March 2022

As predicted, I did not make it through another 9 books in February. I did, however, make it through 7—which is more than I’d’ve thought! In part this is because I picked up Empire of the Vampire, and in part that I didn’t read as many audiobooks, but I really shouldn’t complain. Not that that’s what I’m doing.

But thanks to my decent record of reading thus far this year, I actually have several posts already scheduled for this month. Please check back tomorrow for the conclusion of a trilogy, then later next week for something entirely new!

March brings the threat of spring to Montana, typically with more snow and rain and snow, but also the end of winter sports and a lag in my hours. I have a few tentative plans, but nothing I’m ready to commit to yet. First I’ll be worrying about completing the programs I’ve scheduled, getting through a bevvy of March birthdays, and finishing up a few long overdue reads:)

Currently Reading

I’m currently in a deep dive of Empire of the Vampire, which I’ve been working through on and off since December. I meant to read up to Part 3 then leave it, but the story has caught hold of me again such that I’m partway through Part 5 and aiming to maybe finish it here. (Just an FYI, the story DID capture my attention before, but I shelved it so I could read a few ARCs and other subsequent releases that I’d promised to get to in January and February.) Meanwhile, I’ve picked up the Harbor, but not yet started it. This is the third novel of Katrine Engberg’s Kørner & Werner detective series, where each subsequent release has been better than the last—so far, at least. Hopefully a trend that’ll continue!

ARC

Stars and Bones – by Gareth L. Powell (3/01)

Stars and Bones #1

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Seventy-five years from today, the human race has been cast from a dying Earth to wander the stars in a vast fleet of arks—each shaped by its inhabitants into a diverse and fascinating new environment, with its own rules and eccentricities.

When her sister disappears while responding to a mysterious alien distress call, Eryn insists on being part of the crew sent to look for her. What she discovers on Candidate-623 is both terrifying and deadly. When the threat follows her back to the fleet and people start dying, she is tasked with seeking out a legendary recluse who may just hold the key to humanity’s survival.

Many thanks to Titan Books for the ARC!

Ogres – by Adrian Tchaikovsky (3/15)

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It’s always idyllic in the village until the landlord comes to call.

Because the landlord is an Ogre. And Ogres rule the world, with their size and strength and appetites. It’s always been that way. It’s the natural order of the world. And they only eat people sometimes.

But when the headman’s son, Torquell, dares lift his hand against the landlord’s son, he sets himself on a path to learn the terrible truth about the Ogres, and about the dark sciences that ensured their rule.

Many thanks to Rebellion/Solaris for the ARC! Expect a review out on the 8th!

Curfew – by Jayne Cowie (3/22)

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Imagine a near-future Britain in which women dominate workplaces, public spaces, and government. Where the gender pay gap no longer exists and motherhood opens doors instead of closing them. Where women are no longer afraid to walk home alone, to cross a dark parking lot, or to catch the last train.

Where all men are electronically tagged and not allowed out after 7 p.m.

But the curfew hasn’t made life easy for everyone. Sarah is a single mother who happily rebuilt her life after her husband, Greg, was sent to prison for breaking curfew. Now he’s about to be released, and Sarah isn’t expecting a happy reunion, given that she’s the reason he was sent there.

Her teenage daughter, Cass, hates living in a world that restricts boys like her best friend, Billy. Billy would never hurt anyone, and she’s determined to prove it. Somehow.

Helen is a teacher at the local school. Secretly desperate for a baby, she’s applied for a cohab certificate with her boyfriend, Tom, and is terrified that they won’t get it. The last thing she wants is to have a baby on her own.

These women don’t know it yet, but one of them is about to be violently murdered. Evidence will suggest that she died late at night and that she knew her attacker. It couldn’t have been a man because a CURFEW tag is a solid alibi.

Isn’t it?

Thanks to Tammy for putting this on my radar, and to Penguin and Berkley for granting me an ARC!

Seven Deaths of an Empire – by G.R. Matthews (3/29)

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The Emperor is dead. Long live the Empire.

General Bordan has a lifetime of duty and sacrifice behind him in the service of the Empire. But with rebellion brewing in the countryside, and assassins, thieves and politicians vying for power in the city, it is all Bordan can do to protect the heir to the throne.

Apprentice Magician Kyron is assigned to the late Emperor’s honour guard escorting his body on the long road back to the capital. Mistrusted and feared by his own people, even a magician’s power may fail when enemies emerge from the forests, for whoever is in control of the Emperor’s body, controls the succession.

