Friday, July 31, 2015

Sex and Vampires by Alistair Cross (GUEST POST)

Sex and Vampires

Vampires have existed in our imaginations for hundreds of years, and whether they’re the hideous fanged walking corpses with ruddy complexions of early European beginnings, or the glamorous, hypnotically-beautiful creatures of current times, they fascinate us. The vampire trend has its peaks and valleys, but it never drops off the map; we’re drawn to the lore and the magic, the glamour and the gore of these mythical seducers … and I believe a lot of the vampire appeal comes from the sexual texture of their deeds.

Considering their nature, it’s hard to imagine these brutal beasties have earned their places in eroticism and romance at all, but this seems to be where they’ve found their home. It was likely John Polidori’s The Vampyre in 1819 that paved the way for sex appeal in vampirism. His vampire was fangless, young, and sexually attractive. Then, in 1871, Sheridan Le Fanu wrote Carmilla, who had an “unearthly pale beauty” and was overtly sexual with a penchant for the ladies, seducing them with her bite. These works of fiction established the sexual standard for the vampires of today and are certainly major precursors to Barnabas Collins, Lestat, and other undead sex-symbols of their kind.

At this point, it’s almost impossible to imagine an asexual vampire. They’ve become images of the forbidden - of eroticism and temptation - and this is how we like them. Plus, they get to be monsters, as well. We can only assume that the darkness and danger of the vampire is part of its sexual appeal.

When I began writing The Crimson Corset, I found myself torn between two opposing concepts. One was the idea that vampires are glamorous, sexual, seductive … and not entirely unlike the human beings they once were. The other idea was that vampires are bloodthirsty killers, parasites who guzzle down human blood in order to survive.

Struggling to establish the exact nature of my beasts, I ended up creating two sets of vampires that sat on opposite ends of the same spectrum: Those who have faith in humanity and believe it’s possible to coexist peaceably with their human counterparts, and those who believe themselves to be the dominant race, and are determined to rule humanity. I added a human protagonist, a young man named Cadence Colter with genetic rarity that would bridge the gap between the human and vampiric. And then I sent the vampires off to war, interested to see how each faction might respond to such a priceless treasure as Cade. Initially, I didn’t think about the sexual elements of this story at all, but it quickly became clear to me that vampires without sexuality wouldn’t work.

The vampires of The Crimson Corset - the villains, at least - use sexuality as part of their mind games and manipulations. Sex is an easy means of achieving their desired ends. It simply made sense to me that they’d use this ploy, probably because we, as humans, often make use our own sexuality. Whether we choose to give it much thought or not, sexuality is a powerful, creative energy, capable of as much creation as destruction. And no one knows how to utilize the power of sex like vampires do.

The very concept of vampirism bridges the gap between life and death, and at the core of life - of creation - is sex. For this reason, I quickly realized that sex not only had a place in The Crimson Corset, but was in fact, central to the story.

And I prefer my vampires with a little erotic appeal. Vampires are intriguing creatures that allow us to indulge so many forbidden fascinations, and why wouldn’t they? The concept of vampirism bridges the gaps between life and death, creation and destruction, power and corruption, sexuality and innocence. I believe the vampire genre will go on, ever-evolving, and I’m excited to see the ways it might change. But I’d be willing to bet they won’t stop being so damned sexy any time soon.


About the Author

Since his first publication with Damnation Books in 2012, Alistair Cross has authored the successful serial novel, The Ghosts of Ravencrest, as well as the Amazon Best Seller, The Cliffhouse Haunting with international bestselling author, Tamara Thorne.

Together, they host the popular Horror, Urban Fantasy, and Paranormal themed radio show, Thorne & Cross Haunted Nights LIVE!, which has included such guests as Chelsea Quinn Yarbro of the Saint-Germain vampire series, Charlaine Harris of the Southern Vampire Mysteries and basis of the HBO series, True Blood, Jeff Lindsay, author of the Dexter novels that inspired the hit television series, Jay Bonansinga of the Walking Dead series, Laurell K. Hamilton of the Anita Blake Vampire Hunter novels, and New York Times bestsellers Christopher Rice, Jonathan Maberry, and Christopher Moore.

You can visit Alistair Cross’ website at www.alistaircross.com.

Twitter: @crossalistair
Blog: http://alistaircross.wordpress.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AlistairCoss
Facebook Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/crossalistair
Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/jsascribes
Amazon: Author Page
Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/alistaircross/


About the Book

The Crimson Corset
Alistair Cross
Glass Apple Press
Urban Fantasy/Horror/Paranormal

Welcome to Crimson Cove

Sheltered by ancient redwoods, overlooking the California coast, the cozy village of Crimson Cove has it all: sophisticated retreats, fine dining, and a notorious nightclub, The Crimson Corset. It seems like a perfect place to relax and get close to nature. But not everything in Crimson Cove is natural.

When Cade Colter moves to town, he expects it to be peaceful to the point of boredom. But he quickly learns that after the sun sets and the fog rolls in, the little tourist town takes on a whole new kind of life – and death.

Darkness at the Edge of Town

Renowned for its wild parties and history of debauchery, The Crimson Corset looms on the edge of town, inviting patrons to sate their most depraved desires and slake their darkest thirsts. Proprietor Gretchen VanTreese has waited centuries to annihilate the Old World vampires on the other side of town and create a new race – a race that she alone will rule. When she realizes Cade Colter has the key that will unlock her plan, she begins laying an elaborate trap that will put everyone around him in mortal danger.

Blood Wars

The streets are running red with blood, and as violence and murder ravage the night, Cade must face the darkest forces inside himself, perhaps even abandon his own humanity, in order to protect what he loves.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Waiting on Wednesday: Irona 700 by Dave Duncan

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

Irona 700 by Dave Duncan
Expected publication: August 18th 2015 by Open Road Media

Fantasy at its most enchanting: An original and absorbing tale from a master storyteller about the profound effects of a single life on the battle against ultimate evil.

It is Midsummer Day, the beginning of the year 700, in the city of Benign. All the children born in the year 684 celebrate their joint sixteenth birthday by passing in front of the statue of the blind goddess Caprice—but only one will become the Chosen and join the Seventy who govern and guide the city.

