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strict liquid diet
organic and gluten-free
the undead live well


-- Ann K. Schwader
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A Night in the Lonesome OctoberA Night in the Lonesome October by Roger Zelazny

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


This dark & frothy bit of holiday entertainment really stands up to rereading.

Broken into 31 dated chapters, this outwardly straightforward tale of a ritual to be performed (or stopped) under a rare full Halloween moon is anything but. Zelazny gives the reader a dazzling cast of characters from literary horror and horrific history, adds a generous dose of Lovecraft, and turns up the paranoia every chapter.

There are so many in-jokes and literary references, it's a bit hard to keep up. However, Zelazny never fails to keep his primary characters sympathetic (which is a trick, since one of them is the Ripper!) and worth worrying about. Then there's Snuff, our narrator with a dog's-eye view of it all. . . .

Highly recommended for dark fantasy or horror fans open to being amused & spooked at the same time. Lovecraftians are likely to have a slightly better experience, or at least to get more of the jokes.





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The Black Company (The Chronicle of the Black Company, #1)The Black Company by Glen Cook

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I liked this one a lot more than I thought I was going to. Started reading it because I understood it to be a "classic" of its kind (the beginning of grimdark), and because I was curious. Kept reading it because I simply could not stop, & because I came to care very much about the characters. I will definitely be reading more in this series, as time allows.

This is the trench view of epic fantasy, as narrated by the combat physician Croaker. The reader's appreciation of Croaker is key to this novel . . if you don't like him, or his voice, or his very conflicted view of the mercenary trade, you aren't going to enjoy this read. And I don't blame you, though I did find myself liking him. He's an oddly moral individual trying to do his best for his brothers in the Black Company, though he's not lying to himself or the reader about what some of these brothers are like. When horrible things happen (which they do, but not in graphic detail), he is not accepting. He takes action when he can, avoids when he can do nothing more, but never sees evil as anything other than what it is.

The Black Company doesn't offer elegant prose, or a particularly complex plot. However, unlike my experiences with some modern grimdark (first 1 1/2 Game of Thrones novels in particular, after which I gave up), I found myself able to keep reading and caring about the world Croaker was chronicling. Recommended for folks who enjoy the grand old Weird Tales style of fantasy, without too many bells & whistles, or really gratuitous nastiness.





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My most recent Cassie Barrett tale, "Pothunters," just received an Honorable Mention in Vol. 10 of Ellen Datlow's Best Horror of the Year!


https://ellendatlow.com/2018/09/10/honorable-mentions-2017-best-horror-of-the-year-volume-ten-3/

"Pothunters" first appeared in Black Wings VI (PS Publishing, 2017) , edited by S.T. Joshi.

And I'm scaring my poor Corgi with my home office happy dance.
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The Ocean at the End of the LaneThe Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


The Audible version is read by the author, which really enhanced the experience for me. Gaiman's voice gives this dark, engaging modern fantasy a real touch of fairy tale -- something being told to a child, by the child we all were at one point.

Most of the plot points in this short novel would qualify as spoilers, but suffice it to say that Gaiman has captured the otherworldly feelings of an imaginative child, confronted by evil both of this world and utterly not of it. Charming without being cute or cloying, and genuinely touched by the shadows as all good fairy tales are. The writing isn't elaborately elegant, but it does the job of conveying the viewpoint of a bookish, sensitive narrator recalling a long-ago childhood.

Recommended for anyone interested in modern (not epic) fantasy, and willing to be dumped into the deep end of the tale right off.







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Rogue Protocol (The Murderbot Diaries, #3)Rogue Protocol by Martha Wells

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


The Murderbot Diaries continue to hold my interest, improving with every installment. The plot of this third offering, though still action-oriented, focuses as much on Murderbot's relationships with humans (and another bot, who seems to be a sort of pet) as it does on Murderbot's own still-murderous combat skills.

This shift from full-out SF action ( All Systems Red) to action plus interpersonal focus didn't slow down Wells' dialogue in the least, either. Murderbot remains snarky and wryly observant of the humans around it, despite its own adventures & travels as a rogue SecUnit. One of its most poignant comments came near the end:

I hate caring about stuff. But apparently once you start, you can't just stop.