Once again, huge thanks to Rebellion/Solaris for the ARC! Expect a review out on the 22nd!

Other Releases

I actually controlled myself pretty well this month. That, and was rejected several books, which is practically the same thing. Here are a few more releases that I didn’t get copies of, but I still may pick up at some point. I know there are at least a few I’d be a fool not to consider. Fortunately, I’ve already made it through half of my scheduled ARCs for the month, so I should be able to check out at least one (while either reading some from the backlog, and/or tackling a few in advance of April or May. Not to mention this month’s Alex Verus reread of Taken, which I’ll probably get to near the twilight of March! Maybe it’ll even be warmish by then (though more likely we’ll just get more snow).

The Broken Room – by Peter Clines (3/01)

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Hector was the best of the best. A government agent that could cripple defenses and bring foreign governments to their knees. But when his own nation betrayed him, he walked away, he to return. Until, that is, Natalie.

Natalie can’t remember much of her life before, but she does remember the cages. Being taken to the Project with so many other children to be a part of their mysterious and questionable experiments. It’s because of them that Natalie is where she is, saddled with the ghost of a dead secret agent stuck in her head.

A ghost that Hector owes a debt.

Now that Natalie is on the run from the same Project that created her, Hector is pulled right back into life as an agent, though this is one conflict he can’t walk away from.

Gallant – by V.E. Schwab (3/01)

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When Olivia Pryor is called home to Gallant, she expects some kind of recognition, or greeting, from her family—greeting that does not come. But she’s not about to leave the only place she’s ever felt at home, nor return to Merilance School for Girls, where she ostensibly grew up in her mother’s absence. So, despite the cold reception, the hostility of her kin, or the half-formed ghouls haunting the place—Olivia remains. But when she traverses a ruined wall at just the right moment, she finds herself still in Gallant—yet not. Here, the ghouls are solid, the manor is crumbling, and a mysterious power fills the air. Yet which side of the wall will Olivia choose to make her home: with the mysterious power, or against it?

Last Exit – by Max Gladstone (3/08)

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More than a decade past, Zelda and her group of adventurers would use their specialized abilities to travel through alternate realities and attempt to destroy the black rot threatening the stability of these worlds. (Yeah, I know the setup to this seems a little weird, but just try to roll with it—it really starts sounding good soon.) That was before her lover and key partner, Sal, disappeared.

Ten years later, all but Zelda have moved on. But when she discovers proof that Sal is still alive, trapped in another reality, the others flock to her aid. Only now everything is different—both in the realities, and in the hearts of the walkers that traverse them.

Memory’s Legion – by James S.A. Corey (3/15)

Novella Omnibus

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The Expanse novella omnibus arrives in the form of Memory’s Legion, complete with one brand new tale—The Sins of Our Fathers, which takes place after the events of Leviathan Falls. As someone who still hasn’t made it to Leviathan Falls (not to mention Books #7 & 8 of the series, I’m still highly anticipating this return to the universe, as it might prove a welcome return for incomplete fans not to mention those that have already finished the series!

The City of Dusk – by Tara Sim (3/22)

The Dark Gods #1

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The Four Realms—Life, Death, Light, and Darkness—all converge on the city of dusk. For each realm there is a god, and for each god there is an heir.

But each and every god has withdrawn their favor from the city, and without it at their center, each of the realms is dying in turn. Unwilling to stand by and watch their destruction, the four heirs unite to save the city, and their worlds besides. But the cost requires sacrifice, and their defiance will cost them infinitely more.

MUSIC

Just two album releases on my radar this month. The first comes from Shaman’s Harvest, a southern rock band from Jefferson City, Missouri. Their 11 piece album is out March 11 and, while I’m a bit concerned it may include more politically motivated music than any other album, maybe early singles won’t prove representative of the whole. Voices is my favorite single from the upcoming Rebelator thus far.

The second album release comes courtesy of Moonlight Haze—a symphonic, melodic, and power metal band native to Italy. I’m actually not all that familiar with Moonlight Haze, having just recently discovered them, so I can say with absolute certainty that the eleven-track Animus will be representative of their entire discography.

Gaming & Misc

Haven’t really been playing very much lately, but now that I’m set to start the Harbor, and I’ve installed and loaded up Cyberpunk 2077, it may be time to change that. I played this right when it released back a few years ago and it was a buggy and broken mess. But, since then there have been a lot of patches released, perhaps none more important than the most recent, which I have heard makes this an actual game worth playing versus a… thing that will probably make you put a controller through your TV (or mouse through your computer screen).