Much to her surprise, Irona Matrinko, one of the many children of an impoverished fisherman, is chosen. Irona 700 moves into the palace and, with the help of a new mentor, recognizes and cultivates her great talent for guiding wars: strategy and tactics, leadership and inspiration.

As Irona gives her life to the city, an ancient enemy, Maleficence, attacks again and again, corrupting Irona’s friends, destroying her lover, and continually defeating her grandest plans for peace and harmony. Along the way, Irona becomes a masterful politician, a shrewd judge of character, and, even at great cost to her personal happiness, a true heroine.

Somehow, despite my best of intentions, I have yet to give Dave Duncan a read. I really have no excuse, especially since he's an adopted Canadian, but how better to help him celebrate the 60th anniversary of his arrival in Canada this week than by finally giving him a read.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Great Self-Published Fantasy Blog-off - The Penultimate Five

A week late but otherwise keeping to plan, I've had time to sit down and dedicate my reading to second-to-last batch of titles in the Great Self-Published Fantasy Blog-off.

To be as fair and consistent as possible with my evaluation, I didn't want to just sneak these in, one at a time, between other titles. My moods and tastes do change regularly, depending on what I've just read (and whether or not I enjoyed it), so ensuring a measure of consistency was key for me in my overall approach.

Once again, I committed to reading the first 50 pages (at a minimum) of each title, with the hope that one or more books in the batch would be strong enough to keep me reading right through the end. Once again, there were 2 titles that kept me engaged to the end.

K. Eric Mauser & Kevin Butterfield – Stormwalkers
This was a solid, thoroughly enjoyable read with a lot of potential for future volumes. It had an epic fantasy sense of scope, some significant hints at greater world-building, and some very nice character development. I was a bit concerned at first that this would prove to be another coming-of-age tale, but it progresses at a good pace, skips over the scenes of tedium and boredom that are often substituted for 'character building, and focuses on the significant moments of Konal's life.

The copyright page indicates this was initially published in 1997, and it shows - mostly in a good way. It has a classic 80s/90s fantasy feel to it, not quite cheesy, but certainly enamored of the genre's most hearty tropes. Where the book floundered a bit for me was in its pacing. After a stellar, raucous opening, full of action and gorgeous magic, it pulls back, leaving the core plot for the second half. There are also a few early info-dumps that I found a little unwieldy, especially with the grand speeches and moments of awkward exposition, but that settles down before the end.

James Latimer – The Winter Warrior
This one, I'm afraid, just didn't grab me. It certainly has promise, and might appeal very much to a different reader, but it just fell flat for me. I didn't find myself warming up to the hero, which is important when the story begins with a mission of revenge, and I felt like too much of the bigger story and overall background was being help in reserve. It might all balance out and become clear before the end, but it just wasn't enough to

Brad Williams – Chadwick Yates and the Cannibal Shrine
Damn, but this was a lot of fun. It feels a bit lighter than I expected, and too often holds back from going all-out with the action and the drama, but has that episodic feel of an old adventure serial. As Brad himself says in the introduction, he has "written a story series to optimize both scope and action." This is a fast paced, rollicking read, and even if that comes at the expense of some character building at times, there's so much imagination you don't even notice.

Ironically, for such a fun bit of pulp, the story does get rather heavy-handed at times. It's not enough to derail the story, and it does serve to establish Yates' character, but it sometimes comes across as a bit too much. The world-building is solid, the narrative itself makes for a very easy, free-flowing read, and the characters are perfect for the tale - noble, heroic, and larger-than-life, but neither perfect nor infallible.

CV Dreesman – The Marksmith
I had a hard time getting into this, and an even harder time sticking with it. It felt rough and disjointed, almost like a first or second draft that needs an editor's touch to help smooth the flow and introduce some narrative bridges. It all just felt very abrupt, even confusing at times, and there wasn't enough character development early on to make me care enough about them to continue on.

Jay Swanson – Into the Nanten
I have to give Swanson full credit for the ambitious nature of his project. This novel was originally blogged in a 'live' format, as if the narrator were capturing his thoughts and experiences in a journal each night. It really sells that feel of a classic travelogue - which is either a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your tastes. Personally, that format just doesn't work. I like to get immersed in a story, to get lost in the narrative, and being bombarded by a series of single-page journal entries tends to wear on my patience. I liked what was there, and I can't deny the creative effort or the quality of writing behind it, but the format was a deal-breaker.

CONCLUSION: I'm torn on this one. I enjoyed both completed reads from this batch, and would recommend them without reservation. Ultimately, however, I think I have to go with the depth of substance over the flash of style and name Stormwalkers my winner this time out. There's a lot going on there, and a lot to draw in a new reader. Even if one or two aspects don't work, there are more than enough that do to balance it out and make for a compelling read.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Fantasy Review: Fool's Quest by Robin Hobb

At one time, the second (or middle) book of a trilogy was a thing to be dreaded - a book to be endured as a necessary sort of narrative bridge, with the built-in expectation that any lack of enjoyment is to be tempered by anticipation for the concluding book to follow. While there have been a few 'new' authors (such as Jeff Salyards and Sebastien de Castell) who have bucked that trend, I really didn't expect the same from an established author like Robin Hobb. After all, her style and her writing are already polished, and she had her growth/development moments almost 20 years and 20 books ago.

Whether or not Fool's Assassin was a stumble depends on who you ask, but I had serious issues with the pacing, the characters, and a few of the core plot elements. It was one of my most disappointing reads of last year, and almost soured me on the whole Realms of the Elderlings saga. Hobb had a serious uphill battle for my appreciation going into the second/middle book of this series, and I tempered my expectations accordingly. So, you can imagine my surprise when Fool's Quest not only proved to be a return to form, it even resolved enough aspects of the first book to make me rethink it and adjust my appreciation for it.

Fool's Quest is an absolutely brilliant book that works perfectly on all levels. It takes the story that was introduced in the first volume, builds upon it, develops it, and sheds new light on what has gone before. More than that, it's also takes the story that was told in the first two trilogies and develops it in some surprising (but welcome) directions. I won't spoil the moment by providing any sort of context, but if you aren't overcome with emotion when Fitz says "The roar of acclaim broke over me like a wave," then you haven't been paying attention to the sacrifices he's made throughout the series.

