Friday, January 20, 2017

WTF Friday: The Queen of Swords by Alana Melos

Well, another WTF Friday is upon us, which means we once again turn the Ruins over to my dark half. As regular visitors will know, Foster Medina has a passion for messed up literary diversions - books that are bizarre, twisted, grotesque, and kinky - and he's only too happy to splatter them across the page.

After my introduction to Alana Melos with The Erotic Worlds of the Janus Key Chronicles, I was eager to sample her other series. I was actually debating between the Rock Hardin: Agent of A.S.S. series or her Delilah Devilshot books when I remembered that I had audiobooks of the first two Villainess stories sitting on my phone. With the gym beckoning, I decided to take Caprice along with me. Good choice.

The Queen of Swords was dark, decadent, depraved fun. The Villainess series is what I would classify as erotic sci-fi adventure, a tale of supervillains and monstrous freaks. Caprice is one such villainess - a violent, antisocial telepath. As dangerous as she is beautiful, she can get inside people's minds, read their thoughts, influence their emotions, and even exert a little old-fashioned mind control. When that's not enough, she can also manipulate them physically, throwing them across the room with a thought while she mentally dodges their bullets.

While the storyline in this first installment is pretty standard comic book stuff - invade the impenetrable fortress, kill the good guys, steal the secret technology, and get out - the execution is what makes it so much fun. Caprice is not just a kick-ass character, she's a fun narrator. She's arrogant, self-absorbed to the point of conceit, and not at all shy about sharing her darkest desires, but she also has a great sense of humor, and can manage witty banter with the best of the comic book world.

The action here is top-notch, equal parts brutal and frantic, with supervillains, metahumans, and a vampire all thrown into the mix. Think Batman, crossed with The Matrix, by way of The Expendables, and you get the idea. As for the erotic element, it's really only suggested or teased in the first few chapters (although her telepathic banter with her vampire accomplice is pretty explicit), but Melos definitely delivers the goods in the second half of the book, complete with a femdom/bondage session that is completely-over-the-top when experienced through Caprice.

As for the audiobook experience, this is probably the first listening experience I can say I genuinely enjoyed. Rebecca Wolfe does a fantastic job of reading the story, and of capturing Caprice's voice. She has just the right attitude, and just the right personality to pull off both action and erotica, maintaining the excitement without ever sounding cheesy. I already looked ahead, and I'm glad to see she narrates The Prince of Cups as well.

If you're up for a solid mix of sociopathic supervillains, metahumans, monsters, action, mayhem, and erotica . . . if you watched Deadpool and wished it was a little darker, and a little kinkier . . . then you'll get a genuine kick out of The Queen of Swords.

Audiobook Edition
Published December 17, 2015 by Alana Melos Erotica

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Waiting on Wednesday: Tyrant's Throne by Sebastien de Castell

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

Tyrant's Throne by Sebastien de Castell
Expected publication: April 6th 2017 by Jo Fletcher Books

After years of struggle and sacrifice, Falcio val Mond, First Cantor of the Greatcoats, is on the brink of fulfilling his dead king's dream: Aline, the king's daughter, is about to take the throne and restore the rule of law once and for all.

But for the Greatcoats, nothing is ever that simple. In the neighboring country of Avares, an enigmatic new warlord is uniting the barbarian armies that have long plagued Tristia's borders--and even worse, he is rumored to have a new ally: Trin, who's twice tried to kill Aline to claim the throne of Tristia for herself. With the armies of Avares at her back, led by a bloodthirsty warrior, she'll be unstoppable.

Falcio, Kest, and Brasti race north to stop her, but in those cold and treacherous climes they discover something altogether different, and far more dangerous: a new player is planning to take the throne of Tristia, and with a sense of dread the three friends realize that the Greatcoats, for all their skill, may not be able to stop him.

As the nobles of Tristia and even the Greatcoats themselves fight over who should rule, the Warlord of Avares threatens to invade. With so many powerful contenders vying for power, it will fall to Falcio to render the one verdict he cannot bring himself to utter, much less enforce. Should he help crown the young woman he vowed to put on the throne, or uphold the laws he swore to serve?

The Greatcoats is one of those series that just keeps getting better. I have no idea how he can possibly top Saint's Blood . . . but I'm anxious to find out.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

#NonFiction Review: Fascist Lizards from Outer Space by Dan Copp

I was 9 years old when the original V miniseries debuted. Having grown up on Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, and Buck Rogers (at the time, Star Trek was just that old show my parents watched), I was absolutely blown away. I was allowed to stay up long enough each night to watch the first hour, and then had to watch the rest on VHS the next day. I was just as hooked on V: The Final Battle when it aired, and I remember being completely devastated (as only a kid can be) when I missed the final episode of the short-lived TV series due to a poorly time sleepover.

