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Sunday, January 31, 2010

Spotlight on February Books

This month Robert Thompson provided most of the book titles with additions by Cindy Hannikman, Liviu Suciu and Mihir Wanchoo. We are featuring 54 books.
The release dates are US unless marked otherwise and the books are first edition unless noted differently. The dates are on a best known basis so they are not guaranteed; same about the edition information. Since information sometimes is out of date even in the Amazon/Book Depository links we use for listings, books get delayed or sometimes even released earlier, we would truly appreciate if you would send us an email about any listing with incorrect information.

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“Ghosts of Manhattan” by George Mann. UK Release Date: February 1, 2010

"Alcestis" by Katharine Beutner (1 February 2010)

"The Liberators" by Philip Womack (1 February 2010)

The Poison Eaters and Other Stories” by Holly Black. Release Date: February 1, 2010.

The Adamantine Palace” by Stephen Deas. Release Date: February 2, 2010 (US Debut).

"Archangel's Kiss" by Nalini Singh (2 February 2010)

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Blackout” by Connie Willis. Release Date: February 2, 2010.

Point Omega” by Don DeLillo. Release Date: February 2, 2010.

Able One” by Ben Bova. Release Date: February 2, 2010.

City of Night” by Michelle West. Release Date: February 2, 2010.

Shadows Past” by Lorna Freeman. Release Date: February 2, 2010.

The Extra” by Michael Shea. Release Date: February 2, 2010.

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Pleasure Model” by Christopher Rowley. Release Date: February 2, 2010.

Jack: Secret Circles” by F. Paul Wilson. Release Date: February 2, 2010.

State of Decay” by James Knapp. Release Date: February 2, 2010.

“Heretics” by S. Andrew Swann. Release Date: February 2, 2010.

The Lost Books of the Odyssey” by Zachary Mason. Release Date: February 2, 2010.

No Sleep Till Wonderland” by Paul Tremblay. Release Date: February 2, 2010.

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“Secrets of the Fire Sea” by Stephen Hunt. UK Release Date: February 4, 2010.

“Walking The Tree” by Kaaron Warren. UK Release Date: February 4, 2010.

“The World House” by Guy Adams. UK Release Date: February 4, 2010.

“Edge” by Thomas Blackthorne. UK Release Date: February 4, 2010.

“Lex Trent Versus the Gods” by Alex Bell. UK Release Date: February 4, 2010.

“Hyddenworld: Spring” by William Horwood. UK Release Date: February 5, 2010.

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“Salute the Dark” by Adrian Tchaikovsky. UK Release Date: February 5, 2010.

A Dark Matter” by Peter Straub. Release Date: February 9, 2010.

El Borak and Other Desert Adventures” by Robert E. Howard (r). Release Date: February 9, 2010.

Finnikin of the Rock” by Melina Marchetta. Release Date: February 9, 2010 (US Debut).

Token of Darkness” by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes. Release Date: February 9, 2010.

The Best of Joe R. Lansdale” by Joe R. Lansdale. Release Date: February 15, 2010.

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Horns” by Joe Hill. Release Date: February 16, 2010.

"Captain Flandry: Defender of the Terran Empire" by Poul Anderson (r) (16 February 2010)

The New Dead” edited by Christopher Golden. Release Date: February 16, 2010.

Jade Man’s Skin” by Daniel Fox. Release Date: February 16, 2010.

The Ruling Sea” by Robert V.S. Redick. Release Date: February 16, 2010 (US Debut).

“The Dark Eyes' War” by David B. Coe. Release Date: February 16, 2010.

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Shadow Prowler” by Alexey Pehov. Release Date: February 16, 2010.

Raven’s Ladder” by Jeffrey Overstreet. Release Date: February 16, 2010.

Live Free or Die” by John Ringo. Release Date: February 16, 2010.