One of my primary complaints about the first book was that Fitz wasn't himself, and barely resembled the hero I remembered. Hobb tackles that issue head-on here and has Fitz himself acknowledge how far he's strayed under the guise of Tom Badgerlock. It should come as no surprise that he blames himself for the tragedy that struck Withywoods in the first book, and his prolonged period of self-doubt and mourning is just long enough to sweeten the moment when he decides to climb out of his self-pity, take control, and do something about what's happened. He's not quite the nimble assassin of old by the end of this book, but that's okay because he's something better and wiser . . . more patient and more restrained.

Similarly, Chade comes very much to resemble his old self here, and the evolution of his relationship with Fitz is a cornerstone of the novel. Early on, he helps Fitz become acclimatized to life back in Buckkeep Castle, even going so far as to give him some spy duties that serve as both an important aspect of the plot and a nice touch of nostalgia for readers. That relationship changes over the course of the story, however, as we come to understand how much Chade has lost and how much life out of the shadows has changed him. Their roles aren't completely reversed by the end, but Fitz definitely does get the opportunity to step up and do his old mentor proud.

As for the other cornerstone here, I won't lie when I say that I loved every scene with the Fool. Here is a scarred, broken, damaged man, one who has been robbed of everything from his sense of purpose to his sense of future. He's come to Fitz for help, for protection, and for revenge. He's so terrified and so vulnerable that we get to experience another role relationship reversal between him and Fitz. The Fool grows as he heals, prompted by his own desire for revenge, by a surprising revelation regarding young Bee, and by his experimentation with a dangerous cure. His scenes are emotionally exhausting - as they should be - and he proves to be just as stubborn and obsessed as Fitz or Chade could ever be. As Fitz comments at one point, "You are you. Fool, Lord Golden, Amber, and Beloved. You are you, and we know each other as well as any two people can." Everything they've shared, encountered, and done for one another has weight in this novel, casting shadows and coloring every decision that's made.

I complained that the first book felt like an extended prologue of over 500 pages (followed by an opening chapter of about 80), but the story here returns to the pace we're accustomed to with Hobb. That's so say that there are still prolonged long lulls, filled with a lot of talk and a great deal of self-doubt and introspection, but there are also significant moments of action throughout. Things happen here, pushing the story forward, and bringing our characters together. Some of those scenes are small and intimate, while others are more sweeping, but they all work. This is a book that I found myself excited about, from beginning to end, never once lamenting those lulls to build character or reveal the truth behind schemes and actions. It was glorious to properly return to Buckkeep, but I also enjoyed our visits back to Withywoods. More than all that, though, I enjoyed our trips through the Stones the most, especially as they take us to some surprising (and nostalgic) places in the concluding chapters.

Fool's Quest isn't just a return to form for Fitz, Chade, and the Fool, it's a return to form for Hobb herself. This is precisely the kind of novel we were all expecting from the opening chapter of The Fitz and The Fool Trilogy, and it has me ridiculously anxious to read the next. The pacing is perfect, the characters ring true, and the world building continues in some delightfully surprising ways. There's a lot of intimate, personal conflict here, and I really wondered how she would resolve it all, but the final chapters are some of the most satisfying she's ever written - and that includes the agonizing cliffhanger we've come to expect.

Hardcover, 768 pages
Expected publication: August 11th 2015 by Del Rey

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 honest review.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

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

With my father passing this week, I haven't been around much or really given much thought to the blog, but I did offer up a brief memorial post in his honor; ran a Waiting on Wednesday feature that I had scheduled last week; and wrote up a few quick WTF Friday Reviews late last night (more as a distraction than anything else).


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.

Having spent the last 6 weeks watching my father waste away, and having begun the whole grieving process last week, I'm giving serious thought to my priorities - both on the page and off. I'll never stop reading or reviewing, but I suspect there will be some significant changes to my approach. I think (no, I know) I've often been guilty of reading first and living second, and I owe it to my family and to my sons to reverse that trend.

On that note, I'm likely going to be closing the door to review submissions, but there will always be titles that I request myself. One request that came through this past week was:

King of the Bastards
by Brian Keene and Steven L. Shrewsbury

Part sword and sorcery, part extreme horror, King of the Bastards is wild adventure across seas, beaches, and mountains full of horrifying monstrosities, dark magic, and demonic entities.

Rogan has been many things in his life as an adventurer — a barbarian, a thief, a buccaneer, a rogue, a lover, a reaver, and most recently, a king. Now, this prehistoric bane of wizards and tyrants finds himself without a kingdom, lost in a terrifying new world, and fighting for his life against pirates, zombies, and the demonic entity known as Meeble. And even if he defeats his foes, Rogan must still find a way to return home, regain his throne, save his loved ones, and remind everyone why he's the KING OF THE BASTARDS.


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 did finish reading Fool's Quest by Robin Hobb the night before dad passed, but I haven't had the motivation to sit down and give it a proper review. Hopefully I can manage that sometime this week, but I can tell you that I loved it, and that it's given me a new appreciation for the first book.

With all that's happened, I've still really only scratched the surface of Twelve Kings in Sharakhai by Bradley P. Beaulieu, but that's one I'm looking forward to really getting into when I feel like I can sit down, focus, and enjoy the read.

About the only other thing on my immediate radar is The 3rd Woman by Jonathan Freedland, which I'm scheduled to review next weekend as part of a promotional tour. I haven't started it yet, and I'm a little worried about whether or not I can make that tour stop commitment, but we'll see how it goes.

Well, that's it for now. My son wants to duel with inflatable lightsabers, and I can't say 'no' to that.

What's topping your shelves this week?

Friday, July 24, 2015

WTF Friday: Sorcerers, Succubi, and Space Aliens, Oh My!

Every once in a while, as the mood strikes me, I like to indulge in those titles that are a bit odd . . . a bit different . . . a bit bizarre . . . and a bit freaky. These are books that don't get a lot of press, and which rarely get any retail shelf space.

They're often an underground of sort of literature, best shared through guilty whispers, and often with embarrassed grins. These are our WTF Friday reads!

