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Author: Cyn

Cynthia Armistead lives with her life partner Rick and their critters, Harpo the dog and Django and Tully (cats). They also foster a varying number of kittens from Lifeline Animal Project. Cyn is a Senior Technical Advisor for Apple. She is an avid reader, particularly of non-fiction and science fiction, fantasy, and mystery fiction. Music is another passion, particularly singing and hearing live acoustic performances. She indulges in knitting and tabletop roleplaying games.

Review: Aftermath by Ann Aguirre

Aftermath (Sirantha Jax, #5)After­math by Ann Aguirre
My rat­ing: 4 of 5 stars

Leave it to Aguirre to take her hero­ine in a direc­tion that is appar­ent­ly piss­ing off at least half of her read­ers (those who expect­ed romance). Sir­an­tha Jax is in fine form in After­math, stay­ing strong and true to her­self through an all-new set of tri­als (lit­er­al­ly) and trou­bles. Loy­al Velith stays by her side through­out, con­tin­u­ing to depict a friend­ship that goes beyond mere romance.

I don’t nor­mal­ly mine books for quotes as I read them, but two bits stuck with me from this book. Mus­ing, Jax thinks, “… the world moves on, even when you don’t want it to, even when change feels like the end of every­thing. It nev­er stops. That’s harsh and mag­i­cal and some­what com­fort­ing because noth­ing is immutable, how­ev­er much we want it to be. Moments can­not be caught like fos­sils in amber, ever-per­fect, ever-beau­ti­ful. They go dark and raw, full of shad­ows, leav­ing you with the mem­o­ries. And the world moves on.”

Lat­er, Velith says, “The heart is not a glass of water, but more like an end­less­ly pump­ing spring.”

There is so much wis­dom about love and rela­tion­ships in those words that I will remem­ber this book far longer than the plot details will nec­es­sar­i­ly stay with me. 

The plot is, of course, as can always be expect­ed of Aguirre, good. It hangs togeth­er well. There was a lit­tle drag this time, but not much. I am eager­ly await­ing the release of Endgame lat­er this month, and will be pur­chas­ing it as soon as it’s released.

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Review: Killbox by Ann Aguirre

Killbox (Sirantha Jax, #4)Kill­box by Ann Aguirre
My rat­ing: 5 of 5 stars

Kill­box won’t make any sense with­out read­ing the pre­vi­ous three books, and I hon­est­ly feel that I should have gone back and re-read them before start­ing it. I was impa­tient for more fresh Aguirre after fin­ish­ing Shady Lady, though, and Kill­box is what I had on the Nook.

I real­ly love Sir­an­tha Jax’s strength and com­plex­i­ty. She has grown and changed a great deal over the four books of the series, and reflects on the changes in her­self dur­ing this book. Her rela­tion­ship with March has deep­ened, as well. The depic­tion of a mature rela­tion­ship being test­ed, rather than one that is fresh and new, is a nice switch from most of the books I’ve read recent­ly.

The friend­ship between Velith and Jax is also a trea­sure. It is rare to see a pure friend­ship between a male and a female in fic­tion, with­out any sex­u­al ten­sion enter­ing the pic­ture. We’re remind­ed that while he is an alien, Velith has had a human lover in the past, so it isn’t as if that is impos­si­ble between the two — it just doesn’t occur.

The book isn’t sole­ly about rela­tion­ships, of course — I just appre­ci­ate how well Aguirre depicts rela­tion­ships in and around the excel­lent plot. That’s the part that you need back­ground to under­stand.

The Morgut keep com­ing, a big­ger threat than ever: they’re col­o­niz­ing instead of raid­ing. Jax secured a treaty with the Ithiss-Tor (Velith’s peo­ple), but there’s no help from them com­ing yet. Humanity’s sur­vival is on the line. Aguirre depicts bat­tle believ­ably, giv­ing a sense of the hor­ror with­out dwelling too much on gore. 

Lovers are torn apart, estab­lished char­ac­ters die, new ones come on stage. It’s impos­si­ble to know at any giv­en moment whether any­one, includ­ing Jax, will sur­vive from scene to scene. That cer­tain­ly kept me read­ing, and I think it will engage you, as well.

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Review: Shady Lady by Ann Aguirre

Shady Lady (Corine Solomon, #3)Shady Lady by Ann Aguirre
My rat­ing: 4 of 5 stars

I have to give a fair­ly high rat­ing to a book that involves a woman who large­ly saves her­self from mul­ti­ple assas­sins (nat­ur­al and super­nat­ur­al) sent by the head of a drug car­tel. There are sexy men in her life (three, in fact), but she’s def­i­nite­ly the hero­ine here, not a cling­ing vine. That’s a refresh­ing approach.

