Monday, June 29, 2020

Review: Mel Todd's "My Luck"

For a while now, I've been reviewing Mel Todd's SF series, the Kaylid Chronicles. Before I wrapped up that series, Mel asked if I would be interested in reading her next series, an Urban Fantasy (no romance) called "Twisted Luck" -- book one of which is My Luck. 

I enjoyed her space opera, so of course I was going to want a free book from an author who I already enjoyed.

My Luck's flap copy is as follows.

I'm not a mage, but that won't stop me.
Cori Catastrophe. They call me that sometimes, and I hate to admit it, but it isn’t wrong. Things go weird around me. Electronics die, things break, and if something odd happens, I seem to find it. Finding another dead body just made me late to work.
Nothing will stop me from getting my degree, getting a job, and getting away from this tiny town – though leaving my best friend will hurt more than anything else. Reality seems determined to make reaching my goals impossible. The dead guy had my name in his pocket, my best friend emerges as an archmage, and my parents – well let's just say leaving them behind is one of the best parts of getting away.
So be it. Not being a mage means I'll have to struggle to succeed. No matter how weird things get, I'll make it. I lost my brother and I'll probably lose my best friend to the world of magic. All I can do is depend on myself.
But with my luck, that might be difficult.

Let's start with something simple. This has the best opening routine since "The building was on fire and it wasn't my fault." I hope I don't have to explain that reference. But the opening is a dark comedy routine that I read to anyone who would listen to me.

Once more, Mel Todd excels at world building. As is her style, she opens each chapter with a bit of history and culture around the world. This time, magic has emerged in the world in the late 1800s-- a few years after the Civil War (which, of course, leads to in-world alternate histories of what the Civil War would have looked like if magic had existed a few years earlier). Mel doesn't use it excessively--we hear about the partnership of Rasputin and Lenin, but not a lot about World Wars (okay, FDR is still an a-hole)--and it works just enough to give a flavor of the world.

The real world building comes throughout the story. Our heroine, Cori, is getting her degrees in the most practical certifications she can--EMT, Medical Assistant, and Criminal Law--which also happen to be the best points of view from which to present slices of the world. Within the narration, some of the sections that are obviously data dumps are worthy of David Weber. Then again, one section did start with "most of the bodies I found were rarely stupid or boring." So anything after that will grab your attention.

Again, like in Mel's last series, her world building is either brilliant, or borders on brilliant. In her world, every mage of a certain strength must be trained, and every mage is full-on drafted. She prevents this from having shades of Babylon 5's Psi-Corps by having over half the population be magical--there isn't discrimination against non-mages, but the upper brackets are surprisingly heavy in the magic set.

I especially like the impact on culture. Facial tattoos for mages are part of fashion. The magic system recommends long hair (magic is powered by cellular matter-to-energy conversion of the mage's DNA-- eg: Okay, Winston Churchill was a Time Wizard who kept checking future timelines to win the war, which is why he was bald all the time). There are aspects of law (pay attention to the "Good Samaritan" laws). Diamonds are basis of currency, because freaking alchemists. And I even like that she hints at an origin of magic coming through rips in dimensional planes that make me want to call Doctor Strange.

Though the "Office of Magical Oversight" being established by Lenin? A little creepy.

The execution of Cori and the "bad luck" around her is ... entertaining. The luck that is inflicted upon her and people around her is very Rube Goldberg in nature.

I only have one question. Are the students of George MageTech still considered rambling wrecks?

And I am so, so happy that her description only covers the first third of the book, you have no idea. Though by that point, the reader should be clued in to one of the major aspects of the book that is only hinted at throughout--making the rest of the book interesting to watch, and the reader feels slightly superior to our narrator along the way. Part of what Mel does with this is a trick I've only seen used with Nero Wolfe novels of Rex Stout -- she gives us the answer to a major question of the book ... only the answer comes before the question. The answer is "Ronin."

Also, in Chapter 21, Mel Todd hints at a serial killer, and never capitalizes on it. She did that with a possible shifter serial killer in Kaylid, and does so here too (here, it was a reference to a killer who had happened, and was magical. I'm starting to wonder if these are discarded plot threads at this point.)

