Friday, March 16, 2018

BIRD BOX, four years late to the party but reviewed at last...and highly praised


Ecco Press
$25.99 hardcover, available now

Rating: 4* of five

The Publisher Says: Something is out there, something terrifying that must not be seen. One glimpse of it, and a person is driven to deadly violence. No one knows what it is or where it came from.

Five years after it began, a handful of scattered survivors remains, including Malorie and her two young children. Living in an abandoned house near the river, she has dreamed of fleeing to a place where they might be safe. Now that the boy and girl are four, it's time to go, but the journey ahead will be terrifying: twenty miles downriver in a rowboat--blindfolded--with nothing to rely on but her wits and the children’s trained ears. One wrong choice and they will die. Something is following them all the while, but is it man, animal, or monster?

Interweaving past and present, Bird Box is a snapshot of a world unraveled that will have you racing to the final page.

My Review: So I was packing this up to send to a longtime friend when I ran across a review of another Malerman, Unbury Carol, and got to thinking about whether I'd reviewed this book or not. Checking it out, turns out I never did! Well, I got it from Ecco in 2014, and that was the year I went crazy, so I guess I have an excuse.

Now that we're into 2018, we're in for a film of the book! Eric Heisserer wrote, Sandra Bullock stars, Netflix distributes the five-years-coming feature, which sold to Hollyweird before the book came out. Say what you will about Heisserer's Arrival as an adaptation of Ted Chiang's "Story of Your Life", it was a well-written movie qua movie.

I was amazed at how proficient Malerman's prose was when I read the book. It's the artifact of a lot of rewrites and it's been guided by skilled hands. He did his mom proud. (He dedicated the book to her.) I was so happy with the way Malerman unfolded the story. He was careful to make that the sensation of reading the story...unfolding, like an origami crane being reverse engineered or a time-lapse film of a sunflower blossoming.

Malorie is one hard-luck chickie. She no sooner gets free of her hick-town upbringing than she gets caught. She no sooner tells her mama she's gonna be a grandmother than the whole world goes batshit crazy and starts killing themselves and each other. She no sooner gets to a safe haven than someone sabotages it...but this time she's got some luck! She manages to keep herself and her baby, oh and another woman's baby because why have trouble when you could have double trouble?, alive! Yay?

The way Malorie survives is astoundingly grim. I don't honestly know why she kept going. To do what, accomplish what? Blindfolds are the only protection from seeing whatever it is that makes normal people do violent and abnormal things. She and the two kids are almost always blindfolded it seems. But is this a way to live? Malorie asks herself this all the time, but appears to reach no answer and by default keeps herself and Boy and Girl alive. (That's what she calls them, not me being cute. After all who needs names in a group of three?)

So there it set-up par excellence. I was drawn in to Malorie's living arrangements and compromises and was rocked along by the pace of the story. I am really impressed by Ecco's production of the actual physical book. The cover is a lovely photo of the titular birds; the jacket has a cut-out to the bird image; the title page has a wonderfully creepy tree motif that the chapter titles echo. It's all of a well-thought-out piece. It gives the novel a very evocative and appropriate book to home itself in.

What a treat it was to read it. I can see that it's got terrific film potential. I'm not at all surprised that it's ended up at Netflix, it's a perfect fit for their catalogue. I hope you'll read the book, and expect that if you do, you'll want to see the film.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

UNNATURAL, fourth in the Enlightenment series of Joanna Chambers' Late-Regency novels

(Enlightenment #4)
Kindle edition
$3.99 available now

Rating: 4.5* of five

The Publisher Says: Captain Iain Sinclair has looks, charm, military honours—even the favour of the king himself. He has everything—everything, that is, except the friendship of the one man whose good opinion he has ever cared for, scientist, James Hart.

James has loved Iain all his life, but after the last disastrous encounter between them, he vowed to accept no more crumbs from Iain’s table. If Iain cannot be the lover James wants, then James will have no more to do with him.

Disenchanted with his career, and miserable without James in his life, Iain decides to leave military service and embark upon a new career in India. Before he leaves England behind, though, he is determined to try one last time to reconcile with his dearest friend.

An invitation to a country house party from James’s sister provides the perfect opportunity to pin James down and force him to finally listen to Iain’s apology. But when Iain discovers that an apology is not enough—that James is not willing settle for less than a lover—he is forced to reconsider everything: his life, his future career, and most of all, his feelings for James.

