Category: Book Review

Claiming de Wayke by Colm O’Shea

** This book was provided to me by NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review **

Claiming de Wayke by [Colm O'Shea]

Claiming de Wayke is not a normal science fiction novel. There, I got that out of the way. A hodge-podge of Fight Club, The Matrix, Neuromancer and Trainspotting; Mr. O’Shea has created a marvelous semi-dystopian world where the divide between those who immerse their lives into the Scape, and those who despise those who spend their time in the Scape is very very real. Our protagonist, Mr. Tayto, just wants to spend his days doing the least amount of work necessary to stay jacked into his halo as much as possible.

Then someone approaches Tayto in the Scape: someone searching for Tayto’s brother and the amazing technology he supposedly has invented and liberated.

From there, our adventure begins.

The thing I loved the most about this book was the world and culture building. Mr. O’Shea, very smartly, starts the book out with a note about how the voice and language of the book is going to progress. One narrator, the one in the Waykean world, is in the first-person voice of Tayto: a mish-mash of Southern Irish slang with a lot of invective. The other narrator is the voice inside the Scape, Tayto’s voice (in proper English) in second-person. I found the difference very refreshing and definitely set the sterility of the Scape apart from the gritty reality of the Wayke.

Claiming de Wayke is a book you have to pay attention to. It is not a casual read, nor something you can merely skim to work through. This, however, is a benefit and not a detriment to the novel. The rich details, and wide variety of life experiences Tayto runs into in his weird journey really elevate his humanity: despite him trying to always escape it. I, as a reader, really felt for Tayto and the really really outlandish situations he has the misfortune of falling into.

Though mostly in the “real” world, I’d definitely have to put Claiming de Wayke on my quintessential cyberpunk reading list if nothing else than for being a fresh approach.

A World of Secrets (The Firewall Trilogy #2) by James Maxwell

A World of Secrets (The Firewall Trilogy Book 2) by [James Maxwell]

Oh Mr. Maxwell, I really really tried to get into this one. A Girl From Nowhere had such great potential, and the battle scenes were masterfully choreographed, but what we got in A World of Secrets is the story-bridge equivalent of Back to the Future Part II.

Yes, we did get to see a bit more of the relationship between Taimin and Selena grow, and a pretty big character roadblock was “fixed” in a cheeky way that, in my opinion, was an insult to the character.

I will say, I did enjoy the last quarter of the book, but the first three-quarters felt, to me, like a bit of a drudge. There was some slight character development, and the story slightly pushed along, but much as in Back to the Future Part II, this was just a platform to bridge book one to book three without really adding much to the bigger story other than a pivotal twist at the end.

Yes, the pivot was practically genre-jumping, and a real game-changer in what is going on, but we had to get through a lot of what basically gets flashed into irrelevancy in the final pages of the book.

I do understand that there was a bigger journey that was important to what was built up in book one, but the transition to the “big reveal” came across, again, in my opinion, as mildly insulting.

Sadly, I just don’t have the motivation right now to continue on to book three.

The 22 Murders of Madison May by Max Barry

Murder and the multiverse. Yeah, that just about boils it down. This seems like a pretty simple premise, but the elegant word- and world-smithing of Mr. Barry are what make The 22 Murders of Madison May such an enjoyable read.

The novel opens with New York real estate agent Madison May getting brutally murdered by a client she is showing a house to, and the details, ludicrously, don’t make any sense.

Enter reporter Felicity Staples. Felicity is gathering the details on the senseless murder and seeing more and more that nothing is making sense, and the killing seems pretty random. Then she spots the killer on the subway and watches as he vanishes.

This is where things get really weird. Felicity seems to have slid into a different New York City. There’s been no murder of Madison May and details in Felicity’s life are just a little bit off. Then, this universe’s Madison May, an actress, is murdered.

From here, Felicity takes it upon herself to find the killer, and she runs into a few individuals who understand what is going on and are hunting the killer as well. Now, Felicity is jumping from universe to universe uncovering more and more clues and trying to reach a point at which she can stop the killer and Madison May can live.

