Web of Light (Books: My Favorite Movies!)

Web of Light (Web of Light Duology #1)Web of Light by Kyra Dune
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I enjoyed this book on multiple levels. First, it's a tale full of palace intrigue, good dialogue, sharp young characters that are coming to their own, and a smattering of daddy and mommy issues that really propels the drama forward. Seva, the main character, has a mysterious origin she's trying to find more about as the queen calls a Conclave of all the major factions and races in her realm. Her over-protective grandfather has kept her sheltered for most of her life after her mother's equally dubious death, concealing a lot of important information about who her father might be. See, Seva has wings, a characteristic of the race of "flyers" in the realm, even though her mother and grandfather are human. Naturally, she assumes her father must be a flyer, but once all the races gather for the Conclave, answers are illusive and Seva's origin becomes further obscured. Perhaps she's a chosen one meant to fulfill a prophecy, or perhaps not. In either case, as the Conclave plays out, there's an important intergenerational struggle between the young adults heirs of each faction and their older peers, often with diametrically opposed viewpoints.

It all explodes when the Queen unfurls her sinister reasons for calling the Conclave, nearly at the same time as Seva stumbles into powers that might be the key to it all. If it seems very vague in review, it's only because I'm trying to keep from spoiling a real page-turner with a lot of plot twists, character development, and a rich fictional universe. That brings me to the other level on which I enjoyed this book.

As a writer myself, I think Kyra Dune teaches a master class in world-building here. Any writer who writes fantasy should read this for how effortlessly she shows and not tells and puts together an intricate realm and mythology in so few pages, while also giving it breathing room to question and upend it's own "lore" pages later. I appreciated that her protagonist Seva is vulnerable but her arc is very much HER arc. She grows, not just in maturity but in power, and does so with a little help from the many new friends she gathers in the narrative. Ganamere, one of these new friends who emerges as somewhat of an Anti-Villain, is a character I continuously think about. Introduced as a torturer with mommy issues, Ganamere grows from there to someone with conflicted loyalty. He does terrible things and great things, and somehow it all seems within the confused core of a young man who doesn't seem sure about what he wants to be. Someone who feels conflicted and guilty about his past and future.

Any lover of fantasy, YA or otherwise, would love this book and should pick it up.

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Demon City (Wrong City Book 2) (Books: My Favorite Movies!)

Demon CityDemon City by Morgan Richter
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Demon City is an entertaining, quick read full of relatable characters and supernatural schemes. As an intriguing but not particularly flattering portrait of LA, it starts with Felix. A midwestern dreamer with body and food issues who made his way to the entertainment capital of the world, Felix hasn’t seen a lot of success. Other than a few modest acting jobs, Felix is stuck battling with another intern for a permanent job as a correspondent on a gossip show that makes TMZ look classy. Felix knows he’s too soft and lacks the killer instinct to get ahead in the entertainment journalism world. He pulls too many punches and gets too squeamish when it comes to asking people about their sex tapes, definite weaknesses in the cutthroat world in which he's found himself.

After a rough day at work, Felix goes to see his roommate’s band play a gig at an LA club. Things take an odd turn when he meets Claire, a mysterious woman who’s a little too interested in him. Trying to lure him away, Felix knows something about Claire isn’t right, and when he tries to run, she burns him with her touch. Things only get uglier from there for Felix, with his brother mysteriously coming to town, Claire and her similarly fire-touched friend Nicky chasing him, and an ever-sinister spiral of connections tying Felix’s job to a mysterious, faustian figure known as Sparky Mother.

Urban fantasy that uses the setting itself as a character is tricky, which is why Demon City’s choice of Felix as the main POV character is a wise decision and ultimately a successful one. He’s someone who only knows pieces of what's happening to his life and that proves effective as depths and angles that Felix couldn’t imagine are taking place all around him. The author, Morgan Richter, puts together a lot of thrilling sequences as Felix tries to escape the web of intrigue and danger ever encroaching on him and his brother. As more and more layers of LA’s supernatural underworld are revealed, the author weaves a compelling combination of the surreal and the mundane to make this vision of LA believable and intriguing. The pages really fly by. I highly recommend this book to anyone that enjoys contemporary urban fantasy and magical realism, especially when splashed with a little dark humor. The characters are relatable and dynamic, though some key ones enter a little late in the game and we barely get to meet them.