My Review: A series that ends with a secondary character's starring role in a series novel is a very strong series indeed. This book takes a character from book 2 of the main series, Enlightenment, and gives him a star turn. Captain Iain Sinclair is King George IV's aide-de-camp, responsible to the newly enthroned Prinny for managing the flow of people seeking his attention all the while serving his army masters as a spy on His Pathetic Majesty's private life and thoughts.

Characteristically for the charismatic and unprincipled Iain, it's the tedium and not the moral questionability of his job that drives him to resign his commission in His Majesty's Army. Dealing with the Royal Twit's sulks, tantrums, and crotchets makes Iain crazy. He does it for three years because he's ashamed to let go of the army career that has enabled him to feel his father's mildest, most conditional affection every once in a way.

You see, Iain had the bad taste to be gay. He's a younger son, so there aren't dynastic consequences. But his father, already disappointed in his own life, puts extra weight on Iain and feels he was sorely let down by him on a horrible occasion back before discovering the lad's gayness. He speaks awful, hateful words to his son, and essentially does his dead-level best to be hateful and terrible to him as often as possible. This is made easier for "Father" Dear as his personal and familial disappointments are constantly laved in the (un-)balm of alcohol. Iain is only slightly redeemed by his Army commission and his tales of derring-do in battle.

But then the Napoleonic Wars end. Being an aide-de-camp to the King...well...not quite so exciting as battlefield stuff, though goddesses know that most fathers of that era would be kvelling over their son's closeness to the Royal Person. Not Iain's, no indeed. Where does Iain turn for his affections to be returned?

His best friend, the younger but more intelligent James Hart. Jamie has hero-worshipped his dashing, sophisticated older friend most of his life. Their mothers and older sisters are fast friends. Their proximity and their mutual admiration lead the usual places for young gay boys in the country with no other objects of desire. But only after the older Iain has some experience under his belt, having been away in the Army and all. And James gets a first-hand look at what Iain has learned! Mind=blown.

So what if Iain isn't the marrying kind and his country mouse is?

When we meet Iain in the series universe it is as a fellow debauchee of starchy David Lauriston's rakehell true love, Lord Murdo Balfour. The King's Scottish tour was organized to keep the fat old fool busy while the *real* governing class gets on with drawing a plan to keep peace and foster stability in all of Europe. (It was remarkably successful.) The fool's progress through Scotland was Iain's worst nightmare and his resignation came shortly after it was over. Iain is still hurting from James' inability to be just friends with the man he loves and idolizes. After one truly gorgeous lovemaking session, a romantic and loving scene described by Author Chambers in her trademark spare and evocative style, Iain has severe collywobbles and runs away, comme d'habitude. James is...done, through, out of patience with his beloved's assholish behavior, both at that moment and later when James runs Iain to ground to have it out with him in fashionable London's bordello of choice for sodomites. (Doubly funny since the sin of the Sodomites was lack of hospitality to strangers, and what could *possibly* be more hospitable than a bordello?! That lack of the hospitable spirit's why ol' Yhwh rained fire and brimstone down on 'em. Look it up! It's right there in that Bible the homophobes beat us up with.)

This novel's structure shifts points of view between the men as well as time-shifts between past and present. That can feel a little seasick at times. There is one section of the men at a fight that I skimmed...I don't like it went on a bit long. But in the moments that make the series of novels work, the quiet and private moments of two young men flouting every tradition and every custom they've been raised to uphold and revere, Author Chambers delivers the goods and then some.

There is a love nest scene...the young men coming into a prepared love nest for the first time...that made me smile as wide as anything I've ever read. There was an al fresco scene that caused a mild attack of the vapours. There was a moment between two siblings that made me sadly aware that very few gay people in this country, and in this world, have real families. There were deeply affecting scenes in almost every chapter (every if you're more boxing tolerant than I am). This is an historical novel with gay main characters, though, and make no mistake. Romantic yes, romance no. It's closer to a romance than the main trilogy, which I'd call a long historical novel, is, but still not enough of the beats of a genre romance are there for that subset of readers.

I went into the read expecting that to be the case so I was not jolted by the lacks and absences. If you'll set aside romance novel ideation and think of the books as historical novels, I suspect you'll thoroughly enjoy the reads.

ENLIGHTENED, third Joanna Chambers historical novel in the Enlightenment series

(Enlightenment #3)
Kindle edition
$3.99 available now

Rating: 4.5* of five

The Publisher Says: David Lauriston has been recuperating at Lord Murdo Balfour’s Laverock estate for the last five months. At Laverock, he has regained his health and confidence and has found—with Murdo—more happiness and contentment than he has never known before.