It's been an extraordinarily long, exhausting, emotional week, so I just kind of zoned out tonight and amused myself with some offbeat (and obscene) shorter titles that I didn't need to think too much about.

Fifty Shades of Greyskull is billed as The True Story of How He Became She-Man. As erotic fan-fiction goes, this has got be about as close to the line as you can get without straying into copyright infringement. It's actually rather clever (if more than just a bit juvenile) in the way it plays with the names and characters we all remember so fondly, but it's a lot of fun.

K.T. Savage introduces us to an era where He-Man and the Masterbators of the Universe have long since vanquished the evil Skelet-whore, allowing the planet Cliternia to live in peace. Prince Adam has hooked up with Teetla, daughter of the Sorceress, but has grown bored without a greater purpose. When some kinky sex goes wrong, killing Teetla, the Sorceress curses him to become She-Man . . . and reveals that the only cure is to selflessly sacrifice himself to the lust of Skelet-whore.

Like I said, it's a decent little story that really has fun playing with the iconic cast of characters. Definitely not fit for after-school cartoons, but it's nice to see the bad guys finally get their due.

Kindle Edition, 22 pages
Published February 16th 2015

I Married a Galaxy-Conquering Alien Space Monstrosity is actually a far more enjoyable book than the b-movie title and cover would have you believe. Yes, its erotic and bizarre, but it's also amusingly self-aware, and it embodies Ian Saul Whitcomb's sincere love for the sci-fi genre.

This is a parody of multiple science fiction tropes, most notably those involving alien abductions and unnecessary probing. There's a touch of Star Trek here, along with some perversions of the Alien chest-busters, but it's the level of detail invested in the four-breasted, hermaphroditic Xh'stuk'tes'shei that really puts it over the top.

Here, sex is an act of war . . . a means towards a genocidal end . . . but it does seem like a stellar way to go. Vicky is very much the kind of ageless, godlike alien villainess you'd expect to see in Star Trek, kind of a very NSFW 'Q' released from her prison, and Cale is the lucky man who gets to carry on something of the human race. The sex is extremely inventive and deliberately confusing, but there's a sense of romance and a theme of love that underpins it all.

Kindle Edition, 48 pages
Published September 27th 2014 by Wobbly Cockatrice Productions

Triangulum Stain is pure b-grade schlock, a literary science fiction cheese-fest about an interstellar Attack of the Replicating Alien Dildos. Moctezuma Johnson really plays with the tropes of alien invasion, Area 51, government conspiracies, and the Men in Black, giving it all a sexually subversive spin.

The plot here is pretty straightforward, without any attempt to explain the 'how' or 'why' behind it all. Aliens have infected a small town with a bizarre new STD that drives everyone mad with lust and breeds sentient dildos from the seeds of men. It's silly and completely over-the-top, but it's fun. We get to see the captive action inside an Area 51 type secret lab, along with the wide-scale chaos of a town overcome by alien dildos, with the Women in Black coming to wrestle those alien toys into submission.

There are a few flaws here. A few too many scenes are quickly explained away with the equivalent of a narrator bridging commercial breaks, we don't get those 'how' and 'why' questions answered, and the whole thing just sort of stops with only a suggestion of an end, but it's a read that manages to be both funny and sexy, often at the same time, with tongue planted firmly in cheek (not to mention other places).

Kindle Edition, 54 pages
Published April 3rd 2014 by Girls Carrying Books

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Please excuse my absence . . .

The world lost a great man today, a father, a husband, a grandfather, and a friend. I learned everything I know about being a man and a father from him. 

I'm a better person because of him.

Rest in peace, Dad.

Niagara Falls Obituaries - Robert 'Bob' Milne

While I have a scheduled post or two set up for the coming week, I don't expect to be around much to comment, much less organize my thoughts for a review.

I will be back, I just need some time . . .

Waiting on Wednesday: Children of Earth and Sky by Guy Gavriel Kay

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

Children of Earth and Sky by Guy Gavriel Kay
Expected publication: April 5h 2016 by Penguin Canada

The bestselling author of the groundbreaking novels Under Heaven and River of Stars, Guy Gavriel Kay is back with a new novel, Children of Earth and Sky, set in a world inspired by the conflicts and dramas of Renaissance Europe. Against this tumultuous backdrop the lives of men and women unfold on the borderlands—where empires and faiths collide.

From the small coastal town of Senjan, notorious for its pirates, a young woman sets out to find vengeance for her lost family. That same spring, from the wealthy city-state of Seressa, famous for its canals and lagoon, come two very different people: a young artist traveling to the dangerous east to paint the grand khalif at his request—and possibly to do more—and a fiercely intelligent, angry woman, posing as a doctor’s wife, but sent by Seressa as a spy.

The trading ship that carries them is commanded by the accomplished younger son of a merchant family, ambivalent about the life he’s been born to live. And farther east a boy trains to become a soldier in the elite infantry of the khalif—to win glory in the war everyone knows is coming.

As these lives entwine, their fates—and those of many others—will hang in the balance, when the khalif sends out his massive army to take the great fortress that is the gateway to the western world…

GGK began teasing the title of his next release a while ago, but it was just last week that we got our first look at the cover and full blurb. Let's face it, new GGK is always a cause for celebration, but this truly does sound fantastic.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

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

A busy (and very popular) week in the Ruins, with some guests, our WOW feature, and a pair of reviews:

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.

While I haven't abandoned my cold turkey resolution to requesting any new review titles, some surprise titles landed on my doorstop, and a pair of ARCs became available that I already sort of accounted for, taking it for granted that they'd find their way to me.

First up, the gang at Skyhorse Publishing were very good to me this week, sending along finished copies of Shower of Stones by Zachary Jernigan (which I reviewed last month) and The Dangerous Type by Loren Rhoads (which I also reviewed last month).

Solomon's Arrow by J. Dalton Jennings is a novel I already had as an ARC, but I'm sure having a finished copy on-hand will push me to get it read a bit more quickly - especially since it has such a kick-ass cover. It looks (and sounds) to have a bit of a Battlestar Galactica influence, but with enough of a twist to keep it original.