Once again, Mel does cops so well, I'm surprised she doesn't do any research for them. They feel very much like cops I've known. Also, some of the situations are analogous.

The comedy is right up my alley. Then again, I laughed out loud when someone asked, "We have a serial killer?" and the immediate reply was "Please. That's an Atlanta Thing. Probably."

Much to my surprise, this entire book is carried by character and world building. And when I say I was surprised, I mean I was 80% of the way through the novel (chapter 34) when I realized that this wasn't what you would call plot heavy. Normally, I'm very dismissive of media that is clearly more of a setup for a series than a standalone ... but this was so well executed, and so self contained, I can't really say anything against it.

And I mean I have nothing against it. Nothing at all. Even the Kaylid Chronicles had errors sprinkled throughout--many were minor, but some just drop-kicked me out of the story. Here? Not a thing. Trust me, I was looking.

But this felt more like the good old days, when Laurell K. Hamilton was good, and could tell a story without turning it into a hundred page orgy. Looking back, this is probably even better than early Anita Blake.

Anyway, five stars, out of five stars. Go buy it.

This one is a little bit too close to the wire for the Dragon Awards. Had it come out earlier so it could get a good head of steam, it would be right up there with best fantasy, neck and neck with Robert Kroese. However, book 2 will be eligible for next year -- it comes out in July. Anyway, while you wait for the book to download, I suggest making certain you've voted in the Dragon Awards this year.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Mel Todd's Incoming, Allies and Family

I already started reviewing Mel Todd's Kaylid Chronicles. I made a point out of reviewing them one by one. First with No Choice, and then with Commander.

I was going to do the same thing with Incoming, Allies and Family ... but I read them all in one big bite, so here's one review. Screw it, let's hit the fast forward button. We have a series to finish. 

Incoming (Kaylid Chronicles Book 3) by [Mel Todd]Truthfully, one of the reasons I read the last three books in one swell foop is that the story is continuous from Incoming onward. 

At the end of Commander, we had learned that our heroes -- Police officer McKenna Largo and company -- had been turned into shape shifters by nanotechnology, unleashed on the planet by an alien race known as the Elentrin. The plan is simple -- the Elentrin were to come, collect the "inconvenience" of the shape shifters off of our hands, take them away... mind wipe them, and reprogram them for canon fodder in their war of extermination against another alien race.

As I've said before, these guys would be right at home with John Ringo's Darhel from the Posleen wars.

With Incoming, the Elentrin are coming to Earth, and they want their canon fodder. And they want them now.

Again, this one feels a bit like a John Ringo novel. It focuses a lot on how things get done. And how does one prepare for an alien invasion with a two week's notice? Guns. Lots of guns.

Also with we change the format a little. With No Choice, and Commander, the real action takes place in the last third of the novel, kidnapping and forcing our heroes into a situation they don't want to be in. Here, yes, the action is in the last third of the book ... but this time, it's full out alien warfare.

And yes, Incoming has all of the smart choices and intelligence observations that I've come to expect from Mel Todd.

5/5, easy.

Allies (Kaylid Chronicles Book 4) by [Mel Todd]Next, we have Allies.

The Elentrin have come to earth. What was supposed to be a cakewalk for them has turned into a pitched battle. And the Elentrin are either going to win, or they're going to drop asteroids on Earth out of spite.

But now, Earth has a new card up its sleeve -- the Drakyn, the aliens the Elentrin want to exterminate, have come to the aid of humans. The Drakyn come with intelligence and knowledge that are invaluable to winning ... if they can be in a position to use it. 

Problem: the Drakyn don't have weapons. Or ships. Or troops....

But the Drakyn are thinking with portals. The problem? Earth only has days to draw up and execute a plan to strike back before the asteroids hit. And, of course, our protagonists must lead the way. 

Also, it's revealed that our heroes are Dragonborn... okay, you had to be there.

Allies is a good, hefty chunk of action, and the emphasis on "how things get done" is spread out more evenly throughout the novel. The action breaks up these scenes. To some degree, the action carries these scenes.

