Now up on Skiffy & Fanty: THE LIMINAL WAR, by Ayize Jama-Everett

My latest review for Skiffy & Fanty is now up, on Ayize Jama-Everett’s The Liminal War, a sequel to The Liminal People from Small Beer Press.

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Praised by critics and respected authors like Nalo Hopkinson, Jama-Everett’s novels are powerful SFFs with action, heart, diversity, and a compelling hero/villain dynamic. The Liminal War is rich in action and meaning and is impressive for its short length. Read the entire review on Skiffy & Fanty here.

Disclaimer: I received a free electronic advanced reading copy of this novel from the publisher through Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

Newly arrived bundle for AceRocStars Street Team

4-up on 6-18-15 at 21.12 #5 (compiled)

The kind folks at Ace/Roc books sure are kind to their street team. I had a flurry of books arrive the other day, including a bunch of microbiology titles and this wonderful pack of SFF. Look for reviews on many of these as their publication dates come.

Are there any that you are particularly looking forward to? There may be a giveaway for some in the near future 🙂

Magic Breaks by Ilona Andrews
Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho
Chapelwood by Cherie Priest
The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard
The Desert and the Blade by S.M. Sterling
The Cinder Spires: The Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher
The Terrans: First Salik War by Jean Johnson

DIVIDEND ON DEATH, by Brett Halliday

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Dividend on Death
(Mike Shayne #1)
By Brett Halliday
Open Road Media – 16th June 2015
(First published 1939)
ISBN 9781504012737 – 218 Pages – eBook
Source: NetGalley


This is the first of the Miami-set Mike Shayne noir novels, written by Davis Dresser under the pseudonym Brett Halliday. The style of the novel will be familiar to anyone who has read pulp crime or seen film noir. There is a hard-boiled private investigator, murders, a beautiful woman in distress, thugs, and dangerous twists and turns for the hero.
A young woman named Phyllis Brighton shows up in PI Mike Shayne’s apartment/office in psychological distress. Both her doctor and her new step-father believe that she has a mental complex that could lead her to unconsciously harm – even kill – her mother. No sooner does she leave with Shayne’s guarantee that he will work for her to prevent her from killing her mother than the step-father also shows up at the door to hire Shayne to protect his wife from Phyllis. Two payments for one job, what could be better? But before Shayne can even start the job(s), he finds Phyllis covered in blood and her mother lying dead with a knife in the back.
Dividend on Death is primarily interesting as a curiosity from its age and as the first Mike Shayne novel. The psychological, medical aspects of the story are influenced from the theories of the late 1930s, and are nice to see played out here. In a way the novel falls into the ‘mad scientist’ genre perhaps as equally as the crime fiction one. So readers interested in that historical perspective, or the role of psychology in fiction, could find something of great interest here. I wasn’t previously familiar with the character of Shayne. Given that the character is one of the giants of the field (featured in novels to the late ’70s and appearing in radio, TV, and film) some readers might consider the start of the series worth checking out.
As a pulp crime novel, however, Dividend on Death isn’t anything exceptional; the character of Shayne doesn’t have any personality traits that make him particularly compelling compared to other well known characters of that age or of more recent decades. (Perhaps the character is fleshed out and develops more unique personality in later books?). The story and the writing in this are neither superb nor poor for the genre. Dividend on Death in most respects is just average: a decently entertaining read.
Compared to some pulp of the era and beyond this novel doesn’t focus on a femme fatale relation or steamy scenes, instead featuring the criminal action and Shayne’s attempts to find the truth and ‘capture’ those responsible. Fans of the genre who favor action and punching over the sexploitationesque elements in crime fiction may then appreciate this.

Disclaimer: I received a free electronic copy of this from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

TRASH CINEMA, Edited by Andrew J. Rausch and R.D. Riley

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Trash Cinema: A Celebration of Overlooked Masterpieces
Edited by Andrew J. Rausch and R.D. Riley
BearManor Media – 5th June 2015
ISBN 9781593938215 – 242 Pages – Paperback
Source: NetGalley