David is all too aware that some day soon he will have to leave Laverock—and Murdo—and return to his legal practice in Edinburgh, just as Murdo will have to return to his life in London. But when David’s mentor, Patrick Chalmers, asks David to return to Edinburgh to visit him on his deathbed, it seems that day has come sooner than either David or Murdo would have wished.

Chalmers begs David to undertake one last piece of business for him: to secure the future of Chalmers’s daughter Elizabeth. But to carry out his old mentor’s wishes, David must travel to London, with Murdo.

No sooner have the two men arrived in the capital than they encounter Murdo’s ruthlessly manipulative father, who reveals a shocking secret that rocks David to his foundations. What’s more, when David discovers Elizabeth is facing far greater danger than even her father feared, he is determined to help her, no matter the cost to his own safety.

As the stakes rise, it is Murdo who must choose what he is prepared to sacrifice to keep David at his side, and ask whether there is any possibility of lasting happiness for men like them.

My Review: Yes indeed, this is the way to end a series/long book. A completely satisfying and inevitable ending that managed to come about in a logical and challenging way.

The lead-up to the ending ain't half bad, either, but it's this ending...won't spoiler it for y'all, the Antispoilerization Brigade gets downright violent...that explains why I connected with this series of just-post-Regency-set books.

How to explain without giving the show away...geez...this is as rough as explaining what the fuss about non-masturbatory orgasms is to one who has never had one...okay, lemme see here, you know how your intimate loved one has this set of things you know they do and do well? Your Lovely Other, as a Kiwi friend of mine refers to her partner, operates in this expected way and you're happy with that (or you're the Remodeler and should be excoriated and shunned, if you don't like the house don't buy it), even proud of the high end of the range of behaviors.

Then comes the day when there's a lot at stake, the high end of the range that you love in them isn't going to solve all the problems but hey, pobody's nerfect, and...


...they come ripping through good enough and fly up to jaw-dropping otherworldly excellence-cum-terrifying gut-wrenching omigawd-we're-gonna-die recklessness...


...and there you are arms outstretched to catch them when the inevitable fall comes, praying you're strong enough to keep them at least alive...


...and they land light as a feather next to you, take your hand, smile and say, "shall we go home now, dear?"

And that, my friends, is that. You will never, ever look at another human being without thinking, "you poor miserable sod, My Very Own Love doesn't know you're alive but can't wait to get home to *me*," with a smug, superior smirk on your nasty little unfairly-lucky-rotter face.

Fortunately we have fiction to take us there. It's not the most common IRL experience, is it. This series/fairly long novel gave me that experience. Read the three main novels and it's just possible it might give you the same one. I encourage you to try at least volume 1, Provoked.

*cue evil cackle and commence addictive reading in 3...2...1...*

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

BEGUILED, second Enlightenment novel by Joanna Chambers

(Enlightenment #2)
Kindle edition
$3.99 available now

Rating: 4* of five

The Publisher Says: Two years after his last encounter with cynical nobleman Lord Murdo Balfour, David Lauriston accidentally meets him again in the heart of Edinburgh.

King George IV is about to make his first visit to Edinburgh and Murdo has been sent North by his politician father to represent his aristocratic family at the celebrations.

David and Murdo’s last parting was painful—and on Murdo’s part, bitter—but Murdo’s feelings seem to have mellowed in the intervening years. So much so, that he suggests to David that they enjoy each other’s company during Murdo’s stay in the capital.
Despite his initial reservations, David cannot put Murdo’s proposal from his mind, and soon find himself at Murdo’s door—and in his arms.

But other figures from David’s past are converging on the city, and as the pomp and ceremony of the King’s visit unfolds around them, David is drawn into a chain of events that will threaten everything: his career, his wellbeing, and the fragile bond that, despite David’s best intentions, is growing between him and Murdo.

My Review: One quote to rule the book:
A man will fight for hate for a long time, but he will fight for love to the death.

Every single moment of this entry into the series is about Murdo's hate for the way his world wants him to behave, and his love for David, which is (he very much fears) unreciprocated.

It is also about how deeply David detests his weakness of character that forbids him to turn his face to his true love and say, simply and directly, "I love you, Murdo."

These men fight like wounded Spartans at Thermopylae for the victory of love...for others, straight others at that...and end up with a situation neither could've planned, predicted, laid a course for, and that perfectly suits their almost desperate hunger for space and time to revel in the love they share but can't quite figure out how to make manifest.