New to me in this batch was a print ARC of Bat out of Hell: An Eco-Thriller by Alan Gold, which sounds right up my alley. A bat-borne illness with a 100% fatality rate sets up a conflict between UN scientists who are prepared to kill off the species, animal rights activists who disapprove of the genocide, a madman who would rather kill government officials than see one bat die, and terrified members of the public who soon turn to vigilantism.

Empire Ascendant (Worldbreaker Saga, #2)
by Kameron Hurley

When the dark star of the cataclysm ascends, one empire will rise... and many will perish.

Every two thousand years, the dark star Oma appears in the night sky, bringing with it a tide of death and destruction. Tattered rifts open between worlds; great empires are born, and mighty rulers die. Whole nations succumb to madness. And those who survive must contend with friends and enemies newly imbued with bloody powers.

The kingdom of Saiduan already lies in ruin, decimated by invaders from another world who share the faces of those they seek to destroy.  Now the nation of Dhai is under siege by the same force. Their only hope for survival lies in the hands of an illegitimate ruler warring with his consort and former lover for control of the nation's allegiance.

As the foreign Empire spreads across the world like a disease, one of their former allies takes up her own Empress's sword again to unseat them, and two enslaved scholars begin a treacherous journey home with what they hope is the key to the Empire's undoing.

But when the enemy you must overcome shares your own face, who can be trusted?

The Dragon Engine (The Blood Dragon Empire, #1)
by Andy Remic

Five noble war heroes of Vagandrak get drunk one night and sign a contract – to journey to the Karamakkos in search of the Five Havens where, it is written, there is untold, abandoned wealth and, more importantly, the three Dragon Heads – jewels claimed to give unspeakable power and everlasting life to those who wield them.

But the Dragon Heads aren't what they think, and the world has not encountered their like in generations!

Think Smaug was fierce? You ain't seen nothing!

I also indulged myself in a few weird, twisted, completely inappropriate purchases this week. It's been an incredibly stressful, emotional few months (for multiple reasons), so I decided to throw caution to the wind and audition a few potential WTF Friday reads.
  • The Atomic Eight Inches by M. L. Ginger sounds bat-shit crazy, with a mad scientist, a nuclear powered penile prosthetic, terrorists, and a rogue secret agent. 
  • Goddess of Sands by Leona D. Reish is billed as an erotic archaeological adventure, set in a harsh desert where monsters mingle with mankind.
  • Straight to Video by Kent Hill sounds like exactly what you'd expect from An Anthology of B Movie Awesomeness that's nostalgic for an era of ‘so bad its good' movies.
  • Operation: Thrustmaster by Alana Melos sounds absolutely ludicrous, with a sexy siren, a brutal dominatrix, sultry secret agents, exciting fight scenes, and a jet chase.


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've really only scratched the surface of Twelve Kings in Sharakhai by Bradley P. Beaulieu, so I can't say too much about it yet, but the opening chapters are solid action, and it's long since time I finally gave Bradley a read.

As for Fool's Quest by Robin Hobb . . . what can I say, other than "WOW." It's no secret that I had issues with the first book, but this one is downright perfect so far. I am so well-and-truly hooked, and while I won't spoil anything, I will say it's done a lot to redeem/explain that first book.

On the personal front, I'm still working on Forge of Darkness by Steven Erikson (deep, dark, heavy stuff - but fascinating, as always), and I'm still enjoying 77 Shadow Street by Dean Koontz (an odd mix of haunted-house horror and in-depth character studies).

On top of all that, as if there already weren't enough hours in the day, I'm almost through the penultimate batch of titles for the Great Self-Published Fantasy Blog-off. Watch for an update coming later in the month.

What's topping your shelves this week?

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Imposter Syndrome By Jason Sizemore (Guest Post)

In a 2012 commencement speech to the University of the Arts of Philadelphia graduating class, Neil Gaiman shared a charming anecdote regarding the “fraud police.” In these awful visions, he pictured a stern man with a clipboard coming to his door. The man was there to tell him it was all over, they’d caught up with him, and Neil would have to get a real job—a job that involved him not writing to make a living, but getting up early every morning, putting on a suit tie, and going out in the world to work.

Think about that for a moment.

Neil Gaiman has won the Hugo, Nebula, Newberry, Carnegie, Stoker, and numerous other awards. He has sold millions of books. The guy is married to a rock star. Yet, he admits to imposter syndrome.

Don’t worry, Neil. I suffer from the same affliction.

For Exposure: The Life and Times of a Small Press Publisher is my second book. It’s a creative nonfiction book that covers the first ten years of my experiences running Apex Publications. But that’s the rub, I’ve always seen myself as a publisher/editor first, and a struggling writer second. I keep waiting for the review or critical analysis that lowers the hammer on my meager attempts to put sentences to paper. One day the fraud police will show up on my doorstep and put an end to this grand adventure.

Despite that nagging anxiety, I refuse to let it stop my pursuit of fame and fortune. As Neil Gaiman says in his commencement address, even during the times of failure, he never quit. He was doing what he loved, and he committed himself to being a success. Neil tapped into a well of personal satisfaction that fed his confidence (this is my interpretation, not Neil’s direct quote) and eventually his talent shone through.

Few in the world have the talent that Neil Gaiman possesses. But there is a lesson for everyone to take home. Set goals and don’t let personal doubt stop you from your dreams.

Ten years ago, I languished in a dead end I/T job for a group of accountants. I hated the professional direction of my life. When I made the decision to start a small press, a great many doubted me. And many times, they appeared to be correct in their assessments. Failure after failure piled up.

Ten years later, I’ve come to realize that failures are lessons. You take your lumps, you assess, and you revise your strategy. By doing this every time it looked like I failed, Apex has reached a point where I am able to do the thing I love as a full time job: publish, edit, and write.

For Exposure lists some of the more egregious failures Apex has faced. It also lists some of the more unusual experiences I’ve lived through. For example, did you know that a honey baked ham goes well with an orgy?

See? You live, you fail, you learn.


About the Author

Born the son of an unemployed coal miner in a tiny Kentucky Appalachian villa named Big Creek (population 400), Jason fought his way out of the hills to the big city of Lexington. He attended Transylvania University (a real school with its own vampire legend) and received a degree in computer science. Since 2005, he has owned and operated Apex Publications. He is the editor of five anthologies, author of Irredeemable, a three-time Hugo Award loser, an occasional writer, who can usually be found wandering the halls of hotel conventions seeking friends and free food. Visit him online at http://www.jason-sizemore.com.