I read the novelization by A.C. Crispin (still one of my all-time favorite reads), all of the tie-in books, and the entire DC comics series. The only reason I didn't have the lone 12-inch Visitor figure is because it never seemed to make its way to Canada. If you're ever stuck for a gift idea, one of those figures would be awesome. Just leaving that out there . . .

Anyway, that's a long sort-of introduction to Fascist Lizards from Outer Space: The Politics, Literary Influences and Cultural History of Kenneth Johnson's V. The moment I spotted that digital ARC on NetGalley, with the familiar image of the jackbooted Visitor standing before the graffiti'd poster, I knew I had to give it a read.

What struck me most in reading Dan Copp's book is just how little I understood about the phenomenon back then. To me, it was just an action-packed sci-fi spectacle, full of cool ships, awesome lasers, and kick-ass aliens with hidden reptilian faces. Don't get me wrong, I did understand the holocaust references, but I had no idea how deep its political commentary on fascism ran. Similarly, living in a pre-internet age where TV Guide and Starlog were the sum total of my pop culture knowledge, I had no idea that Kenneth Johnson's involvement ended with the first miniseries, and I had no concept of the budget constraints that contributed to the franchise's demise.

Now, looking back with Fascist Lizards from Outer Space as a roadmap, it's astounding to realize how and why the franchise changed. With the departure of Kenneth Johnson, the intelligent political themes were dropped, the dark social commentary was torn away, and things descended into cheesy sci-fi clichés. I remember being disappointed in the bad effects, reused footage, and character deaths in the TV series, and I didn't quite understand why Diana swapped out her sexy uniform for soap opera gowns, but now it all makes sense. In the span of just a few years, a brilliant sci-fi themed story of fascism became a cheap soap opera . . . and don't even get me started on the lame 2009 reboot that completely missed the point.

I'm glad Dan talks about Kenneth Johnson's personally penned sequel to the original miniseries, V: The Second Generation, because it was in reading that book that I first understand what happened to the franchise. Dan, of course, goes into much greater detail, and paints a much broader picture of the influences and inspirations, outside forces, and critical reception. Although the book repeats itself in places, and probably could have been a bit shorter, it's still a fascinating read. I can honestly say I have a better understanding and a greater appreciation for the saga, and a deeper sense of remorse over what could have been. Even if you were never a fan, this is a must-read for any fan who has ever wondered about how and why broadcast television destroys so many of our beloved genre franchises.

Expected publication: April 1st 2017 by McFarland & Company

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

Monday, January 16, 2017

Vampires, Zombies, and Necromancers: Catching up with the review pile . . .

I used to feel bad about these catch-up posts, but I've actually come to like them. There's a definite appeal in getting straight to the point and talking about my reaction to the text. Not that they'll ever replace my regular review format, but I find that they've freed me to read more, and that I'm enjoying more of what I read as a result - which is awesome for all involved.

Zombies in the East End by Roxanne Dent

Although it had a strong start, it felt like the story just sort of sloughed off all the quirky elements about halfway through, squandering a lot of its potential in the process. What's left is a decent period-era horror story, but it could have been much more.

Billie is an interesting character, a kick-butt heroine who is completely unnerved by her first zombie encounter, but she's somewhat overshadowed by Callie, the older, more sophisticated woman with more personality and more of a back story. Their romance is sweetly awkward, but a little too convenient to ring true.

The story opens with a lot of steampunk goodness, including Billie's robotic hand, airships, and more, but all of that is forgotten by the end. In fact, the best weapon in the book is a hooked chain, which is about as homespun basic as it gets. The zombies are probably the best part of the book, fast, violent, hungry monsters with a dangerous secret. It was a fun read, something to be breezed through in a single sitting, I just wish the steampunk quirks had been maintained.

The Dead Seekers by Barb & J.C. Hendee

As much as I enjoyed the first few Noble Dead books, this just didn't have the same hook for me. It's well-written, with a story that flows easily across the page, lending itself to a very quick read . . . but that's also the problem. The story was just too light for my tastes, without the kind of character depth, world-building, and atmosphere that I was looking for.

It opened strong, and I liked the characters of Tris and Mari, but I didn't care so much for the telling of the tale. It was very heavy on flashbacks and info dumps, and I found the character interactions a bit stilted.

I suspect I might have enjoyed this more, had I not previously read the Noble Dead Saga.