"Raven: Sons of Thunder" by Giles Kristian (18 February 2010)

“The Folding Knife” by K.J. Parker. Release Date: February 22, 2010.

“Geosynchron” by David Louis Edelman. Release Date: February 23, 2010.

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“The Conqueror's Shadow” by Ari Marmell. Release Date: February 23, 2010.

The Last Stormlord” by Glenda Larke. Release Date: February 23, 2010.

Red Inferno: 1945” by Robert Conroy. Release Date: February 23, 2010.

Chill” by Elizabeth Bear. Release Date: February 23, 2010.

Dead Matter” by Anton Strout. Release Date: February 23, 2010.

The Sable Quean” by Brian Jacques. Release Date: February 23, 2010.

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Star Wars: Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor” by Matthew Stover. Release Date: February 23, 2010.

“Black Hills” by Dan Simmons. Release Date: February 24, 2010.

“The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms” by N.K. Jemisin. Release Date: February 25, 2010.

“Above the Snowline” by Steph Swainston. UK Release Date: February 25, 2010.

"The Taborin Scale" by Lucius Shepard (28 February 2010)

Mirror Kingdoms: The Best of Peter S. Beagle” by Peter S. Beagle. Release Date: February 28, 2010.

Friday, January 29, 2010

"The Spirit Lens" by Carol Berg (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)


Order "The Spirit Lens" HERE
Official Carol Berg Website

INTRODUCTION: I have browsed several of Ms. Berg' novels before and I actually started on Flesh and Spirit at some point and I plan to finish it sooner rather than later, but they never had that "read me now" quality to get into them seriously when I have a "reading pile" of several hundred books leaving aside the new ones that are released all the time.

The main reason for the above was that while the writing style was intriguing, the subjects of all the books I browsed by the author were of moderate interest at best for me. However "The Spirit Lens" had a very intriguing blurb, so I decided to include it in my 2010 Anticipated List ; out of 90+ books, it was the only one from an established author I have not read before.

I bought the book on its release day in early January and after several false starts, when I kept putting The Spirit Lens down and reading something else though advancing a little bit each time, I started truly getting into the novel at about the 150th page and from then on it was a non-stop ride to a superb ending that left my appetite whetted for the next installment.

FORMAT/CLASSIFICATION:
The Spirit Lens stands at about 450 pages divided in 34 chronological chapters headed by their date and it ends with an epilogue. The novel is a first person narration by early 30's Portier de Savin-Duplais, a failed magician from an outside line of a powerful noble family, so distant cousin to the current king Philippe de Savin-Jurnia of Sabria. Student at the famous countryside Collegia Magica of Seravain, Portier has been disabused of any hopes for real magical ability by age 16, but through the intercession of his mentor, family friend and lead magician of the Camarilla Magica, Kajetan, Portier stayed on as archivist for some 16 years now until he is secretly summoned to investigate an assassination attempt against the king that may involve magicians, powerful Court members and even the estranged and seemingly unworldly Queen Eugenie herself.

Partly a mystery, partly an exploration of a somewhat familiar but also quite different society on the verge of an age of reason, partly the beginning of an epic as far as the big picture goes, The Spirit Lens is packed with events and it has many twists and turns, of which some are quite unpredictable and made me appreciate it quite a lot at the end.

The style takes a while to get adjusted to since the novel starts on a very light note despite its grim underlying events, Portier being a very self-deprecating and wry narrator, while his two companions in the investigation, Chevalier Ilario and sorcerer Dante start as the overdone cliches of "fop" and "brilliant but moody outsider sorcerer".


OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Sabria is a pseudo-Renaissance kingdom with mostly French/Italian naming conventions that is poised to enter an "Age of Reason" under the leadership of King Philippe. Wracked by the terrible "Blood Wars" some hundred years ago, the nobility and magicians of Sabria formed a compact in which all study and use of magic comes under the aegis of the Camarilla Magica under strict rules and regulations. As magical ability seems to be diminishing among the lines of Sabria' sorcerers, many people including the king himself consider it no more than a stage trick at best or con game at worst and Philippe is promoting the study of science and the advancement of technology.

