November 2016 Report

So, here’s what happened here in November, 2016.

Wait, what? It’s December?!?!

Books/Novels/Novellas Read/Listened to:

The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul (Audiobook) The Lost Child of Lychford The Last Star
4 Stars 4 Stars 3 Stars
Washed Hands Trapped Audiobook The Chemist
4 Stars 3.5 Stars 2 Stars
The Hanging Tree The Patriots of Mars Every Heart a Doorway (Audiobook)
4 1/2 Stars 3 Stars 4 Stars
Chapel of Ease All Our Wrong Todays Hunted Audiobook
4 1/2 Stars 5 Stars 5 Stars
INVIVO Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the Lord Titanborn
1 1/2 Stars 4 Stars 3 Stars
Korian and Lucy, Part II Shattered (Audiobook) Lost in Wonderland
3 Stars 4 Stars 3 Stars
Bear with Bear            
3 Stars            

Still Reading:

Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 4 Sons in the Son      

Fewer books than I would’ve thought — and a greater variety in ratings than I’ve used (needed) lately.

Reviews Posted:

How was your month?

Titanborn by Rhett C. Bruno (revised)


by Rhett C. Bruno

Kindle Edition, 246 pg.
Hydra, 2016

Read: November 28 – 29, 2016

I’ve been to the rotting sewer tunnels submerged beneath the Martian domes. I’ve been to the most remote slums on Earth, and to the depths of asteroid mining colonies where being able to see the outline of your own hand in front of your face was considered bright. I’ve seen death all over and been on the end of the killing more times than I cared to count . . .

When he’s not reminiscing like an inverse-Roy Batty, Malcolm Graves is a bounty hunter of sorts — working for one of the handful of corporations that really run the solar system. He’s been at it longer than most, and has no intention of retiring anytime soon. His body, however, might have other things in mind — he’s slowing a bit, both in reflex and thought — add in a little bad luck, and Malcolm’s starting to worry about his future.

So when he’s near the site of a terrorist attack during Earth’s biggest celebration, he seizes the opportunity to get some justice and re-establish his position with the company. Sure, they’re saddling him with a partner rather than letting him work alone, but if that’s what it takes. . . . Only it’s not just a partner, it’s a young guy, fresh from an elite training program for exceptional cadets. Zhram is almost an android, it seems.

Their investigation brings them into contact with a seditious group, trying to overthrow the ruling forces on Saturn’s moon, Titan, so that the descendants of the original colonists (Titanborn). It soon becomes a race against time — can the duo find those responsible for the crime on earth and bring them in before the movement can grow and begin to make inroads against the ruling powers? Why they attempt to do so, their partnership grows and the two being to trust and learn from each other. Zhram is one of the more promising characters in the Lt. Commander Data/Odo/Sheldon Cooper-vein of people trying to learn to be more human that I’ve seen recently.

At its core, the central relationship is the classic mismatched police partners (see the Aykroyd/Hanks Dragnet, Lethal Weapon), but with a SF twist (see The Caves of Steel and Almost Human). The book is full of themes, tropes and scenarios straight from these (and similar) sources. Which isn’t to say that Titanborn is derivative — it’s part of the tradition, reflecting the best parts of its antecedents, shaping them to tell Bruno’s story.

The writing was strong (I thought a couple of times early on that he overwrote a line or two, but nothing too horrible) — the fight scenes good, the tech was believable, etc. An all-around well constructed novel.

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again — it doesn’t matter if you tell a story that’s been told before, or using tropes commonly used — it’s how you use those tropes, how you tell the story — and Bruno did it in a very satisfactory way. I liked Malcolm from the get-go, I enjoyed watching the budding partnership between he and Zhaff, and even though I pegged (most of) the solution very early on, I really dug the reveal. I liked the characters, I appreciated the way that Bruno paced things and guided us through the shaky political landscape (and at least some of the reasons for the instability). I’d gladly read another half-dozen (at least) novels about these two racing around the solar system.

Disclaimer: This was provided to me by the author in exchange for my honest take on the book — note that I said “honest” and not “timely.” I was supposed to have this done months ago. My thanks for the book and apologies for the tardiness, Mr. Bruno.


3 Stars

The Last Dream Keeper by Amber Benson

The Last Dream KeeperThe Last Dream Keeper

by Amber Benson

Series: The Witches of Echo Park, #2

Paperback, 307 pg.

Ace, 2016

Read: March 25, 2016

Picking up right from where The Witches of Echo Park left off, Benson takes her coven deeper into the conflict with the mysterious forces threatening the Witches Council. The opening chapters of this book had me hooked soundly and almost immediately brought me right back to where I was when the first book ended. You want Lyse and the rest to really gel, to become the family they could be (and might have been before Eleanora’s death). Sure, you want them to get to the bottom of things, thwart evil and all that — but mostly you want to see them form a strong unit, maybe have a taste of happiness.