To be hon­est I don’t think this book should be shelved with para­nor­mal romances at all. It deserves to be called urban fan­ta­sy, or some­thing along those lines, because rela­tion­ships are not the main focus of the plot. 

Corine has changed a great deal from the begin­ning of the series, and we learn much more about her back­ground in this vol­ume, explain­ing some of her behav­ior. The expo­si­tion is nev­er tire­some or with­out rea­son — it’s worked into the plot very nice­ly. I enjoy see­ing char­ac­ter devel­op­ment, and get­ting more of the “why” helps the read­er make sense of her deci­sions.

This vol­ume feels like the end of the series, but it was a nice lit­tle tril­o­gy and well worth read­ing.

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Family Day

I got to see two of my cousins today! Kim and Lori were in town for the Amer­i­can Idol con­cert, so we had din­ner togeth­er at my par­ents’ place. It was love­ly to see them. We don’t get togeth­er near­ly often enough.

I’m grate­ful for my fam­i­ly!

Book Review: Blood Lite III: Aftertaste edited by Kevin J. Anderson

Blood Lite III: AftertasteBlood Lite III: Aftertaste by Kevin J. Anderson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This anthology is supposed to be humorous horror. I have a message for Kevin J. Anderson: grossness is not nearly enough for humor. I hope volume two was funnier (I haven't read it yet), but if it was as bad as this one, the series should have been a singleton.

The entire reason I skipped ahead to volume three is "I Was a Teenage Bigfoot" by Jim Butcher. Happily, it was worth reading. There was some humor, as is the case with all of the Dresden Files fiction. It wasn't the funniest of Butcher's stories, but the setup was good. Still, it's a Dresden Files story, and that's enough for a 4 out of 5.

I probably would have appreciated "Blood Red Greens" by Joel A. Sutherland much more if I played golf. As it is, I skimmed the description of the main characters' golf game on the first day of the zombie apocalypse and read for everything else. Not bad, not great. I'll give this one a 3 out of 5, acknowledging that I'm not the prime target audience.

"V Plates" by Kelley Armstrong has a clichéd; setup: Noah is tired of being twitted about his virginity and wants to "fix it," so Nick agrees to take him to a brothel. (I thought there were supposed to be problems with control where young werewolves and sex were concerned? Maybe I'm confusing my mythologies.) Anyway, of course it can't be that easy, so there's trouble. The trouble is unfunny. This from an experienced author working with established characters who have potential? No. 1 out of 5.

Christopher Golden's "Put on a Happy Face" is about clowns and wishes. I found absolutely nothing funny at all in it. In fact, it was horrific. It wasn't badly written, though, so it gets a 3 out of 5.

"Devil's Contract" by E.S. Magill has been done before. Maybe not in an anthology, so I suppose perhaps there are non-geeks who haven't seen it done to death. But I've seen variations of it for years in various forms. Yawn. 2 out of 5.

Eric James Stone's "Nine Tenths of the Law" was actually memorable enough that I didn't have to look it up before writing this review. That puts it ahead of the crowd. It wasn't really funny, though. There's an ironic twist, but it didn't make me laugh and, in fact, I half expected the ending. 2 out of 5.

"Scrumptious Bone Bread" by Jeff Strand was also memorable, but that's just because it was excessively gross. It was also one of three stories to make fun of rednecks or country people, and I have a personal standard of one stereotyped story per anthology. 1 out of 5.

Mark Onspaugh's "Let That Be a Lesson to You" was entirely forgettable. I just read the book today, so if I can't remember it at all, that's sad. 1 out of 5.

"Mint in Box" by Mike Baron was, on the other hand, memorable. It reminded me of the horror comics I used to borrow from my older cousin, Shannon. It was a dark, depressing cautionary tale - or, at least, that's how I read it. I didn't see any humor at all. 2 out of 5, because of the humor fail and the excessive nastiness.

J.G. Faherty's "The Great Zombie Invasion of 1979" was the worst of the anti-country stories. Of course everybody out in the boondocks is a drunk, trigger-happy redneck! Gross, unfunny, goes on too long - 1 out of 5.

Stephen Dorato's "Dating After the Apocalypse" fared a bit better. For one thing, I remember it and I'm not groaning. I didn't ever laugh out loud or anything, but I did smile once or twice. That's about as good as it gets in this collection. 3 out of 5.