However not all is rosy since Philippe though now standing on the throne for a good number of years is an "outsider king", being only a distant heir of the previous king who died childless; his high-nobility wife Queen Eugenie was the bride of the former king too, with Philippe marrying her to consolidate his fragile hold on power. Queen Eugenie, while somewhat otherworldly - some saying she "became unbalanced" when her and Philippe's only son died - is a strong believer in magic and has two powerful sorcerers as her own Camarilla.

When an assassination was attempted against Philippe involving the worst kind of "blood magic" and with the scant evidence pointing to the Queen's court, if not the Queen herself, Philippe put his most trusted councilor, right hand man and childhood friend that he raised to the highest estates from a commoner birth, Michel de Vernase, Conte Ruggiere to investigate. However after a promising beginning, Michel has disappeared, Philippe is starting to fear the worst about his friend and time may be running out since soon there will be a symbolic anniversary where the mysterious forces of the "dark" may attack again and finish the job this time.

Desperate and not knowing whom else to trust, the king summons Portier in secret to investigate and prevent the feared next attack, though he saddles him with Ilario, the half-brother of Queen Eugenie and reputed half-wit and fop at the court as a representative of the "Queen's party", while for magical help Portier goes to Dante, the only known "outsider" sorcerer who got licensed by the Camarilla as the law requires but then retired to the countryside.

And from here the fun starts and we follow Portier trying to get a grip on events, manage his two companions as well as keeping a low profile as a secretary to one or the other.

There were several reasons that I kept reading even if it took me a while to get used with the style. The naming conventions worked extremely well for me and while seemingly a minor point, many recent fantasies I tried and were ok but not gripping to start with, lost me badly on that and off they went to a "fast read and forget" or an outright drop.

While the world of Spirit Lens is only slowly unfolding, I never lost the suspension of disbelief necessary to immerse in it. Whenever magicians are involved and especially in the context of a "cultural fight" for supremacy between magic and science/reason, I am always asking why the magicians are not in charge since as all human history teaches any "competitive advantage" (big warriors, literate priesthood, divine right...) is leveraged into domination and entrenched in societal structures and anyone who can demonstrably do magic automatically has such an advantage. Various books answer this in various ways, some more credible for me, some less, but here the whole setup with the Camarilla and the sorcerers slowly losing magical power as a class fits very well with my worldview.

After I got into the style of the novel and its happenings started hooking me, its main attraction were the twists and turns and the characters about whom slowly we start having quite different impressions than at the start. Revelations from the past coupled to traits that come at fore only after a while mean that what we believe at the beginning will be quite changed by the end. This unpredictability raised Spirit Lens most in my estimation since in so many genre books the characters are marked: "the destined one, the sidekick, the love interest, the villain, the noble but doomed one", while here there is much more subtlety and even at the end when we seemingly know a lot more, there is a lot of uncertainty at least with regard to the big picture.

And of course there is a lot of action, daring escapes, plots and counter plots so The Spirit Lens does not lag at all once it gets going, while its main thread is wrapped up so there is completion before the next installment. Highly recommended and a solid A, I will give it a re-read at some point later and may even raise my estimation of it now that I am comfortable with its style.
Thursday, January 28, 2010

"Incarceron" by Catherine Fisher (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman)


Visit Catherine Fisher's Official website here
Order Incarceron from Amazon here


Introduction: Incarceron was published in the UK in 2007. It has finally made it's way across the ocean to the US, with a release date of January 26, 2010.

Catherine Fisher is best known for her YA series The Oracle Prophecies, The Snow Walker, and The Book of Crow. Along with several stand alone novels such as Darkhenge.