About the Book

For Exposure: The Life and Times of a Small Press Publisher

Paperback, 182 pages
Apex Publications
ISBN 978-1937009304

What does it take to become a Hugo and Stoker Award-nominated editor and publisher? Follow Jason Sizemore’s unconventional professional path as it winds through a tiny, overheated Baptist church deep within the coal fields of Appalachia, Kentucky, past a busted printer and a self-serving boss that triggered an early mid-life crisis and the epiphany that he should open a magazine spreading the gospel of science fiction to the masses, all the way to WorldCon 2012 and his first Hugo Awards ceremony.

In this collection of semi-true and sometimes humorous essays, Jason exposes the parties, people, and triumphs that shaped him into the Apex Overlord. He also lays bare the hardships and failures that have threatened to take it all away. Meet Thong Girl, heed the warning about the ham, receive rest stop bathroom wisdom, and visit an emergency room straight out of a horror movie in this extraordinary account of life as a publisher and editor.

With rebuttal essays from Maurice Broaddus, Monica Valentinelli, Lesley Conner, and more, For Exposure tells Jason’s story with insight from key players along his road to success. It is a comprehensive and frank look at what Apex and the genre publishing business is about. Take a shot with the publisher, dance the night away, and become a legend. And do it all For Exposure.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Waiting on Wednesday: The Dragon Engine by Andy Remic

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

The Dragon Engine by Andy Remic 
Expected publication: September 1st 2015 by Angry Robot 

Five noble war heroes of Vagandrak get drunk one night and sign a contract – to journey to the Karamakkos in search of the Five Havens where, it is written, there is untold, abandoned wealth and, more importantly, the three Dragon Heads – jewels claimed to give unspeakable power and everlasting life to those who wield them.

But the Dragon Heads aren't what they think, and the world has not encountered their like in generations!

Think Smaug was fierce? You ain't seen nothing!

While I already had this on my most-anticipated list for 2015, last week's reveal of the cover pushed my excitement to 11 and turned a must-read into a give-me-the-book-now-and-nobody-gets-hurt title! The Dragon Engine (and it's follow-up, Twilight of the Dragons) are set in the same world as The Iron Wolves and The White Towers, which I enjoyed immensely, and Remic himself has said "these books will hit new levels in fantasy violence and anti-heroic depravity."

Update: Self-imposed ARC ban be damned . . . just downloaded the ARC. :)

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Birthright by E.J. Stevens Release Day Party and Giveaway

Today we are celebrating the release of BIRTHRIGHT, the fourth full-length novel in the award-winning Ivy Granger urban fantasy series by E.J. Stevens.  We have a special book excerpt, commenter prizes, and a HUGE swag giveaway.  So grab a cupcake and some punch.  It's time to party!

Birthright (Ivy Granger #4)
by E.J. Stevens

Being a faerie princess isn't all it's cracked up to be...

Ivy must go to Faerie, but the gateway to the Wisp Court is through Tech Duinn, the house of Donn—Celtic god of the dead. Just her luck.

Unable to share her secret with Jinx, and with Jenna called away on Hunters' Guild business, Ivy must rely on Ceff and Torn to lead her to Death's door, literally, and back again. As if that wasn't dangerous enough, there's no saying what horrors lay in store within the Faerie realm. Too bad the Wisp Court is the one lead Ivy has in the search for her father—and possible salvation.

Maybe hiding away and dodging sidhe assassins isn't so bad after all...

Release Date:  July 14, 2015
Genre:  Paranormal, Urban Fantasy

Now available (ebook/trade paperback) at
Amazon, Amazon.uk, Kobo, iTunes, and other fine retailers.

Add Birthright to your TBR list:
Goodreads | Booklikes | Shelfari | LibraryThing


Birthright Book Excerpt

     Wisps buzzed through the air, their musical humming rising in pitch as they darted in for a closer look.  I sat on the mossy embankment and smiled, watching the playful wisps.

     With my father’s key helping to guide us, we’d left the deadly bog and its poisonous gas behind.  I breathed deeply, and let out a happy sigh.

     “I don’t know what you’re so happy about,” Torn said, shaking water from his hair.  “We’re covered in mud and smell like troll farts.”

     It was true.  The sulfurous swamp gasses did smell an awful lot like something that would come out of Marvin after he ate an entire cauldron of Kaye’s chili, but I didn’t care.  We were alive.  And so far, my wisp brethren weren’t trying to kill me.

     I’m not sure what it said about my life that the lack of fratricide upon my homecoming made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.  Probably best not to think too much about it, and just enjoy the moment.

     I shrugged, and kept on smiling.

     “Well don’t get too comfortable, Fish Breath is on his way over with his pensive face,” Torn said.

     He stalked off to sit on a rock a few paces away, but I shrugged again and closed my eyes, turning my face to the moon and stars above us.  I wasn’t going to let Torn ruin this moment.

     “Are you feeling well?” Ceff asked, settling on the mossy ground beside me.

     I cracked an eye open, grinning from ear to ear.

     “I feel great, never better,” I said.  In fact, I felt a bit dizzy and my lips tingled, like I’d had too much to drink.  Only I would get buzzed off the buzzing of wisps.  “Just buzzed off the buzzing.”

     I hiccupped, and giggled, the laugh coming out in an undignified snort that startled the nearest wisps.

     “Are you sure that you are not angry, or afraid?” he asked.

     I forced myself to look up into Ceff’s face.  His head was titled to the side, as if listening for something, but his attention was focused solely on me.

     “I’m fiiine, really,” I said, waving a hand.  My eyes widened, and I let out another giggle.  “I’m glowing.”

     “Which is probably what has his highness’ panties in a bunch,” Torn said, coming over to tower above me, arms crossed.  “There is something weird about seeing you smile like that, especially when you’re glowing.”

     “What?” I asked.  “I smile.”

     “Almost never, and when you do, it’s usually because you’re killing something,” he said.  “Not that I’m judging.  I’m just saying Fish Breath has a point.  You’re different.”