"Typecast" by Jeff Ryan introduces us to a truly nasty casting director and her put-upon assistant as they go out for a coffee break while casting a serial killer. The casting director must ruthlessly "cast" everybody she sees, revealing much more about herself than anyone else. I have no trouble remembering the story but I didn't find it very funny. Ironic, yes, but irony alone doesn't create humor. 2 of 5.

I didn't even notice Mike Resnick's name before - odd. Anyway, his and Lezli Robyn's story "Making the Cut" was a breath of fresh air. There was genuine, good-natured humor in it. I laughed. 5 out of 5.

"Acknowledgments" by Will Ludwigsen is written as, well, acknowledgments for a book. It's more entertaining than most acknowledgement sections, but that isn't saying much. 3 out of 5.

Heather Graham's "Mannequin" is one I have no trouble remembering. It was creepy as hell, but totally not funny. I don't know why it was chosen for this anthology. I can't give her better than a 3 out of 5.

"Short Term" by Daniel Pyle is, again, highly memorable. It's disturbing and unfunny to me. Serial killers just aren't funny, even when they do have almost no short-term memory any more. 1 out of 5.

Nina Kiriki Hoffman's "Distressed Travelers" is based on a highly original concept. I'd love to see what she did with it in another context. I could actually see the humor in this story, even if I didn't get any big laughs. It was amusing. 4 out of 5.

"Bayou Brawl" by L.A. Banks has to take another poke at rednecks early on. It isn't as bad as the other two, at least, but I was sensitized by the time I got to this story. Then it moves on and seems to be a poor excuse for setting up a love triangle between a human woman, a male werewolf, and a male vampire. Anita Blake's been there and done that a few dozen times now, Banks - there's no shock value in it any more. There wasn't much humor in it unless you look at it on a meta-level (UFO versus terrestrial spookies) and even though - blah. 2 out of 5.

John Alfred Taylor's "The Steeple People" gives us demons selling steeples with resident imps. Okay, that's a little bit funny (to an irreligious person, anyway). The story didn't live up to the setup, though. 3 out of 5.

"For Sale" by David Sakmyster is couched as a real estate flyer. I don't think I've seen anything done quite like that before, but the property itself is a clicé. I'll give Sakmyster 3 out of 5 for effort and originality.

Norman Prentiss's "The Man Who Could Not Be Bothered to Die" was just gross. At least he avoided World of Warcraft jokes, but otherwise, there wasn't any reason given for the main character to avoid dying and without one, I couldn't believe it. 2 out of 5.

"The Last Demon" by Don D'Ammassa was actually somewhat cute. Ogerak the Off-putting escapes Hell and doesn't find the mortal realms incredibly welcoming. 4 out of 5.

Adrian Ludens' "Choose Your Own" is based on those "Choose Your Own..." stories that were apparently popular at one time (I missed out on them). You don't actually chose your own path in the story, but the choices are there and it's obvious which ones the main character made. I didn't find it funny, but at least I cared what was happening, which is more than I can say for many of the stories in this collection. 3 out of 5.

"Smoke and Mirrorballs" by Chris Abbey is a parody of Dancing With the Stars, with Dracula, Van Helsing, The Mummy, and the like thrown in as contestants. It was mildly entertaining at the end, although the gratuitous gore wasn't funny. 3 out of 5.

D.L. Snell's "BRIANS!" takes a good swipe at Twilight as well as self-published authors. It was macabre yet funnier than most of the rest of the book. 4 out of 5.

"Still Life" by Ken Lillie-Paetz had too much set-up for a failed punchline. 1 out of 5.

Sherrilyn Kenyon's "A Day in the Life" gives us an editor unrealistically celebrating the death of her biggest-selling author. I don't care how difficult the author was, there's just no way the editor would be celebrating the death of the author who made her career. There wasn't any funny in it, but the failed suspension-of-belief check ruined the story anyway. 1 out of 5.

"Old MacDonald Had an Animal Farm" by Lisa Morton introduces us to an idiot. That's the only way I can describe the main character. Okay, characters in stories make mistakes because that drives the plot. But there wasn't any humor in his mistakes, nor in the rest of the plot. It was all dark and depressing. 1 out of 5.

Brad C. Hodson's "Two for Transylvania" starts off okay, with Dracula and Van Helsing teaming up together to scam villagers. It's a silly idea, but you go with it. It would make a decent skit. 3 out of 5.

"The Four Horsemen Reunion Tour: An Apocumentary" by Lucien Soulban wasn't particularly funny or macabre or anything else. Of course, I find most rockumentaries somewhat boring, and it seemed like a good send-up of them, so it has that going for it. I'll give it a 3 out of 5 for that alone.

