Tuesday, January 28, 2014

[Book Review] Playing the Whore

Playing the Whore : The Work of Sex Work / Melissa Gira Grant (Powell's Books)

Grant has written a treatise on sex work, workers, and the legal, social, and political issues surrounding the industry.  Playing the Whore is about the people and the lives they live, not just the sex they sell, and the sociopolitical pressures they face as organizations who try to outlaw and "redeem" them.  Well written and well informed, Playing the Whore brings a light to parts of sex work we don't see in the news.

Advanced Reader Copy copy courtesy of Netgalley; differences may exist between uncorrected galley text and the final edition.

[Book Review] Daddy

Daddy : a memoir / Madison Young

Daddy is a book about growth, relationships, and self discovery.  Unlike most books on these topics, this one happens to be told by a world renown kink performer and porn star.  Reading Madison's story is voyeuristic, the words on the page a peephole into incredibly intimate and personal areas of her life.  The story will likely make you squirm, though it could be from discomfort or arousal, it may leave you confused, curious, interested, or disgusted.  Madison admits blind spots and flaws, and speaks frankly about the different areas of her life.

I recommend this book for people interested in gender and relationship politics, about what it could mean to live an alternative lifestyle, and people curious about Madison's life when she is not on camera or on stage.  If you open this book, keep an open mind about what you find on the pages.

Advanced Reader Copy copy courtesy of Netgalley; differences may exist between uncorrected galley text and the final edition.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

[Book Review] The Forever Watch

The Forever Watch / David Ramirez

Earth is dead, uninhabitable, gone.  Humans are making their way across the galaxy in a century spanning journey in the star ship ark Noah.  Genetic tinkering, mutation, and technology have changed the face of humanity, manifestations of psi abilities and distinct breeds of humans are the norm.  A mysterious death leads to the discovery of a history of unsettling events, grisly disappearances, and evidence of a cover-up by the highest levels of government.  What they find may endanger not only life as they know it, but endanger the survival of the entire human race.

A science-fiction thriller where a misstep may end mankind's last journey.


 The Forever Watch has a few issues.  While many authors have beautifully worked multiple related strands into a cohesive story, The Forever Watch falls short.    There are several important storylines that fight for dominance rather than work in concert to smoothly further the plot.

The story takes some time to find its pace.  It opens with overly declarative descriptions.  However midway through Ramirez produces some beautiful prose.

Advanced Reader Copy copy courtesy of Netgalley; differences may exist between uncorrected galley text and the final edition.

Friday, January 24, 2014

OverDrive audio books to be solely MP3

OverDrive announces plan for audiobooks to be solely available in MP3 format

This is pretty big.  Currently there are various splits in titles you can borrow from OverDrive.  Books you can read on any device and books you can read on any book but Kindle.  Audiobooks you can listen to on any device (MP3) or audio books that you can only listen to on your computer or transfer to WMA compatible devices.  What makes me particularly happy is they are working to get the titles that libraries have purchased as WMA available in MP3.

Now, I don't know about most people, but I largely listen to audio books while I am driving... which does not do me a whole lot of good when I cannot listen to the book on any of the mobile devices I own (and know where they are... I miss you my sturdy little MP3 player).  Yes, a number of the WMA format audio books could be burned to CD, but when you get to books that are more than 200 pages long it gets really inconvenient. 

Say I'm on my tablet looking for the next book to listen to in the car, I use the ODMC app because it works well and remembers the different libraries I have access to.  I know my library has most of Jim Butcher's Dresden Files on audio book, but since they are WMA I can't even see them in the collection.  If I've checked one of these titles out on a computer, I'm not able to download it to my tablet.  Overall, it just makes for annoyance and friction.  So I'm pretty excited about this, OverDrive is still the biggest player in the library ebook market so they have some weight.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Virtual Speculation

I read a lot of books.  Some where in the range of 125-150 at minimum every year.  The topics and quality ranges all over the place, but my preference tends to lean towards the various sub-genres of Speculative Fiction.  I don't think that Sci Fi and Fantasy novels are automatically fluff, there are some absolutely amazing books in those genres.  They often also have some very interesting points of discussion woven in.