     “She is high on power,” Ceff said, eyes going tight.  “I should have recognized the signs sooner, but I was focused on our flight through the bog, and then with releasing the water magic that held our
masks together.”

     “You think it’s the wisps?” Torn asked.

     “That would be my guess,” Ceff said, rubbing his jaw.

     “This didn’t happen after our run in with those wisps in Ocean Overlook cemetery, did it?” Torn asked.

     “No,” Ceff said.  “Not that we noticed.  But Ivy was badly wounded that night, and took days to recover consciousness.  And…I…I was not at my most attentive.”

     That was the night that I’d killed his ex-wife.  Melusine may have been the raging psychotic bitch who’d murdered his children, and tried to kill us as well, but that didn’t mean her death had been easy on Ceff.

     The memory of Ceff’s grief flooded me, pushing the giddiness away.

     “I think…I think I’m back to normal now,” I said.  I yawned, covering my mouth with the back of my gloved hand.  Ignoring the encroaching bone deep fatigue, I tried to pull myself to my feet, but
sank back down when a wave of dizziness nearly toppled me over.  “I just need a minute.”

     “You are exhausted,” Ceff said, brow wrinkling.  “Rest here.  I will keep first watch.”

     “But my father’s court…” I said, but my words were cut short by another yawn.

     “Will still be there tomorrow,” Torn said.

     “Plus, I can scout ahead while you sleep,” Ceff said.  “We will make better progress if we are rested and certain of the path ahead.”

     “Fine,” I said, eyes fluttering closed.  “But just a quick nap.”

     The last thing I saw, before losing myself to the darkness of sleep, was a cloud of wisps hovering over me, lending me their warmth…and their power.


Birthright Release Day Giveaway

We are giving away a BIRTHRIGHT t-shirt, button, signed postcard, and mini poster to one lucky winner!

To enter, please use the Rafflecopter form below.  This giveaway is INTERNATIONAL. Giveaway ends August 4, 2015.

Thank you all for partying with us!

In addition to the huge swag pack giveaway, we are also giving away Ivy Granger series stickers, buttons, and signed postcards.  Each tweet, FB post, and blog comment using the hashtag #BirthrightParty will count as an entry.  Winners will be randomly selected throughout the day.  So party with us and spread the word all day July 14th for a second chance to win!

Monday, July 13, 2015

Fantasy Review: The Dinosaur Lords by Victor Milán

Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this title from the publisher in exchange for review consideration. While I make every attempt to avoid spoilers, please be aware that an ARC synopsis, press release, or review request may disclose details that are not revealed in the published cover blurb.

I first became aware of The Dinosaur Lords back in November of last year. Once I got wind from Victor Milán that ARCs were appearing in the wild, I began (politely) begging for an ARC in April of this year - and Tor Books were quick to oblige. As you can guess, I pretty much devoured it the week that it arrived, but I sat on my review until now, having been asked to wait until closer to the release date.

What we get here is exactly what the cover blurb promises - an historical fantasy, with all the religious and political conflicts of 14th century Europe, told with both brilliant snark and violent flair, regaling the reader with the exploits of dinosaur-mounted knights. Yes, you read that right, armored knights riding into combat atop armored dinosaurs, themselves selectively bred for battle. It sounds impossibly awesome, almost too good to be true, but Milán completely pulls it off.

Before I get into the story itself, let me just talk for a moment about how this is presented. Each chapter begins with a gorgeous woodcut style illustration, presenting the reader with a starkly beautiful 14th century rendering of a dinosaur, complete with armor and rider. Accompanying each illustration is an entry from The Book of True Names, providing the common name, scientific name, and battle summary of the dinosaur in question. While Milán takes some liberties with his species, and the naming conventions are from an alternate timelines, the dinosaurs are all instantly recognizable, and the details allow us to better envision just what kind of terror stalks these battlefields.

As for the world-building, it goes far beyond the dinosaurs. The religion and politics here are recognizable as being of the 14th century, but Milán has invested a lot of time and effort in subtly tweaking their evolution in this alternate timeline. It's a deep story, with a lot of layers, and I daresay it even gets bogged down in the regal minutiae from time to time. I appreciated the amount of detail, and probably would have been far more patient/interested were this a different book, but I freely admit to just wanting to get back to the dinosaurs. Having said that, those scenes are done well, and are what truly earn it the "cross between Jurassic Park and Game of Thrones" comparison from George R.R. Martin. I will admit to no minor amount of curiosity regarding the Grey Angels but, really, I generally just wanted more dinosaurs.

In terms of narrative and storytelling, this is a really fun read. Milán knows his story is just a touch absurd, relying entirely on almost childish wish-fulfillment, and doesn't attempt to cover that up. There's no attempt here to put a serious, dramatic veneer on the fun, to force a measure of respectability onto the tale. He imbues the tale with tons of snark and sarcasm, allowing characters to be both human and vulnerable. Yes, it's a very violent book with some serious conflicts, but it never loses its playful heart. As for the pacing, it literally races along, making you wonder how he can possibly hope to resolve everything before the end.

Much of that sense of fun comes from the characters themselves. They're well-rounded, well-developed, and perfectly suited to their world. These are professional rulers and warriors who take dinosaurs for granted - as they should - and who have real affection for their mounts. Karyl is our primary protagonist, a minor Duke with the smarts and the bravery to step in when needed (and, as a result, dies twice early on). Of course, it helps that he rides a Triceratops, the country's greatest native predator. Falk is the young (yet more significant) Duke who proves that not all nobles are useless in battle, a clever man who rides (of all things) and albino Tyrannosaurus rex. Jaume is the eloquent, poetic, amorous Count who loves his men (sometimes too much), and who struts about atop a Corythosaurus casuarius. I could go on, but suffice to say there are both commoners and nobles here, soldiers and rulers, and even a plethora of princesses who get some great lines and some fantastic scenes.

Now, generally, my brain tends to fog up and my eyes gloss over with extended scenes of battle. I enjoy them, and can appreciate them, but don't go out of my way to really focus on watching them play out in my head. Not here. Here, I was engrossed in every battle, envisioning each charge, each clash, and each terrifying death. These dinosaurs are as fast and as smart as we've ever seen on screen, their instincts honed by centuries of training. In some cases, they're the heavy artillery you sacrifice in a desperate attempt to break enemy lines, but more often they're precision instruments, used to bite, and tear, and gore as their riders hack and slash above them. Seriously, these aren't just wild beastly blindly carrying their riders into battle, they're well-hone fighting machines with a specific role to play in the battle.