So, happy March! It’s the best month, after all;)

Book Review: Ex-Heroes – by Peter Clines

Ex-Heroes #1

Scifi, Zombies, Superpowers, Post-Apocalytic

Broadway Books; February 25, 2010

310 pages

4 / 5 ✪

I’ve been after Ex-Heroes for a while. I mean, zombies + superpowers + apocalypse = well, I suppose it’d be a bad thing, but for the reading of it, I’d say it’s all good. Peter Clines debut features all the big names of a world that has succumbed to chaos: Stealth, Gorgon, Regenerator, Zzzap, the Mighty Dragon, Cerberus. Essentially they represent the last, best hope for mankind. The rest comprises gangs, outcasts, and somewhere around 99% Exes (the pretty-much-zombies).

When the infection began it was expected to be mopped up in a week. After months of fighting, however, and the fall of the eastern seaboard, the heroes were left with little in the way of allies. The fall of the government, the army followed, and the last vestiges of civility set up shop in LA—transforming the area of several film studios/locations into “The Mount”, their final stronghold against the hordes.

A year into the apocalypse things are looking bleak. The South Seventeens have stepped up their attempts to take down The Mount. Ammo is running thin. Patrols into the city are bringing back not only essential supplies, but also news of more. Exes acting strangely. Roadblocks and traps. And more worrying, sightings of previous heroes; those that once bitten, succumbed to the Ex plague. Now they are little more than shamblers themselves. Albeit totally badass, superpowered ones. And all the while, it seems the South Seventeens have been consolidating power.

This was a pretty good read.

I mean, it went by quick: only about 300 pages, took me about a week as I was reading two other things at the time. A straightforward plot with little surprises, a little mystery, and mostly packed with fight scenes and dark realism. Not surprisingly St. George (the Mighty Dragon) stood out as the character I enjoyed the most. After him… probably a tie. Between Zzzap or Cerberus. But St. George… yeah, the dude has superpowers, but he’s as human as the rest beneath it all. Though he’s pretty much unkillable, he bears the emotional and psychological scars of survivor’s guilt. Of everything he’s seen go to shit over the years. And still he tries to be better. And maintains that the people around him—even the other heroes—should do the same.

The story features a back-and-forth between past and present, with each glimpse of the past taken through the eyes of one of the heroes. Their origin story, the outbreak of the plague, the fall of civilization, how The Mount came to be—I can’t say they weren’t interesting flashbacks. And yet they leave a lot to be desired. Somewhere between ending to soon and taking to long to begin again. It’s not like some other books (Porcelain Blade) where there’s a flashback every other chapter. They appear now and then, but usually don’t remain for too long. Interesting snippets of lore, yet little more.

I really don’t have anything all that bad to say about Ex-Heroes, except that it was over too quick, and possessive of nothing terribly life-altering. I will say the opposing gang had a very unfortunate name (the SS? Not the best choice). The concept was good, combining the zombie apocalypse with superhero fiction, two tried and true genres. But as a book, it wasn’t anything special, either. A good read with some interesting (although not very developed) characters and a straightforward plot with gentle twists.

Not a super complex story here. I mean, it ain’t winning any awards. But even so, it was a quick, entertaining read. And I’d definitely be interested in seeing where Clines takes the series from here. Hopefully he develops the characters more. Explores the pre-collapsed world. And some more post-fall locations. This book begins a pentalogy—a five-piece series. Ex-Heroes is just the tip of the iceberg.

The Ex-Heroes series continues with Ex-Patriots, released in 2011.

Note: I couldn’t find this at my local library (I live in a nowhere-adjacent locale), but managed to score a copy on the cheap. Think I paid about $4 for it, used. While I’d whole-heartily recommend supporting the author and buying a new copy, if you’re on a budget: Ex-Heroes has been out since 2010. There’re bound to be more than a couple used copies lying about. That you can pick up, for a good price. Or, if you can get to at your library, do! Libraries are great like that.

Book Review: Paradox Bound – by Peter Clines

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Scifi, Time Travel

Crown; September 26, 2017

373 pages

3 / 5 ✪

BEWARE MINOR SPOILERS (though only in the case of “history travel”)

Time travel can often be a bit confusing. Depending on what you’re going for, what the concept is, and how many different paradoxes are involved (not to mention what they are)—time travel in books can often be impossible to explain. Luckily, Paradox Bound is about traveling through history, so… yeah, this isn’t going to make a ton of sense.