Overall, I wouldn't have read it if I weren't determined to finish and review it. The things I do for you people! I certainly won't be reading it again.

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Sweet

That’s the NaBloPo­Mo theme for the month, and one of the prompts is, “What’s the sweet­est thing some­one said to you today?” It was yes­ter­day, but he said my mes­sages make him light up all day. Some­thing like that can take me through a week 🙂

Book Review: Down These Strange Streets edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner R. Dozois

Down These Strange StreetsDown These Strange Streets by George R.R. Mar­tin
My rat­ing: 4 of 5 stars

This anthol­o­gy gath­ers sto­ries from authors who nor­mal­ly write in var­i­ous gen­res. The com­mon­al­i­ty is that each sto­ry is a mys­tery, and there’s a fan­tas­tic twist to each. Martin’s intro­duc­tion calls such sto­ries the “bas­tard stepchild” of mys­tery and hor­ror.

Char­laine Har­ris’ “Death by Dahlia,” set in the Sook­ie Stack­house uni­verse, is one of a series of sto­ries about the vam­pire Dahlia Lyn­ley-Chivers. Each sto­ry stands alone, but my enjoy­ment grows greater with each addi­tion to her tales. I’d much rather see Dahlia as the main char­ac­ter of a nov­el than Sook­ie, to be hon­est. This sto­ry, set at the par­ty for the ascen­sion of a new vam­pire sher­rif, was a lit­tle gem, and a nice start to the col­lec­tion.

“The Bleed­ing Shad­ow” by Joe R. Lans­dale is grit­ti­er from start to fin­ish, set in the south of black folks in the 1950s. A beau­ti­ful woman sends her some­time-suit­or to find her broth­er, a blues musi­cian who has got­ten into music that isn’t of this world. I couldn’t be done with this one soon enough, as it gave me the willies. I have a feel­ing Lans­dale would be hap­py that it stuck with me for a while.

Simon R. Green’s “Hun­gry Heart” takes us to the Night­side, where John Tay­lor is hired by a young witch to retrieve her stolen heart. I haven’t read any of the Night­side nov­els, but this is prob­a­bly the third or fourth short sto­ry I’ve read, and for some rea­son they nev­er leave me want­i­ng more. I don’t hunger for the dark­ness, I guess. I will give Green points for cre­ativ­i­ty in evil hench­men, though.

“Styx and Stones” by Steven Say­lor takes a teenage ver­sion of his nov­el hero Gor­dianus on a world tour to see the Sev­en Won­ders of the World, and this stop is Baby­lon. Gor­dianus and his com­pan­ion, Antipa­ter, find a mur­der­ous ghost in res­i­dence near their inn in addi­tion to see­ing the Zig­gu­rat, the Gate of Ishtar, and what’s left of the Hang­ing Gar­dens.

S. M. Stir­ling’s “Pain and Suf­fer­ing” was unsat­is­fy­ing to me. It opened with an ex-soldier’s com­bat flash­back twist­ed into some­thing Oth­er, then we learn that the ex-sol­dier is a cop. He and his part­ner spend a lot of time inves­ti­gat­ing an appar­ent arson and pos­si­bly-con­nect­ed kid­nap­ping. The flash­backs repeat. There’s more, but I don’t want to spoil the sto­ry. I just felt that there was a lot of build-up for very lit­tle pay­off, and that per­haps this sto­ry was meant as a teas­er for a nov­el in which con­text it would all make far more sense.

“It’s Still the Same Old Sto­ry’ by Car­rie Vaughn fea­tures vam­pire Rick, from the Kit­ty Norville books. An old friend calls him need­ing his help, but by the time he gets to her, she’s dead. Most of the sto­ry is told in flash­back, with him remem­ber­ing when he orig­i­nal­ly met the now-old-woman, when they were lovers for a time. The mur­der is no great mys­tery for very long. The sto­ry felt more rote than any­thing else, as if per­haps Vaughn want­ed to human­ize Rick a bit by show­ing that he had cared for this woman at one time. I didn’t feel much of any­thing from it.

One of the more cre­ative pieces, “The Lady is a Scream­er” by Conn Iggulden, is told in first per­son by a con man turned ghost­buster. I didn’t like it, pre­cise­ly, and i cer­tain­ly didn’t like the nar­ra­tor. It stands alone, though, and doesn’t feel deriv­a­tive at all, so that says some­thing all by itself.

