Thursday, June 27, 2013

Jay Lake Pre-Mortem Readathon, review the first


Fairwood Press
$12.99 trade paper, available now

Reviewed by Richard, 3.75* of five

The Publisher Says: In ROCKET SCIENCE, Jay Lake's first novel, Vernon Dunham's friend Floyd Bellamy has returned to Augusta, Kansas, after serving in World War II, but he hasn't come back empty-handed: he's stolen a super-secret aircraft right from under the Germans. Vernon doesn't think it's your ordinary run-of-the-mill aircraft. For one thing, it's been buried under the Arctic ice for hundreds of years. When it actually starts talking to him, he realizes it doesn't belong in Kansas--or anywhere on Earth. The problem is, a lot of folks know about the ship and are out to get it, including the Nazis, the U.S. Army--and that's just for starters. Vernon has to figure out how to communicate with the ship and unravel its secrets before everyone catches up with him. If he ends up dead, and the ship falls into the wrong hands, it won't take a rocket scientist to predict the fate of humanity.

My Review: Jay Lake, author of this fun and funny romp of a book, is dying of cancer. Quite publicly. He blogs about it, posts on Facebook about it, and generally has made no secret of the fact that he's "on the last plane out, just have to see if the flight's a long one or a short one." (Yes, I'm quoting.) He's even having a "Jay Wake". His blog invites us as follows:
You are invited to my pre-mortem wake and roast, a somewhat morbid, deeply irreverent, but joyous celebration of me. This is a time for celebrating my life, loves, and dark, twisted sense of humor.

It's on 27 July...and there's just enough time beforehand for me to, once a week or so, post reviews of the books I've read that have given me so many grins and thrills over the years since I discovered him in 2006. With this book, which I bought at ArmadilloCon in Austin.

As first novels go, this one's a solid effort. It's got thrills and it's got chills...several times I wondered if the narrator was going to survive...and it's got a thinking, relativistic-speed-capable machine that speaks German and learns English from the gospel radio stations it "hears." How it learns to make sense out of that nonsense....

It's got two characters I like a lot, Vernon the narrator and Floyd his sociopath buddy. It's got some right awful baddies, a daddy who's a drunk, and absolutely no sex, to Vernon's lasting dismay. It's also got pacing problems and there's no sense not talking about the doormattiness of Vernon's long-term fixation on Floyd. But it's a first novel! And, even before I got sucked in to the real-life Sturm und Drang of Jay Lake's life, I knew that the mind that created this book was inside a head that laughs at everything.

My kinda guy!

So here's me, laughing along, enjoying the view out the tumbril on the way to the guillotine. It's morbid, you protest? Yeah well, the man is dying and a hushed respectful eyes-cast-down Appreciation would go over like a fart in church with him. I've had a lot of fun reading his books. I'm going to tell the world that BEFORE he dies. I urge the SFnally inclined, even modestly so, to buy this book and smile along with the writer, and me!, in some haste. No knowing when the doorbell will ring.

And how many times do you read a book that *ends* with a round trip to Mars about to begin?

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Magic in the Wild, Wild West

Native Star

by M. K. Hobson

Published by Spectra

4 Out of 5 Stars
Reviewed by Amanda

Take a pinch of the Wild West, a dollop of whimsy, just a dash of romance, and a heaping helping of magic and you apparently get the perfect summer read.

On the surface, The Native Star is fairly formulaic. There's the Austen-esque dynamic of the stubborn and headstrong (but always proper beneath it all) woman who finds herself at odds with a pompous and equally headstrong jerk (who remains, fundamentally, a gentleman beneath it all). I have to admit that I'm a sucker for this dynamic because nothing triggers my gag reflex quicker than a simpering and whiny heroine, unless it's the "here I come to save the day" uber-perfect hero. Circumstances arise that force these two into unwelcome proximity to one another for the duration of the novel and witty banter between crises ensues. This is pretty standard stuff and even the less sophisticated readers among us can probably make accurate predictions as to where this plot is headed, but . . .

