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Warriors of Ultramar by Graham McNeill

The Ultramarines are, a by-word for courage and honour. They are humanity s fiercest and most devout warriors. Honour and courage are valued above all else, except the God-Emperor himself. They are the stalwart protectors of mankind and the most dedicated of all the Space Marine Chapters.

When asked to honour an ancient debt, Captain Uriel Ventris and the Warriors of Ultramar find themselves standing shoulder to shoulder with brother Marines and local Guard units defending a vital industrial system. The threat they face is as terrifying as it is alien. The tyranids take no prisoners and show no mercy — they consume all in an attempt to stave their unending hunger for bio-matter. Failure is not an option, but success requires the ultimate sacrifice.

In this second book of the Ultramarines series, Captain Uriel Ventris is ordered to defend Tarsis Ultra from the imminent threat of the Tyranid Hive Fleet Leviathan. Along with two Imperial Guard regiments, the local Planetary Defence Forces, a company from the Morticators and the Deathwatch, the defensive force wage a bloody war against the invaders.

It’s been a while since I read the first book, Nightbringer and I found Warriors of Ultramar a lot more accessible than the previous book. The plot here is straightforward. You have the good guys defending their world from the bad guys. The Tyranids make an awesome foe here because they don’t think like we do and they don’t have emotions so you don’t have to analyse why they do the things they do. All you need to know is that they are the Great Devourer and will consume everything in their path.

The first part of the story took a while for me to sink my teeth into as I’m not a fan of Void battles but things started getting exciting when the battle moved to planetside. Once on the planet, the Tyranids began to transform the environment of Tarsis Ultra to make it suitable for their species. They then advanced against the defenders by throwing everything they had while the Guards have to use their wits to conserve the number of troops against this insurmountable foe. Despite heavy losses, the valiant Astartes and Guards manage to hold off the invasion in the end. A classic tale of triumph of good over evil.

In this story, we see Uriel Ventris grows as a character and finally coming to his own as he learns not to blindly follow the Codex Astartes to the letter. He chose to go with the Deathwatch on a suicide mission to inject a bio-toxin into the Hive Queen rather than sticking to his company as dicatated by Roboute Guilliman’s teachings. As Uriel’s devotion to the Codex Astartes wavers, we are treated to his comtemplations about what it means to be an Ultramarine and a warrior of the Emperor and his observations on how different the Morticators have become over the centuries despite sharing the same bloodline as the Ultramarines. Uriel Ventris is definitely growing on me and he is slowly becoming one of my favourite loyalist Astartes.

Another character that stood out in the book is the Fabricator Marshal Sebastien Montante. At first he seemed like the typical fool character that you would laugh at because he doesn’t understand the severity of the Tyranid threat and you hope he will die in the most embarrassing way. However as the story unfolds, you realise that even though Montante is not be a warrior like the Astartes or the Guards, his heart is still set in the right place. He uses his logistical skills to ensure the defensive force has the provision it needs in the forthcoming battles. Even with no martial training Montante took up arms to help with the defence of Tarsis Ultra. He was a character that I didn’t expect I would like but end up enjoying very much.

This book packs a ton of action and plenty of heroic moments to boot. McNeill strikes a fine balance between despair and hope as the remaining defenders fight back with everything they have. The moments of downtime in between battles offer readers time to reflect on the sacrifices and costs towards freedom. Warriors of Ultramar can be read on its own so you don’t need to have read Nightbringer to enjoy this book. I would also say this is a good starting point if you have never read any Warhammer 40k books.

The Wrong Goodbye by Chris F. Holm

Meet Sam Thornton, Collector of Souls.

Because of his efforts to avert the Apocalypse, Sam Thornton has been given a second chance – provided he can stick to the straight-and-narrow.

Which sounds all well and good, but when the soul Sam’s sent to collect goes missing, Sam finds himself off the straight-and-narrow pretty quick.
Dead Harvest is one of the best supernatural debuts to come out this year. An explosive thriller that gave us Sam Thorton, a body hopping soul collector who just happens to be the lynchpin of the Apocalypse. Sam was given a nigh on impossible task and must see it through while caught in between the manipulations of both angels and demons. A fantastic action packed story that had all the elements of a Jerry Bruckheimer movie!

In The Wrong Goodbye, Sam Thornton is back once again collecting the souls of evildoers. We’re quickly thrust into the situation when the soul Sam was meant to collect ends up missing and the person responsible is an old buddy of Sam’s. Now Sam must find and inter the soul before his own is blast into nothingness by an angry and ancient god. Joined by a dead mobster and a transsexual fortune teller, Sam takes the road across America as he searches for the missing soul. Sounds like an odd combination right? But you just have to read it to believe it.

You would be glad to know that the thrill and tension that you enjoyed so much in the debut is back and dare I say it, even better in this book. The recently deceased small time mobster, Gio, provides much of the comic relief in this book and makes a good contrast to Sam who can be a little too serious and grim at times. The mythology of the world is further expanded in The Wrong Goodbye and now we realise there are other entities besides angels and demons at play.

The book also references to skirmishes between angels and demons across the world as a result of the events in the first book. To me, it feels like the final book in the trilogy will be about the forthcoming Apocalypse, so I wonder why the angels and demons take a backseat in this book? Although I would have liked a stronger apocalyptic theme in this book, the story here still satisfied my appetite.

You don’t need to have read Dead Harvest to enjoy The Wrong Goodbye as the story neatly fills in any gaps that you may have. If you really haven’t read the first book then you should definitely get it now. This action packed novel will keep you reading late into the night and provide hours of entertainment. An irresistible treat for all the urban fantasy fans out there. Now that much of the mythology and groundwork has been laid, I look forward to the finale when the end of days draws near!

The Collector Series: Dead Harvest, The Wrong Goodbye

The Wrong Goodbye by Chris F. Holm

Meet Sam Thornton, Collector of Souls.

Because of his efforts to avert the Apocalypse, Sam Thornton has been given a second chance – provided he can stick to the straight-and-narrow.

