2021 Reading Challenge

2021 Reading Challenge
Jill Elizabeth has read 3 books toward her goal of 245 books.
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A Slew o’ Reviews Again, Featuring Series Books

So two weeks ago, I featured a Book Review Tuesday post composed of random reviews from some of the books I have read this year. They were utterly non-thematic, just a sample of the kinds of things I read regularly, designed to share my range and show you that I don’t love everything I read. It can be easy to forget that when one reads book blogs or book reviews or top tens, since many times we authors like to write about the things we love. We tend to be horrible proselytizers, one and all, trying to spread the good word about books in a world that does not read as much as it used to and in which books compete with a million other forms of media for attention, you see…

The plain truth is that when you read a lot, you almost inevitably end up reading some things that you don’t love or that just don’t resonate with you, either at the particular time you are reading them or sometimes at all. By rights I should just put a book down if I’m not loving it. I do, after all, always have a slew o’ books waiting to be read, either on the “to review” pile or just because I want to read them. But I often can’t bring myself to walk away from a book if I’m decently into it (say more than 1/3 in) – I guess I live in fear of walking away from something that would have turned out to be amazing… Wow – what a hot-bed mess of neurosis and insecurity I am. Teehee. Don’t tell anyone, ok?

I am again featuring a fairly random smattering of book reviews, but this time they are all series books. There are no grand unifying theories or plotlines. They are all of a science fiction/fantasy bent, which is not that surprising as I like weird, dark, random things that let me escape into a world or life so utterly unlike my real one that there can be no confusing the two. Two sets of them are the full range of available books in the series; the others are single books out of either long series or soon-to-be series. Enjoy!

The Sandman Slim Books

  • Sandman Slim by Richard Kadrey – Dark, dark, dark – and yet surprisingly funny and twisty, with a more than occasional nod at true love. Kadrey’s world is full of vengeance and more than a little bloodthirsty. For all that, his anti-hero James Stark (aka Sandman Slim) is full of his own brand of honor and decency and his travails through the world (and out of Hell) to avenge his girlfriend’s murder and his own banishment are crisply written and full of odd treats.
  • Kill the Dead by Richard Kadrey – Teehee – you have got to love an author who thinks to link Homeland Security and angel-hitmen, and throws a vengeance-driven quasi-immortal into the mix… Kill the Dead, the sequel to Sandman Slim is as fast-paced and chock-full of mayhem as the original; Kadrey’s world is a dark one, but it is also surprisingly funny, with artful touches (teehee – Lucifer is making a promotional bio-pic movie about his “life” and fall) sprinkled in to remind you how clever the dark can be.

The Fever Series (aka, the MacKayla Lane books)

  • Darkfever by Karen Marie Moning – What a fun roller coaster read! Darkfever (Fever Series, Book 1) is all about transition – from sunny Georgia to rainy Dublin; from sweet light innocent MacKayla to dark vengeful bitter Mac. You cannot help but feel her pain and guilt as the story develops, just like you cannot help but feel a heart-pounding anticipation whenever Barrons enters the scene – although whether that is a good thing or a bad is yet to be seen. Moning’s take on the au courant fairy-tale is not necessarily the most original out there, but is certainly one of the more engaging and I look forward to the next installment!
  • Bloodfever by Karen Marie Moning – Bloodfever: The Fever Series (A Mackayla Lane Novel) picks up as though it were the next page, rather than the next installment, of the Fever series. Vengeance is still the word of the day in Mac’s Dublin – but this time it appears in some unlikely places from some sources you may have counted out after the first book. I am starting to think that to write any character off in this series is a big mistake -good guys and bad guys seem to have a way of sneaking back in to the story even long after you cannot imagine how they would. The plot continues to develop in intriguing ways that somehow manage to remain plausible, even when on their face they should not. All in all, another very fun read!
  • Faefever by Karen Marie Moning – Excellent – just when I thought I could not find Mac’s world more engaging, along came the third book, Faefever: The Fever Series. I love when that happens – when a series builds from book to book in such a manner that you feel like each book is merely a separate binding rather than a separate story. Mac’s world may be falling apart around her ears, but it is a wild ride and well worth the read.
  • Dreamfever by Karen Marie Moning – Oh no… I’m starting to get that feeling – the one that suggests that I’m not going to like the way things end. I hate that feeling. I loved the first three books in the Fever Series – MacKayla was a well-developed and well-rounded character who literally grew up through tragedy, and the characters and scenery around her were equally interesting (I mean, hello, Barrons and Dublin – does it get much better than a badass, uber-studly anti-hero who owns a bookstore in one of the greatest cities in the world?!). But somewhere toward the middle of Dreamfever: The Fever Series (fourth in the series), I started to flounder a bit. It began to feel like a chore to read about the latest happenings with the Fae and the downfall of Dublin began to wear on me. There is reportedly one more book to come; I hope it reads more like the earlier books in the series, but fear that this downward spiral may continue…
  • Shadowfever by Karen Marie Moning – I hate when a series starts out like a house afire and ends with a trickle of water. The Fever series was, for me, a prime example of this. It started out fabulously (I have reviews of the other books, if you are interested – just go to my review page) – it was never high literature but the series presented a fun and interesting take on the urban fantasy theme, strong characters, and generally engaging writing. I waited and waited for Shadowfever, the final installment – and then after I had finished it, I wondered what had happened, both to the story and the series. I don’t need every book to wind up neatly with resolution on every question and happy warm fuzziness overcoming everyone – but I do need to understand why things ended the way they did, and with this book I did not. Mac’s journey from sweet innocent Georgia girl to dark violent righteous whatever-she-is was an intriguing one, but I still feel like it is unfinished – and for the purported final book in a series, that is an unsatisfying feeling.