And can't admit they share because Rules and Reasons. Well, as you'd expect in a romantic novel, the Rules go right out the door and the Reasons fly out the window behind them. The plot device for this to happen is quite bittersweet, involving loss and pain for starchy little prig David, whose quite fragile heart is at odds with his armor-clad and spike-encrusted Sense of Honour. Murdo is, as always, staunch in his defense of David's well-being even when it hurts him quite deeply to privilege the twerp's sense of ma'at over his own desperate needs. They are, after all, of different classes and from radically (!) different kinds of families. Dynastic and political pressures apply to Murdo that simply pass lower-class David's ken. But one thing we all know: In books, Love Conquers All.


The historical aspects of the series please me, the characters are limned economically if, at times, a bit more of Murdo's "fractional relaxation"s and Imma cut a bitch....and the timelessness of men's cowardliness in the face of vulnerability makes volume 3 a must-read. Goodreads reviewer Heather_k described the series as one long novel. I concur. Start at the beginning, read to the end; it's also got a short fiction entry, Seasons Pass, which is best read for free before reading this book. It explains in detail the way Murdo ends up in Edinburgh at the Royal Tour.

It also sets up the fourth book of the trilogy, much like The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy trilogy of five books, which I hope you'll get hooked enough to want to read.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

HOARFROST, sixth Whyborne & Griffin paranormal romp...set in Gold-Rush era ALASKA!

(Whyborne & Griffin #6)
Kindle edition
$4.99 available now

Rating: 4.5* of five

The Publisher Says: Sorcerer Percival Endicott Whyborne and his husband Griffin Flaherty have enjoyed an unprecedented stretch of peace and quiet. Unfortunately, the calm is shattered by the arrival of a package from Griffin’s brother Jack, who has uncovered a strange artifact while digging for gold in Alaska. The discovery of a previously unknown civilization could revive the career of their friend Dr. Christine Putnam—or it might kill them all, if the hints of dark sorcery surrounding the find are true.

With Christine and her fiancĂ© Iskander, Whyborne and Griffin must journey to the farthest reaches of the arctic to stop an ancient evil from claiming the life of Griffin’s brother. But in the rough mining camp of Hoarfrost, secrets fly as thickly as the snow, and Whyborne isn’t the only sorcerer drawn by the rumors of magic. Amidst a wilderness of ice and stone, Griffin must either face his greatest fear—or lose everyone he loves.

My Review: And here is where everything changes.

The first words of this book, Griffin's words which marks the first big change, are:
Pa was dead.
POW just like that you, the series' reader on through this sixth entry, are busted in the chops. The long history of Griffin and his adoptive father is now over. The possibility of a reconciliation is gone forever. Now Griffin has to find a way to forgive. Forgiveness is vital to an injured, abused child. It doesn't always mean restored relationships. But Griffin is now past the point where that can happen.

First words of the first page. THAT is bravery, Author Hawk.

Will it surprise you to learn that Griffin's revelation is but the first painful wrench in this journey? I thought not. Griffin's father's memorial service, as he was asked by his adoptive mother not to attend the funeral, brings comfort to Griffin from the depths of the sea that Widdershins abuts, and allows him to hope in his desolated heart that the letters his father returned to sender unopened will finally reach the hard, unforgiving heart of the old man via their smoke.

The events of the book begin on a beach in Widdershins and end on a dockside in Alaska, and there is not one moment of downtime anywhere along the way. We're treated to mushing across the frozen tundra, spelunking for relics of an ancient civilization, sibling and familial rivalries that can never fully be resolved, and meetings with old enemies that change the course of countless lives. Whyborne and Griffin are, through it all, steadfastly each others' rock and refuge. Their misunderstandings are all based in the intense desire of the lover to protect the beloved at all costs. Their ultimate challenge is always "how can I be sure my own true love is safe? how can I make him safe first, then whole, then happy?"

The answers are, for the first time, given in chapters told from alternating points of view. It's about time that Author Hawk gave Griffin some real, extended attention. I welcome this new format. Also welcome is Griffin's newfound brother Jack. He's got possibilities, and I hope we'll see him again. The memory he shared of giving his coat to Griffin as he was taken in by a different family, one that wasn't like Griffin's, was deeply moving.

If my previous warblings of pleasure haven't convinced you to give the series a try, this one won't either. But you are missing a treat.

PROVOKED, first in the Enlightenment series of historical novels featuring David Lauriston and Lord Murdo Balfour

(Enlightened #1)
Kindle edition
$3.99 available now

Rating: 4* of five

The Publisher Says: Tormented by his forbidden desires for other men and the painful memories of the childhood friend he once loved, lawyer David Lauriston tries to maintain a celibate existence while he forges his reputation in Edinburgh’s privileged legal world.