Which sounds all well and good, but when the soul Sam’s sent to collect goes missing, Sam finds himself off the straight-and-narrow pretty quick.
Dead Harvest is one of the best supernatural debuts to come out this year. An explosive thriller that gave us Sam Thorton, a body hopping soul collector who just happens to be the lynchpin of the Apocalypse. Sam was given a nigh on impossible task and must see it through while caught in between the manipulations of both angels and demons. A fantastic action packed story that had all the elements of a Jerry Bruckheimer movie!

In The Wrong Goodbye, Sam Thornton is back once again collecting the souls of evildoers. We’re quickly thrust into the situation when the soul Sam was meant to collect ends up missing and the person responsible is an old buddy of Sam’s. Now Sam must find and inter the soul before his own is blast into nothingness by an angry and ancient god. Joined by a dead mobster and a transsexual fortune teller, Sam takes the road across America as he searches for the missing soul. Sounds like an odd combination right? But you just have to read it to believe it.

You would be glad to know that the thrill and tension that you enjoyed so much in the debut is back and dare I say it, even better in this book. The recently deceased small time mobster, Gio, provides much of the comic relief in this book and makes a good contrast to Sam who can be a little too serious and grim at times. The mythology of the world is further expanded in The Wrong Goodbye and now we realise there are other entities besides angels and demons at play.

The book also references to skirmishes between angels and demons across the world as a result of the events in the first book. To me, it feels like the final book in the trilogy will be about the forthcoming Apocalypse, so I wonder why the angels and demons take a backseat in this book? Although I would have liked a stronger apocalyptic theme in this book, the story here still satisfied my appetite.

You don’t need to have read Dead Harvest to enjoy The Wrong Goodbye as the story neatly fills in any gaps that you may have. If you really haven’t read the first book then you should definitely get it now. This action packed novel will keep you reading late into the night and provide hours of entertainment. An irresistible treat for all the urban fantasy fans out there. Now that much of the mythology and groundwork has been laid, I look forward to the finale when the end of days draws near!

The Collector Series: Dead Harvest, The Wrong Goodbye

txtr Beagle – An eReader for under $15

The txtr beagle is the latest device to enter the rapidly expanding eReader market. This no frills device is expected to sell for under €10 or about $13. So what can you expect for an eReader that is less than $15? According to the specs you’ll get a device with a 5″ E Ink display, 4GB of storage that weighs half as much as the Kindle Paperwhite, but things like touchscreen, 3G and Wifi are out. You don’t even get a USB cable for loading books on to the device, the only way is to use Bluetooth pairing via a smartphone and the official app. Hopefully you will still be able to load books that you haven’t bought through txtr.

Instead of a rechargable cell that you’ve come to expect in many devices these days, the txtr beagle uses two AAA batteries that should give you a year’s worth of reading time assuming you only read one book per month.

The txtr comes in four attractive colours and at such a low price, it will definitely tempt anyone who has doubts about owning a dedicated reading device.

Source: engadget, txtr

Seven Wonders by Adam Christopher

Tony Prosdocimi lives in the bustling Metropolis of San Ventura — a city gripped in fear, a city under siege by the hooded supervillain, The Cowl.

When Tony develops super-powers and acts to take down The Cowl, however, he finds that the local superhero team Seven Wonders aren’t as grateful as he assumed they’d be…
I’ve been reading a lot of superhero novels lately and each book handles this subgenre differently. With Wild Cards you have very political driven stories and with Matt Forbeck’s Brave New World series, you get a lot of action-packed entertainment. Now with Seven Wonders you have a story that stays true to its comic book origin and one where you can feel just how passionate the author is to these stories.

With a name like Seven Wonders, you might mistakenly think that the book is about the exploits and adventures of the superheroes in the title like the Fantastic Four or the X-men. In fact this story follows the rise and fall of Tony Prosdocimi as he suddenly develops super-powers. Tony tries to put an end to The Cowl, the last supervillain left on Earth and asks to join the Seven Wonders but realises that the local superhero team may not have the city’s best interest at heart.

There is a wide variety of superheroes featured in this book. There’s the aforementioned Seven Wonders, each with their own distinctive style and ability that makes for great reading. Towards the end of the book we are shown just how big the superhero family on Earth is when they gather up for the final showdown. I thought all these backstories would be great additions to Angry Robot’s WorldBuilder project and was surprised that Seven Wonders hasn’t been included in it. I guess that since the world isn’t as unique as it is in Empire State maybe that’s why Seven Wonders wasn’t included into the project.

As we all know superheroes alone do not make a great comic story, we also need villains that we despise but secretly love and The Cowl fits perfectly into this role. There are certain points in the story where we see events through The Cowl’s eyes and learn of his failing superpowers and later of his redemption. Christopher has seized these opportunities to expand and add a lot more depth in The Cowl and made him into a fully fleshed out character that you will not forget.

When I was reading the book, I was reminded of Nolan’s Batman movies. The reason is that the story just keeps on giving. Just when you think the main villain has been stopped, you realise there are actually more afoot and the story continues on this fantastic yet unexpected journey.

The book was such a joy to read and the scenes were so vivid that I swear it was like reading the comic book version. I’m sure any superhero fan would appreciate and love this story too. This is a brilliant story that would make a great standalone novel but I wouldn’t be surprised if we visit this setting again at a later date.

Brave New World: Revelation and Resolution by Matt Forbeck

The Truth Is Finally Revealed

In the aftermath of the mass breakout of superpowered deltas from New Alcatraz, fear and chaos grips the United States. Patriot — the leader of the rebellion known as the Defiance — and his friends Street, Lisa, and Charge work tirelessly to help the people in their organization’s swollen ranks.

When a madman attacks a family of rogue deltas hiding in the Front Range of the Colorado Rockies, Patriot and his friends rush to their rescue. What they find when they arrive forces them to grab the family and race to Denver, where they wind up in a standoff against Delta Prime, the government agency of superpowered soldiers determined to crush their rising resistance.

In the course of this, the second book of Matt Forbeck’s Brave New World trilogy, the heroes of the Defiance learn more of the truth about the disappearance of the city of Chicago back in 1976, and what they discover will change the world forever.

Revelation is the second book in Matt Forbeck’s 12-for-12 project and a fantastic and action packed sequel in his superpowered Brave New World trilogy.