But circumstances won’t let that happen. Somewhere around the midway point (I think maybe a little beofre) the book takes a huge turn — the coven splits up. Some on personal missions, others off on an effort to enlist others to their cause, and some to keep things going at home. This was a risky move — these books are at their strongest when you have these women interacting with each other, drawing on each other’s strengths, augmenting their own weaknesses. So to eliminate this possibility takes real guts — I’m not sure I liked the move, but what Benson does with that kicks everything into a different gear — more action-packed and explosive. The magic that so defined the series up to this point is still there, it’s just used pretty differently.

And when I say that the plot takes this book in dramatically different directions than you expect, it is almost impossible to believe that the closing pages of this book and the closing pages of The Witches of Echo Park belong to the same series — much less are separated by only one novel. Somehow, however, Benson pulls it off — I really have no idea how. When I think about it, it doesn’t make any sense — but in the moment, it absolutely worked. I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough, and when it was done I started looking forward to whatever craziness Benson’s got in store for us.


4 Stars

All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai

All Our Wrong TodaysAll Our Wrong Todays

by Elan Mastai
eARC, 384 pg.
Dutton, 2017

Read: November 21 – 23, 2016

Avery Brooks famously asked, “Where are the flying cars? I was promised flying cars! I don’t see any flying cars! Why? Why? Why?” Elan Mastai’s book finally provides the answer. Simply put: we had it — flying cars, routine space flights, robots/other tech dressing us, feeding us, doing the everyday jobs that need to be done so that humans can focus on working in labs to make the world an even better place, to make the next technological leap forward. Essentially, everything that Science Fiction of the 1950’s told us to expect, we lived in George Jetson’s world.

Until July 11, 2016 when the first time machine was turned on and things went wrong, resulting in 40 years of history being rewritten and one man — Tom Barren — was the only one to know that we are now living in a dystopia. It’s a dystopia for everyone on Earth, but Tom, that is — his life in the 2016 that we know is much better than it was in the “original” 2016. So now Tom has to decide, does he try to restore the timeline (if he can even figure out how to do so), or does he keep things the way they are?

That’s less than you can see on Goodreads/Mastai’s site/Web retailers — and yet I think I gave away too much. But really, that’s barely scratching the surface.

There’s a great mix of detail to the science (at least the ideas and theories behind it), yet keeping it at the level where we don’t get bogged down in technicalities (and kept Mastai from having to work them out) — he gets away with it by comparing it to the way that we don’t really understand how hydroelectric dams or incandescent light bulbs work.

There’s the literary equivalent to that scene from The Wire‘s 4th episode — it’s a mixture of genius and profanity and poetry. Mostly profanity.

We’re going to be talking about Elan Mastai the way we recently talked about Ernest Cline or Andy Weir next year (assuming I can predict anything) — and he deserves it. The voice grabs you right away from the humor, the honesty — the trouble with time travel grammar. I really wish that Jonathan Tropper’s endorsement of the book wasn’t right there on the front cover, because it feels like a cheat to compare Mastai to him now, but I want to. He’s got the same mix of humor, heart, drama, inspiration as Tropper, he just blends science fiction themes in with those. 

Tom Barren’s a great character (a questionable person, but a great character) that you’ll love spending time with. There are really a lot of great characters here, but he’s the only one I feel safe discussing. There are characters with warts, strengths, weaknesses, courage, bravery, humanity in all shapes and sizes — some noble, some despicable, some pathetic. As is frequently the case, seeing multiple versions of the same characters in the various timelines tells you a lot about the people and/or worlds they live in.

Tom’s father, the one who developed the time machine — has some fantastic theories about time travel — it’s not just about time, it’s about space (between the earth’s rotation, movement through space, etc.), and for time travel to be really possible, both have to be addressed. Not only does it clear the TARDIS from every critique of time travelers/machines mentioned in the book, but it’s a really, really good point.

It’s one of those magic books that you don’t want to end, because you’ll have to leave the characters and world — but that you can’t get through fast enough because you just have to know how it turns out.
Is it flawless? No, I’m sure it’s not, but unlike ever other book I’ve read this year (including the ones I’ve loved), I can’t think of a single problem. That says a lot to me.

I have not been able to stop talking about this book for a week now — I think my wife and kids have started ignoring me when I bring it up. All Our Wrong Todays is a book that practically demands over-hyping — it’s only a huge amount of restraint that keeps me from spilling everything. I have a list of people I want to buy this for (started compiling it when I was about 10% finished), and the list is currently long enough now that I wouldn’t be able to buy any books for myself until June 2017 — so, sorry everyone, buy your own.

I don’t know if I’ll be able to watch/read more time travel again — especially time travel involving love stories — but man, it’s absolutely worth it if this was my last. Pre-order this one now so that you can dive into it as soon as possible.


5 Stars

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Dutton via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.

