Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Best of 2016: A 5-Star Year in the Ruins

By the Numbers
This year I read 117 books (which is 1 more than last year), and abandoned 18 to the DNF pile (which is 2 less than last year). Of those, there were 13 perfect 5-star reads this year (which, I am pleased to say, is 2 more than last year).

At a quick glance, it looks like 39% were shelved as Fantasy and 31% as Horror (which is no great surprise), while a quick look back shows that 24% were written by women and 16% had some sort of LGBT content (which is reasonably diverse, but something I can probably improve on).

Most Popular Guests
We had the great pleasure of hosting nearly 40 different authors for guest posts or interviews this year, with the most read/visited being Rob J. Hayes, followed by Maya Lilly, Crymsyn Hart, and Gail Z. Martin.

When you consider that Rob's post was the most recent of the lot, putting it at a disadvantage of traffic over time, that's mighty impressive. Now, if I could just get caught up on my reading, I'll hopefully find time to catch a sunrise, start a fire, or loosen the ties that bind.

Most Popular Reviews
Going strictly by traffic to the Ruins, my review of The Wheel of Osheim by Mark Lawrence was by far the most popular, followed by Cthulhu Armageddon by C.T. Phipps.

Over on Goodreads, it was my reviews of City of Blades by Robert Jackson Bennett and Saint's Blood by Sebastien de Castell that were tied for most popular, while on Amazon it's Arcanum Unbounded: The Cosmere Collection by Brandon Sanderson.

Not surprisingly, all of the titles above all among this year's 5-star reads.

The Best of 2016
There are some familiar names amongst this year's 5-star reads, with Sebastien de Castell and Ken Liu making it for the second year in a row (Jeff Salyards managed that feat last year), while Brian Staveley, Mark Lawrence, and Brandon Sanderson all made it for the second time in the past 3 years.

I also have to give a definite WTF Friday nod to Bryce Calderwood for being the first author to score two 5-star reads in the same year! With books in both series still on my TBR list, I daresay it's a safe bet he'll be making the list again next year.

  • City of Blades by Robert Jackson Bennett was a book that hooked me from the first chapter and kept me reading at a frantic pace
  • The Last Mortal Bond by Brian Staveley was the perfect ending to a fantastic trilogy.
  • Saint's Blood by Sebastien de Castell was an emotional roller coaster that raises the bar impossibly high for the next book
  • The Wheel of Osheim by Mark Lawrence is, in my humble opinion, Mark's best book, hands down
  • Red Tide by Marc Turner marks a hide tide in a series that has just gotten stronger and more entertaining with each installment
  • One Good Turn by Bryce Calderwood is quite simply, a true masterpiece of erotic horror.
  • Sherlock Holmes and the Servants of Hell by Paul Kane was a carefully constructed story that honors the legacies of Doyle and Barker while adding something new
  • The Wall of Storms by Ken Liu is a sweeping, character-driven epic of cultural mythology that so very few authors could attempt, much less manage so successfully
  • In the Arms of Love: Futanari Meets Octogirl by Bryce Calderwood is a tale that crosses genres to create something truly memorable
  • Cthulhu Armageddon by C.T. Phipps is that rare book that delivers on multiple genres, and which should appeal to a wide audience
  • Dangerous Urges by Konrad Hartmann is is the very epitome of erotic horror, complete with the conflicting emotions the genre arouses, and distinguished by a narrative flair
  • The Librarians and The Lost Lamp by Greg Cox didn't just manage to meet my rather high expectations, but completely exceed them
  • Arcanum Unbounded: The Cosmere Collection by Brandon Sanderson is a collection that rewards the faithful with an even deeper understanding of his creations.

What's Next for 2017
As my wife will no doubt remind me, I've said this before, but for the new year I want to strike a better balance between shiny new ARCs and the dusty old paperbacks waiting on my shelves. There are so many series I want to catch up with - Carey, Coe, Downum, Haydon, Lackey, Modesitt, Weis, and Wurts most immediately come to mind - that I really want to get back to that old-school joy of reading.

Yes, there are some big titles coming out this year that I'm very excited about (look for my Most Anticipated post next week), but I am going to be far more selective about review requests.

The new year will see a renewed focus on the WTF Friday theme as well, something that I fell away from from a while, but which came back strong over the last few months. Along the same lines, I plan to publish more stories under my Foster Medina pseudonym, with the next release tentatively planned for early in the new year.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Non-Fiction Review: The Lost City of the Monkey God by Douglas Preston

The Lost City of the Monkey God is a fascinating look at the spectacle, the science, and the politics of twenty-first-century archaeology. In it, Douglas Preston deftly weaves a number of tales, both historic and contemporary, into a whole that is far more than the sum of its parts. Even when it veers into prolonged tangents on topics such as bananas, Preston manages to keep the reader enthralled and thirsty for knowledge.