After breaking out of prison in Revolution, Patriot is once again risking his life to save Deltas from the Primers. This time, the Primers are not going to take any prisoners and are bringing out their heavy weapons to end the wanted criminals. Patriot realises that he needs the help of the Church to buy themselves some time for the rebels to escape. However the Church has an agreement with the President not to grant any Deltas sanctuary. So now the Church must decide whether to give up the rebels knowing that they will die as soon as they walk out the door.

Much of the book focuses on the standoff between the Defiance and the Primers while the Church decides what to do next. The tension in this story is excellent here as we don’t know how far Ragnarok and the Primers would go to kill Patriot, their number one most wanted. There’s also plenty of superpowered action as both sides use the church as their battleground.

The story felt a little short, but there are plenty of things happening in the book which kept it exciting. Without spoiling anything, I’d just like to say I especially enjoyed the twist at the end.

Patriot and his closest friends in the Defiance flee the United States for the warmer and safer climes of Isla Delta, the world’s only nation in which the majority of the citizens are refugees with powers. Unfortunately, President Kennedy — still in office after decades of martial law — seems determined to not let them enjoy any respite and sends the US military to invade.

With many of his friends captured and even shot, Patriot must find a way to sneak back into the USA and break them out of where they’ve been imprisoned in Crescent City. Meanwhile, those same friends managed to make contact with the long-missing city of Chicago, believed to have been destroyed back in 1976.

At the same time, the greatest villain the world has ever known has returned with a new plan to make the world his. If Patriot and the others fail to stop him, he will destroy everything within a hundred miles of Crescent City and wipe every living delta from the face of the planet.

Now in the final book, everything comes together and we have one last standoff between the Defiance and the Delta Prime as Devastator, the world most dangerous villain makes his nefarious plans known.Resolution goes out with a bang with all the superpowered coming together to defeat Devastator and provides a fitting ending to the Brave New World trilogy.

Forbeck has done an impressive job for his first trilogy in his 12-for-12 project. Since he only has one month to write each story, you can understand why he has to limit the word count of each book. Despite each book being a little shorter than I would like, I really enjoyed the entire series as a whole. Each book reveals a little bit more of the BNW world and the variety of casts keeps the plot interesting and exciting. Forbeck really knows how to get you to root for the underdogs and to create villains that you despise.

I’d love to read more books set in this universe and I hope the author would revisit this series at a later date. In the meantime, I’ll be reading his second 12-for-12 trilogy, Shotguns & Sorcery.

You can now purchase the Brave New World entire series on Matt’s site, the Robot Trading Company or your favourite retailer.

Geekomancy by Michael R. Underwood

Clerks meets Buffy the Vampire the Slayer in this original urban fantasy eBook about Geekomancers—humans that derive supernatural powers from pop culture. Ree Reyes’s life was easier when all she had to worry about was scraping together tips from her gig as a barista and comicshop slave to pursue her ambitions as a screenwriter.

When a scruffy-looking guy storms into the shop looking for a comic like his life depends on it, Ree writes it off as just another day in the land of the geeks. Until a gigantic “BOOM!” echoes from the alley a minute later, and Ree follows the rabbit hole down into her town’s magical flip-side. Here, astral cowboy hackers fight trolls, rubber-suited werewolves, and elegant Gothic Lolita witches while wielding nostalgia-powered props.

Ree joins Eastwood (aka Scruffy Guy), investigating a mysterious string of teen suicides as she tries to recover from her own drag-your-heart-through-jagged-glass breakup. But as she digs deeper, Ree discovers Eastwood may not be the knight-in-cardboard armor she thought. Will Ree be able to stop the suicides, save Eastwood from himself, and somehow keep her job?
“If Buffy hooked up with Doctor Who while on board the Serenity, this book would be their lovechild. In other words, GEEKOMANCY is full of epic win.” – Marie Lu, author of Legend series. Honestly with that kind of endorsement, can any geek pass on this book?

Well Geekomancy is definitely a book written by a geek for geeks. It is a fun and entertaining story that combines what we love most about popular culture with a light-hearted mystery. I’m sure all geeks would love to have Ree’s power in the story, which is Genre Emulation. With Genre Emulation, Ree gains power by watching TV shows and movies and the more she identifies with the characters the stronger her power gets.

From a geek’s point of view, I love the little references and mentions littered throughout the book and the sudden aha moments that you get when you recognise where that line comes from. I also love the creativity and the way Underwood blends the source materials together in the story.

However from a reader’s point of view, the constant barrage of irrelevant references is distracting and feels like they are there simply to gain geek cred rather than to move the story along. To me the references feel forced, unlike in Ready Player One, where it happens naturally and all mentions to things like Dungeons and Dragons, WarGames and Joust are all necessary because they are integral parts of the story.

Since Ree’s case has a supernatural element to it, I thought a show such as Supernatural would fit perfectly as who can understand situation like this better than the hunters Sam and Dean Winchester? Instead the show was mentioned in a throwaway line and we see Ree stumble along with a bunch of fun but not terribly useful abilities.

I like magic systems with some type of rule, otherwise you can create any solution that you see fit in the story. And in some ways the magic in Geekomancy feels just like that. There are powerful magic artifacts just because they are somehow related to Popular Culture and there is magic for anything under the SFF sun, there’s even one that draws power from Bromance… Yeah it’s fun to read but theGeekomancy world just feels too chaotic and shallow to me.

To put it simply, if you are a geek then you will like this book because of the big fan service it provides. The story is a little uneven at times and even with the flaws I mentioned, the overall story has kept me entertained. It might not be the best thing that’s ever happened in the Geekdom but I’ll definitely recommended it to any geek that is looking for a light humourous read.

Initial thoughts on Kindle Paperwhite

(Credit: Amazon)

Yesterday Amazon announced the latest generation of the Kindle, named Kindle Paperwhite for it’s frontlit screen. Available for preordering now and shipping in October for $119 for Wifi version or $179 for 3G. Personally I feel the Wifi version is enough for everday use because remember, Amazon now has a data bandwidth cap of 50Mb per month which makes the 3G version much less enticing. Unless you often travel to other countries, there’s no real need to get the 3G version. You can always use your smartphone as a portable Wifi hotspot if you ever need to download a book in a hurry.