Two Crime Writers and a Microphone

Two Crime Writers and a MicrophoneA few weeks back I got a notification or two (don’t ask me from where) on Twitter that a new crime fiction podcast was on the horizon from Steve Cavanagh & Luca Veste, who are (apparently) a couple of writers. Sure, I’d never heard of them, but that only means I’m ill-informed (particularly when it comes to crime writers from Liverpool, Belfast, etc.). But I’ve been looking for another crime fiction podcast for a while, so I thought I’d give it a chance when they got around to posting episodes. If nothing else, the title Two Crime Writers and a Microphone was catchy.

I am so, so glad I did — this is probably my favorite podcast of the moment — it’s truly the most laugh-inducing (which says something, since I listen to a few hosted by stand-up comics). Each week they talk a little about the news in publishing (and sometimes outside of it), talk to a book reviewer about a couple of hot titles, interview a crime writer and then leave off with a couple of recommended reads. It’s clear that these two guys are fans of the genre they work in and know what they’re talking about, they enjoy the topic and their guests. Their taste seems fairly impeccable (which roughly translates into at least one of them seems to like the things I like). The guests so far — reviewers and writers alike — have been entertaining and informative.

My one complaint is that I can’t find show notes that list the titles they talk about in each episode — I don’t listen anywhere I can take notes and my short-term memory can’t keep up with the number of books they talk about. I’ve managed to add a couple of titles to by TBR list (including books from the hosts), but I know I’ve missed a few.

The theme and interstitial music was composed and performed by Stuart Neville, a crime writer himself they interviewed a couple of weeks ago. It’s probably the best theme music I’ve heard in ages (TV, movie, or podcast) — probably since that track they use for Bosch. It’s worth trying this podcast just for the music.

It’s available via iTunes or your preferred podcast application. It’s well worth your time and whatever effort you have to put into finding it. I doubt you’ll enjoy listening to it as much as they seem to have making it (I don’t think anyone could), but you’ll come close.

INVIVO by Robert A. Brown


by Robert A. Brown

Kindle Edition, 233 pg.
Denro Classics, 2016

Read: November 24 – 26, 2016

I’m not sure I can list the problems with this book without hitting the character limit on a post (not sure if WordPress has one, Goodreads does, though). Were this only the story of a grieving scientist driven to some sort of insanity (temporary or otherwise), I might have been able tolerate it. But no, it’s so much worse.

    I’m just going to do this one in bullet points because I can’t muster enough will to really write anything.

  • The book promises to be about X, quickly becomes about Y (with a hint of Z) and then ends up being about R and S. I can live with that kind of things sometimes (maybe even enjoy it), but since X and S are so far removed from each other I had no tolerance for it with this novel.
  • The dialogue is wooden, clunky, and far too wordy.
  • The characters act more due to authorial fiat rather than organically (this isn’t 100% true, but it happens enough that I can list it here in good conscience.
  • There’s a mystery here “solved” in a ridiculous and fanciful way — the police were so useless that a medical doctor and genetics researcher is able to read a couple of books (that he received in record time) about sociopaths and is equipped to solve. And he does so in ridiculously short manner.
  • Maybe I’m wrong — I could be — but the science here is so outlandish that Jules Verne wouldn’t buy it. It’s so far beyond “fringe” science that Walter Bishop would scoff at it.

This is just poorly constructed, and I just can’t buy any of the plot-lines. The writing is stiff, lifeless and yet sloppy. For example, one scene starts in a staff meeting with the main characters and his assistants, and mid-conversation it jumps to another mid-conversation with his wife. Also, I’m not sure if the repeated use of a racial slur was because Brown was trying to show just how despicable a character was or if Brown was showing us how despicable he was (given the fact that the character seemed to be being shown in a redemptive light while using the slurs, I’m pretty sure it wasn’t that). Even the stuff that I could say was better about this book seemed too contrived — the romances, the scientific breakthroughs, the friendships, and so on. It just was lousy.

Disclaimer: Actually, this probably doesn’t need a disclaimer, because I clearly wasn’t influenced by anything — but I received this book from the author in exchange for my honest opinion. Sorry about that, Mr. Brown. Also sorry that it took me 8 more months than I expected to get to it, but . . . something tells me you wouldn’t have minded me waiting longer.


1 1/2 Stars

Saturday Miscellany – 11/26/16

Odds ‘n ends over the week about books and reading that caught my eye. You’ve probably seen some/most/all of them, but just in case:

    This Week’s New Releases I’m Excited About and/or You’ll Probably See Here Soon:

  • The Operator by Kim Harrison — if there’s a version of Earth in the Multiverse where this blog is a force in publishing, Harrison’s Peri Reed Chronicles is a best-selling juggernaut (hopefully, it’s neither the one that Walter-nate or Dr. Zoom is from). Anyway, book 2 is out now, and you should read it.
  • The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher — I’m not sure I need another memoir from Fisher after Wishful Drinking, but then again — why not? I’ve also read most of her novels — Fisher’s a far better writer than an actress, and is one of the funniest authors around. I have no idea what she’ll say in this one beyond the Harrison Ford stuff, but it’ll provoke more than a few laughs.

Lastly, I’d like to say hi and welcome to annmariemcqueen1.