A lot of this book is about spectacle and, despite the naysayers, spectacle has always been a huge part of science. Nobody wants to invest millions of dollars and risk their life on a boring journey to pick up something of negligible interest. Spectacle is what gets us excited, it's what drives us towards discovery, and it's what motives us to support and finance those discoveries. As Preston illustrates, that's not always a good thing - stories of con-men and liars abound here - but you can't sever the emotion from the intellectual pursuit. After all, no matter how interested they may be in the history and the scientific techniques, I daresay most readers will be picking this up primarily for the spectacle of a mythical lost city, hidden deep inside the deadly Honduran rain forest, filled with treasures not seen in over a thousand years.

As for the science, those who so casually dismiss The Lost City of the Monkey God because of the spectacle are doing themselves a massive disservice. There is a lot of science here, and it is utterly fascinating. I know more now than I ever wanted to about early cartography, radar/laser imaging, archaeological technique, and sheer logistics, but I don't regret a single page. It's mind-blowing to see how far we've come over the last century, and to understand just how complex (and expensive) the most cutting edge techniques are. As Preston illustrates time and time again, skepticism of anything new is still alive and well, even after all these years, with some people vehemently against the idea of using technology as an archaeological tool.

That brings us, of course, to the politics of it all. One the one level, there are the actual government-level politics of mounting an expedition, with permission, clearance, and licensing needed to even conduct a simple aerial search. More than once, we read of an expedition derailed at the last minute by the tides of war or political upheaval. On another level, there are the petty internal politics of the scientific community, with people completely discounting the expedition's accomplishments to make an esoteric intellectual point about process or to argue semantics. They would rather see such cities remain undiscovered, robbing the world of the chance to learn about a lost civilization, than have even one person be 'wrongly' entertained by the spectacle.

I should also add, in closing, that this is a book about consequences. Preston spends a lot of time talking about the dangers of the rainforest, recounting terrifying encounters with giant, venomous snakes, and disgusting battles with tiny, crawling, biting insects. He talks of diseases, deadly accidents, flash floods, and more, but everybody congratulates themselves on coming out of the expedition alive . . . until a deadly parasitic infection is discovered months later. As terrifying as nights in the rainforest might have been, it's watching people being eaten alive by parasites, suffering from treatments that are reserved only for patients who are at death's door, that reminds you of the price we pay for the knowledge we gain.

Hardcover, 304 pages
Expected publication: January 3rd 2017 by Grand Central Publishing

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary ARC of this title from the publisher in exchange for review consideration. This does not in any way affect the honesty or sincerity of my review.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

From the Shelf to the Page: This Week in the Ruins

In case you missed it, here's what happened in the Ruins this week . . .

Horror Review: All In Fear edited by May Peterson

Embers, Masks, and Guards: Catching up with the review pile

Horror and Romance guest post by Steve Berman

A Creative Dialog With Myself guest post by David B. Coe

Coming up this week . . . my annual Year In Review wrap-up of the best reads of the year.


Stacking The Shelves and Mailbox Monday are a pair of weekly memes that are about sharing the books that came your way over the past week, and which you've added to your shelves - whether they be physical or virtual, borrowed or bought, or for pleasure or review.

Okay, so I fell off the wagon a little bit this week and succumbed to a trio of review titles:

Mona Lisa's Secret by Phil Philips
I'm always up for a good treasure hunt adventure

Dragon Apocalypse: The Complete Collection by James Maxey
I loved the first book, so I'm excited to read through the rest of series

The King's Tournament by John Yeo
I couldn't resist a lusty centaur woman, a deformed lunatic, and a beautiful slave girl


The wife and I took a mini vacation last weekend, so we (of course) hit a few used bookstores along the way, stocking up on the likes of Sharon Green, L.E. Modesitt Jr., R.A. Salvatore, and Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman.

Armed with an Amazon gift certificate, Foster took advantage of the Cyber Monday sales and picked up a nice selection of potential WTF Friday reads.

The Book of a Thousand Sins by Wrath James White

Vamps: An erotic horror novel by Mawr Gorshin

Operation: Deep Nine by Alana Melos 

The Devil and Delilah by Alana Melos

The Queen of Swords by Alana Melos 


It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is another weekly meme, this time focused on what books are spending the most time in your hands and in your head, as opposed to what's been added to your shelf.