But then, into his repressed and orderly life, bursts Lord Murdo Balfour.

Cynical, hedonistic and utterly unapologetic, Murdo could not be less like David. And as appalled as David is by Murdo’s unrepentant self-interest, he cannot resist the man’s sway. Murdo tempts and provokes David in equal measure, forcing him to acknowledge his physical desires.

But Murdo is not the only man distracting David from his work. Euan MacLennan, the brother of a convicted radical David once represented, approaches David to beg him for help. Euan is searching for the government agent who sent his brother to Australia on a convict ship, and other radicals to the gallows. Despite knowing it may damage his career, David cannot turn Euan away.

As their search progresses, it begins to look as though the trail may lead to none other than Lord Murdo Balfour, and David has to wonder whether it’s possible Murdo could be more than he seems. Is he really just a bored aristocrat, amusing himself at David’s expense, or could he be the agent provocateur responsible for the fate of Peter MacLennan and the other radicals?

My Review: I'd rate this lower if I hadn't been prepared for the modest sexual content. What there was the author did well and it wasn't gratuitous or inorganic. I was sure the story needed to be in that place at that moment; I was sure the characters were true to their established motivations; in the end, it wasn't about dissatisfaction that I've read from a few other reviewers. I suspect the issues arose from what I was inclined to see as "instaluuuv" between men of radically (!) different stations in Regency life.

That mattered a great deal more then than it does now. Not that it doesn't now, it definitely does, but then it was an issue front and center in every act of daily life. How Balfour comes on to David is completely believable. How David responds, and how he feels, is also completely believable.

That Murdo Balfour argues for the pragmatic accommodation of self to society is unremarkably in character; that David starchily stands for conformity to the harshest possible code of actions while suffering for it is also unremarkably in character for his Presbyterian upbringing. A sect that preached predestination...your soul's salvation was not earned or even earnable since God decided the identity of the 144,000 saved at the beginning of time....wasn't likely to produce anything but the most craven sorts of lickspittles.

What made the read pleasurable for me was the sense that the men were genuinely, if ineptly and obtusely, falling for the person wearing the pretty face that neither could quite unsee. David's red hair, Balfour's dark eyes, David's slightness and Balfour's height and heft...timelessly, opposites do indeed attract. But the characters, the bits that have to fit if a passion is to alter its bell curve towards love's more complex shapes, do match. The men are motivated by their respective and surprisingly similar sense of honor.

It's just a pity that David's sense of humor is so impaired at the expense of that sense of honor.

Not for the squeamishly heterosexual.

Monday, March 12, 2018

BLOODLINE, fifth Whyborne & Griffin Lovecraft-flavored paranormal adventure

(Whyborne & Griffin #5)
Kindle edition
$4.99 available now

Rating: 4.75* of five

The Publisher Says: Between his bullying father and dissolute brother, Percival Endicott Whyborne has quite enough problematic family members to deal with. So when his sister returns to Widdershins asking for help solving the mystery of a derelict ship, Whyborne is reluctant to get involved. Until, that is, a brutal murderer strikes, leaving Whyborne and his lover Griffin no choice but to take the case.

The investigation leads them deep into a conspiracy of blackmail, murder, and darkest sorcery. But worst of all are the secrets held within the family itself, one of which will destroy everything Whyborne believed to be true, not only about his family, but about himself.

My Review: Guinevere, Lady Gravenwold, is Whyborne's elder sister. She was never on his side as a child locked in battle with Stanford, his lout of a louse of a lush of an older brother. As such she didn't and doesn't loom large in his life, being a married and titled English matron. She is, nevertheless, the vector for an abrupt and painful change in Whyborne's life and in his loving relationship with Griffin. She brings the Endicott twins, Theo and Fiona, English scions of the matrilineal ancestry shared by Whyborne's siblings. They're everyhting a country bumpkin American cousin expects English aristocrats to be: Sophisticated, glamorous, amorous (at least Theo is, noticing Whyborne "like a dessert he wants to sample" according to Griffin's sour, unimpressed take on things), and very, very eager to make their American relatives among their social conquests.

Social, and other, kinds of conquests. Many other kinds.

This entry in the series is a very different beast from the others. Yes, Whyborne still lies-by-omission to a worried Griffin about his "dabblings" into sorcery. Yes, Griffin still tries his best to stop Whyborne from taking ridiculous risks with life and limb, since he as a former Pinkerton understands how quickly a controlled situation can unravel into monstrous chaos. He's got the mental scars to prove it. But what makes this entry's stakes higher is the extremely close position of each of the story's lines to Whyborne's most beloved and cherished people.