So to that end I've started an online virtual book club, Virtual Speculation, with a reading list for the rest of the year.  Right now the book club is a Facebook group, but we'll see how that works long run.  I have read many of the titles, and all of the choices stood out to me in some way.  The titles include high fantasy, hard science fiction, fable, near future, far future, and other facets of speculative fiction.

Reading List for 2014

February: The Last Unicorn / Peter S. Beagle
March: Nexus / Ramez Naam
April: Alif: the Unseen / A. Willow Wilson
May: Mappa Mundi / Justina Robson
June: The Shape-Changer's Wife / Sharon Shinn
July: Accelerando / Charles Stross
August: The Golem and the Jinni / Helene Wecker
September: Dust / Elizabeth Bear
October: Spellwright / Blake Charlton
November: He, She and It / Marge Piercy
December: Gibbon's Decline and Fall / Sheri S. Tepper

I hope you give at least some of these titles a try.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

[Book Review] A Steampunk's Guide to Sex

A Steampunk's Guide to Sex / Professor Calamity, Alan Moore, Luna Celeste, & others (Combustion Books)
Prostitution, pornography, sex toys, dirty stories, BDSM, gay New York, can-can dancers, strippers,
tight-laced corsets, prudery, polyamory, consent, venereal diseases, piercings, birth control, aphrodisiacs, creepers, floggers, steam-powered vibrators, sex slang—mad historian Professor Calamity and his assembled crew of steampunk authors, artists, and performers share everything you want to know, and more, about sex under the reign of Victoria and sex in our modern subculture.
This is a fascinating little book, a mix of the modern and the historical.  We tend to view our preceeding generations as generally prudish and puritan (especially when you live in a state founded by Puritans), but people have been getting it on and getting off for centuries, and not just for procreation.  As Heinlein said "Each generation thinks it invented sex; each generation is totally mistaken. Anything along that line today was commonplace both in Pompeii and in Victorian England; the differences lie only in the degree of coverup -- if any."

A Steampunk's Guide to Sex brings together a list of fantastic authors on a diverse number of topics.  It is not a "how to have sex" book but about sexual innovation and exploration over the years.

[Book Review] The Furies

The Furies / Mark Alpert
For centuries, the Furies have lived among us. Long ago they were called witches and massacred by the thousands. But they’re human just like us, except for a rare genetic mutation that they’ve hidden from the rest of the world for hundreds of years.

Now, a chance encounter with a beautiful woman named Ariel has led John Rogers into the middle of a secret war among the Furies. Ariel needs John’s help in the battle between a rebellious faction of the clan and their elders. The grand prize in this war is a chance to remake the human race.

For fans of Michael Crichton, Justin Cronin, and Stephen King, The Furies weaves cutting-edge science into an ingenious thriller, showing how a simple genetic twist could have inspired tales of witchcraft and sorcery, and how the paranormal could indeed be possible.
A family of genetically divergent women have lived among us for thousands of years, their rapid healing and long life marking them as targets of fear and hatred.  A seemingly chance meeting with a woman named Ariel drags John Rogers into both a hidden society and a family war.

The narration is pedantic, stodgy, and overwrought with exposition that may or may not further develop the story.  Character description of John Rogers hinges on name dropping, half of the anger fueling the war is based on incestuous desire, and the sex scenes are just tediously boring.  The premise and setting failed to convince, and the thrills failed to deliver.  Nothing like the works of Crichton or King, possibly less engaging than Cronin's The Passage which I could not make myself finish.