“Hell­ben­der” by Lau­rie R. King is prob­a­bly the only sto­ry that left me deter­mined to hunt down more of the author’s work. I would clas­si­fy it as near-future sci­ence fic­tion, but it cer­tain­ly fits in the noir detec­tive genre as well. I have no hes­i­ta­tion giv­ing this one sto­ry five out of five stars.

“Shad­ow Thieves” is a Gar­rett, P.I. sto­ry by Glen Cook. That’s anoth­er series I haven’t read, but I believe this is the first time I’ve read a short sto­ry set in that world. I wouldn’t mind read­ing the series if the nov­els are all light-heart­ed like this sto­ry. There was some dark­ness, obvi­ous­ly, or the piece wouldn’t be in this anthol­o­gy — but over­all, there was humor.

Melin­da M. Snod­grass’ “No Mys­tery, No Mir­a­cle” is prob­a­bly the most con­tro­ver­sial sto­ry in the book if any­body is real­ly pay­ing atten­tion. I found it intrigu­ing and well-writ­ten.

“The Dif­fer­ence Between a Puz­zle and a Mys­tery” by M.L.N. Hanover takes us a big city, where an over­worked cop is try­ing to get a con­fes­sion out of a sup­pos­ed­ly demon-pos­sessed killer. He gets help from an unusu­al min­is­ter (Uni­tar­i­an, we’re told — not some­thing that will thrill any UUs out there). I found this one of the most chill­ing sto­ries in the book. Telling you why, how­ev­er, would be a spoil­er.

I would love to see a nov­el fea­tur­ing the main char­ac­ters of Lisa Tut­tle’s “The Curi­ous Affair of the Deo­dand” — a young woman in the Wat­son role and a young man as a Sher­lock Holmes-type con­sult­ing detec­tive. The young lady is every bit as vital to resolv­ing the case as the man is, which is one of the things I enjoyed about the sto­ry. The res­o­lu­tion isn’t as sat­is­fy­ing as it could be, though, which is one of the rea­sons I’d like to see the same char­ac­ters in oth­er cir­cum­stances.

“Lord John and the Plague of Zom­bies” by Diana Gabal­don is a Lord John Grey sto­ry. This is, I believe, the first thing I’ve read by Gabal­don. It wasn’t bad and it wasn’t earth-shak­ing­ly good. It was decent­ly-plot­ted with pre­dictable char­ac­ters and a nice lit­tle twist at the end, so enjoy­able to read. I won’t avoid her work but I’m not burn­ing to read more, either.

“Beware the Snake” is an SPQR sto­ry by John Mad­dox Roberts. Once again, I’m unfa­mil­iar with the author and the series, but the sto­ry gave enough con­text for me to under­stand the set­ting and the char­ac­ters, so that was all right. It was enjoy­able, although I prob­a­bly would have twigged to a cou­ple of things more quick­ly were I more famil­iar with Roman nam­ing cus­toms.

Patri­cia Brig­gs’ “In Red, With Pearls” is set in Mer­cedes Thompson’s world but fea­tur­ing were­wolf War­ren Smith and his lover Kyle. Kyle is set upon by a zom­bie assas­sin who is thwart­ed by War­ren, but of course War­ren wants to know who sent the zom­bie, why, and who made the zom­bie. It’s a very good sto­ry, as I’ve come to expect from Brig­gs. I had a bit of a hard time keep­ing up with some of the sec­ondary char­ac­ters in the sto­ry, but then I was dis­tract­ed at the time.

“The Adakian Eagle” by Bradley Den­ton is a Dashiell Ham­mett sto­ry — as in, Ham­mett is a char­ac­ter. That was inter­est­ing alone, but the sto­ry in gen­er­al was well-told. Spare and hard, as befits one of the main char­ac­ters.

All in all this is a col­lec­tion that I can def­i­nite­ly rec­om­mend. There are very few clunk­ers are sev­er­al excel­lent sto­ries. George R.R. Mar­tin and Gard­ner R. Dozois did their jobs very well.

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Yesterday

Plinky asked: What was the best thing about yes­ter­day?

I spent the entire day with my daugh­ter! We had a love­ly time togeth­er. Isn’t she a doll?

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Woot! We won!

It looks like the T-SPLOST bill was defeat­ed by a land­slide. I’m so glad! That thing was a total boon­dog­gle. My baby girl and I spent the day togeth­er and one of the very first things we did was go vote against it!

We had a good lunch togeth­er and a frozen yogurt treat. She indulged me, so I final­ly got to go to In Stitch­es, too. They have the most incred­i­ble selec­tion of fibers! I picked up my first Glo­ri­ana silks for a char­i­ty stitch­ing project.

Now I’m exhaust­ed, but hap­py. It was a good day!