Guinevere's biggest surprise for Whyborne is her knowledge that he's a sorceror. The Endicott twins' biggest surprise for Whyborne is their true identities. Griffin's biggest surprise for Whyborne is that he loves his Ival (awful nickname, I'd prefer "Percy" if I were Whyborne) completely and unswervingly. And it should tell you something major about this book that those aren't spoilers significant enough to rate as problematic within the events of this book.

The true nature of Widdershins is revealed. The true fate of the Whyborne family comes to fruition. The true nature of Whyborne's sorcerous powers blasts through any remaining walls of fear to be brought fully into his intimates' lives.

A new people, the ketoi, play their most significant role to date. The beauty of their existence is heart-hurting by the end of the book.

Author Hawk has made these books cumulative in their emotional effect. Read them in order. And I strongly recommend you read them.

Friday, March 9, 2018

ALL THESE WORLDS is the end of our fun tour of the Bobiverse

(Bobiverse #3)
Worldbuilders Press
$4.99 ereader platforms, available now

Rating: 4* of five

The Publisher Says: Being a sentient spaceship really should be more fun. But after spreading out through space for almost a century, Bob and his clones just can't stay out of trouble.

They've created enough colonies so humanity shouldn't go extinct. But political squabbles have a bad habit of dying hard, and the Brazilian probes are still trying to take out the competition. And the Bobs have picked a fight with an older, more powerful species with a large appetite and a short temper.

Still stinging from getting their collective butts kicked in their first encounter with the Others, the Bobs now face the prospect of a decisive final battle to defend Earth and its colonies. But the Bobs are less disciplined than a herd of cats, and some of the younger copies are more concerned with their own local problems than defeating the Others.

Yet salvation may come from an unlikely source. A couple of eighth-generation Bobs have found something out in deep space. All it will take to save the Earth and perhaps all of humanity is for them to get it to Sol — unless the Others arrive first.

My Review: When the limitations of a single human lifespan are removed from a sentient being's development, what will happen? Will the being go mad, become frozen emotionally, decide to destroy the Universe and see what happens next?

Bob Johansson finds out.

I am jealous of Bob, I am happy Author Taylor decided to write Bob down, and I am all done with the series of novels explaining the Bobiverse. Kinda sorta wish I wasn't but I am, and I think a lot of y'all should pack a Kindle with these three novels and light out for the Bobiverse right quick. The reason is that, in reading the books in order, you'll come to realize that Author Taylor doesn't have a high opinion of the species and still makes a concerted effort to save us. He doesn't consign us to the scrapheap of history with a shrug and a ~meh~.

In this moment of US national history, it's probably more than I'd be able or even willing to do, so it made my days a bit brighter. I'm happy to be jollied along by the greater generosity of a Man with a Plan. And so, I suspect, might other guys be. And I stress the "guys" part—this is a Guy Book in every particular. There are very few female characters and only one, Bridget, is at all developed. Even she is a guy in a woman suit.

Bridget does provide something unique to the Bobiverse...she has a family, kids who grow into beings both like and unlike her. Her relationship with those kids as all the parties age...Bob, in his own way, ages as well...makes for some excellent drama and some astonishing emotional resonances with readers over 50.

I'm also at the point in life where another factor of the Bobiverse, the meditation on personal immortality and the options it provides, is particularly interesting to me. I don't think I'm quite as eager for it at my age as I would have been at Bob's age (31) when he dies. I'm not saying it doesn't have a huge upside. I'm saying that I now feel as well as see the downside, the inevitable losses and griefs piling up under the carpet until the Karastan is basically a blip on the Everest of stuff not dealt with. Author Taylor goes there, as well, and I suspect it's a subject of newfound interest to the intended audience for the book.

The idea of family comes in for some particularly inventive workouts in the Bobiverse. One of the intriguing things about immortality, particularly in Bob's form of multiple "clones" of his conscious mind branching from the moments of separation, is the expanded family sense it offers. Each new generation of Bob-clones is one more removed from Original Biological Bob, then Replicant Bob, then the cloned Bob-minds that cloned Bob-minds that now clone Bob-minds...yet all have perfect digital recall of the "ancestral" Bobs to the moment of their awareness as individuals begins.

Mind-blowing, isn't it? Think on it: generations of sibling-selves with your character! Every facet would be fully explored, of course, like all siblings each unique individual would seek to become different, to distinguish itself from all the others around it. In effect, though the clones would start with certain memories as a base of contact with all the other sibling consciousnesses, as the generations of cloning take place the point of commonality would be deeper and deeper under the sense of personal uniqueness.