Eli Teague was eight and a half the first time he met Harry Pritchard. So begins one of the more consternating standalone novels I’ve ever read. But we’ll get to that. The first time, Eli finds Harry by the side of the road in his hometown of Sanders, Maine—a fictional bit of nowhere in nowhere Maine. A town where nothing changes and nothing ever happens. By eight, Eli is convinced that Sanders is the most boring town in the world. And then he meets Harry.

1929 Ford Model A Business Coupe—turns out I was waaaay off.

The car is a dark blue Ford 1929 Model A; a classic on the outside, a futuristic—with more lights and switches than a—rocketship on the inside (I’m not much of a car guy, but I figure this is worth mentioning, plus, I kept wondering the whole book what it looked like). Harry is dressed in a Revolutionary period outfit, with a matching overcoat and tricorne. Immediately making her the most interesting thing to happen to Eli, ever. Soon after, Harry leaves town, chased by a man in a black suit driving a black Hornet, never to return.

Well, never-ish.

This scene repeats itself several times, with Harry remaining the same age and Eli aging steadily. Bringing us to the present day.

Eli always figured Harry wasn’t from this time, but the truth is a bit more complicated. It turns out that Harry is an treasure hunter, traveling through history in pursuit of an elusive American treasure—the American Dream. Which is… pretty much what it sounds like. A dream. To accomplish more, to do more, to make life greater than it was. How one would find and possess this, however… a bit more complicated. Which involves an Egyptian god and the Freemasons. And then, the history travel part—also complex. But Eli will soon discover this, and more, when he digs in a little too deep and warns Harry about the men on her tail.

The faceless men. Yeah, literally faceless. No faces.

Thus begins their timeless (ha) adventure to find the greatest treasure in American history, and use it to accomplish their wildest dreams (again, ha). It’s an entertaining ride and a fun, interesting adventure—diverted by the fact that it makes absolutely no damn sense.

Upon asking Harry about it for the first time, Eli receives an answer approximating this. There are stories upon stories, but they’re all third- or fourth-hand, with absolutely zero proof to back the whole thing up. I mean, there is the whole time travel—I mean, history travel thing, that clearly works, but the Dream may not and even should not ever exist. I hate to admit this, but the story is actually pretty catchy. In spite of the fact that (or maybe because of) it doesn’t make any sense—it’s new and interesting. History travel is interesting.

In 2017, I read Time Salvager, by Wesley Chu, a time traveling thriller which seemed to commit every time paradox cliché there is. Paradox Bound really does none of them. I think that’s the reason I liked it so much (despite it being reaaaally confusing and nonsensical). It’s certainly new, and definitely inventive. Nothing else quite like it that I can think of.

History travel pertains to the ability to traverse history—in this case American—through the years 1764-2050, through the use of time skips, that are only navigable in a vehicle of some sort. You can only go so far up through history (2050, in this case), since… well, it’s unclear. Maybe the idea of America falls through. Maybe there’s an apocalyptic event. Maybe something else. 1764 because that’s where the idea of America began. Any time before, there would’ve been no American history to travel. I mean, it’s not like there wasn’t any history before, but that’s different. Apparently. In ways never explained. But it seems one can only traverse history through use of the Dream, so it can only be American. Until (SPOILER) Clines forgets this, and tips that one can actual travel other countries’ histories. Somehow.

The characters of the book are what make Paradox Bound so readable. Eli and Harry (among others) are both relatable, underdog, and human enough that I enjoyed their entire story, but no more so than when they appear together, as their dynamic is excellent. Eli goes through an odd character arc from being a somewhat slow lead, to an inventive and sometimes brilliant one, in the span of a few weeks. It’s… inconsistent? Just a bit. The faceless men… I’m not getting into, as they’re are just ridiculous.

Paradox Bound is an ambitious project with an unprecedented concept that really pushes the envelope. It’s characters, adventure and locations are what make it a truly great read. However, this excellence is let down through poor character development, an essentially nonsensical explanation of so many things, and villains that are Mystery-Science-Theater-bad. If you’re a fan of Clines or a good, fun, casual tale, dive in. If you like a little bit more science in your science fiction, maybe skip it. If you’ve never read Clines, maybe try The Fold first. Either way, I can’t recommend against Paradox Bound, despite how much it aggravated me at times. It’s okay, but pretty much just that.