“Time to Read” is a new feature that tells you how long it would take to finish the current chapter or book based on your previous reading speed. This is a neat idea as now you have a legitimate reason to stay up for another few minutes to finish that chapter you were on. However, many books still don’t fully support chapter indexes and the feature feels rather gimicky. Some people might find a use for this but it’s not a selling feature to me.

(Credit: Amazon)

I really like the design of the new Kindles. It’s sleek and compact, a perfect size for a portable e-reader. From the videos and photos seen so far, the screen is as clear and crisp as ever and now with the frontlit screen, you can finally read without leaving the light on and disturbing your partner. The blackness of the case offers a great contrast to the whiteness of the screen and makes the device look much more sophisticated. Definitely a much better colour choice than the metallic grey in the previous generation of Kindles.

The Kindle Paperwhite appears to be another solid win for Amazon. It would make a great upgrade if you already own an older version and beyond any doubt a device that you should pick up if you’re looking to purchase an e-reader for the first time. The question now is, will you be getting one?

Introducing the New Kindle Paperwhite, the Most Advanced E-Reader Ever Constructed

Wild Cards I edited by George R. R. Martin

There is a secret history of the world—a history in which an alien virus struck the Earth in the aftermath of World War II, endowing a handful of survivors with extraordinary powers. Some were called Aces—those with superhuman mental and physical abilities. Others were termed Jokers—cursed with bizarre mental or physical disabilities. Some turned their talents to the service of humanity. Others used their powers for evil. Wild Cards is their story.

Wild Cards is a collection of short stories by a number of different authors but woven together and edited by none other than George R. R. Martin. Yes, the same George R. R. Martin that created Game of Thrones. You see Wild Cards actually predates Game of Thrones by a good decade and it’s interesting to find some themes in this book that are also present in his later books.

Unlike other collections, the short stories in this book all share the same world, one that is recovering from an aftermath of an alien virus that caused many people to die and others given strange abilities. Some stories also share characters, so it would definitely help if you read them in the order presented in the book so you don’t miss out.

When the alien virus was unleashed in 1946, many people died. Of those lucky few that survived, most of them are transfigured into horrible beings and only a couple came out with something beneficial. Since these abilities are so random, the virus was later known as the Wild Card virus and the lucky ones who were dealt the good hands are known as “Aces”, while the bad ones are “Jokers”.

The short stories deal with the survivors of the alien virus outbreak and how the world has changed now there are Aces and Jokers running around. There are also interludes in the form of newspaper articles that act as a bridge between stories and help fill in the gap of what else is happening and provide the readers with a richer experience.

One thing that you can’t miss while reading this book is how closely these stories followed real world events and politics. Instead of just hunting Communists during the McCarthy era, the G-men are also hunting down Aces and “recruiting” them to their cause. Instead of the race riots, there’re the Joker riots because the Jokers are treated even worse than Coloured people due to their horrendous appearances.

Just like any other collections, there are some great stories and there are some duds but the overall package is impressive and provides a good variation of stories. These stories are very different in terms of style to the other superhero books that I have been reading of late.

The stories that impressed me the most were “The Sleeper by Roger Zelazny”, “Witness by Walter Jon Williams”, “Powers by David D. Levine” and “Shell Games by George R.R. Martin”.

In “The Sleeper”, Croyd Crenson is infected by the alien virus and after every time he sleeps, he would wake up with a new appearance and a new ability. The abilities aren’t always beneficial and the story shows how this kid learns to cope with his ordeal while providing for his family.

“Witness” tells the tale of the Four Aces and how they fell from grace with the American public after they were indicted with links to Communist interests. This is a political story that really captures the mood of mistrust of that era.

“Powers” is just a fantastic story of an Ace who has decided to come out of hiding and help his country to rescue a pilot that has been missing in action ever since he crash landed in the Soviet Union.

In “Shell Games”, a bullied teenager grows up to become The Great and Powerful Turtle to right the wrongs of the world and in the process helps the alien Dr. Tachyon to overcome his depression.

I really enjoyed the alternate US history presented in the stories and it was fascinating to see how the virus was incorporated into real world events. All in all, this collection of stories has piqued my interest in this series and I will definitely be checking out the other books to read more about Aces and Jokers.

Shield of Secunda by Adrian Collins

The White Frontier has fallen.

Four centuries have passed since the Secundan Empire was all but destroyed. Now Secunda’s people are threatened once more. This time, with their backs to the mountains, they have nowhere left to run.

Uthiel Caellar and his young brothers don their knight’s plate and mail and go to war with the greatest heroes of the land, their youthful lust for glory to be brutally pitted against the horribly harsh reality of all-out war.

As Secunda’s sons start to fall to the horde and a fell god who feeds on the weakness of the proud and strong, can Uthiel and his brothers survive the bloodshed?
Shield of Secunda is an impressive debut that captures both the brutality of war and the camaraderie between battle brothers. This is not surprising as Collins admitted to me that he grew up obsessed with the writings of Black Library authors and Fantasy greats such as Gemmell, Abercrombie and Martin and aspire to their standards.

If you’re a fan of Black Library books then you are already familiar with some of the concepts in the book such as the training of the initiates into knights and how the different Knightly Orders operate independently of each other. In fact the initiation scene reminds me a little of the training recruits went through in Mitchel Scanlon’s Descent of Angels. Even though some ideas are similar, Shield of Secundahas enough differences to keep the concepts interesting.

The story focuses on Uthiel Caellar and follows him as he is picked to join the Grey Wolves and prepare to defend Secunda from the forthcoming invasion by the barbarians. As the story progresses, we see the gradual transformation of Uthiel from a brash, untested youth to a battle-hardened veteran as he deals with the loss of his fellow brothers-in-arms and rejections from those that remain.

There are plenty of battles in the story and you won’t be disappointed by the fights in the book. There’s a sense of urgency and imminent danger in these scenes. Where there is battle, there is violence and it shouldn’t come as a shock to see how the captives are treated in the book. The tortures may be gruesome, but I feel they are necessary to show how depraved and twisted the enemies have become.