Again, 5/5. 

Family (Kaylid Chronicles Book 5) by [Mel Todd]
Then there's this last one, Family

It feels very much like it should have been one of Mel's novellas-- side stories that she made for the world, exploring events outside of the view of McKenna Largo, our primary character (and, I assume, originally a first person POV narrator, but that's a guess on my part). 

There is one thing that irks me about the entire series. Family feels unnecessary. We could have ended the series with Allies. This one is a 3/5 than a 5/5. It feels rushed, as though Family was supposed to be a novella, and it turned into a conclusion because Mel had better things to do. 

Keep in mind the entire series (five books and four novellas) takes place in less than six months. Probably closer to four and a half. And some of the plot points in Family feels like Mel wanted to go from Point T to Point Z and rushed it. The worst part might be that one of the primary antagonists for the entire series has little to no interaction with our heroes, he's been a running threat from the shadows, and the series ends with him twirling his mustache.

The best part of this one is, again, logistics -- this time the logistics of visiting another planet. It's a long story, and plenty of spoilers, so I won't go into too many details. Here, again, Mel Todd excels.

Personally, I'd suggest getting the bundle, but hold off on reading Family until / if Mel ever gets around to doing a sequel series that deals with this secondary villain, then read Family and keep going. But all in all, the entire series is solid. There isn't even a misstep in the entire series, except the last book.

And buying the five in one pack gives you a massive discount over buying the series solo, even if you don't read Family. But if you've bought it, you can give even the last part a try.

But at the end of the day, this series is amazing. I wish I had read them when they first came out, I would have suggested at least one for a Dragon award.

Speaking of which, please remember to vote in the Dragon Awards, and be certain to vote for Deus Vult for best horror.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

THE UP, UP AND AWAY: the Kevin J Anderson Superhero Bundle

If reading is your kryptonite, Kevin J Anderson has put together a superpowered StoryBundle—thirteen books with marvelous heroes, supervillains, secret identities, mutant powers, and extraordinary gentlemen (and ladies).
For StoryBundle, you decide what price you want to pay. For $5 (or more, if you're feeling generous), you'll get the basic bundle of five books in any ebook format.
• Captain Nemo - The Fantastic Adventures of a Dark Genius by Kevin J. Anderson• Cynetic Wolf by Matt Ward• Working Class Hero by James Robert Smith• Dove Season by Robin Brande• The Superhero's Test by Lucas Flint

If you pay at least the bonus price of just $15, you get all five of the regular books, plus eight more more books, for a total of thirteen!

• Playing a Hunch by Dean Wesley Smith• Fid's Crusade by David Reiss• The Enlivening by Ashlyn Frost• Nobody's Hero by Mark Leslie• Morning Sun by Jeremy Flagg• Overlook by Jon Mollison
• Hellbent by Tina Glasneck• Brave New World Revolution by Matt Forbeck
This bundle is available only for a limited time . It allows easy reading on computers, smartphones, and tablets as well as Kindle and other ereaders via file transfer, email, and other methods. You get multiple DRM-free formats (.epub, .mobi) for all books!

It's also super easy to give the gift of reading with StoryBundle, thanks to our gift cards – which allow you to send someone a code that they can redeem for any future StoryBundle bundle – and timed delivery, which allows you to control exactly when your recipient will get the gift of StoryBundle.

* * * *

Yes, I'm pimping this one because Overlook was awesome. It really is my Dragon Award pick for best SF this year. I don't think I can recommend it enough. This might have something to do with this using my own superpower (no, the bright yellow jacket doesn't always help). If you don't get the joke.... read the damn book already. :)  It really is quite good.

And while I have you here, be sure to vote in the Dragon Awards.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Dragon Award ballot (June 2020)

I really do enjoy Dragon season.

I can talk about books for months on end. I technically don't need an excuse, but it helps to make me look a little less deranged. Especially when I talk about the same ones over and over again.

And this year, I have thoughts. 

Quite a few, really. 

Best Sci Fi

Overlook – Silver Empire

Overlook by Jon Mollison.

I enjoyed that one so much, I may have underplayed my review. It's in the link if you need a refresher over  how good that was.