Advanced Reader Copy copy courtesy of Netgalley; differences may exist between uncorrected galley text and the final edition.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

[Book Review] Witch Hunt

Witch Hunt : A Preternatural Affair's Novel / SM Reine
There are scratches on Cèsar Hawke’s arms, a discharged Glock on his coffee table, and a dead woman in his bathtub. Yeah, maybe he brought the waitress home for some fun—he was too drunk to remember it—but he knows for a fact that he didn’t kill her. He’s an agent with the Office of Preternatural Affairs. He doesn’t hurt people. He saves them.

The cops disagree. Now Cèsar is running.

Isobel Stonecrow speaks with the dead. She brings closure to the bereaved and heals broken hearts. But when she talks to the wrong spirit, the OPA puts a bounty on her head.

Tracking down Isobel is the last case assigned to Cèsar before he bolts. If he finds her, he can prove that he didn’t kill that waitress. He can clear his name, get his job back, and bring justice to all those wronged families.

She’s just one witch. He’s bagged a dozen witches before.

How hard can one more be?
Cèsar is your average witch working to protect the average citizen from the darker denizens of the world (or not of this world if it is called for).  He's got some talent, some smarts, and based on the reactions of nearly every woman he encounters, isn't bad on the eyes, which is fortunate because he needs every edge he can get.  All he knows is he woke up after what must have been a wild night to find a dead woman in his bathtub, and he can't remember last night but the evidence is strongly against him.  So it's a race and against the clock and the system as he tries to prove his innocence, uncovering some unsettling corruption in the process.

Witch Hunt has decent pacing without any really strong tension.  The the story has some predictable plot points, but overall it's played out with a close hand.  Some hints at romance or at least some steamy encounters further along in the series, but no consummation of that teaser just yet.

Advanced Reader Copy copy courtesy of Netgalley; differences may exist between uncorrected galley text and the final edition.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

[Book Review] Control

Control / Charlotte Stein (Powell's Books)

When Madison Morris decides to hire an assistant to help run her naughty bookshop, she gets a lot more than she bargained for. Two very different men are vying for the position...and a whole lot more.

Andy excites her into grasping control, while Gabriel shows her how freeing it can be to just let go. Soon the lines are blurring and Madison is no longer sure who's leading and who's following. In the midst of kinky threesomes and power plays, can she’ll have to finally decide what--and who--she really wants.

Um, wow.  This is the book for the person who thinks that erotica isn't worth their time because it's not pornographic enough.  There is technically a plot, but it's more of an excuse for all the rampant wild sex shenanigans.  And they are rather hot and steamy.

A note to the reader, if you're not used to British slang you might get thrown off at a few points.

The premise is incredibly weak, though I love the idea of a romance and erotica book store called Wicked Words.  I expect weak premise in mainstream porn, I expect a little more effort from published novels and short stories where there are so many more ways to increase sexual tension and how hot a scene is.  The book starts with her having amazing surprise sex that she can barely figure out how they got from interviewing to fucking, and the story continues from there.  On one hand she has her cocky self-inviting booty call of a man, on the other she has her gawky and easily embarrassed new employee who she's drawn to in spite of, or perhaps because of, his innocence.

Somewhere in all this there is a smutty bookstore, behavior that screams of sexual harassment (which she admits to herself is the case), and some sort of development of actual feelings and a relationship.  Gabriel may be inexperienced but he's very well read and very good at putting theory to use.  Andy likes to boss people around in bed and has a voyeuristic streak.  All this leads to a series of hot and heavy interactions right out of a porno.

I think what really bothered me about this is nothing to do with writing style or even the weak plot (though I do like a stronger plot), but the stereotypes.  Madison is the stereotype of the "slutty bookworm" (which Andy calls her more than once), which makes me roll my eyes.  Andy and Gabriel are also stereotypes, but I guess I'm more sensitive to Madison, who is a pair of glasses and a strict bun away from being the stereotypical "slutty librarian."  I do however appreciate her lack of shame about her sexuality.