This wasn’t my favorite of Mr. Barry’s work. Perhaps by design, I found it a tad disjointed compared to some of his other efforts. The worldbuilding is very well done, but I just didn’t find the world all that compelling. There are certain details that seem to have been watered down in editing, and that kinda bugged me. Don’t get me wrong, The 22 Murders of Madison May is a suspenseful read, I just wanted more out of it.

The Kaiju Preservation Society (by John Scalzi)

** This book was provided to me by NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review **

I’m just going to put it out there right off the bat that I’m a total sucker for anything remotely related to kaiju. For those of you not in the know, the easiest way to approach the phenomenon/sub-culture is, simply, Godzilla. If you can imagine giant, city-crushing, monsters on a tear, that’s kaiju.

I digress, though. The kaiju are just a portion of what Mr. Scalzi sets out to tackle in The Kaiju Preservation Society. Written, appropriately enough, in the middle of our little COVID-19 pandemic, the novel is a lovely pastiche of social commentary, science, adventure, and corporate fuckery.

This isn’t heavy reading, but it is hella entertaining reading. Our intrepid protagonist, Jamie Gray, has fallen from corporate idea guy to food delivery driver thanks to COVID and a bit of horrible circumstance. Luckily for Jamie, he runs into an old acquaintance who has a spot open on his team with “an animal rights organization.” Jaime takes the chance, and the adventure begins.

Much as the title describes, the Kaiju Preservation Society is charged with maintaining the “health” of a kaiju population in what can best be described as an “adjacent” Earth that can be accessed due to what can best be described as dimensional thinning due to nuclear activity.

The Kaiju of this realm can best be described as living, breathing — and sometimes flying — nuclear reactors (as all good kaiju are somewhere rooted in). The kaiju it turns out, are more of an ecosystem than just individual organisms, and the KPS tends to all of their needs.

There is other spoilery stuff that I would rather not reveal because this is just one hell of a fun read that deserves to be unfolded by whomever has it in their grubby little hands.

Mr. Scalzi has a proven track-record of getting all of the proper bits together for compelling storytelling and worldbuilding, and The Kaiju Preservation Society demonstrates this handily. The banter is very natural, the story progresses as one would expect a sci-fi flick script to do, and the pop culture references are just downright witty.

I know this is 85-90% a one-shot novel, but it would be interesting to see some expansion on some of the ideas, characters and technologies introduced. I’m not going to hold my breath, but a nerd can hope.

If you need me, I’ll be watching Rebirth of Mothra for the seventieth time.

The Maleficent Seven by Cameron Johnston

When the synopsis for this novel came across my field of vision, it was damn near love at first sight. Here is a story that deals in very familiar tropes, pivoting the usual angles on their proverbial ears and taking a swipe at the entire concept of good vs bad, right vs wrong, and holy vs evil. To say the least, The Maleficent Seven definitely caught my attention.

I’m going to get a tad more spoiler-y than I usually do in my reviews, so you have been warned.

Very basically stated, The Maleficent Seven is the story of an evil demonologist general, Black Herran, who disappeared forty years previous to our story, right on the cusp of bringing the entire continent of Essoran to its knees before her along with her band of six merciless warrior generals.

With her abandonment, the royal families of Essoran prevailed, and the generals all went their separate ways.

Fast forwarding to our tale, a new force is wending it’s way through Essoran, and it’s threat is far different than what the citizenry faced with Black Herran: the army of the Bright One.

Headed up by the Falcon Prince, the army of the Bright One is charging through Essoran destroying every town and village who follow the ways of the Elder Gods: basically killing a majority of the populace in the process.

Here’s where the twist comes in (and where I get a bit spoiler-y): Black Herran has been hiding in one of these small towns as a “normal” citizen for these past forty years!

It turns out the Falcon Prince’s holy knights are making their way towards the town of Tarnbrooke: where Black Herran has been in hiding, and she is now forced to give up her simple life to, once again, become the terrible threat she was notorious for. Also, she’s decided to convince her dreaded six generals to help her in the effort.

If you weren’t already in on this stunner of a tale, let me give you a rundown of the generals.

There is a necromancer, a vampire lord, a demigod, an orcish warleader, a pirate queen, and a very mentally unstable alchemist. Almost all of these folks hate Black Herran with burning passions, as well as being not to fond of each other. It’s an absolute dream for the reader.