Tales from the Nightside

  • The Good, the Bad and the Uncanny by Simon R. Green – I love a quick, easy, fun, dark, wry, amusing read – and Simon R. Green’s Tales from the Nightside series never fails to deliver. John Taylor is the perfect anti-hero – tough enough to get the job done but with a sense of honor and decency that sneaks up on him more times than not. There are more books than I can keep track of in the series at this point, and I keep thinking that inevitably John Taylor and his world will begin to feel redundant or repetitive. Somehow though Green manages to keep the stories fresh and interesting time and again, and The Good, the Bad, and the Uncanny is no exception – no small feat for a prolific author who manages to keep multiple series going simultaneously with new books out every year…

Ghost Hunters Series

  • Ghost of a Chance by Simon R. Green – I love Simon R. Green’s Tales from the Nightside series. I have also enjoyed the Secret Histories books (although not quite as much), so when I learned he had a new series starting, I jumped on the first book. I don’t know if I just love John Taylor’s Nightside so much that everything else falls short or what, but unfortunately I must report that I was less than impressed. The concept behind Ghost of a Chance (A Ghost Finders Novel)- a team of social misfit, somewhat dysfunctional ghost hunters who take on the Things That Go Bump In The Night – was a good one and seemed like standard Simon R. Green fare. But the characters never quite grew on me and the plot line felt cobbled together from the less interesting bits of some of his previous stories. If you want Green at his best, I say stick to the Nightside…

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5 comments to A Slew o’ Reviews Again, Featuring Series Books

  • Hi, Jill Elizabeth,
    I see that you are a voracious reader and enjoy blogging about your reads. I’m wondering if you would like to read a short story collection that was a Finalist in the Next Generation Indie Book Awards, short-story category, 2011. Thereaare 17 stories in Once Upon a Decade: Tales of the Fifties, with very different plots, but almost all have a background of the 1950s. There is love, high-seas adventure, adolescent angst, sexual awakening, and, among other things, a glimpse of Havana night life on the eve of the Castro Revolution.

    • Thanks for visiting Clark – I am kind of backed up on book reviews at the moment and it may possibly take me longer than the usual two month deadline I set for myself to get the book reviewed and posted. If you are ok with that possibility, I am willing to take a look at the book. Can you send a sample first?