Back when I was in high school I found a copy of a VideoHound guide called Cult Flicks and Trash Picks. Armed with this reference source and memberships to some video stores (the small-town independent ones were always the best) I discovered the wonderful world of cult movies, the B- to Z-grade fare of trash that spans the entire age of film. I was, am, a huge fan of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and still miss it. Some nights nothing hits the spot and helps fight insomnia or an overactive brain like a good piece of cinematic pulp.
Even still, there are a large number of films covered in this collection of essays, Trash Cinema: A Celebration of Overlooked Masterpieces, that I wasn’t too familiar with. Including thoughts on over fifty movies (arranged by title alphabetically) the collection edited by Rausch and Riley is useful just as another reference list of cult movie titles that a fan may want to look up.
Trash cinema (or B movies, cult classics, low budget dreck, or whatever-you-want-to-call-it) is still a highly variable beast. The spectrum runs from movies that are considered works of significant art to works that are barely watchable. In between are a lot of movies that are simply average and dull, having no particular infamy to even allow them to be ‘good’ trash. The essays in the collection tend to run a similar spectrum. As is fitting the genre, the essays are not remotely academic. Most are written in a colloquial language like the author is just talking to a friend at the video store. But they still vary in quality or usefulness in reading. A few I thought did little more than provide a film synopsis. The ones I enjoyed most got far deeper into some kind of analysis, and most entries at least did some.
The movies discussed also run a spectrum across genres within this category of trash, from older movies to newer, SF to noir to horror, ones that are relatively tame to ones that have more adult violence or other depravity. Some trash movies of course try to push the envelope of depravity – or at least shock.
One of the interesting points that came up throughout the essays dealing with this type of cult picture is that they often elicit very different responses between viewers, and even within a single viewer. Some days I can watch Cannibal Holocaust without a care. Other times I get hung up with troubling aspects. When is the shock used as artistic commentary on the society of the day? When is is just crass exploitation? When is it something that should revolt and offend beyond reason? Sometimes an extreme film is a bit of all of these things simultaneously.
Movies that fall in the extremes of the trash camp won’t be for everyone. For instance, I personally can handle a great deal, but my limits are reached with much of the ‘torture porn’ variety. Yet Bloodsucking Freaks proves an exemption for me, the overall subversion and gender themes of the movie make it more interesting and watchable for me. But obviously not for all. But again, a large number of the films in this – the kind for instance that also have been on MST3K (like Manos, the Hands of Fate) aren’t particularly shocking to an audience of this day and age. Apart from perhaps their quality 🙂
The advent of DVDs killed off the wide range of trash availability I could find with VHS. Recently I’ve found some Roku streaming options for these kinds of movies (Netflix is poorly lacking for the most part). So this collection was welcome and gave me good ideas for titles to put on my “to watch” lists, and also forewarned me of a few that I can tell won’t be for me. Overall a good resource for a trash digging fan.

Disclaimer: I received a free electronic copy of this from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

THE EUTHANIST, by Alex Dolan

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The Euthanist
By Alex Dolan
Diversion Books – 2nd June 2015
ISBN 9781626815490 – 315 Pages – Paperback
Source: NetGalley


Do people have the right to die when their lives approach their end filled with unbearable pain? Is it murder to assist them? Conversely, do remorseless, monstrous criminals deserve death? Should they be inflicted with pain as punishment for the worst of human crimes? Is torture justified to gain answers to save the innocent?
These are the kinds of questions at the heart of Dolan’s debut novel, The Euthanist. Kali is the pseudonym chosen by an EMT who has taken up the off-hours job of assisted suicide under the umbrella of a clandestine right-to-die movement. She meets the illegality and moral grayness of her occupation by adhering to a strict code that includes a long process of meeting with clients, ensuring this is a well-considered decision and that their terminal disease is indeed certain and without hope.
Slight laxness in her process traps Kali in a situation gone horribly awry when a supposed client slaps her in cuffs and announces that he is an undercover FBI agent. Kali finds this hard to believe with his odd behavior as rather than arresting and bringing her in, he holds her captive and begins probing into her identity and psychological rationalizations for her actions. Kali soon learns that this FBI agent is not just looking to capture her, but to blackmail her into helping in his own mysterious goals towards revenge against the people responsible for kidnapping his son.
As a thriller and mystery, The Euthanist stands fairly well. The plot takes several twists and turns, and if you don’t know much of the plot going into it things will likely proceed in many ways you didn’t expect. Those big moral questions at the heart of the plot are also fascinating, making the premise of Dolan’s novel at first very captivating.
Unfortunately I felt that Dolan didn’t explore the various moral quandaries fully as the novel progressed and the action of the plot began to thicken. The debates over these questions don’t necessarily have a clear-cut answer, and the characters themselves don’t even need to come to any firm conclusions. But within the overall arc of the story, their are firm beliefs at the start, a lot of complexity enters in, and that complexity doesn’t really go. I never got the sense of the characters coming to any sort of solid ground by the end, particularly problematic with Kali, who in general comes across as a very indecisive person.
That characterization by far though was my greatest difficulty with The Euthanist. I had an incredibly hard time buying the things that the FBI agent put Kali through, particularly given the similarities to what the agent’s son went through. His vision seems incredibly narrowed, and that vision primarily is simply allowing the author’s plot to unfold. It thus ends up feeling unnatural, authorial design. Meanwhile Kali, a supposedly strong-willed protagonist battling her own demons of the past, comes across as remarkably ineffective in most situations at asserting herself, at maintaining control over her decisions. She allows the FBI agent to control her actions, and eventually begin to guide her thoughts, in ways that I found hard to swallow.
These problems with The Euthanist made it ultimately a disappointing read for me, but it still clearly has its merits. Other aspects of writing Dolan has down very well, from atmosphere and tone, to sharp dialogue, and a thrilling plot based on great moral questions. Thriller fans may still consider it worth a look, particularly if passionate about euthanasia or punishment against perpetrators of crimes against children. Reading the first handfuls of chapters of the novel should give a reader a fair sense of whether they will enjoy the remainder.