And if you haven't read it yet, Kevin J. Anderson has a Superhero bundle out TODAY with Overlook in it. So, happy hunting.

Best Fantasy (/ Paranormal)

Brand of the Warlock, by Robert Kroese.

Again, another winner by Rob. Again, the review is linked.

Best YA

The Unbearable Heaviness of Remembering by L. Jagi Lamplighter.

Jagi is so consistently good at this series, I will keep putting her up for Best YA until she (a) wins an award, (b) stops writing books, or until (c) the Dragons stop being handed out.

Best Mi-SF

That's going to go to Chris Ruocchio's Howling Dark (Sun Eater #2). 

If Chris doesn't like it, well, he doesn't get a choice in the matter, since I don't have other slots open. 

Best Alt History

This Deadly Engine by Matt Ligon

I swear, one day I'm just going to say to heck with it and get around to reviewing all of Ligon's books in one block review. But today is not that day. I'm busy on everything else.

Best Horror 

Deus Vult by, well, me

Why this one and not Coven, which even Jagi says is better? 

Because this one scared reviewers

So, it's better for Horror.

Also, the name. Can you get better than that? Heh.

Though if you wanted to put Coven on the list for best fantasy, I'm not going to kvetch. :)

Best Media Tie-In

Thrawn: Treason (star Wars):: Zahn, Timothy

Star Wars: Thrawn: Treason.

I will only pimp this one Disney-related product for one reason.

It's Zahn writing Thrawn. Full stop. Thanks.

Best Science Fiction or Fantasy 
TV Series, TV or Internet

While I haven't seen all of The Witcher, what I've seen, I like. 

And no, I'm not giving anything to Star Trek: Picard. It wasn't even up for consideration. Michael Chabon? Really?

But frankly, I'd give points to The Witcher just for Henry Caville's performance. He's fooled some fairly perceptive people. But then again, British actors seem to be more flexible and disappear into roles better (see David Suchet)

And, and I like The Witcher books that I've read. 

Someone hand the Dragon Award to Henry Caville and he can put it on the shelf next to his 40K minis.

Best Science Fiction or Fantasy Movie

Any thoughts? 

Again, this is a situation where we need something, otherwise a collection of mouth breathing jerks will insist on a terrible Disney product. 

Because if we don't come up with something, The Rise of Skywalker is going to end up with it by default.

And a major problem is that Corona has screwed up so many releases of new material that we're starting to hurt for choices.

Best Science Fiction or Fantasy 

PC / Console Game

My original assumption was that the FF 7 Remake was going to make it here... but from the reaction of a lot of fans, I'm thinking it may not make it. Heh.

Greedfall (PS4) - PlayStation 4

However, I've started playing Greedfall. It's an action RPG that's very much colonial Art of the Deal, with enough cultures thrown into a blender, I'd have thought it was a JRPG. I seriously recommend it. Unless this goes REALLY bad for some reason, it should be on this. And it's indie, of all things.

Again, I've heard some good things about the latest Star Wars game. Jedi: Fallen Order, I think the name is. I'm still waiting for the price to come down.

But I wouldn't put it on this list. Why? Because that would be rewarding bad behavior.

No Contenders

500x500_book_bannerThis is a collection of categories for which I got nothing. Or almost nothing. 

Best Comic Book (the series)

The Immortal Hulk was on this list to start with. Why? Because it's dark and atmospheric, and feels a lot like if Marvel tried doing HP Lovecraft. But, they've decided to make a character suddenly trans, out of nowhere, for no real reason that fit in the story. And it was so jarring, it's really thrown my interest in the story. It took me out of the comic. 

Though if you want to give Immortal Hulk a quick read through at a Barnes and Noble, maybe you'll see more of what I did when I first read it.

As for the rest .... I got nothing. So put in some of your thoughts below.

Best Graphic Novel

Best Science Fiction or Fantasy Board Game

Best Science Fiction or Fantasy Miniatures / Collectible Card / Role-Playing Game 

You can nominate for the Dragons right here. Enjoy. And please remember to tell your friends. And share this list around the internet.