  • By sample, I think you mean a couple of excerpts. So, here goes:

    Ed and his buddies emerged from the taxi and began to walk the length of the pier toward their destroyer escort, tied up at the far end. Ed felt the wharf was a tunnel between two rows of looming steel hulks, dark and menacing, overpowering in their size and proximity. A continuous hollow droning of the exhaust systems and machinery flowed from their metallic insides, as though the steel giants were moaning in their sleep, grinding their teeth, dreaming their mechanical dreams. Ed felt dwarfed and insignificant beside them.
    At irregular intervals puffs of steam hissed as they jetted from the steel vessels. Against the night sky, the small puffs of vapor were white, snowy white, pure white. Like human breath in the northern winter, but much whiter. They would appear clearly for a brief moment only to dissolve without a trace the next instant. As though they had never existed at all. How can something be there, Ed wondered, and then, in a fraction of a second, not be there? Without leaving a vestige, a residue, some sign that it had existed.
    Ed inhaled deeply. The cool salt breeze wrestled with the heat still radiating from the land and with the clinging odors of raw tobacco leaf, human sweat, cheap perfume and disinfectant. The fresh clean smell of the open sea was locked in combat with the rotting tang of tropical earth and the stink of decaying vegetation.
    When they reached their ship Ed gazed out at the bay. The bay was black. The sky was black, but the bay was even blacker. It was a slick, oily blackness, a shiny blackness that glowed and reflected the moonlight like a black jewel. Ed saw the tiny specks of light around the edges of the bay where he knew ships must be docked, and at different points within the bay where vessels would be anchored. The lights were pale and sickly yellow when compared with the bright blue-white sparkle of the stars overhead. But the stars glinted hard as diamonds, cold as ice.
    Ed felt strangely suspended in time and space. He felt as though he were one of the lights in the bay, swaying in the darkness under the illusion of motion, circling in place. No, he was one of the stars, isolated in the most remote and frigid regions of outer space.
    * * * * *
    The boxers were banging away at each other. Go on, go on, go on… Keep punching, Antonio, keep punching. I’m blasting away at the Cuban guy. He can’t hurt me. I’m made of iron. His fists feel like friendly pats when he manages to land a punch, which he doesn’t do too often, ’cause I’m fast on my feet, and I duck and weave. Jack be nimble Jack be quick… But I’m punching the hell out of him. I’m creaming the bastard, creaming the Cuban, creaming my old man… –what!?–… creaming my boss, I mean, that son of a bitch Mr. Hanson. I’m knocking the shit out of him. I’m banging away, mashing him into a pulp. For an instant he saw Janey at the receiving end of his fists. Again. He pushed the image from his mind. It was Mr. Hanson. It was the Cuban champion. And the crowd was cheering. They were on their feet and screaming. They love me. Yes, they love me. Yes they do. They really do.
    Tears streamed from Joe Sims’s eyes. He was disturbed to find he was weeping. What the hell am I crying about? Mohammed Ali, feebly lighting the Olympics torch, flashed through his mind, followed by that scene of the people crowding around him, asking him for autographs… Mohammed Ali was smiling, but he was in bad shape, couldn’t speak, couldn’t answer people’s questions. Could hardly move, it looked like. But he smiled. A dumb-looking smile… What the hell was the poor bastard smiling about? Joe was overcome by a sudden sadness. A guy like that, the way he once was, and look at him now… Joe began to sob. Goddammit, what the hell do I give a damn about Mohammed Ali? He made his millions. He did all right. What the hell do I give a damn! And he sobbed even harder. He raised the fifth bottle to his lips, tossed back his head, closed his moist eyes and drained the bottle. Then he flung it to the floor. He felt a little better, calmer.

    * * * * *
    It was a hot day in January. A yellow and purple blur of stucco houses, balconies and iron grillwork streaked past the taxi windows. The vehicle careened through the narrow streets, irresistibly sweeping Ed Perdue along with the current of Havana. His brain saturated in Cristal beer, he heard the radio blare the insistent, heavily accented rhythms and wild melodies of Cuba that compelled him to writhe in his seat and to beat on the dashboard in time with the pulsating music. The jerking strum of guitars, the hurried chic-chic of maraccas, the rasping of the güiro, the shallow beat of bongos, the thunderous pounding of frenzied conga drums in different pitches… Strident, acid trumpets in a minor key, razor sharp, slashed through the alcoholic haze that helped him forget Terri and the frigid North.
    Ed and several shipmates climbed out of the taxi at the corner of Pajarito and Peñalver, and confirmed that the name painted on the window was BAR VICTORIA before pushing their way through the green swinging doors. They stagger-swaggered past the bar into a large square room containing chairs and tables with black formica tops. Ed glanced around the room at the walls that were glossy black tile from the floor to the halfway point, and from there to the ceiling were plaster painted dark red. He looked at the gaudy juke box that stood against one wall. It was heavy, solid, brightly lighted. It was the focus of social activities. Like the hearth around which families gathered in old Christmas cards. …But different.
    Currents of cigarette fumes wafted through what passed for air. Attractive young women in bright-hued gowns glided through the streams of smoke like tropical fish in an aquarium. Detecting the white uniforms and leathery faces, they promptly approached the Navy men. Very pretty, Ed thought. But hungry. A school of piranha.