Demon City is a sequel to Wrong City, volume 1 of the Wrong City series. I hadn’t read the first book, but had no problem following this one even though there are some clear connections to events in that book, so don’t worry too much if you haven’t read it. More likely you would simply get a little more out of this second installment. If there’s one thing I would criticize this book for, it’s that it seems to take a bit of a detour right before the epic climax to rope in some characters that are apparently from the first book that feel more like an exposition dump than a logical development in the plot. All the same, I plan to check out the first in the series and look forward to the next one. Morgan Richter has put together a compelling fictional universe while keeping it light and entertaining.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review, and have reviewed it for the Masquerade Crew.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0 on The Masque Scale


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Going Clear (Books: My Favorite Movies!)

Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of BeliefGoing Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I've always found the topic of Scientology as a religion and social movement and its enigmatic founder L. Ron Hubbard a fascinating if a touch disturbing. While I'm sure there are a great many Scientologists out there who would find this book deeply upsetting and would dispute every word of it, its quite thoroughly sourced and even provides a substantial amount of real-estate to the various rebuttals and responses Scientology functionaries have given over the years to the events this book covers. Even though I've researched these subjects before, it's an exhaustive and authoritative investigation of L. Ron Hubbard's personal history, the founding of Scientology, and its checkered and complex history up to the modern day. A great deal of it was eye-opening, especially the personal stories of so many former Scientologists and members of the church's "Sea Org" that the author has clearly conducted extensive interviews with. It's an excellent read for people who not only want to know about Scientology specifically, but who have any interest in modern social movements and how new religions form and grow in the modern age, warts and all.

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A Gazillion Little Bits (Books: My Favorite Movies!)

A Gazillion Little BitsA Gazillion Little Bits by Claudia Brevis
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

A Gazillion Little Bits is a rewarding and intriguing book, but it is not an easy read. Following two main characters and scads of minor characters, it weaves a detailed tapestry of post-apocalyptic New York that can often seem too much like a difficult puzzle. Primarily, it follows a conflict between a group of people who survived the implied apocalyptic events sealed away in a Vault and the descendants of everyone who was left outside.

We’re first introduced to the world through Lahara, a woman living in the ruins of New York’s neighborhoods like so many others. We get a sense of her daily life and how various post-apocalyptic communities have sprung up all throughout Manhattan. The author has placed an immense amount of thought and detail into how it would all work, along with careful consideration of geography, ecosystems, a rudimentary barter economy, and even the crucial role of genealogy. Injected into all of that is the eerie concept of whispers, knowledge certain people have of specialized subjects they couldn’t possibly have learned through any normal means.

The whispers prove useful to these people in that sometimes they give those who have them medical, scientific, cultural, or even geographic knowledge that has helped a great deal in rebuilding some kind of civilization. That said, they also come with lots of baggage and are viewed with suspicion as a new breed of more intense and consuming whispers have begun to “infect” people and change their very identities and memories.

Lahara seems to possess special whispers, ones that enable her to recall the collapse of New York in vivid fragments. That knowledge and these unique whispers set her apart from the others, eventually making her a target for the Vaulters. The Vaulters want to retake and reshape their corner of the world according to their own agendas and vision but the people of New York just want to live their simple albeit primitive lives. The Vault almost reminded me of a twisted, evil version of the Foundation from Asimov’s famous Foundation series as their quest for knowledge trumps all other concerns.

The other primary character, Anthony, is a Vaulter who flees that sanctuary in an attempt to thwart their plans. Like the other Vaulters, he’s been asleep for centuries and finds this ruined landscape of New York more disconcerting and dangerous than he planned. Aside from simply surviving, he has the momentous task of convincing the New Yorkers to actually accept and trust him before the Vaulters can execute their plans.

A Gazillion Little Bits takes this story to fascinating and unpredictable places. The world is vividly detailed, full of fascinating characters and compelling communities. Even the Vaulters themselves, ostensibly the villains of the story, only want to preserve knowledge. A noble goal, if pursued through ignoble means.

That said, I did have a lot of issues with this book. The detailed descriptions that fill the novel verge on too-detailed a lot of the time. While this post-apocalyptic New York is intriguing, the author dedicates a little too much real estate during tense and thrilling moments to describing minutae in a way that can cause the narrative to lose steam.

The other big problem for me was the pacing. It takes a long time to set the primary plot in motion, likely so it can adequately introducing the reader to this complex fictional universe. Then, as the plot finally begins to really take off, the perspectives are shifted around a bit too much. I understand that one of the primary themes of this novel is constructing and re-constructing a world through lots of different varying perspectives, but here it is done so often it makes the plot and even time itself hard to follow. Weeks or even months pass in the story and the reader is left to figure that out through remembering dates and narrative descriptions of seasonal weather changes.