There are, naturally, some parallels with the nigh-homophonic title inspiration The Magnificent Seven[1], but it is the originality of The Maleficent Seven that really hit it home for me. Everyone loves a good villain, and there are seven that have been so meticulously constructed that I would absolutely love some off-shoot novels regarding their forty-year stories (hint, hint, Mr. Johnston).

Yes, the Falcon Prince is the real “baddie” of the story, and masterfully neglected by Mr. Johnston in his character development. That is one-hundred percent not a slight. Aside from the pressing threat, the Falcon Prince, for me, is only as useful as the mega-fight that is promised in the buildup of the rest of the story. It takes some serious dedication to stay that path, and Mr. Johnston delivers.

The Maleficent Seven is not the most profound novel I will read this year, but it will, absolutely, be on my favorites list. It’s mirthful, gory, drunken and gritty, and I absolutely loved it. It’s not often I gleefully giggle through battlefield dismemberment (oh, who’s kidding, it happens a lot), but there is a lot of that in this one.

[1] I prefer the 1960 John Sturges version over the 2016 Antoine Fuqua version, but both have their merits. It is also probably considered criminal to not to consider the original, Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (1954), since it is widely considered an epic masterpiece of cinema.

The Nineties: A Book by Chuck Klosterman

I’ll be very up-front and let you know that I do not read a lot of non-fiction. My reading habits focus largely on escapism, so I rarely find it necessary to dwell on aspects of “real life” while I am trying to relax from said “real life.” Chuck Klosterman is one of the rare exceptions. In general, Mr. Klosterman’s take on popular culture aligns pretty closely with my own. We are about the same age, so we share a lot of similar cultural experiences and our tastes similarly align.

The Nineties: A Book is a release I was very much looking forward to. A large chunk of the nineties were my college years, so I was ready and prepared for fully contextual nostalgia, a mess of validation, and probably quite a few new insights for a decade that is now 20+ years ago.

By and large, my expectations were met. Sure I would have loved some exposition on the rise and fall of Britpop, maybe a bit of rationale of how Pogs managed to be popular, and definitely some mention of the Nintendo/Sega/Sony console wars, but maybe those are topics for another time.

What we do get is some focus on popular culture and then how it related to the political climate followed by large examinations of the political climate of the world (mainly in the United States), how it was changing, and how that affected the global outlook.

There is a large focus on the rise of the readily available internet, and how it started to be an affecting factor on things without being an affecting factor.

Yes, The Nineties: A Book is entertaining. Especially for someone, like me, who lived through the decade very aware of what was going on around me. I do feel, however, that Mr. Klosterman has put a very 2022 lens on his examination. I very much came away with the feeling that the intention of the book was to explain why things in the general cultural, informational, political, and sociological senses of today’s world are the result of actions and attitudes of that decade. I will agree with some of this approach, but find fault in much of the logic. That’s just my opinion.

I will say that The Nineties: A Book forced me to address my own recollections of the decade and contextualize them in parallel with the text of the book: an interesting exercise that made me chuckle quite a bit. I’d be very curious to hear what others think.

Psycho Therapy by Ryan Hyatt

Psycho Therapy by [Ryan Hyatt]

Here’s the thing, a while back Mr. Hyatt approached me via this very website to ask if I wanted to read his novel The Psychic’s Memoirs. I did, and that was my initial introduction into the Terrifide world. Boy howdy it’s been a wild ride since then, and Psycho Therapy falls perfectly in step with my expectations.

What are those expectations, you ask? Don’t expect anything.

Psycho Therapy opens nicely enough. We are introduced to Tucson police officer James McCabe who has a new position in the department patrolling the streets. We learn pretty quickly that the scenario for this tale is the post-invasion timeline of the Terrafide universe. It appears that, post-invasion, Terrafide Labs has figured out how to “tame” and weaponize the kiaskis: an alien canine-like creature that, by description, reminds me a lot of Mike Mignola’s interpretation of Samael.