Like many stories that focus on telling the story of a heroic protagonist in times of peril, the secondary characters felt a little weak and less memorable in comparison. There are times in the story that made me pause and ask who those characters are. As the book approaches the midway point, we see one of the characters fall to the dark side but I felt the transition happened a little too quickly. I would have loved to see more internal struggles as he slowly accepts his new station.

That being said, the book ends at an interesting intersection, and I wonder which direction the next book will head in now? Can the fallen character ever be redeemed or Uthiel has to put an end to him?

I enjoyed this book and if you are a fan of epic fantasy or the Space Marines books then you will definitely like this one.

You can find out more about Adrian Collins and his works over at: http://adriancollins.com.au/

vN by Madeline Ashby

Amy Peterson is a von Neumann machine, a self-replicating humanoid robot.

For the past five years, she has been grown slowly as part of a mixed organic/synthetic family. She knows very little about her android mother’s past, so when her grandmother arrives and attacks her mother, little Amy wastes no time: she eats her alive.

Now she carries her malfunctioning granny as a partition on her memory drive, and she’s learning impossible things about her clade’s history – like the fact that the failsafe that stops all robots from harming humans has failed… Which means that everyone wants a piece of her, some to use her as a weapon, others to destroy her.
I was so excited about Madeline Ashby’s vN when I first read the short story, The Education of Junior Number 12 at http://angryrobotbooks.com/vnshort/ back in Christmas. The short story provides a good foundation to the world of vN and I highly recommend you to read it before the book as it gives you a better insight into the character of Javier.

Like the androids in Spielberg’s A.I., the Von Neumann machines (vN for short) are used for pretty much everything that you can imagine. Some people truly love them and marry them whereas others use them as no strings attached sex toys. Due to the built in failsafe control, the vNs can’t help but love their human masters and will obey any given command even if it puts them at risk.

Instead of another modern day interpretation of Pinocchio’s tale, the book explores what would happen if vNs can overcome the restrictions that they were created with and how society reacts once it learns that the machines can hurt humans. Ashby describes a world where intelligent, almost human like androids are treated as third class citizens who live and die by their masters’ commands. There are times you pity the vNs and wonder why no one has demanded greater rights for them.

Throughout Amy’s adventure with Javier we see the contrast between a vN with functioning failsafe control and one without. The failsafe not only affect their behaviour but also their entire outlook and the story uses this to offer a fascinating look into the issue of self-identity. In the case of Javier, it explains why he abandons his young as soon as he’s able to and his reluctance to relate to other beings.

The writing, especially the parts surrounding the growth of Amy is excellent. We see the once naive and innocent Amy adapting to the world as circumstances force her to part with her parents and escape from the authorities. However there are a couple of times in the book where the scene suddenly jumps and I have to go back to check if I have not missed anything.

Despite the slightly awkward transitions in the book, Ashby’s writing is still promising and I look forward to the sequel. On the whole, vN is an impressive début that brings a much needed human aspect to the tried and tested robot stories.

Waiting For Daybreak by Amanda McNeil

What is normal?

Frieda has never felt normal. She feels every emotion too strongly and lashes out at herself in punishment. But one day when she stays home from work too depressed to get out of bed, a virus breaks out turning her neighbors into flesh-eating, brain-hungry zombies. As her survival instinct kicks in keeping her safe from the zombies, Frieda can’t help but wonder if she now counts as healthy and normal, or is she still abnormal compared to every other human being who is craving brains?
Waiting for Daybreak is a rather unique zombie tale. Instead of focusing on the horrors of flesh eating undead, the book reads more like a personal diary of survival.

In the first part of the book, we are treated to Frieda’s musings and generally how her life has changed since the outbreak. We learn that the zombie outbreak has created some inconveniences in Frieda’s life but otherwise she has been doing fine by herself, getting the resources that she and her cat need.

During one of Frieda’s routine scavenges, she meets Mike, another survivor of the zombie apocalypse and quickly develops a romantic yet slightly awkward relationship with him. It is during this part that the book explores how these characters cope with the despair and loneliness of knowing that they are possibly the last surviving people on the planet.

If you have seen or read I Am Legend then you will see some similarity between that and this story. Both stories ask the question of what is normal if you are the last human left on the planet and whether it’s better to just let nature runs its course.

Even though Waiting for Daybreak is a quick read, it has a fully fleshed out story with a fascinating and different lead character and is very entertaining overall.

This review is posted as part of the Waiting for Daybreak blog tour. Be sure to check out the rest of the tour at Opinions of a Wolf

About the author
Amanda McNeil lives in Boston in a funky attic apartment that used to be a servant’s quarters. She, alas, must write by night and work by day. She writes scifi, urban fantasy, paranormal romance, and horror and has been strongly influenced by Stephen King, Margaret Atwood, and Chuck Palahniuk.

Her first book, Ecstatic Evil, was released on July 7, 2011. Its sequel is set during American Thanksgiving and the release date is not set yet.

Her second book, Waiting for Daybreak, about a woman with Borderline Personality Disorder attempting to survive a zombie-like virus outbreak in Boston, was released on June 4, 2012.

You may contact Amanda at opinionsofawolf@gmail.com and find her online at her blog where she also maintains an up-to-date listing of her published short stories.

Ravenor: The Omnibus by Dan Abnett

In the war-torn future of the 41st millennium, the Inquisition fights a secret war against the darkest enemies of mankind – the alien, the heretic and the daemon. The three stories in this omnibus tell the tale of Inquisitor Gideon Ravenor and his lethal band of operatives, whose investigations take them from the heart of the Scarus Sector to the wildest regions of space beyond, and even through time itself. Wherever they go, and whatever dangers they face, they will never give up until their mission succeeds.

Contains the novels Ravenor, Ravenor Returned and Ravenor Rogue, plus two short stories and an introduction by the author.

In my previous review of the Eisenhorn omnibus I likened Gregor Eisenhorn to Jack Bauer of the 40k universe. Well Gideon Ravenor would definitely be Professor X of the universe. That is because like Xavier, Ravenor is a crippled but talented psyker and of course a natural leader of his retinue. However I did feel that sometimes Ravenor is too powerful and nothing seems to challenge him much in the stories.