Overview: Incarceron is a prison that is beyond any other prison ever dreamed of. It's a futuristic prison that is placed under ground, and is a host to many run down cities and areas of wilderness. The inmates within the prison have formed rival groups, and act almost savagely to stay alive.

Incarceron was sealed many years ago. No one enters, and no one leaves this prison. There is a legend that says that only one person has ever been able to escape Incarceron. This man, Sapphique, serves almost as a hero and savior of hope to the people living within Incarceron.

However Incarceron watches every move that is made throughout the prison. At times altering the course of events for fun, or just to see the results of what would happen to the people living within it's depths.

Finn, is a seventeen year old prisoner, that can only remember the past three years of his life. Finn has the wild belief that he wasn't born within Incarceron, like the other inmates, but instead has really come of the Outside. This belief has led him to wild dreams of escaping Incarceron and proving everyone that there really is an Outside and that he really did come from there.

On the Outside, is a young girl, Claudia. She is the daughter to the Warden of Incarceron and is stuck in an arranged marriage to the future king.

As fate would have it, Claudia and Finn separately find a crystal key that allows them to communicate with each other. Claudia agrees to help Finn escape from Incarceron. Although she find it hard to believe that anyone would want to leave Incarceron, the people Outside have been told that Incarceron is a paradise of sorts, so it's hard to believe that anyone would want to leave such a place.

Helping each other will take Finn and Claudia to new levels, and help form a unique long distance friendship that is forged by desperation. Now all that lies in wait is if Incarceron will allow one of it's own to escape.

Analysis: Incarceron has been highly talked about for the past couple of months. Usually when a novel has so much buzz about it, there's always that fear that it really won't live up to the expectations that are set for it. Luckily, my experience with Incarceron was exactly the opposite. From the moment I started reading this book, it sucked me in and it was almost impossible to put down.

Incarceron is a complex novel, its definitely not a novel that can easily be skimmed. It's not so complex that readers get confused or have no idea what is going on. Instead it requires thinking, and a bit of assuming on the readers part. Explanations of groups of people, the setting of Incarceron, and the whole time issue, appears confusing at first, and aren't directly told to the reader. However as time goes on throughout the novel it becomes clearer what is going on and what groups are. Each chapter has a small excerpt from a document, letter or story that slowly reveals to readers what is really going on.

It's a very rare book that can take on this approach to writing and not lose the reader. Instead Cathrine Fisher knows just when to drop clues and hints to the mystery of Incarceron that it captivates the reader and makes them want to know more. However, this approach isn't for everyone and could cause readers to stop reading for fear of not understanding the entire plot or getting easily confused as to what is really going on.

The plot of the story is a fairly intriguing concept. Incarceron is really for the most part one big mysterious area, that slows starts to form as the reader progresses through the story. New information is constantly being added and readers can never know what to expect to find in Incarceron. By the end a fully formed picture is painted and it really is very fascinating.

There are various plot threads that I came across while reading that for a seasoned reader were very predictable. I easily could see where Fisher was taking the story in regards to Finn and who he might really be. Also the mystery of Claudia's father was fairly predictable at about the halfway mark. However, the mystery of Incarceron and Fisher's writing style captivated me so much that I kept wanting to read on, and the predictability factor wasn't so blatant that it made the story dull.

As for the characters in this novel, there wasn't instant attraction at first. As the story went on the character of Finn started to grow on me, and I really started to enjoy reading his segments. The other characters weren't bad, and there's nothing wrong with them, but the main focus of the novel is really more about the prison of Incarceron, Finn and the legend of Sapphique then building up Claudia's characters.

My favorite part of the book and one that I really thought was fairly unique and thought out was the whole time issue. Incarceron takes place in a futuristic society that has computers, televisions, and machines. However in the previous years, the king went back and made a decree that forced everyone to live in 16th/17th century ideals. The dress, the language, the ban on the use of anything automated it all makes up standard Protocol that every citizen must abide by.