I have a few reads I've finished over the past couple of weeks that I need to get reviewed soon, but this week is a fresh dive into the review pile, with:

The Lost City of the Monkey God: A True Story by Douglas Preston
(the new season of Oak Island has me on a treasure kick, as you may have noticed)

(I've been sitting on this for a few weeks, but it's finally time to revisit Osten Ard)

Recluce Tales: Stories from the World of Recluce by L.E. Modesitt Jr.
(So far this is fantastic . . . such a diverse world of stories)

What's topping your shelves this week?

Friday, December 2, 2016

Horror Review: All In Fear edited by May Peterson

The introduction of All In Fear: A Collection of Six Horror Tales promises a "compilation of chilling horror stories from six of the top names in queer romance." While I felt it missed the mark on the terrifying side, and wasn't quite as titillating as I expected, there were still some exceptionally strong stories here that make it a worthy read.

'Company' by Roan Parrish was a creepy little tale, featuring a lonely teenager, his first real love, and a comic book obsession. While you never know whether Michel is a real threat or just a figment of Nick's imagination, Nathaniel's accidents do seems to suggest the former.

'Love Me True' by Kris Ripper was one of those stories where I saw the big twist coming very early on, but it does deliver on the titillation, and it had a very kinky Hitchcock type feel to it.

'The Price of Meat' by KJ Charles was probably the best written story in the collection, and the most engaging. It's period setting captured me from the start, with some great set pieces and a few fantastic characters. It also has the best payoff of all the stories.

'His Mouth Will Taste of Chernobyl' by Steve Berman was an interesting story with some Twilight Zone style promise, but it just felt too . . . well, thin for my tastes. The whole frat hazing didn't help (I've never understood that culture of bullying and torment), but I really expected more of a payoff from that mysterious flask.

'Legion: A Love Story' by Avon Gale was definitely the weirdest story here, told through journal entries, emails, browser histories, and voice recordings of a lone Marine, charged with observing a strange prisoner. The slow, gradual seduction of evil was very well done, and the ending was nicely creepy.

'Beauties' by J.A. Rock was a fascinating study of human behaviour, of nature versus nurture, and of the potential in artificial intelligence. It's a dark, sci-fi mystery, with a lot of tension, questions, and suggestions throughout. This one had twists aplenty, including a final scene that tops everything else in the collection.

More creepy and surreal than terrifying, and more suggestive than titillating, All In Fear was still a strong collection of well-told stories.

ebook, 245 pages
Published December 1st 2016 by Open Ink Press

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary ARC of this title from the publisher in exchange for review consideration. This does not in any way affect the honesty or sincerity of my review.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Embers, Masks, and Guards: Catching up with the review pile . . .

I used to feel bad about these catch-up posts, but I've actually come to like them. There's a definite appeal in getting straight to the point and talking about my reaction to the text. I also find they've freed me to read more, and that I'm enjoying more of what I read as a result, which is awesome.

Valley of Embers (The Landkist Saga #1) by Steven Kelliher
This was a book that wasted no time getting straight to the action, showing (as opposed to telling) the reader the dangers of The Valley. There's a lot of very cool world-building and info shared throughout, but it's all delivered via the story, free of info-dumps or long-winded lectures. This is a complex world of darkness and monsters, where fire itself is a legitimate magic. There's also an interesting history behind it all, a sort of post-apocalyptic high fantasy.

While the characters were nothing special, with only a few really standing out in my mind, there was nothing wrong with them. They were entirely serviceable, with both strengths and flaws, but I felt some of them could benefit from a little more personality. Similarly, their dialogue sometimes felt a little stilted or forced, without the easy rapport of natural conversation. The storytelling itself, though, was well done, with a style and a pacing that lends itself to a quick, easy read.

The Ruling Mask (The Grey City #3) by Neil McGarry & Daniel Ravipinto
When you're lucky, the second book in a series manages to top the first. When you're really lucky, the third book manages to top that. When you're really, really lucky . . . well, I don't want to put too much pressure on Neil and Daniel, but I like their chances. Although this is just as complex and deeply layered as the first two books, with the same strength of characterization, the interconnectedness is what puts it over the top. This is that keystone book where all the plotlines and mysteries start to come together, but somehow it never gets weighted down and actually has the best pacing of the series so far.