Advanced Reader Copy copy courtesy of Netgalley; differences may exist between uncorrected galley text and the final edition.

[Book Review] Devil at the Crossroads

Devil at the Crossroads / Cornelia Grey

So as it turns out, when insomnia hits and I start browsing NetGalley at 3 am for something to read I end up with some random smut in the mix.  I'm also behind on my reviews, so this and my next review are on books with naughty times.

A man meets a devil at the crossroads at midnight to sell his soul to be a great blues musician and fame.  Six years later he has squandered his fame and the devil has come to collect his due.  Our musician learns a little about the importance of exact wording, is had seven ways from Sunday by a devil for one night, then sent back out into the world to become an actual great bluesman with little more than the clothes on his back and the guitar in his hand for the rest of his mortal life.

I think my favorite part was the play with word choices and bargain fulfillment.  Definitely a bit naughty, but to be honest, I expected a story where a devil uses someone as their sex slave (even if just for one night) to be far more salacious.  The focus seems to be more on the story and the lust of life rather than the exertions in bed.  Devil at the Crossroads is a short book but it tells a story.

Advanced Reader Copy copy courtesy of Netgalley; differences may exist between uncorrected galley text and the final edition.

[Book Review] Red Rising

Red Rising / Pierce Brown (Powell's Books)

Red Rising reads as if Spartacus was blended with The Hunger Games.  Our protagonist, Darrow is a young man of low caste, who believes that his hard labor is helping build Mars into a world that can one day be truly liveable and colonized.  Life is not wonderful - in fact the living conditions are down right oppressive, but he's young, in love, and good at what he does.  Then life as he knows it is stripped away from him and he escapes with his life only because rebels want to make use of him.

So in the hands of the Sons of Ares, feared terrorists and rebels against the slavery of society, Darrow learns his whole life has been a lie.  He his work has nothing to do with bringing about the terraformation of Mars, its been terraformed for centuries, with the highest castes living lives of obscene decadence.  His caste are nothing more than slaves who execute the backbreaking and undesirable physical labor.  He takes it about as well as he did the death of his wife.  The Sons of Ares want to make use of this angry, traumatized, 16 year old boy and turn him into a secret agent.  Fortunately he's actually highly intelligent and skilled in addition to being driven for vengeance.

Darrow is surgically rebuilt into the image of a Grecian God, the ideal of the Gold caste.  He becomes their Eliza Doolittle as they teach him how to speak and behave like a member of the highest caste.  They cultivate his innate skill for extrapolation and thinking outside the box.  He becomes their true golden boy, succeeding so well at the entrance exams for the Institute that they investigate him for cheating.

So off to school he goes, along with the best and the brightest of the Golden offspring.  Sorted into houses, put through a culling, and then dropped into a game maker's arena while the school proctors watch and occasionally interfere with the bestowing of gifts.  Technically this is just a war game, almost a capture the flag/control the fort type setting, with those badly injured removed from game via medbot.  Well, a lot of kids die and the game is rigged.  If Darrow knows what is good for him he'll let the ArchDuke's son win, but instead he gathers the tattered remains of the different armies under his own banner, earning their trust and respect, and throws his whole will into winning because he's the best and to reveal the corruption.

Being the hardened serf remade into the image of a god that he is, Darrow storms the castle and needs no miracle to succeed.  He does what no student has ever done before and impresses the hell out of everyone (except the proctors who were trying to rig the game in favor of the other guy).  Winning the game promotes Darrow to the head of his class and earns him his choice of patronage, furthering his Sons of Ares agenda.

Overall, I found Red Rising to be an engaging read.  It started a little slow, but picked up speed once shit hit the proverbial fan.  As I already stated, the book felt reminicent of the story of Spartacus and The Hunger Games.  The upper castes live a life of decadence and self-indulgence that surpasses even that of Panem's Capitol, and Katniss' prep team would sacrifice limbs for access to some of the remake tools this culture has on hand.  The Institute's battlefield could be a gladiatorial ring or a Hunger Game's arena turned into a battle school.  I was amused that Ender Wiggen is actually referenced when they are talking about the sorts of military leaders they hope to create.