Suffice to say, I'm already desperate for a second volume, and this one hasn't even officially hit the shelves yet! It doesn't matter whether your tastes run more towards epic, heroic, or military fantasy, so long as you have a healthy admiration for dinosaurs, you'll be completely enthralled by The Dinosaur Lords. Yes, it's a fun gimmick that's design to pull you in, but both the story and the storytelling are worth sticking around for.

Hardcover, 448 pages
Expected publication: July 28th 2015 by Tor Books

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Horror Review: Goblins by David Bernstein

Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this title from the publisher in exchange for review consideration. While I make every attempt to avoid spoilers, please be aware that an ARC synopsis, press release, or review request may disclose details that are not revealed in the published cover blurb.

"Scraping noises filled his ears. Nail on bone. He knew it was the creature’s claws raking against the inside of his wife’s skull, cleaning it out and wanting every last morsel..."

If passages like that turn your face green and make you want to drop the book like it's covered in goblin slime, then you're likely not the right audience for this. If, however, such details make you hungry for more, then David Bernstein has put together a damn fine meal for you to enjoy with Goblins.

History buffs and mystery buffs will remember the story of the Lost Roanoke Colony very well. In 1590, just 3 years after arriving on the island, the entire colony of 115 settlers disappeared without a trace. The only clues left behind were the words Croatoan carved into a gatepost, and Cro carved into a tree. Popular theories blame it on either disease or natural disaster, but Bernstein has a better explanation.

Goblins. More specifically, the legendary Goblin King himself.

This is a fun read with a great blend of supernatural horror and very human sorrow. Bernstein is a man who knows how to get under the skin and pull on the readers emotional strings, especially when dealing with children. We can all imagine the pain a family must endure when a child goes missing, but we can't even begin got imagine the horror of seeing that child come back . . . changed . . . and interested only in tearing you to pieces and devouring your flesh. I loved the way the kids sort of rippled, allowing their parents to glimpse the goblin beneath, just before confusion gives way to terror.

Lest you think I've spoiled the entire novel, that's really just the set-up. While Bernstein could have settled for a creepy, unexplained monster tale, he instead delves deep to the history of the island and the mythology of the Goblin King to create something deeper. There's almost an urban fantasy feel to this, in terms of how/why the town has come under siege once again, and there's are a few very real-life sort of tragedies involving children that haunt the main characters, but all of that is draped in the bloody, slime-encrusted, rotten flesh-curtains of pure horror.

Goblins is grim, it's gruesome, and it's great reading.

ebook, 208 pages
Expected publication: August 4th 2015 by Samhain

Saturday, July 11, 2015

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

A fantastic week, including my wildly popular Canada Day feature, and a look back at my favorite books of the year (so far):
As for what's coming up this week, we'll have a promo stop with E.J. Stevens, but first its Dinosaur Monday. If you've been paying attention, you can guess what review will finally be loosed upon the world. :)


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.
My cold turkey approach to requesting any new review titles hasn't quite been perfect, but it's still going strong. I did get approved for that request I mentioned last week, and I have in to one submission that I just couldn't pass up.

Son of the Black Sword
by Larry Correia

After the War of the Gods, the demons were cast out and fell to the world. Mankind was nearly eradicated by the seemingly unstoppable beasts, until the gods sent the great hero, Ramrowan, to save them. He united the tribes, gave them magic, and drove the demons into the sea. Yet as centuries passed, Gods and demons became myth and legend, and the people no longer believed. The Age of Law began.

Ashok Vadal has been chosen by a powerful ancient weapon to be its bearer. He is a Protector, the elite militant order of roving law enforcers. No one is more merciless in rooting out those who secretly practice the old ways. Everything is black or white, good or evil, until he discovers his entire life is a fraud. Ashok isn’t who he thinks he is, and when he finds himself on the wrong side of the law, the consequences lead to rebellion, war—and destruction.

The Mercenary's Bounty
by C.J. Davis

When a research team suddenly goes missing in the deep jungles of Papua New Guinea, highly-skilled mercenary Chase “Ace” Dumbar is hired to investigate. During the research team’s last transmission it’s revealed they discovered an extremely potent medicinal plant with extraordinary cancer fighting qualities, but a crazed native tribe worships and guards the plant as a sacred object. Making matters worse, an active volcano stands to obliterate the research team, and the invaluable plant any day. Chase must navigate the jagged clutches of the jungle, rescue the research team and escape before the menacing volcano decimates the area.

Hot in pursuit are additional mercenaries looking to secure a million dollar bounty put out by another pharmaceutical company that caught wind of the plant’s potential to cure cancer. Among them is an estranged war buddy, Samson Treveski, and his deadly knife-assassin wife, Naomi. Samson’s been crossed by Chase one to many times, and he’s eager to even the score.

A simple rescue mission quickly turns into a race against time to secure a plant that has the potential to save millions. Chase is forced to decide between the mystifying plant and the lives of those he swore to protect.


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.

As for what I'm reading this week . . . whew, I am all over the place.

On the review front, I've started in on a number of upcoming titles, including Twelve Kings in Sharakhai by Bradley P. Beaulieu (it's long since time I finally gave Bradley a read) and Fool's Quest by Robin Hobb (the opening chapters here are very promising - if I'm right in my suspicions, it may 'fix' a lot of what bothered me about the first).

On the personal front, I'm still working on Forge of Darkness by Steven Erikson (deep, dark, heavy stuff - but fascinating, as always), and I've also made significant progress with 77 Shadow Street by Dean Koontz (I generally prefer his older work, but so far this is marvelous).

On top of all that, as if there already weren't enough hours in the day, I'm slowly working my way through the penultimate batch of titles for the Great Self-Published Fantasy Blog-off. No spoilers at this point, but it's looking like a strong batch with 2, maybe even 3 that I'll be reading through to the end. Watch for an update coming later in the month.

What's topping your shelves this week?