Monday, November 26, 2012

Books Received and Update

So, I hope that everyone had a nice holiday weekend last week (at those of you who had holidays last week). It was good for me, though it's always hectic with the kids home. As I alluded to in this post (read it anyway, it's always good to give a little - or a lot) last week, life has been crazy lately, so posting has been sparse (though not much moreso than usual). However, I have had a bit more reading time come up, so I've managed to read quite a few. I need to write reviews for Of Blood and Honey by Stina Leicht (Indiebound, Book Depository, Amazon), Zoo City by Laurne Buekes (Indiebound, Book Depository, Amazon), and Shadow Ops: Fortress Frontier by Myke Cole (Indiebound, Book Depository, Amazon). Of Blood and Honey was probably the best book I've read in 2012, so I expect it'll be a very positive review (I have a draft started so I hope to have a review posted this week), my thoughts on Zoo City were surprisingly mixed, but overall positive, and Fortress Frontier continues the excellence of Control Point (My Review, Indiebound, Book Depository, Amazon) - I'm not sure if I'll post a review of Fortress Frontier until January.
Anyway, the holiday is over and now I've got to play a ton of catch-up at work. So, I'm not sure if I'll be able to keep up my reading pace. And I'm still unsure of what to read next - I have lots of good options.
Anyway, on to the books I've received in the last few weeks.

Books Received: November 3 - 25, 2012

Monday, November 19, 2012

Review: City of Dark Magic by Magnus Flyte

One thing that enjoy in life is the opportunity to travel, see the world, meet the people, eat the food, and drink the beverages (not necessarily in that order). I’ve been lucky enough in life that I’ve gotten to experience a lot of travel in many parts of the world. While it would be difficult to ever pick a favorite place, or even a favorite type of place, I will say that Europe is high on that list. And the part of Europe I’ve spent the most time in is central and eastern Europe, specifically the Czech Republic and Romania. So, when I saw that the  urban fantasy thriller that’s earning a bit of buzz, City of Dark Magic by Magnus Flyte (Indiebound, Book Depository, Amazon), is set in Prague, I thought that it was a book I’d probably enjoy.
City of Dark Magic starts with its author – Magnus Flyte, whom the description makes out to be a rather mysterious rogue of man who took the publishing world by storm. In truth, Magnus Flyte is the pseudonym for writers Meg Howrey and Christina Lynch, a much less interesting truth than tongue-in-cheek mystery of the description. And this is a telling framework for the book itself.
I could write up a description of what the book is about, but really I think the best thing to do is take a brief 2 minutes to watch the book trailer below. It sums up the plot of the book well enough and again, sets a framework from which to judge the book itself.
Did you watch it? Good. First, were you intrigued to read the book? Did you laugh out loud? Did you stop in disgust 20 seconds into it? I really can’t understand how anyone thought this book trailer was a good idea. It’s laughably bad and its tone does more to mock the book than I can possibly do in the course of this review. Maybe I’m just not the core audience they were trying to attract with this trailer, but the best reaction to this trailer I can imagine is that ‘it looks so terrible that it might be kind of good’. That may work for something like Dude Where’s My Car, but a book that isn’t a satirical joke but a legitimate attempt at a magical suspense thriller in the vein of urban fantasy and paranormal romance? Bad idea. [EDIT:  and if this book actually is supposed to be satirical joke, then it completely failed in my opinion]
I wasn’t expecting a SFF masterpiece with this book, but at worst I was hoping for a fun urban fantasy and travelogue of Prague that would have me fondly reminiscing about my times there. At best I was hoping for a suspenseful and scholarly feeling book with an immersive atmosphere – such as The Historian or Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. Unfortunately, it was far worse than my hopes. Instead of some minimally entertaining thriller in the darkly magical setting of Prague, City of Dark Magic is little more than a 'gritty' version of Disney’s Princess mythos – and that description makes it sound more interesting than it actually is. And by gritty I mean sex, often from behind, in public and involving religious monuments – truly you would think the author of this book really is a man rather than two women.
The set-up for the plot is a formulaic wreck that checks pretty much all of the boxes. An attractive young women with a checkered past who is extraordinarily brilliant [check], an eccentric and even more brilliant mentor [check], who is killed in mysterious circumstances [check], a rich benefactor emerges [check], an all expense paid trip with salary to boot to someplace darkly exotic [check], where she meets a prince [check], who was a drummer in a rock band before he was a prince [check], she uncovers an evil government conspiracy [check], and travels in time [check], … I refuse to go on, but could.
Somehow, I continued the book, though I very nearly stopped reading it many times. I’ll be honest, it does improve a bit once the plot gets rolling. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not good unless you’re a Hollywood blockbuster writer, but it’s at least tolerable (helped out by the setting).
As a travelogue for fond memories it unfortunately didn’t quite measure up – with Prague being such an interesting place, their descriptions come off as flat. Almost as if they haven’t ever been to Prague, walked its streets, or talked to any Czechs over half a dozen beers. But they at least had a good map and got it right with the cab driver.
The historical connection to Beethoven was also a relative failure of the novel. In the beginning I could have sworn the author was some Princeton graduate mentally masturbating bragging about all they learned about the real Beethoven. But even the authors got bored with that and very nearly forgot about it. City of Dark Magic could never decide if it wanted to be a magical/historical mystery or a contemporary government thriller – as a result, it’s neither and the result is an unfocussed mess.
In this review I go into detail on (un)reliability of blurbs and I find that a blurb is yet another telling truth about this book. The big blurb for City of Magic doesn’t come from an author or even a critic, but a pop culture icon.  
“This deliciously madcap novel has it all: murder in Prague, time travel, a misanthropic Beethoven, tantric sex, and a dwarf with an attitude.”
-Conan O’Brien
Really now. Combine O’Brien’s blurb with the book trailer above and you didn’t need to read this review to know that you shouldn’t waste your time with this book. Which is unfortunate, because I do love Prague. 