Wise Phuul by Daniel Stride
A fun story that throws the reader right into the midst of things, with no introduction, info-dumps, or hand-holding offered. It gets right to the story, and lets the characters lead us on our way.

Magic, faith, and politics all play a part in a book that's far more complex than I expected. This is one of those books I wish I could have read in paperback, with the glossary of names and places a bit more readily accessible. The story itself is a bit different from the usual epic fantasy narrative, with Phuul providing an intimate view of a conflict he's neither destined nor equipped to shape.

I liked the characters here, the word-building, and (perhaps most importantly) the necromantic aspects. Not just window dressing, the dead are an integral part of the world and its story. It's a gritty world and a gritty story, with some genuine drama and tension, but there's also ample humor to keep it from getting too bogged down in gloom.

Blood Fiends' Bane by William Stacey

Despite several stabs at it (no pun intended), I'm afraid this just wasn't to my tastes.

If I had to peg it down, I'd say there were two areas where expectations and experience just didn't connect. Firstly, I found the story to be too much Vikings and too little Vampires, and I'm simply not that excited about Viking-era fantasy. Second, I found it to be too focused on conflict and too little on the quest, where I was hoping for the opposite.

Don't get me wrong, it certainly had potential, with some solid writing and some decent character building, and from what I read of it the action was well done, but the story just didn't hold my interest.

Thirteen Hours by Francis Gideon

This one just didn't work for me. It felt disjointed, as if too many story threads were forced together, and the logic of the story fell apart early on when I found myself on the side of the academic bad guys. As much as the country longs for a cure to the ongoing zombie crisis, turning them into immortal cyborgs hardly seems like the best idea.

For a book that was advertised as the story of Hans, his wife, and her lover, it's really the story of Hans, his scientific discovery, his hurt feelings, and his infatuation with a dead man, a stranger whom he inexplicably wants to wake up and love him.

Character motivations didn't feel genuine to me, and the story shifted too often to make sense.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

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

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

#Adventure Review: Pirate by Clive Cussler & Robin Burcell

Waiting on Wednesday: Spymaster by Margaret Weis & Robert Krammes

#Fantasy Review: The Last Sacrifice by James A. Moore

Coming up this week, the first review catch-up post of the year.


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

Just the one new additions to the review pile this week:

Death's Mistress by Terry Goodkind
Nicci & Nathan tangle with street life, fight lethal battles on the high seas, and face a vast magical confrontation far from home 

My alter-ego, of course, did pick up some potential WTF Friday reads:

The Dark Molly Trilogy by C.S. Anderson
A Master Vampire, his coven of Dark Adepts, a failed experiment, and a rampage of revenge 

Vampire: Origin of the Species by Don-Paul Shaeffer
Murderous vampires develop into a predatory species with a blood lust matched by unquenchable desire for sexual pleasures of the flesh, pornography and sexual domination

A Carnival of Phantasms by Leona D. Reish
An exclusive party shrouded in mystery and decadence, where fantasy and reality blur into a night of pleasure and terror alike


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.

Not quite there yet, but I'm slowly catching up with the review pile:

Blood, the Phoenix and a Rose: An Alchymical Triptych by Storm Constantine
A stand-alone trilogy of connected novellas, are witness accounts that bring light to one of the darkest corners of Wraeththu history

The War of the First Day by Thomas Fleet
When the King of Taxis invades the witchlands, witch apprentice Lilta is ordered to kill the King and capture his infant son

What's topping your shelves this week?

Thursday, January 12, 2017

#Adventure Review: Pirate by Clive Cussler & Robin Burcell

Every reader has their literary crack, that one author they turn to for reliably mindless entertainment. For my wife, it's James Patterson. For me, it's Clive Cussler. Yes, his books are formulaic and clichéd, devoid of any real tension, and rely far too much on coincidence. There's very little real science or archeology to them anymore, and the bevy of co-authors means the new characters lack the consistent depth of Dirk Pitt. Despite all that, the books are a ton of fun, and an easy read to breeze through in a couple of sittings.

Pirate is my first adventure with Sam and Remi Fargo since The Tombs (and my first with Robin Burcell as co-author), but it was precisely what I was craving. There's a missing royal treasure, a cypher wheel MacGuffin for decoding the hidden map, a couple of easily-looted shipwrecks, rich bad guys with guns, a visit to Oak Island, abandoned castles, and even some digging into the Robin Hood myth.

Everything happens at a breakneck pace, with an 800-year old mystery solved far too easily, and more eye-rolling at coincidences than I'm accustomed to, but it still provided the entertaining diversion I craved.

Hardcover, 387 pages
Published September 13th 2016 by G.P. Putnam's Sons