    * * * * *
    Sonny and I made it safely below decks, but we felt real sick. I was thinking how you’re just a little guy on that big hunk of steel that’s the ship, like an ant on a metal bucket, but how even that big hunk of steel was being tossed around in the sea like a tin can, the huge grey waves heaving themselves up like mountains, the ship flying to the dizzying peak, then falling down into the valley, the wind howling, and a huge wall of water comes crashing down on the deck, and you think the ship is going down and never coming up… That’s when you feel the power of Nature, of God, and realize how small, how insignificant, a man really is. It knocks all the pride out of you. No matter who you are, how important you may be, you understand you’re really nothing more than an insect.
    * * * * *
    Well, back to the main issue. I finally presented my paper, at the same time as that South American fiction writer. Afterward, I was told –you’re not going to believe this– that so many people flocked to his talk that there weren’t enough seats, that they were filling the corridor outside the lecture hall, near the doors. And, by the way, the fact that some people actually told me this, that they rubbed my nose in it, so to speak, shows a deplorable lack of sensibility, of common decency, don’t you think? And, I swear, even though you’ll find it difficult to believe this, that there were only three people in my section. Three freaking people!! Oh, I’m sorry. Please forgive my language. But it was such a disappoint¬ment! What a disgrace! I can’t understand it. There must have been some confusion as to who was speaking in which room…
    And then, to make matters worse, the moderator or chairperson of my section cut me off in the crudest manner imaginable, just as I was on the next-to-last page of my paper. He informed me, in a loud, dis¬respectful voice, that my time was up. I explained to him –and I had to interrupt my own paper to do this, of course, and in front of everyone (thank goodness there were only three people in the audience to witness my humiliation)– I explained to him that I had only one more page to read. But this coarse individual closed his eyes, as if to erase my presence, to dismiss me –in that abominably supercilious manner so typical of the Brits– and merely repeated that my time was up. He even had the effrontery to add that he wanted to hear at least the end of that South American fellow’s paper. Incredible, isn’t it? The man looked like Nigel Bruce playing Dr. Watson, jowls and red nose and all. He stood up and said, in an annoyingly cheerful tone, “Too late. Terribly sorry, old chap. Ta.” Then he left, almost knocking me down in his haste. Well, you know how these Brits can be.
    There was still time for the question-and-answer period, even though the moderator practically trampled me as he left on his way to the South American’s talk. During this period I couldn’t help noticing that the three people in the audience were –it’s painful to think about– maintenance men, of all things! In overalls, with their brooms and mops and plungers and other tools… They were simply on their break and had sat down to rest for a while, nothing more. Still, one of them did take advantage of the question-and-answer session, and actually asked me a question. He said, idiotic Cockney accent and all, “Blimey, Gov’, you must do quite a bit o’ readin’, then, don’t you now?” My blood was boiling, but I limited myself to a dignified and laconic response. I said, “Yes, I do. Thank you.”

  • Looks interesting Clark – as long as you are ok with a rather indefinite timeline at the moment (the back-up on reviews is bad enough, but I’m also getting married in October which means that Fall will be rather busy), I’m happy to review the book. And just so I’m completely full-disclosure-ish about “indefinite”, if I don’t get to read/review it before mid-September, it probably won’t get done until November (wedding is early Oct, honeymoon is toward the end of Oct) and I would completely understand if you didn’t want to wait – your call entirely. Thanks for contacting me!

  • Well, first of all, let me send my best wishes to you and the groom for a long and happy life together! That’s great. // With regard to a review of the book at an indefinite time, but within 2011, it’s always better late than never. So, sure, I would like you to review the book when you can. Is the usual procedure for the publisher to send you a copy?

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