It would be fascinating to see this play out! I wanna be in the Bobiverse, dammit!

Except, of course, for the Bobiversal solution to the Fermi Paradox ("where is everybody?"), the Others. A better monster-movie villain I ain't never read. Scary. Don't deny yourself the simultaneous pleasure and fear of experiencing the Bobiverse! Like, now!

Thursday, March 8, 2018

NECROPOLIS, fourth Whyborne & Griffin Lovecraftian paranormal suspense novel

(Whyborne & Griffin #4)
Kindle edition
$4.99 available now

Rating: 4* of five

The Publisher Says: Introverted scholar Percival Endicott Whyborne has spent the last few months watching his lover, Griffin Flaherty, come to terms with the rejection of his adoptive family. So when an urgent telegram from Christine summons them to Egypt, Whyborne is reluctant to risk the fragile peace they’ve established. Until, that is, a man who seems as much animal as human tries to murder Whyborne in the museum.

Amidst the ancient ruins of the pharaohs, they must join Christine and face betrayal, murder, and a legendary sorceress risen from the dead. In the forge of the desert heat, the trio will either face their fears and stand together—or shatter the bonds between them forever.

My Review: Book four in a series is a tricky point. There's a reason most of the fantasy/genre publishing world has been dominated by trilogies: We're mostly sick of the joke by the time we get to book three. Even of characters that are delightful and daisy-fresh and involved in unique endeavors, by the time we've read 300,000 words-plus about them, we're in full fatigue mode. It's the same reason there are danger points in marriages, cliffs that TV shows fall over, serial entrepreneurs.

We get bored.

So in a series of books that's about a pair of lovers becoming a couple, learning about themselves, each other, their families, and oh yeah by the way those monsters under your bed? totally real, how do we do the Bore-Me-Not Rhumba? At about the pace the men involved do it, per Author Hawk. Whyborne's antics in the first three books have led his gawky, scholarly self down some most unusual paths, and Griffin is deeply concerned for the safety and sanity of his mate. Their adventure in this book leads them to follow Christine, the token real girl, to the deserts of Egypt in order to thwart Nyarlathotep coming to Earth. (That's one of Lovecraft's Elder Gods, in case you're wondering.)

But the trip to Egypt is Whyborne's worst nightmare! Griffin, well, traveling is nothing to his former-Pinkerton self. He's quite looking forward to it...except he's worried about his beloved Whyborne, whose studies in sorcerous spells make him much more than a little nervous:
If the man couldn’t make an argument one way, he’d find another.
Welcome to marriage, Whyborne. Griffin is completely invested in you, your health, your survival. His happiness depends on your maintenance of all those things. He's going to argue with you about your behaviors when he sees you acting counter to what he knows is your best interest. That it isn't what you think is your best interest is what keeps marriages alive.

As is also bog-standard normal for long-term love, Party of the first part might as well be looking at a fun-house mirror for all the resemblance their self-image bears to Party of the second part's vision of them:
Griffin had once called me brave, but I couldn’t imagine how he would possibly think it. I feared everything: talking to strangers, leaving Widdershins, humiliating myself in public…the list went on and on. There was nothing for a man such as Griffin, who as a Pinkerton foiled bank robberies and chased down hardened criminals, to admire in me. But he thought otherwise, mad as it sounded, and his belief made me want to be that man, the one he could admire.
The bright face of being in love. How common a feeling, to want the beloved to be pleased with us! And how seldom we see that the beloved is looking squarely at us and seeing the strength that it takes to move in the face of fear. Griffin sees Whyborne's best in seeing his behaviors and knowing the fears and failings behind them:
How you burn, bright enough it almost blinds me. But I can’t look away.
And how often the beloved already is, far more than we ever credit or even believe when we're told as Griffin directly says to Whyborne above, possessed of our secrets and infatuated by our strength in the face of them.

It's a pallid but similar investment that the series reader makes in the series. This danger point, book four, sinks many a series under the weight of its tics and crotchets. Whyborne, our PoV character, is monumentally self-absorbed. The woman-ness of a lady isn't really an excuse for Whyborne's inability to see her, a new character in this book's, interest in him:
Her smile offered me no clues. “Very good indeed,” she affirmed, before turning back to the wall and leaving me to my confusion. ... I opened my mouth to ask what she meant. At the same moment, she leaned forward and kissed me.
And thus is a silly git shocked, shocked I say, by the mere existence of women aware of his desirability! It's played for comedy, and truthfully I've been Whyborne more than once in my life (it shames me to admit), but it's part and parcel of Whyborne's least appealing trait. It's very much at the fore here. It's a crotchet that could sink the series easily, as I found my eyes rolling without conscious volition...except Author Hawk got there ahead of me.