Unlike the Eisenhorn books, the stories in the Ravenor omnibus all take place in the same time period dealing with the birth of a powerful daemon named Sleet, which Eisenhorn warned Ravenor about in the audio drama Thorn Wishes Talon. Thankfully this story also appears in the omnibus so you won’t be missing out if you have not heard the audio drama.

Having read this series after finishing the amazing The Emperor’s Gift by Aaron Dembski-Bowden, I was dying to see what role Zael Efferneti plays in the story. Even though Zael doesn’t appear much in the second and third book, I think it’s great to see how such an important character began his life.

I’m also glad to see the other references to Ravenor in The Emperor’s Gift, especially the psychic gift possessed by Hyperion where he reaches down to the planet’s inhabitants and feels what they feel.

Ravenor
The omnibus begins with the Inquisitor and his team investigates a new Warp tainted drug that is quickly gaining popularity within the Imperium in Ravenor. As the investigation deepens, Ravenor discovers that there is a far more nefarious plan afoot and he and his team must do everything they can to save the Imperium.

Like the Eisenhorn stories, what started off as a routine investigation quickly goes out of control as the Inquisitor unravels the real puppet master that is behind the scenes. So the twists in the story aren’t that surprising but entertaining enough to keep you reading on.

Despite being disabled, Ravenor has the ability to ware other people, that is control them and often enhances their ability to give the people he controls more mobility and faster reflexes. He also uses his powerful mind to fight psychic battles with other psykers. Even though these psychic battles are lovingly described, I still prefer to read about fights involving real blood and sweat.

Ravenor Returned
Having surviving the plot to eliminate his entire team in Ravenor, the Inquisitor now returns to Eustis Majoris in secret to destroy Contract 13 and rid the corruption in the planetary government. In this book, Ravenor also knows that a powerful daemon will be born and one of his team will somehow be involved.

The story is a great continuation of the first book and the stakes are now much higher with the entire planet at risk. The pace is fast and unrelenting, and you can feel the urgency all the way through.

Even though the 40k universe as described by Abnett is vastly different to the lore that I know, I think the author did an excellent job putting his unique mark into this shared universe.


Ravenor Rogue
The final book of the series and things get pretty weird as Ravenor chases his arch-nemesis Molotch across space and time. This is truly a fantastic ending to another great series by Abnett.

One of the great things about this finale is the unpredictability of story and it keeps you guessing what is going to happen when Ravenor and his team enters through that door.

Maybe I’ve played too much Diablo 3 lately but the description of Sleet as he is coming into the material world reminds me of the Dark Thrall. What do you think?

On the whole the series offer another fascinating look into the operation of the Inquisition in the 40k universe. I found Ravenor to be too uptight and not as complex as Eisenhorn but still nonetheless interesting in his own way.

As for Ravenor’s team, both Harlon Nayl and Kara Swole are the more well rounded characters of the lot. I wouldn’t mind reading further novellas involving these characters. In fact, I want to know more about what happened after Ravenor was involved in that tragic accident at Thracian Primaris and how he overcame his disabilities to become the renowned Inquisitor that he is. Patience Kys has her own short story featured in the omnibus but she still remain pretty much an enigma and it would be great to see her develop more in the future.

Having read both these Inquisition stories, I am extremely psyched to learn that there will be a new novel titled Pariah coming out that will pit Ravenor against Eisenhorn. I can’t wait to see how Ravenor will deal with his old mentor. I will be even more thrilled if the story completes the connections and Hyperion makes an appearance in the novel.

Feng Shui Assassin by Adrian Hall

HARVEY BARKER
is an assassin on the trail of the trustees of the Valentine Trust determined to avenge the death of his sister. He kills through the use of feng shui – the placing of objects to create negative karma.

DC AMANDA MORGAN
is investigating a suicide and other bizarre accidents, following a trail that makes no sense but that keeps turning up bodies.

FENG SHUI
With knowledge and wisdom ch’i can be used for beneficial and fortuitous practice.

But there are some who use ch’i for a darker purpose.
Feng Shui and Assassin are not two words that you would normally associate with each other but the book Feng Shui Assassin gives this concept a good go and brings a new angle to the ancient Chinese believe of Feng Shui. This book is essentially a tale of revenge and reminds me of those classic Hong Kong Wuxia movies, a little silly at times but extremely entertaining to read.

Harvey Barker is the aforementioned assassin in the book and he is killing off the people who are responsible for his sister’s death by using Feng Shui. The idea of using Feng Shui to cause death is a neat idea but my only gripe is that the effects happened too damn fast. Harvey managed to cause one of his targets to commit suicide in the space of a few minutes just by offsetting some pictures and paperwork. If Feng Shui is so powerful then there would be many more people winning the lottery instantly because of how they dressed or how their rooms are laid out.

Anyway, Harvey is not the only supernatural killer out there and soon he faces a Yoga master, a hitman with the ability to kill people with his origami objects as well as others. The abilities sound funny but the fight between the Feng Shui assassin and the Yoga master was pretty exciting to read. If you’ve ever read any Naruto then you definitely have an idea how Chakra is used in the fight scene.

This was a fun read and Hall has done a wonderful job combining mystical arts from a number of different cultures into a highly imaginative story. The story has excellent pacing and never a dull moment. The story is a refreshing change from the magic spells, vampires or werewolves that we see so often in urban fantasy.

I don’t know if the author is planning to write any more stories but I’m definitely looking forward to some more.

Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig

Miriam Black knows when you will die.

She’s foreseen hundreds of car crashes, heart attacks, strokes, and suicides.

But when Miriam hitches a ride with Louis Darling and shakes his hand, she sees that in thirty days Louis will be murdered while he calls her name. Louis will die because he met her, and she will be the next victim.

No matter what she does she can’t save Louis. But if she wants to stay alive, she’ll have to try.

Blackbirds by Chung Wendig has been on my radar due to the amazing amount of praise I’ve been hearing around the blogosphere. So I was extremely thrilled when the book was chosen as the June book club read with Fantasy Faction as I get to share with others on their reading experience.