I'm having the same problem with this series, so I was glad to see that my local library has The Murderbot Diaries #4 on order. With any luck, I'll be the second person to dig into it this fall.








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To celebrate, here's something from my last collection, Dark Energies (P'rea Press 2015).


***
Of One Who Dreamed


The old gods wake! From pole to pole, that cry
Disquiets midnight in a thousand tongues
Both common & unknown to prophesy
Some cataclysm. Since this world was young,
Its gods have come & gone; their praises sung
In temples or in battle, their rites kept
With incense or with sacrifice fresh-wrung
From writhing flesh. Yet elder powers slept
Beneath our seas. Beyond our stars. Adept
At camouflage, they shaped the waking dreams
Of one whose bleak imagination leapt
To correlate its contents -- into reams
Of warning left behind for all who sense
The stirrings of a darker Providence.



--Ann K. Schwader
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The PirateThe Pirate by Harold Schechter

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


A well-crafted nibble of historical true crime, circa 1860s USA. One of a series of novella-length pieces being offered to Amazon Prime members, in both Kindle & Audible format.

True crime fans & readers who enjoy sensational history would probably find the entire series of interest. I downloaded the series (in both formats) when it was first offered free. This first sample makes me glad I did.







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The Good HouseThe Good House by Tananarive Due

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


A decent modern Gothic horror novel -- feels like Southern Gothic even though most of it takes place in the Northwest --with some really fascinating Vodou aspects. The story is female-focused with a sympathetic protagonist who refuses to be a victim. All good! This is the first Due novel I've ever read / listened to, and I was hoping to broaden my horror reading experience.

In some ways, the novel did this. Unfortunately, it felt much too long, even given that it was a generational story. Combine this with a nonlinear storytelling style (the entire plot zigzags back and forth, sometimes by decades at a time) and an unsatisfying ending, and you wind up with a book that's rather hard to get through.

I think I may have stuck with it because the Audible narrator was doing an excellent job. I'm not sure I would have been so persistent if I'd had, say, a paperback.

YMMV, especially if you're really looking for a chewy late-summer chiller.





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Artificial Condition (The Murderbot Diaries, #2)Artificial Condition by Martha Wells

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This is a fine sequel to All Systems Red (which you should definitely read first, if you haven't), & expands upon Murderbot's world of humans, augmented humans, & bots of various flavors. If anything, Murderbot's observations about both humanity & itself are more pointed.

The plot of this one starts directly after All Systems Red. To avoid spoilers, I'll just say that it involves suppressed information, stolen files, at least a couple doses of good old-fashioned SF violence, & a transport with an AI every bit as snarky as Murderbot itself. Murderbot also goes through certain modifications to appear more human (at least augmented human), which gives him no end of psychological grief.

I continue to find these novellas great -- & thoughtful - fun, though the pricing problem remains. This time around, I checked out a Kindle copy from my local library.



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I've just received my early contributor's copy of Wishbone Moon (Jacar Press), a really lovely little haiku anthology.

Billing itself as "a groundbreaking anthology of haiku by women in the international haiku community," this perfect-bound volume is edited by Roberta Beary, Ellen Compton, & Kala Ramesh.

These three editors hail from Ireland, the USA, and India respectively, and their selections are equally diverse. I haven't finished this anthology yet -- it begs to be nibbled through and paused over! -- but a quick flip through its pages reveals haiku poets from Singapore, Canada, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, and many other places. This is not a themed anthology, so there's a lot of variety in the haiku themselves as well.

The official publication date for this one is September. It will be available on both Amazon & the Jacar Press website, http://www.jacarpress.com/
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with room
to spare now
moon dust footprints


-- Ann K. Schwader
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apollo_11
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Night-Gaunts and Other Tales of SuspenseNight-Gaunts and Other Tales of Suspense by Joyce Carol Oates

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


I checked this out (in Kindle format) from my local library simply to read "Night-Gaunts," & found myself unable to stop. I'd read a certain amount of Oates in the past, but never a full collection of her tales . . .wow. Definitely a mind-altering experience, though one has to get used to her ambiguous endings. In most cases, the reader is never going to be 100% sure how a particular story ended -- though this is not the same as a story dribbling away into nothing. These definitely end, but with a lot of uncertainty for both the reader and the characters.