SFF and Helping Those in Need

So, it’s that time of year when it’s all about getting stuff for you or others – or essentially spending money. But there are plenty of opportunities to put your money to a more charitable use, and various places around the world of SFF authors and bloggers can help you do just that. So, this post rounds up a few charitable enterprises around the SFF blogosphere that I'm aware of - there are probably more, so feel free to comment and link if you know of others. Some are big global campains and others are simply the author's themsevles in need. Please consider giving if you are able - I know money is tight for a lot of us. I know that in my own life I've had many thousands of dollars of family medical expenses, time away from work as a result, and a looming likelihood of the need to take more time off, which will impact our income. Thankfully it hasn't been anything that we can't handle, but it does make things tight. Anyway, the point is that even with all this going on I stretch for the additonal donations to those that need help more than I do and I hope that many of you can as well (and my experiences have certainly shown me that a lot of people really need help more than I do).
Patrick Rothfuss and Worldbuilders: This has become an annual tradition where Patrick Rothfuss sponsors a campaign to gain donations for Heifer International, an established charity that provides sustainable food for parts of the world that really need it. Last year the campaign raised over $310,000! The bonus – authors, publishers and various others have generously donated hundreds (perhaps even thousands) of items that can be won. Other items can be purchased (with the funds going to the cause) and there are auctions for some really special products/services. And Rothfuss hase many other goodies that unlock with increasing revenue. It’s a great cause that I happily contribute to every year now (and I've typically won books as well).
Triumph Over Tragedy: A few authors and bloggers have joined forces to create a charitable anthology to benefice the victims of superstorm Sandy. It's a great lineup and good cause.
Unfettered: edited by Shawn Speakman came about as a project to help Speakman pay off debts from a serious medical condition he has struggled with. Speakman is a bit of industry insider since he runs The Signed Page and many authors volunteered stories to help. Early inidcations had me excited so it was an anthology that I had my eye - good cause or not, it has a great lineup.
Ronald McDonald House for Neth Space: I’ll go ahead and throw this into the mix. Over the last couple of years I’ve dealt with a number of health challenges with my very young daughter. There have been multiple surgeries, hospital stays and on-going therapy. As a result, my family and I have been beneficiaries of the Ronald McDonald House of Phoenix, and as a result I plan to become essentially a life-long donor. It’s a great cause, a needed cause and one that has touched me and my family directly. So, please give if you are able to the Ronald McDonald House of Phoenix or your local Ronald McDonald House.


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