Now that I have some time to reflect, I can honestly say that the book is one hell of a ride. The book reads like a Tarantino movie and grabs you from the very beginning with its enigmatic protagonist Miriam. If you are looking for a dark, gritty urban fantasy then this one is for you but be warned that this book does contain some strong language.

Through a series of well-crafted interludes, we begin to understand how this prophetic gift that Miriam has works and how it has cursed her life. It is also in these interludes that we learn who Miriam really is and why she is trekking all over the country. However things are never easy for her because of her gift, and soon she finds herself involved with a smug conman on the run from a group of blood thirsty criminals.

The book has some memorable and convincing villains but my one complaint is the trucker Louis who just seemed to good too be true. No matter what happened to him in the book, he is always cheery and for some reason, extremely tolerant of Miriam. However he does make an interesting contrast to Miriam and I wonder if they can ever work out due to how different they are in character.

This book is well paced and well put together. It had me racing to the end to see if Miriam could succeed in altering what Fate has planned. Blackbirds is a fantastic book and I will definitely read the sequel,Mockingbird which comes out in September 2012 through Angry Robot.

Shadow of Kings by Jack Whitsel

Steel and sorcery clash as the Harhn incursion sweeps through the Hugue. Mankind faces its greatest peril without the Order Knights of legend to defend them. Crusading deep in the frontier, the Order is unaware of the savage beasts threatening their homeland as the Hugue realms muster their armies for war. Between a cunning Harhn sorcerer, and an alliance forged with the decadent Darkfey, the horde threatens to extinguish the domains of men. Only Lord Baudouin and Lady Lucia, a Dragon Maiden from the Order, stand in the enemy’s path. One must find the strength to unify the realms. The other must discover the strength within her, while coming to terms with the agendas of her Order. But only together will there be any hope to repel the onslaught, and preserve the future for a mysterious girl they do not know.
Shadows of Kings is the debut novel from author Jack Whitsel, a traditional fantasy story about the struggles of war and a promising start to the series. Thanks Twilight Times Books for providing me a copy of the book.

The story is mostly told from the viewpoints of Lucia and Baudouin. Lucia starts off as a young and naive Dragon Maiden in service to the Order and by the end of the book we see Lucia growing up and adapting to her new found powers. Lord Baudouin is a chivalrous knight with the duty to protect people of the Hugue from the impending invasion of the Harhn.

The world has a fascinating history and it is obvious that the author has given much thought on all the key players that helped shaped the world into what it is. However throughout the book I can’t help but feel that the author was withholding information and saving up for a big reveal in the later books. Despite this, the book does come to a satisfying conclusion.

In short, Shadow of Kings is a fun quick read but I feel the author played it safe by sticking a little too close to traditional fantasy idea of good versus evil, human versus the others. I would be interested to see if the second novel will spice things up a bit.

About the author
Jack Whitsel is a native Californian, but has made Oregon his home since 1982. His favorite genres are fantasy and historical fiction. Shadows of Kings, the first novel of the Dragon Rising Series is the love child born of these two passions. “I love the elements of fantasy when mixed with the gritty aspects of a medieval society.”

Updates and Inexpensive Fantasy Reads

I’ve been taking a break from writing reviews but I should be resuming next week.

By the way there are some great fantasy deals happening over on Amazon. Each of the following books is at £1.99 and I would recommend everyone to pick them up.

Prince of Thorns by Mark LawrencePrince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

When he was nine, he watched as his mother and brother were killed before him. At thirteen, he led a band of bloodthirsty thugs. By fifteen, he intends to be king…
It’s time for Prince Honorous Jorg Ancrath to return to the castle he turned his back on, to take what’s rightfully his. Since the day he hung pinned on the thorns of a briar patch and watched Count Renar’s men slaughter his mother and young brother, Jorg has been driven to vent his rage. Life and death are no more than a game to him–and he has nothing left to lose. But treachery awaits him in his father’s castle. Treachery and dark magic. No matter how fierce his will, can one young man conquer enemies with power beyond his imagining?

Amazon Link

The Blade Itself by Joe AbercrombieThe Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie

Logen Ninefingers, infamous barbarian, has finally run out of luck. Caught in one feud too many, he’s on the verge of becoming a dead barbarian – leaving nothing behind him but bad songs, dead friends, and a lot of happy enemies.

Nobleman, dashing officer, and paragon of selfishness, Captain Jezal dan Luthar has nothing more dangerous in mind than fleecing his friends at cards and dreaming of glory in the fencing circle. But war is brewing, and on the battlefields of the frozen North they fight by altogether bloodier rules.

Inquisitor Glokta, cripple turned torturer, would like nothing better than to see Jezal come home in a box. But then Glokta hates everyone: cutting treason out of the Union one confession at a time leaves little room for friendship. His latest trail of corpses may lead him right to the rotten heart of government, if he can stay alive long enough to follow it.

Enter the wizard, Bayaz. A bald old man with a terrible temper and a pathetic assistant, he could be the First of the Magi, he could be a spectacular fraud, but whatever he is, he’s about to make the lives of Logen, Jezal, and Glotka a whole lot more difficult.

Murderous conspiracies rise to the surface, old scores are ready to be settled, and the line between hero and villain is sharp enough to draw blood. Unpredictable, compelling, wickedly funny, and packed with unforgettable characters, The Blade Itself is noir fantasy with a real cutting edge.

Amazon Link

Rivers of London by Ben AaronovitchRivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch

Probationary Constable Peter Grant dreams of being a detective in London’s Metropolitan Police. Too bad his superior plans to assign him to the Case Progression Unit, where the biggest threat he’ll face is a paper cut. But Peter’s prospects change in the aftermath of a puzzling murder, when he gains exclusive information from an eyewitness who happens to be a ghost. Peter’s ability to speak with the lingering dead brings him to the attention of Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale, who investigates crimes involving magic and other manifestations of the uncanny. Now, as a wave of brutal and bizarre murders engulfs the city, Peter is plunged into a world where gods and goddesses mingle with mortals and a long-dead evil is making a comeback on a rising tide of magic.