The title tale is actually the final one (yes, I read it first), & will probably work best for those with some knowledge of H.P. Lovecraft's life. I didn't agree with all the author's plot choices in this one, but enjoyed it anyhow.

The other five stories do not have a Lovecraftian flavor (at least, they didn't to me), & could probably be appreciated by anyone with a taste for slow-burn creepiness. These are, indeed, tales of suspense rather than horror. Most of the horror is hidden between the lines of breathtakingly elegant prose. All six tales are reprints, but from such obscure sources that most readers won't have encountered more than possibly one of them before.

Highly recommended for fans of quiet/literary horror & suspense, and a great summer read for those of us who find our tastes running to darkness this time of year.





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The Blue RoomThe Blue Room by Georges Simenon

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


A creepy, slow-burn, literary crime novel. My first experience reading Georges Simenon (in translation -- my high school French wouldn't be up for this), and maybe not my last.

Essentially, this is the story of a passionate & adulterous affair -- possibly a love affair, possibly not -- and its consequences. The story is woven back and forth in time, adding to the reader's suspense.

For me this was practically a psychological horror novel. The main POV character, though unlikeable, is well and truly trapped. At times, his struggles seemed more cowardly than pathetic, and I never did warm up to the guy. The ending will be staying with me for a long time, though.




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the stretch
of one man's shadow
Tiananmen


-- Ann K. Schwader


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tiananmen_Square_protests_of_1989
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All Systems Red (The Murderbot Diaries, #1)All Systems Red by Martha Wells

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


A right-sized, straight-up SF mystery tale -- from the POV of a self-aware security android. This last bit makes all the difference. Murderbot (its own name for itself, due to a nasty piece of backstory) seems more aware of its own motivations -- and the motivations of others -- than any of the humans or augmented humans in this story.

I found Murderbot's quirky, brutally honest voice the most compelling thing about this visit to an Evil Corporate Future. The rest of the SF trappings are done well enough, but (for me) only this unique POV made the adventure stand out. I really liked Murderbot, which is why I'm sad about the Kindle pricing of future entries in the Murderbot Diaries. Novel prices for novella-length works, no matter how Nebula-winning, are pretty much a nonstarter for me

Fortunately, my local library has the next volume on order.





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Elizabeth II: Life of a MonarchElizabeth II: Life of a Monarch by Ruth Cowen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This short (8, 30 minute "chapters") Audible Original offering is a well-produced brief biography of the current Queen. It is currently available on Audible Channels, and is well worth the listening time for Anglophiles. I'm not sure whether it's available for separate purchase.

I found this light but very interesting (with a few mentions of the royal Corgis, always a plus for me). It's a fairly balanced look at at the royal family, with plenty of dirty laundry being aired along with the high points. The tone was more historical than gossipy, which I appreciated.

Good for those still curious after the recent royal wedding, or anyone wanting a solid but quick overview.







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The Prisoner of Limnos (Penric and Desdemona, #6)The Prisoner of Limnos by Lois McMaster Bujold

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Any new Penric and Desdemona adventure is worth celebrating (and for many of us, worth acquiring). How much a reader will celebrate this one depends on whether her/his tastes run to romance or magic systems. I personally craved a little more chaos demon and "uphill magic" in action, though I found this novella's resolution satisfying.

I won't attempt to summarize the fairly straightforward rescue plot. Most of the real pleasure here lies in the working out of Pen and Nikys' relationship (though, thank all the Five Gods, it isn't completely worked out -- which means another novella), with a heavy side order of this world's religious system.

As might be expected from the title, there are some nasty threats -- including some court intrigue I did want to see worked out better -- but no serious grimdark elements. Bujold does a fine job of implying rather than detailing the sometimes violent nature of her world, which I for one appreciate.




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