I often felt as though crucial events and conversations involving the major characters were skipped over only to be told secondhand by minor characters later. Again, I understand the construction of oral histories and how knowledge is transmitted are important motifs in the novel, but I often felt frustrated as a reader trying to piece the puzzle together and having always to figure out how much time had passed and what had happened in the gaps between chapters. When the climax to the story comes, it’s fast and disjointed in a way that makes it hard to follow with a cryptic epilogue. I do recommend this book for people who like post-apocalyptic science fiction, particularly of the hard sci-fi variety, but it will be quite a challenging read.

Reviewed for The Masquerade Crew, Score of 3.0 out of 5.0 on the Masq Scale.

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A Gazillion Little Bits
By Claudia Brevis

Femmes Du Chaos (Books: My Favorite Movies!)

Femmes du ChaosFemmes du Chaos by Kristen Duvall
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Short story collections are a mixed bag, both within themselves and across the whole genre. They often have a very "mixtape" feel to them, taking on varied tones, genres, and themes. Sometimes this can have a jarring effect if the sequence isn't carefully chosen or a disjointed feel when one or two stories feel drastically different from the rest. Thankfully, Kristen Duvall's collection Femmes Du Chaos does not suffer too much from it.

A wicked and twisted series of tales, some of which are endowed with a grim sense of humor, Femmes Du Chaos starts on the outrageous side and keeps charging forward. Some of the stories are unrelentingly grim ("The Fallout," "The Chosen One," "Irreversible") and can be hard to take but are intense and vividly-written. Others are real classics. My favorites were "Like Father, Like Daughter," "Magic Shoes," and the closer for the collection, a dystopian horror story titled "The Price You Pay." Some of these felt like ideas that could've become entire novels but the author delivered them as fully-realized and carefully constructed stories that left me wanting more. It's not often that short stories feature such interesting, yet economical world-building.

I will definitely need to check out more by Duvall, as Femmes Du Chaos feels like a taste of what she could do with more pages. Given it's grisly content and often despair-filled moments, it may not be to everyone's taste, but I certainly enjoyed it.

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Femmes du Chaos
By Kristen Duvall

Miracle Man (Books: My Favorite Movies!)

Miracle ManMiracle Man by William Leibowitz
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The beginning of Miracle Man feels very compelling. As we learn about the mysterious origins of the main character and child prodigy Robert Austin, there seems to be no limit to his phenomenal intelligence. Shadowy bureaucracies begin to try to shape his destiny, and it seems clear that his supreme intellect has downsides that plague Bobby with terrible nightmares and unsettling trances. These sections hook the reader, and ask lots of big questions about how our society and the world would react to a genius of its kind. More compellingly, it wonders how many geniuses we may have missed out on because they were not given opportunities or were written off as having mental health issues. Bobby’s loss of many supportive figures in his life is also poignant, and creates good obstacles that shape Bobby’s character. The inner conflicts within Bobby as he struggles with his psychological problems, the burdens and responsibility of his intellect, and the illusive balance he seeks in his life, also raise many interesting questions.

Overall, this book is clearly worth a read as it does create a sort of cerebral superhero in Bobby, complete with a lot of intriguing socio-economic ideas as good science fiction/fantasy often does. It also has a refreshing sense of cautious optimism in believing that someone with the intelligence of Bobby could change the world in the way he goes about doing. He even triumphs over a lot of bureaucracies, institutions, and antagonists that would prefer he not succeed. It’s refreshing in many ways because it would be much easier to paint a purely tragic and pessimistic arc for these sorts of ideas, as much fiction usually does.

Still, there were a lot of things that hold this story back. As Bobby progresses towards adulthood the narrative loses some of its steam. Bobby remains a compelling character, a scientist who grapples with his own personal demons as he produces miracle cure after miracle cure, but many of the key characters could use more development. Some of the more interesting scenes are actually when these characters get to interact outside of Bobby’s orbit, but there are precious few of them and the narrative could have benefited from more so that the reader gets a sense of who these people really are.

The story also gets tangled in a lot of red herrings and subplots that don’t pay off too much. The author has important points to make and questions to ask about forces that would be opposed to the radical progress Bobby brings through his scientific breakthroughs, but ultimately does not do much to represent these forces. A contingent of anti-science fanatics targets Bobby, as well as an over-the-top, villanous pharmaceutical executive. These antagonists generate tension and conflict, but do not really amount to much plot-wise until the very end. Bobby’s struggles with himself and living his life prove much more interesting than these subplots, which makes them feel all the more incomplete. There are also a fair number of copy-editing errors that made their way into the final draft that sometimes took me out of the book. All in all, though, I enjoyed the book and would recommend it.

DISCLAIMER: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.


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Miracle Man
$10.75
By William R Leibowitz