Duchess is quickly becoming one of my favorite characters in fantasy, a remarkable young woman who has finally stepped into her destiny with the Grey. With the city at war with itself, torn apart by political threats and religious fervor, the stakes are higher than they've ever been before. Fortunately, with this being the longest book in the series, there is plenty of time to explore all the ramifications of Duchess's plots (and those against her), giving characters like Jana and Lysander ample space to develop and play their own role in Rodaas. It's a busy, complex story, but one that gets its hooks into you early and never lets go.

The Black Guard (The Long War #1) by A.J. Smith
Although it does suffer from some pacing issues (a great start, a bit of a slog, a fantastic middle, and a rushed finale), this delivered on everything it promised. The storytelling was strong, and the world-building both deep and thorough. This isn't grimdark in any sense, but it is a realistic world where people have needs, where they get hurt, and where they need the escape of illicit pleasures.

It's become increasingly rare to find admirable, likeable protagonists in the genre, so it was refreshing to find them here. Smith's characters are largely what you would expect from a more traditional fantasy novel, with heroes who are (mostly) good and villains who are (mostly) bad. They're not perfect, so don't worry about clichés, but their flaws are subtle and reasonable. As for the magical element and the mythology, it's really exciting. At this point in my reading, I thought I'd seen just about everything in fantasy, but there are some cool twists and surprises here that make for a fun read.

I have to be honest. I like my epic fantasies to be big and deep. I like a heavy page counts, long chapters, and a large cast of characters. I want to get so immersed in the tale that I'm surprised at how much time has passed between looking up from the last chapter. This delivered.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Horror and Romance by Steve Berman (Guest Post)

Although I have always known him best as editor of such anthologies as Wilde Stories and Heiresses of RussSteve Berman is also an accomplished author in his own right. We chatted a bit about stopping by when I won a copy of Daughters of Frankenstein earlier this year, and it looks like the upcoming release of All in Fear (which I'll be reviewing later in the week) is just that opportunity.

Horror and Romance
by Steve Berman
author of His Mouth Will Taste of Chernobyl

A phrase from high school Latin class that has never left me is odi et amo, I hate and I love. There have been men that have made me mutter this under my breath. And the overlap of horror and romance demands this phrase be in the mind of the reader; even hardcore horror fans should have a visceral sense of anxiety, of looming pain and of loss. If the author has done the right thing, the reader will hate to have something terrible happen to favorite characters in the story. Romance is the flip-side of this; readers anticipate characters they have come to care for will find happiness through emotional and physical intimacy.

I know Freud has been relegated to the history of psychiatry rather than its practice, but part of his theory about the drives that motivate people resonates with me, especially when writing speculative fiction: the Eros instinct and the Thanatos instinct, arguably the libido and morbid fascination with mortality respectively. When writing stories with both horrific and romantic elements, it's important to remember that most of us ponder these two inclinations often throughout our lives. Our circumstances may make us prone to one more than the other (first dates should be falling under the Eros camp or else that is a very horrific tale about to happen). Tapping the reader's memory of love and lust and danger and death can provide a writer with a rich framework.  The lack of good judgment because infatuation clouds the mind. That moment when an inappropriate tryst could go horribly awry and who knows where you are?

And when I write horror, I am always aware of the bodies of the characters in the story. My comfortable means for exploring the Thanatos urge is to be cognizant that society places a great deal of importance on physical attractiveness and to twist that obsession. It's hard to tell an engaging romance with a rotting zombie because of this. Nicholas Hoult's character of R in the film Warm Bodies barely registers as undead because they knew women (and gay men) would not desire him if his gorgeous face was fIyblown and one of those pretty blue eyes had been plucked out by a crow. The movie became an action-adventure flick with hints of romance and the trappings of ghouls. If the love interest had been more fleshed-out (haha!) and put R back to together, piece by piece, I would have been smitten.

Reaching the end of a horror novel where the protagonist survives can be very reminiscent for emerging from a terrible relationship. Yes, the idea of abuse cannot be easily escaped. As an adolescent I was enthralled with the vampire's ability to beguile his victims. I envied this trait above all others because it allowed me to fantasize about seducing the high school boys that never knew I was gay. As an adult I realize that any coercion, supernatural or mundane, is an echo of rape culture. After experiencing terrible relationships, including years spent as a co-dependent, I became aware that consent is mandatory for me in my romance...unless I want to write a story with a young lead who is being tempted to walk a very dark and destructive path to fulfill his libido.

