allows Matheson to examine human nature in the face of the unthinkable, although some of the ways this works itself out have since become standard in this sub-genre.

Though the book is short, it's worth slowing down once in a while to savor the stark beauty of some of its prose. It's also interesting to think about all the fiction this book has probably spawned: The Passage came immediately to mind.

Psychologically effective and still chilling after all these years -- a great choice for late summer reading in nervous times.



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2017-07-17 04:12 pm
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My Goodreads review: Livia Lone

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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2017-07-04 04:15 pm
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My Goodreads review: Certain Dark Things

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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2017-06-14 02:57 pm

My Goodreads review: 2017 Rhysling Anthology

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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2017-06-05 03:22 pm
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My Goodreads review: Children of Earth and Sky

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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2017-05-23 02:37 pm
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My Goodreads Review: People Who Eat Darkness

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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2017-05-03 03:07 pm

My Goodreads Review: Agents of Dreamland

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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ankh_hpl: (DEquinox)
2017-04-20 03:41 pm
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My Goodreads review: Norse Mythology

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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ankh_hpl: (DEquinox)
2017-03-22 03:52 pm
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My Goodreads Review: Mira's Last Dance

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)
2017-03-07 03:14 pm
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My Goodreads Review: The Turn of the Screw

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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ankh_hpl: (DEquinox)
2017-02-23 04:30 pm
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My Goodreads review: Penric's Mission

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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ankh_hpl: (DEquinox)
2017-02-15 11:46 am
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My Goodreads Review: Sacrificial Nights

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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ankh_hpl: (DEquinox)
2017-02-07 04:05 pm
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My Goodreads Review: The Girl on the Train

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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ankh_hpl: (DEquinox)
2017-01-31 02:03 pm
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My Goodreads Review: Buddhism for Beginners

Buddhism for BeginnersBuddhism for Beginners by Thubten Chodron

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


I'm rating this three stars rather than four due to the audio format. It's very well presented, but there is simply too much information in this short book to absorb in audio.

That said, this is a very good introduction to Buddhism for the curious, with an amazing amount of data packed into four hours of listening! It's clear and well-organized, and covers several different traditions. I suspect a hard copy or Kindle edition is the way to go with this one -- it seems intended for reference, as well as for reading straight through.





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ankh_hpl: (DEquinox)
2017-01-31 02:01 pm
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My Goodreads Review: Penric and the Shaman

Penric and the Shaman (World of the Five Gods, #1.6)Penric and the Shaman by Lois McMaster Bujold

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Another delightful return to Bujold's World of the Five Gods, though with a somewhat confusing look into how shamanism works in that culture. (I've been told that reading The Hallowed Hunt first might help. I have somehow missed this one, & definitely intend to do that!)

This is very clearly the second in a series, so reading Penric's Demon first will let the reader get the most out of another right-sized fantasy adventure featuring a very young "full-braid divine" and his much more experienced demon. I'm already looking forward to reading the third of this series, now waiting on my Kindle.



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2017-01-05 03:44 pm
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My Goodreads review: The Obsidian Chamber

The Obsidian Chamber (Pendergast #16)The Obsidian Chamber by Douglas Preston

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


This latest Pendergast adventure was both satisfying and oddly disappointing. Unfortunately, despite it being devoted to winding up a number of mysteries and family secrets, the disappointment prevailed for me.

Without revealing any plot points -- almost anything in this one could be a spoiler! -- I've got to admit that this one felt way too much like a mundane thriller. It was certainly well-crafted, with plenty of military details & exotic locales, but it seemed to lack that hint of Otherness most books in this series have. Pendergast never goes fully into the supernatural, but he frequently skirts the edges of it, or at least leaves the reader wondering whether something truly strange might be going on. This time, however, he stuck to the real world (or at least his variant of it). Black ops, yes. Black rites, not a sniff.

This may simply be a matter of personal preference. Most regular readers of this series are likely to be fascinated enough by seeing several long-running plotlines come together, or by picking up yet more esoteric details of Pendergast's background. I will definitely continue reading this series, but I'll be hoping for a bit more of the weird/ horrific next time around.





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2016-12-06 02:20 pm
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My Goodreads review: The Highwayman

The Highwayman: A Longmire StoryThe Highwayman: A Longmire Story by Craig Johnson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


A genuinely spooky bit of modern Gothic, with twists all the way to the end. Familiarity with at least some of the other books -- or the TV adaptation -- might be helpful, though this tale doesn't appear to fit into a particular point in the series.

Johnson's evocation of northern Wyoming in the early spring is bone-chillingly accurate (I'm a native of the state), and his continuing cast of characters all feel like old friends. The plot justifies its novella length without overstaying its welcome. A must read for fans of the series -- though anyone interested in contemporary Western mysteries would probably enjoy it.



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ankh_hpl: (DEquinox)
2016-12-05 03:34 pm

My Goodreads review: It Can't Happen Here

It Can't Happen HereIt Can't Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This is a dated (especially in some of the language relating to minorities) but still deeply disturbing piece of speculative fiction. First published in 1935, it does an excellent job of showing the life cycle of a "regime change" in a democratic society unable to sustain itself.

Lewis is more than occasionally dogmatic, but there are memorable ideas and phrases in nearly every chapter. The protagonist is flawed enough to be sympathetic, and the plot does move, though I felt the ending was a little rushed. As with most dystopias, some suspension of disbelief is required -- but I found the effort more than worthwhile.








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ankh_hpl: (DEquinox)
2016-11-17 04:57 pm

my 2015 fiction collection gets a new review

When it comes to reviews, glad tidings are always welcome!

Hippocampus Press publisher Derrick Hussey recently let me know about some very kind words re my 2015 fiction collection Dark Equinox & Other Tales of Lovecraftian Horror. In Wormwood #27, reviewer John Howard finds that


. . . Schwader unflinchingly shows the disintegration of the personal and the cosmic: and nothing is, or ever again can be, secure. (re 'When the Stars Run Away')

Intense and with a superb sense of place, each tale refers obliquely back to one or more stories or concepts from the Cthulhu Mythos, and runs with it in a refreshingly distinctive way. Lively and intriguing, they are utterly Lovecraftian in spirit. (re my five linked tales of Cassie Barrett)


Dark Equinox is available from the publisher, or from Amazon in both print and Kindle formats.