One of Griffin's refrains has been his concern for the effects of Whyborne's researches on his safety. Whyborne's counter is always, "look at how many times it's saved our bacon!" And this point is inarguable, but to one side, of Griffin's concern. Deflecting attention is a survival thing for Whyborne, growing up in a terribly dysfunctional family. It's been working fine until now, but Griffin and Christine are in much more danger than ever from multiple sources. All the sources are magical. All of them demand that Whyborne override Griffin's loving concern for his safety. All of the threats also demand that he de-absorb himself in his own head and notice, really and truly notice *in*the*moment* that his friends are real even when he's not paying attention to them.

About this time, most authors of series fail. They don't let the character that needs to grow make the leap. Author Hawk does, I'm very happy to say, and does so very explicitly. It is the reason I will read books five and up. I've included the quote as a spoiler, so look no farther down unless you're game for a spoiler.

******************************************SPOILER BELOW******************************************





Whyborne, afraid for his loved ones' continued safety after the supernatural enemies they faced down in this book, makes the following vow:
But I wasn’t helpless. And given the dark turns our lives had taken, the horrors we’d faced, it was my responsibility to arm myself as well as I might against any future threats. If we survived tonight, I’d stop pretending to be a dilettante and throw myself fully into the study of the arcane arts. I’d become a true sorcerer.
And now let the shenanigans commence. *gleeful hand-rubbing*

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

FOR WE ARE MANY, second Bobiverse book in a totally geekfest series

(Bobiverse #2)
Worldbuilders Press
$4.99 ereader platforms, available now

Rating: 4* of five

The Publisher Says: Bob Johansson didn't believe in an afterlife, so waking up after being killed in a car accident was a shock. To add to the surprise, he is now a sentient computer and the controlling intelligence for a Von Neumann probe.

Bob and his copies have been spreading out from Earth for 40 years now, looking for habitable planets. But that's the only part of the plan that's still in one piece. A system-wide war has killed off 99.9% of the human race; nuclear winter is slowly making the Earth uninhabitable; a radical group wants to finish the job on the remnants of humanity; the Brazilian space probes are still out there, still trying to blow up the competition; And the Bobs have discovered a spacefaring species that sees all other life as food.

Bob left Earth anticipating a life of exploration and blissful solitude. Instead he's become a sky god to a primitive native species, the only hope for getting humanity to a new home, and possibly the only thing that can prevent every living thing in the local sphere from ending up as dinner.

My Review: This entry in the three-book series is less of a romp than the first because, of course, because the territory is no longer new or fresh; but it's still a hoot and a holler. I had such a great time going back to the Bobiverse! These books are a pleasure to me because their humor resonates with me:
At times like this, I wondered if I hadn’t gone a little overboard with the level of detail in my virtual-reality environment. There was no reason for me to even have nether regions, let alone for them to pucker.
And that should tell you what you need to know about the suitability of the series to your reading needs. If that neither makes you laugh nor gives you a sense of the subject of the books, best you pass them by.

This installment brings us past the previously known Bobiverse...the bubble of space that Bob's previously created new selves have gone off to explore...and into contact with more new species. There are new threats, new ways of getting the heck rid of old threats, and plenty of the old threats come around again:
I sincerely hoped that in the fullness of time, they’d have the opportunity to get all bent out of shape about environmentalism.
Seems that "intelligence" is a menace...and maybe VEHEMENT had a point. (Bobiversals will get that.) But there's nothing like a replicant on a mission to make the Universe safe for sentient life. The Bobs come through this book without a hint of middle-book-itis. The action doesn't slack. The stakes don't falter. The pace of the book doesn't dilly-dally and the Bobs, bless 'em, don't shilly-shally as they tackle problems on a greater-than-human timescale. I can't spoiler stuff since the Anti-spoiler Activists get so stroppy about it. But I can say that there's no good reason for someone who liked the first book not to get the second ASAP and there's no reason for someone who didn't like the first book to even consider this one.

As for me, I'm on to book three and might even have bumped this one up a rating point had it not been for the clear affection and acceptance herein shamelessly flaunted for a lifeform utterly unworthy of it:
The cat’s A.I. was realistic, right down to the total lack of loyalty.