In an apparent twist of strange fate, the American justice system is now relying on these kiaskis as a part of a bizarre “gauntlet” for severe sentences, and part of Officer McCabe’s duty — along with his veteran partner — is to monitor the process of said gauntlet and provide sideline support.

Per usual, there is a twist, and that particular twist relates to McCabe’s traumatic relationship with the invasion. I’m not saying anything else because it’s a short story and you can bloody well read it for yourself.

I do love where Psycho Therapy sits in the larger Terrafide universe. Each glimpse Mr. Hyatt releases gives a fog-of-war-esque clearing into a larger world that just bristles and roils around a much much larger, and much more terrifying, underlying situation. Per usual, I have far more questions than answers upon finishing this story, and I see that as an incredibly good thing. Psycho Therapy is a teasing amuse-bouche ahead of such a larger scenario, and it deftly pulled my attention in and left me wanting more.

The Knave of Secrets by Alex Livingston

** This book was provided to me by NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review **

It may be a very simple stance, but, in my humblest of opinion, any book that prefaces with a map is bound to be interesting. Provide me multiple maps, and I’m liable to put on a helmet before tackling chapter one.

This is how I knew that The Knave of Secrets was going to be an absolute page-turner.

After a quick little study of the two map (yes, TWO!), we drop right into an excerpt from a fictional reference book. That’s just next-level world-building, and now I’m really excited about this tale.

The Knave of Secrets is about Valen Quinol, his wife Margo, and his two-person crew — Teneriève and Jacquemin, respectably — and the cardsharping shenanigans Valen drags the rest into on a constant basis.

This is a story about power, the perception of power, and the gaps where all the in-between slides around to bolster, or destroy this power. Mr. Livingston does a marvelous job of setting up a myriad of class and political systems to reinforce the gap between the haves and the have-nots, along with the larger undercurrent of the shadow powers as well as how “common” street gangs fit into the mix.

The politics in The Knave of Secrets are vitally important. Much as it is in many modern societies, the established gentry are quite loathe to welcome newcomers to the table, and many complex steps are taken to keep the “new” away.

Tying absolutely everything together at all levels of society are the games. In fact, Mr. Livingston was kind enough to offer a very in-depth “Catalogue of Games” in the appendices to help the reader appreciate just how ingrained in the culture these games are.

Here’s the gist. Valen, naturally, gets into a bit of a mess because of his insatiable need to be on top of any game of chance that might be going on around him. As it is, he is staked to take part in a prestigious tournament where secrets are the currency of choice. What Valen, Ten and Jac get pulled into could shake the foundations of society, and have much larger ramifications in regards to the larger political climate.

It’s a total mess, but it’s up to Valen to hold all the pieces together: quite literally.

As I mentioned previously, Mr. Livingston goes above and beyond in the world-building department. The attention to detail, and the meticulous building of history and lore is just astounding.

Then there is the banter. The repartee between our merry miscreants is so incredibly natural and indicative of a very well-established, and well-tested, relationship. It was such a joy to barrel through the ribbons of sharp and flowing interactions the characters have. The familiar interactions intertwine and test with witty jabs and history-tested considerations while the exchanges between oft suspicious strangers is wildly calculated and sharp. This flowing consideration of vocabulary and inflection is just a treat for the readers.

I dare not spill any of the beans on how this wonderful tale builds or resolves, but I can say that I really hope that Mr. Livingston is not done with this world. My appetite has been whetted, and I absolutely desire more.

Rockstar Ending by N.A. Rossi

** This book was provided to me by NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review **

Ahhhh, Dystopian Fiction. Oh how I love thee.

When I was far younger and beginning my journey into the twisting disillusionment of how society could potentially crumble upon itself, the general themes of Dystopian Fiction were either rooted in the past (e.g. post-World War II era), or set just out of reach in the near future.

I feel, now, that advances in consumer digital connectivity have bridged that gap and make Dystopian Fiction that much closer to a current theme than we could previously visualize. I’m not even going to touch on how modern politics pushes hard against those previously fictional themes.

That’s where Ms. Rossi slides right into the picture with Rockstar Ending. The setup is completely plausible. Our story opens with Meg: a woman approaching 85 who has lost her husband, has grown kids who have moved away, and is now approaching the cutoff of NHS benefits due to her age.

