20 March, 2014

Guest Post - Six Reviews By Ryan from Battle Hymns!

I am an idiot.

What's that you say? That's not news to you? Somehow, I'm the only one who has to keep finding this out.

So, I screwed up. The inimitable Ryan from Battle Hymns offered to put together a post that I could publish while I was studying for the bar the last couple months and distinctly not blogging much if at all. Not only does he have excellent things to say (seriously, he knows what he's talking about - you will read excellent books if you do), but he's just an all around awesome guy.

Of course I jumped at the chance to see Ryan back in the blogging world as he closed shop on his own blog not too long ago and I was and am truly grateful for his offer.

Months pass, I just figured he was busy, I could understand at the time I was working full time, studying for the bar, and managing to see my family (three kids three and under!) every free minute.

Well, it turns out he did respond and write up a great post (which you'll see below), only with all the filters I use on the blog for giveaways and such, it went through to a random folder that I didn't see until just last week. Doh.

Yeah, I'm an idiot. Without any more idiocy, here's that post that Ryan so excellently and beneficently prepared...
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Hi everybody! Bryce has been brave kind enough to loan me his blog for a bit while he is out doing important adult things like taking the bar exam, working a job, and raising kids.  Sheesh! Sounds like a lot of work! I suppose introductions of some sort are in order… My name is Ryan, some of you may or may not know me, (the latter is more likely), I once ran a little known, (aka “underground”) fantasy, sf, comics, metal music blog called Battle Hymns.  I hung up the blogging pants about a year ago, but when I read that OTBSFF would be semi-inactive due to a life-nado event I figured I’d offer up my services. I dangled the vaguest of guest post ideas, Bryce took the bait and here I am!

Here’s what I have to offer: a quick post filled with mini-reviews of books I read in 2013 that, for better or worse, have lived long in the memory.

The Red Knight: At the height of my blogging prowess I was receiving free books here and there, and The Red Knight was one of those that I was really pumped to get my paws on. It was one of those books that didn’t sit long on the reading pile. Overall I was pretty pleased with this book. It is pretty damn action packed and the titular character is a pretty interesting guy, and some secrets lie buried beneath his surface that I was intent on uncovering as the story played out.

The plot here is kinda standard; siege situation where the good guys are severely outnumbered and outgunned. (Out-sworded?).  But, there is a giant-ass tree-wizard, some sweet beasties and monsters and the most realistic battle, arms, armor and life-of-a-medieval-warrior depictions I’ve read since Mary Gentle’s Ash.  This one scratched a lot of my itches so I’m looking forward to the next installment.

Demon Squad Vol. 5 Beyond the Veil: Ahh, Demon Squad. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways:exactly like mine.  Two, you mix in a sweet blend of brutal gun slinging action with magic, mayhem and bad ass demons, angels, aliens and more. Three, there’s a whole bunch of metal references strewn about the text, which I really appreciate. Four, you get better with each installment. Five…okay, I’ll stop there, you catch my drift.
One, You have a principle character whose moral fiber is slightly (okay, totally) questionable and whose brain seemingly functions

Like Bryce, I’m a big Demon Squad fan. In this installment Frank finds himself doing some inter-dimensional travel all in an attempt to save his lady. All the while, in typical Frank fashion, he’s been dealt a terrible hand: drafted into the service of the Almighty, and forced to work with his lady’s dad. Sound shitty? Well, that’s just how Frank Trigg rolls. As per usual, this book is loaded with all the goods I drooled over earlier.
Marquitz has honed his skills with each installment in this series and at this point a new Demon Squad book is a sure-fire hit for me. If you haven’t given this series a go, do it. It is highly entertaining stuff.

The Ryiria Revelations Series: Back in the day when this was just a little known indie series, I read the first installment, then it got picked up by Orbit and the six book series got turned into three hefty omnibuses.  I picked up the new editions, re-read the first piece and the next thing I knew I had read the whole damn series.

Let me just be frank, this is a very good fantasy series. And you know what else? It is complete, so you don’t have to wait eons for the next book to come out.

The Ryiria Revelations is a fantasy buddy hero epic ala Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser and Paul S. Kemp’s Egil and Nix stuff. The two main characters Royce and Hadrian are extremely likable and Sullivan does a great job of making each and every installment of the series stand alone with a legitimate ending.  That being said, each of the six installments tie into this greater tapestry that he’s crafted.  It is a really nice touch and one I really appreciated.  This series manages to be lots of fun, offers a strong plot, interesting characters and plenty of excitement.  I highly recommend this, especially if you want to get away from the grimdark side of the fantasy genre.

The Lies of Locke Lamora: Before you start thinking: “Where has this guy been? The Lies of Locke Lamora came out years ago!” Let me explain. I read this book way back in the day (’08) like all the other cool kids who are up on the fantasy game. The thing is, I wasn’t a huge fan. I even went as far as selling my copy to a used book store. Then, some blogger dude who is keen on posting ebook deals at his blog, (I’m looking at you Bryce!) mentioned something about this book being on sale for .99 cents. I figured I’d give it another shot and you know what? AMAZING!

All I could do while reading this book (aside from enjoying each and every page) was look back at my 2008 self with hate.  I don’t know what the hell ailed me back then. This is simply a fantastic fantasy book.
 Lynch’s prose is strong, his plotting is deft, his characters are enchanting, and it is all set in an extremely well-imagined world. The whole book builds to this amazing crescendo that Lynch pulls of masterfully.

This is an A+ fantasy novel for me and I’m keen to delve further into the series.

On Basilisk Station: Late in the year last year I found myself with a strange urge to read some military SF. After waffling back and forth between Weber’s Honor Harrington series and Bujold’s Mile Vorkosigan series, I finally settled on the Weber stuff ‘cause the ebook was free on Amazon.

Well, I was sorely disappointed. This book proved to be very thin on character development and thick on the techno-porn. 

Yuck. (don’t hate me for my opinion if you are an Honorverse fan!)

I thought I’d enjoy immersing myself in some interstellar space battles, and I did (sorta) but I didn’t find anything else to enjoy. Well, that’s not totally true, kudos to Weber for crafting a female lead who is strong, smart, and bad-ass in a not clich├ęd way.  I just wish there was more surrounding her to make the series worth my time.

And last but certainly not least… my non-genre must-read recommendation:

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche: This was the first book I read in 2014 and I can already tell it
is going to be nearly impossible to top.  Adiche is flat out a phenomenal writer. Her prose is incredibly captivating, her characters are extremely real and this book deals with modern real-world issues in an extremely frank, honest and open way…its often pretty funny too.

At the heart of this novel is a love story between the two primary characters Ifemelu and Obinze. These two meet in high school and fall in love but go their separate ways for college because the military dictatorship in their native Nigeria is driving folks abroad. The story takes place over a span of about 15 and will resonate strongly with readers who are navigating the tricky waters of their 20’s and early 30’s. This is a story about the many social, political, and racial conundrums in our society, but is also about much, much more. This is a fascinating and provocative read and one that is truly worth the read. 

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