In my novelette  "His Mouth Will Taste of Chernobyl," a magic flask seems to offer the main character everything he could ever want. Unfortunately he's not very sure what he wants. And having the attention of some guys can lead to trouble. And it does. I actually rushed a fraternity for a terrible reason: I thought I was in love with one of the fraternity brothers. Even when he beat me up. Because he eventually apologized and he was incredibly charismatic and sexy and I was naive and he paid attention to me, on occasion. I remember spilling blood around him.

I'll continue to write my stories of men who find themselves is precarious positions, often because of bad choices. Sometimes the person on the other end of that late night call promising an unforgettable evening is just being romantic. Even when the directions sound off, the voice is too eager. And sometimes, well, pages later, the reader wishes they had never answered.


About the Author

Steve Berman loves to tell stories that are both queer and weird. He was a Zeta Psi back in his college days at and remembers being hazed. He survived and graduated and even earned a Masters Degree in Liberal Studies. He has written and sold over a hundred articles, essays, and short stories. His YA novel, Vintage, was a finalist for the Andre Norton Award.


About the Book

Want something a bit different for the holidays? Horror has never looked this enticing! New release, All in Fear, is a gorgeous collection of horror tales from some of the hottest names in queer fiction. Be prepared to be titillated...and terrified.

By KJ Charles, Roan Parrish, J.A. Rock, 
Steve Berman, Avon Gale, and Kris Ripper

Horror wears many faces, and its masks can be tantalizing. Some of the top names in queer fiction come together to spin their own versions of horror. Worlds rife with dark beauty and mystery, the familiar becoming terrible, creatures ethereal and alluring—and all bearing the gleam of love. Does hope lie along these grim passages or only doom? It will become clear. All in time—and all in fear.

Company by Roan Parrish
Nick Levy’s family is falling apart and he has no friends, but at least he can escape into the world of his favorite comic book series, The Face of the Vampire. Naturally, when the vampire in question shows up one day, Nick is enthralled. After all, what could be better than his own personal fantasy made real? Except that Nick isn’t exactly sure whether Michel is real or not. And when the arrival of a new boy in school promises romance, Nick sees a side of Michel he never could have imagined. This Michel is cruel, jealous . . . and he’ll do anything to keep Nick for himself.

Love Me True by Kris Ripper
Palmer's life is as good as it gets. Well, okay, so he hates his mind-numbing office job. But he's found a hot, smart, incredibly kinky guy. The sex is explosive. The power play is off the hook. And if he gets his way, Jon will soon be his husband.

When Palmer asks, Jon says yes. For the first time ever, Palmer thinks things might be really good. Sure, bad things happen in the world—to other people. But this is all he needs: Jon at the end of the day, in their bed, arms around him.

How could he have possibly been so stupid?

The Price of Meat by KJ Charles
Johanna Oakley will do anything to save her beloved Arabella from the cruelty of Mr Fogg’s madhouse—but ‘anything’ turns out to be more than she bargained for when she finds herself working for a man suspected of worse than murder. As Johanna is plunged from the horror of Sawney Reynard’s barber shop into the foul, lawless labyrinth at the heart of London, can she or anyone get out alive?

His Mouth Will Taste of Chernobyl by Steve Berman
Joining Zeta Psi isn’t Steve’s dream, it’s his dad’s. Nevertheless his dad’s gift of the mysterious Bailey flask gets Steve an in to the frat house, and maybe his best shot at being accepted on campus. But the flask’s silver sheen may only be lighting his way into the darkness at the heart of the frat—and the darkness he’s learning is within himself. Steve wants to choose who he is, but choices are dropping like flies as he learns the true mystery of the Bailey flask. How does he give back a gift that’s also a curse?

Legion: A Love Story by Avon Gale




Beauties by J.A. Rock
When Dr. Lester Usole attends an event at AI developer Carnificiality, he’s introduced to Beauties: artificial beings designed to provide tailored sexual experiences for their human owners. Lester isn’t interested in sex—but he is fascinated by Ira, a Beauty too violent to be sold.

Lester convinces Carnificiality to give Ira to him. Lester has always wanted the chance to work with an adult AI, and around Lester, Ira isn’t violent. He’s strangely innocent, uncannily perceptive, and his company does much to ease Lester’s loneliness. Except something’s not quite right: Ira roams at night, even when Lester’s sure he’s locked Ira’s door.

Soon Lester is certain of only one thing: Ira has a secret. Something that will link their pasts and change the course of their future—if Lester is willing to face what’s on the inside.

Learn more on Goodreads.

Order it now: Publisher’s Site  |  Amazon  |  B&N  |  ARe  |   Apple  |  Kobo

“An engaging anthology of queer fiction filled with monsters, mysteries, and menace.”  — Kirkus Reviews