In Meg’s world, the “Yuthentic” movement has taken over the political climate in the UK. Younger people, who have become politically active, and see the older generation as more of a leech on the system than a resource for inspiration, have set into place laws that, effectively, remove health and welfare benefits for all citizens over the age of 85, and increasing restrictions for those over the age of 70.

The icing on the cake is the new “benefit” the government — and the corporation — are pushing as the “One Last Gift,” a.k.a. sanctioned euthanasia.

Rockstar Ending tackles the development, marketing and sly execution (if you’ll pardon the pun) of a complex, and very technology-driven, propaganda machine targeting UK’s aged population: leveraging hopes and fears, and exploiting some very grey areas of ethics.

At the same time, we have the story of Lexi and Bob: two (among many) individuals who are trying to fight the system against all odds.

I’ll leave the synopsis at that because this is a novel that is well worth discovering on your own.

Ms. Rossi is a natural storyteller. While there are, seemingly, many threads winding about the London setting of the story, all slowly begin to weave together in an intricate interconnection that pivots viewpoint and reader perspective. It’s a device that I absolutely love from authors like William Gibson, and Ms. Rossi uses the mechanism deftly.

Another thing I greatly appreciate is the likability, but also fallibility of just about every character we come across. None of the heroes are particularly shiny, and the villains (if there really are any) aren’t really the puppy-kicking variety. Rockstar Ending is a grand example of the snowball effect of bureaucracy and how the bounds of greed and success are not necessarily defined by ethical borders.

I feel like this was a very relevant novel to read, and gave me pause many times to consider how such steps were taken, and how they could easily be actualized.

Ms. Rossi has already written two sequels to Rockstar Ending, and you are damn sure that I’m going to be reading them very soon.

Whisper Down the Lane: A Novel by Clay McLeod Chapman

If you grew up in the 1980’s, there is a chance that the “Satanic Panic” affected your life in some way. For myself, a nerdy, Dungeons & Dragons playing kid growing up in semi-rural New Mexico, the “Panic” glanced off of a lot of our community. There were always whispers of rituals and Satanic graffiti popping up in abandoned buildings, and many many rumors of both the humorous and downright terrifying swirled around us constantly. Proctor and Gamble were a company who promoted the occult through their product logos, Liz Claiborne went on Oprah and said she gave profits to a Satanic cult, and even McDonalds and the Smurfs were in on the rise of Satanism and the Mystical in our nation that was quickly sloughing off it’s good Christian roots.

This is the world that Mr. Chapman brings Whisper Down the Lane into.

This is the story of Richard… or is it Sean… an art teacher at an elementary school in a sleepy little town that has just gained a bit more attention by the hipster city-set looking to come to somewhere “quaint” to raise their brood.

Something, however, is rotten in the city of Danvers, and it very strangely starts to mirror Richard’s — or is it Sean’s — past.

Then we start to learn some things. Richard Bellamy used to be Sean Crenshaw: a boy who, in 1982, was pulled into what can only be described as one of the biggest shitstorms of the Satanic Panic.

Rather than say anything more about the plot of this gem, let’s take a look at Mr. Chapman’s approach to building terror and uncertainty into a story. In The Remaking, Mr. Chapman totally drew me in with an approach he similarly uses here in Whisper Down the Lane. I like to think of it of the old adage about putting a frog in a pot of water and slowly bringing it to a boil. The frog (allegedly) won’t notice until it is far too late. That is how Mr. Chapman writes horror, and Whisper Down the Lane is a perfect example. Yeah, this weird Sean story is building in alternate chapters, but Richard really has his shit together. Then, quite suddenly, peanut butter meets chocolate, and the whole house of cards explodes. There is such a subtlety of tone, and even sanity, that just makes this novel a joy to read. Yes, it’s not perfect, but it is a wonderful homage to so many other masters of the craft. Certain scenes and situations may seem clichéd, but that is because they draw from the very origin of the cliché, and that is the purest form of flattery. Plus, it really does add to the depth of the story in a way that isn’t remotely cheesy or contrived.

Hell, there’s even a “made for TV” movie reference in there.