Disclaimer: I received a free electronic copy of this from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

THE DRAGONS OF HEAVEN, by Alyc Helms

In case you missed it, my review of Alyc Helms’ The Dragons of Heaven from Angry Robots Books appeared this week at Skiffy and Fanty.

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“In the darkened streets of San Francisco’s Chinatown, Missy Masters is struggling to take up the vigilante-hero mantle of her retired, estranged grandfather, Mr. Mystic. Missy shares his stubbornness, his intimate connections with Chinese culture, and his uncanny ability to cross into a realm of shadows and exert limited control over the creatures within…

…The Dragons of Heaven is a fun read. It is a genre blend that combines urban fantasy with folkloric myth, the superhero comic, romance, and the complex family dynamics featured in ‘mainstream’ fiction. There is magical action driving the plot aplenty, there are moments of humor and pop culture reference. But there are also great doses of introspection, of character development for Missy, and deep themes at its core.”

Read the complete review at Skiffy and Fanty!

And look there this coming week for my upcoming review of The Liminal War by Ayize Jama-Everett.

Disclaimer: I received a free electronic copy of this from the publisher as part of The Angry Robot Army via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

THE NAKEDS, by Lisa Glatt

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The Nakeds
By Lisa Glatt
Regan Arts – 2nd June 2015
ISBN 9781941393055 – 288 Pages – Hardcover
Source: NetGalley


Overwhelmed for a moment by the protracted implosion of her parent’s marriage, young Hannah Teller decides to avoid their bickering and walk to school herself. Conscientiously avoiding intruding on her neighbors lawn, Hannah veers her path into the street only to be violently met by the fender of drunk driver’s car. Martin, the distracted young man behind the wheel drives away from the scene in a panic, leaving Hannah’s twisted, injured body behind.
Ripples of effect spread through the 1970s lives of those caught in this brutal chance encounter. Hannah faces an adolescence with a fragmented body, a wrecked leg encased in a toe-to-groin cast that will remain on her for the next decade of treatment. Her parents, Nina and Asher, use the turmoil of the tragedy to abandon all façades in their marriage: the Jewish Asher moves in with the Christian mistress he has been seeing and Nina abandons herself into a fling with Hannah’s doctor. Meanwhile, Martin finds himself debilitated with self-destructive remorse as his drinking becomes exclusively solitary and secretive. He begins to lurk around the hospital, guiltily monitoring Hannah’s initial convalescence and bringing her anonymous gifts, but remains incapable of stepping forward and accepting responsibility.
As Hannah learns to live with frustration of her disability and mature into her teenage years, her father grows increasingly distant with his new family and religion, and her mother finds a new husband, Azeem. Azeem is a student of psychology and sexuality who is eager to introduce his new wife to nudism and other elements of the American sexual revolution.
Glatt manages to effectively navigate the changing perspectives of these characters, uniting them all with a delicate tone that conveys dysfunction and a raw vulnerability, yet maintains ample lightheartedness. With all its darkness of betrayal, alcoholism, and general selfishness the novel is suffused with humor. There is a constant sense of hope, and moments of love shine through even amid the human missteps.
The title refers to Azeem’s repeated mistake of confusing the English word ‘nudists’ with ‘nakeds’. Nude and naked may be synonyms, but the words are each shaded with unique undertones, degrees of vulnerability. And this is ultimately what Glatt’s novel comes down to in its exploration of the characters: a conflict between proudly exposing or recognizing things honestly for what they are, good or bad, and cloaking vulnerabilities behind layers of deception, avoidance, or denial. In many cases the characters voice a commitment to complete openness, being naked both physically and emotionally before the others who they love. But their actions end up showing the lies behind the words, the aspirations. Yet one gets the sense that these characters are not maliciously lying to the people in their lives. Rather, first and foremost, they are lying to, hiding from, themselves.
Hannah is the sole exception to this behavior, and for that reason she comes across as the most fascinating perspective, the most endearing character. Trapped in the confinement of her cast, Hannah cannot ever be physically naked, even if she so desired. Yet, she is the one most capable of facing her raw emotions, the naked truth of her predicament in life. She has a bright and investigative mind, but most powerful of all she has exceptional self-realization and self-acceptance. She realizes the limits that her disability place both on herself and her friends when they go to hang out like normal teenagers. But she doesn’t dwell on this; she pursues a normal life and demonstrates immense capability in matters physical and emotional. Unlike her parents, she is able to cope with the turmoils of their families without falling to some cliché of ‘blaming’ herself’, or subverting relationship with them to find solace elsewhere.
The Nakeds is indeed an “absorbing” (as described in its blurb) story because of its fascinating characters and the balance of its tone. Glatt’s use of changing perspectives falters some in the latter half of the novel as development turns primarily towards Hannah-Nina-Azeem while Asher in particular is mostly dropped. Nonetheless it is an effective novel that would fit well as an engaging summer read or as a conversation-stimulating book-club selection. For those interested, The Nakeds was also featured in a recent episode of Book Riots’ new All the Books! podcast, and is worth a listen.

Disclaimer: I received a free electronic copy of this from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.