Amazon Link

The Sword Of Shannara by Terry BrooksThe Sword Of Shannara by Terry Brooks

Long ago, wars of ancient Evil ruined the world and forced mankind to compete with many other races – gnomes, trolls, dwarfs, and elves. In peaceful Shady Vale, half-elfin Shea Ohmsford knows little of such troubles until giant, forbidding Allanon, with strange Druidic powers, reveals a supposedly-dead Warlock Lord plots to destroy the world.

The sole weapon against this Power of Darkness is the Sword of Shannara, only usable by a true heir of Shannara. On Shea, last of the bloodline, rests the hope of all the races. Soon a Skull Bearer, dread minion of Evil, flies into the Vale to kill Shea. To save the Vale, Shea flees, drawing the Skull Bearer after him.

Amazon Link

Punishment by Anne Holt

“In a matter of days, two children in Norway have been kidnapped – by whom and for what reason is anyone’s guess. And now one child is dead, packed like a piece of furniture and delivered to his parents’ home with a horrifying note. Stumped and desperate, Norwegian police inspector Adam Stubo hopes former FBI profiler Johanne Vik can come up with answers.” “Already immersed in the investigation of a murder suspect who fled to the United States forty years ago, Vik is reluctant to take on the case of this boy and the kidnapping of a little girl named Emilie, two crimes which seem to have nothing in common. Then another child is abducted, and Vik, a mother of a six-year-old herself, can no longer stand idly by.” Now, with a few clues in sight and the lives of who knows how many innocents at stake, Stubo and Vik weave their way through a complex maze of madness and revenge. For Stubo, who knows all too well what it is like to lose a child, talking to the grieving parents is a nightmare in itself. But it can’t compare to what one particular little girl is experiencing at the hands of a madman.

I’ve been reading a lot of SciFi and Fantasy lately and it’s been a while since I’ve read any good thrillers so I decided to take a break with a Crime Fiction novel. Punishment also known as What is Mine is the first book in a Norwegian series featuring former FBI profiler Johanne Vik. What started off as an exciting story about kidnapped children and a crazed killer, only to be let down by a series of disappointing events that are too convenient and coincidental.

Joanne Vik was brought into the case of missing children by Superintendent Adam Stubo because of her outspoken behaviour on television and her so called expertise. However in this book, Vik hardly uses her profiling skills, instead most of the book has her chasing after another story she is working on for her own academic studies or refusing to help with the investigation.

The book doesn’t focus on the investigation either, as most of it happens behind the scenes. We just know that Stubo somehow stumbled on to the killer through his interviews with the victims’ mothers and that he knew he found the killer because of his gut instinct as an experienced law enforcer. I thought crime novels would involve more police work or perhaps I’m just spoilt by the clear and precise investigations in Jeffery Deaver’s books.

While the tension of the kidnappings was tight, it was broken by Vik’s own research into a past case that has no bearing on the current investigation. The linkage between the two cases at the end of the book is so contrived that it should never have got past the editor. I would have bat my eyes to this if this was the only coincidence in the book but no, the killer has to convenient clash with another wanted man in another case. In the end the book is just a bunch of laughable dei ex machinis.

The two main characters, Vik and Stubo are the only redeeming factors in this book. They are fairly interesting and each has their own problems to take care of before they can begin a relationship together. However I wish Holt would have spent as much time on the killer to explain his actions rather than simply cast him as an outcast of society.

I guess I just expected too much from someone who is marketed as the next Stieg Larsson.

1 Year Blogoversary Giveaway

I just realised I’ve been book blogging for over a year now. At first it was simply a way for me to catalogue the books I’ve been reading on my e-reader and along the way I’ve met plenty of like-minded people as well as many wonderful authors.

So as a thank you to everyone’s support over the year, I’m going to be hosting a giveaway. Since I don’t think the international readers get enough love, this competition will be available worldwide providing you can use Amazon.com or wherever Book Depository will deliver to.

The winner will win a $25 Amazon Giftcard or may pick any number of books up to $25 from Book Depository.

To enter, simply fill in the Rafflecopter form.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

The giveaway will end on Sunday 15th July and the winner will be contacted by whatever method Rafflecopter lets me within a week after the giveaway ends.

Thanks for entering and Good luck! 🙂

The Alchemist of Souls by Anne Lyle

When Tudor explorers returned from the New World, they brought back a name out of half-forgotten Viking legend: skraylings. Red-sailed ships followed in the explorers’ wake, bringing Native American goods–and a skrayling ambassador–to London. But what do these seemingly magical beings really want in Elizabeth I’s capital?

Mal Catlyn, a down-at-heel swordsman, is seconded to the ambassador’s bodyguard, but assassination attempts are the least of his problems. What he learns about the skraylings and their unholy powers could cost England her new ally–and Mal his soul.

Anne Lyle’s The Alchemist of Souls was my May book club read with Fantasy Faction. I don’t usually read fantasy stories based on real history but I think Lyle has found the right balance between the real and the imaginary. For me the story would have worked just as well as a historical fiction with the fantasy elements omitted.

Lyle is a great writer as evident in her expertly described vision of Elizabethan England and her fascinating characters. Although I struggled a bit at the beginning as I found the pacing a little slow but the plot and mystery had me intrigued right to the end. I really want to understand why the skrayling ambassador is so interested in Mal, who seems like just a regular sword for hire. Besides the plot, I also enjoyed reading the developing relationship between Mal and Coby and I hope we get to see more of it in the next book.

It is interesting to see how Lyle’s believe was brought to life in this book in regards to gender issues. Coby is a budding young woman who has to hide her sex in order to survive on her own in a male dominated world; the skraylings revolve around a matriarchy where they would seek approval from the females and then there are the gay characters who have to deal with persecution. I think it is great that Lyle is calling attention to these issues as we still face them in this day and age.

The ending leaves me with plenty of questions and I wonder how they will be addressed in the forthcoming book The Merchant of Dreams?

The Alchemist of Souls is a wonderful début and a brilliant start to the Night’s Masque series and will definitely appeal to both historical fiction and fantasy fans.