. . . holy shit, was this fun! While the basic narrative is standard, the world building is delightful. Set in the west during the Reconstruction, the United States has always relied on magic to grease the wheels of commerce. There are three primary types of magic practitioners: sangrimancers (who rely on gruesome blood rituals to tap into their power), animancers ("earth" magicians who draw upon nature to heal), and credomancers (faith magicians who draw upon the beliefs of others to make the impossible, well, possible). There's much in-fighting amongst these magical traditions, as well as opposition to magic in the form of religious zealots and the increasing threat of science as a replacement for magic. Several reviews have labeled this as "steampunk," which is misleading as there are no gimmicky, steam-powered gizmos and gadgets. Everything is fueled by magic (as one reviewer said, this is "witchpunk"--a term that seems much more accurate). There are zombies, Native American holy women, murderous spirits, fantastic magical devices, as well as witches and warlocks of every stripe and color imaginable. There are quirky little details (my favorite being the idea of a "squink," a word created by the combination of the words "squid ink" and meaning to lessen the power of a credomancer by clouding his ability to believe in himself).

The Native Star is clever, witty, and intelligently written light reading when you just want to reconnect with the joy of a rollicking journey whose only destination is to enchantment. There are no deeper meanings, no pompous literary preening, no need to bust out the theory books to figure out what is up with the symbolism. It's just fun. And sometimes that's more than enough.

Meet The Shelf Inflicted Staff - Brandon

Today's guest is the bearded beast from the east.. of Canada, Brandon!

How did you discover Goodreads?

I was looking around online for a website that I could use as a database for my books.  I stumbled across Library Thing and toyed around with that for a few weeks before finding my way over to Goodreads.

What have been your most memorable Goodreads experience?

I can't really think of anything specific but I can say that if not for Goodreads, I wouldn't have been able to discover a lot of the books and authors that I've had the pleasure of reading.  It also gave me the confidence to start my own book blog after I've been voted into the Top 20 "best" book reviewers in the great nation of Canada.

Name one reviewer not in the Forbes 25 that people should be aware of.

The first name that comes to mind is Aerin.  She wrote a review for Mark Z. Danielewski's House of Leaves that totally blew me away.  I've been following her for a while and she's a fantastic writer!

What was your initial reaction to Amazon buying Goodreads?

I was worried at first.  There wasn't a specific change that I was fearing but just the fact that the overall vibe of the site could drastically change worried me.  Goodreads has become an online home of mine and I've grown to love it.  I hope they institute a hands-off approach to the site and allow it to operate in it's own fashion.

How many books do you own?

Surprisingly, not that many.  I've got one book shelf filled with what I consider my absolute favorites.  Most of what I read now seems to be an e-book or something I grab from the library.  Considering that there's so much out there to read, I want to be more selective on what I buy judging by whether or not I can imagine reading it again.

Who is your favorite author?

This honestly changes a lot.  However, I have no reservations in naming John Connolly.  His Charlie Parker series opened a lot of doors for me in terms of crime fiction.  If not for him, I wouldn't have searched out authors like Lawrence Block or Raymond Chandler.  There's also Stephen King.  He's easily the author I've read the most and I've still got lots of his work to consume.

What is your favorite book of all time?

In the past 3 years, nothing has been able to knock The Stand off of its perch - though many have come close.  It was a book that I was intimidated by in its size but when I turned the last page, I wanted more.  Luckily for me, there's a Marvel series and some further mentions/visits in the King universe.

What are your thoughts on ebooks?

I love ebooks!  I was resistant at first because I was a big fan of holding an actual book.  When I received my first e-reader 3 years ago, I took to it pretty quickly.  However, over time, I've split my reading between the two formats.  Since starting my blog, a lot of authors/publishers have been able to send me their book through email rather than mailing me a physical copy.

What are your thoughts on self-publishing?

I think there's a stigma associated with it just for the fact that many seem to avoid the editing process.  I can't say for certain if I have an opinion on it but I did read a self-published book a few weeks ago and rather enjoyed it.  On the other hand, I'm a blogger - would I expect people to avoid reading my thoughts because it's not appearing in a magazine or major website?  I can certainly see the reasons behind it.

Any literary aspirations?

I'm actually working on something at the moment.  Who knows if it will ever become anything but I'm certainly enjoying myself.  It's something that I've wanted to do for a few years so taking the plunge and giving it an honest shot is something that I need to do for myself.