I did have some problems that I can't quite overlook.  I'm trying to avoid spoilers, but they're going to happen (and to some extent have already happened).

The problem that stayed with me throughout the whole book was the use of unnecessary jargon and slang to indicate that this is a futuristic setting.  "horizonTram" is unnecessary as were a myriad of mundane things re-branded to indicate futuristic.  A lot can be done by using normal descriptors and then giving clues as to how things are different, though at this point various trams and moving sidewalks are almost expected in science fiction.  I also think that authors like Ursula Le Guin and Orson Scott Card did amazing jobs at introducing concepts as if they were already established and making it work.  We have Le Guin to thank for the concept of an "ansible" and while not the first to include some sort of tablet device, how Card wrote the "desks" is a perfect example of using normal descriptors and revealing from there.  I want there to be a compelling reason for a spiffy new name for something, otherwise don't bother.  After all, in the setting of the story the item is likely established and possibly even common place.

I'm not sure what's so great about this Institute.  Ender's teachers at battleschool may have been deliberately trying to break him, but he was also actively being taught tactics and leadership.  First the Institute takes the best and the brightest and kills off half of them.  Or more specifically, pairs them off thunderdome style and whoever lives is now a full student.  I guess that's one way to start teaching your future military commanders to kill when necessary.  They are then dropped off at a fortress in the middle of nowhere, one fortress per school, with limited supplies, and told to go to war (but please try not to kill off too many of your classmates, make them your slaves instead).  Then after months of war games filled with abuse, torture, murder, and emergency medical evacuations, someone wins and they graduate.  What sort of school is that?  Especially considering that these are all peers of the realm and not necessarily all going into the military.  There's not really a whole lot of teaching, just a lot of waste and seeing who the luckiest and hardest bastard to kill is.

There are some weird characterization bits.  In large part the supporting cast is not given in-depth characterization, but then the book is entirely told in the first person so we're seeing people as Darrow does.  That being said I'm confused as all hell about his wife.  He describes her both as content and peaceful and as righteous and revolutionary in thought.  Those don't really work together so well.  I can't figure out if his friend from the institute Cassius is just a high-born twat or someone with an overdeveloped sense of familial honor.  The swearing blood feud on Darrow for deciding not to let Cassius' brother kill him is a bit overkill, particularly as the oath involves a bit about if both of them enter a room only one will leave living and then a few pages later they are in the same room at closing ceremonies.  However, as much as every view of the different characters is obviously biased, Darrow has his own personal battles as he realizes that he is growing to care about some of these Gold Caste brats.

I am generally leery of the "chosen one" troupe.  The Sons of Ares take a huge risk with Darrow.  For all that they know some about him, they really are lucky that he is so bloody brilliant and a quick study.  They do admit previous attempts and failures, but from the sounds of it most of them failed during the surgical procedures, not at the later, more vulnerable, stages.  It is also likely that Darrow is not their only effort at that time, as is discovered with Titus.  However, Darrow is very much recruited in a "you are the only one who can do this" method.  Maybe he does have qualifications that the other candidates didn't.

Finally, I don't know what to make of the end.  I feel like he made this massive effort to beat the rigged system and prove the corruption, and then he just throws it away to swear fealty to the man he discredited.  Yes, the patronage he gets furthers the Sons of Ares plan, but so would a number of other choices readily available.  He took the one that is counter to what he spent close to a third of the book working towards, and one that probably causes some hard feelings on the part of all the friends and students who helped him get to that point.  I might have missed something, but the end makes no sense to me.

Advanced Reader Copy copy courtesy of Netgalley; differences may exist between uncorrected galley text and the final edition.