This was an interesting twist that after fully understanding what was happening with it really appeared very thought out. It's not really explored why this decree was ever given, and hopefully in the second novel it'll be explored a lot more.

Incarceron is for the most part a fully contained story but there are plenty of plots that continue on to the second novel. The second novel is scheduled to be released in the US in 2011, so the wait isn't too long.

In the end, I loved Incarceron a lot more then I thought I would. It's really a novel that wasn't just a regular run of the mill fantasy but instead had a lot of heart, soul and thought put into every twist and turn of the story. The fact that there was a lot of thinking and mystery helped make this an impossible novel to put down. I anxiously await the second novel to see what will happen. Cathrine Fisher far exceeded my expectations for this novel.
Wednesday, January 27, 2010

“The Extra” by Michael Shea (Reviewed by Robert Thompson)

Official Michael Shea Website
Order “The ExtraHERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Michael Shea is the World Fantasy Award–winning author of Nifft the Lean as well as many other novels and short stories. Recent releases include the collections, The Autopsy and Other Tales and Copping Squid. Michael is currently writing “The Siege of Sunrise”, a sequel to “The Extra”.

PLOT SUMMARY: Val Margolian, the greatest living vid director, has found the mother lode of box-office gold with his new “live-action” films whose villains are extremely sophisticated, electronically controlled mechanical monsters. To give these live-action disaster films greater realism, he employs huge casts of extras. The large number of extras is important, because very few of them will survive the shoot.

It’s all perfectly legal, with training for the extras and long, detailed contracts indemnifying the film company against liability for the extras’ injury or death. But why would anyone be crazy enough to risk his or her life to be an extra in such a potentially deadly situation?

The extras do it because if they survive they’ll be paid handsomely, and they can make even more if they destroy any of the animatronic monsters trying to stomp, chew, fry, or otherwise kill them. If they earn enough, they can move out of the Zoo—the vast slum that most of L.A. has become—and they’re fighting for a chance at a reasonable life. But first, they have to survive...

FORMAT/INFO:The Extra” is 288 pages long divided over twenty titled chapters. Narration is in the first person via Curtis, and in the third person via Jool, assistant director Kate Harlow, sector chief Sandy Devlin, Val Margolian, chief assistant director Mark Millar, Chops, Japh, etc. “The Extra” comes to a natural stopping point with just a few unresolved issues, but is the first volume in a trilogy. February 2, 2010 marks the North American Hardcover publication of “The Extra” via Tor.

ANALYSIS: Expanding on the short story that was first published in 1987, Michael Shea’sThe Extra” combines hollywood satire, dystopian societies, and themes on media, social realism and class status for a darkly funny and action-packed futuristic thriller that is kind of like The Running Man, Death Race 2000, Mad Max, and Starship Troopers all rolled into one.

What immediately impressed me about “The Extra” was Michael Shea’s writing. Specifically, the stylish prose, his wild imagination, slick execution, distinctive narrative voices, and the overall manic energy present throughout the novel. I was particularly blown away by the Alien Hunger “shoot” which follows several different characters and subplots—uncovering sabotage, exacting revenge, power plays, etc—amid killer Anti-Personnel Properties (APPs—basically giant mechanical monsters), explosions in the sky, falling buildings, and dire odds that was just pure adrenalized brilliance.

Negatively, the world-building in “The Extra” is full of neat ideas like the Zoo (L.A. flatlands), ’Rises, Corps, etc., and Michael does a terrific job of furnishing the society and its inhabitants with its own personality including slang and manner of dress, but as a whole, I never fully grasped the world that the author had created and felt he could have done more with it. So I’m hoping this is an area that will be addressed in the sequels.

In the end, Michael Shea’sThe Extra” is an exhilarating thrill-ride full of creativity, insane action, and accomplished writing. Hugely entertaining, I can’t wait for the rest of the trilogy...
Tuesday, January 26, 2010

2010 BSFA Shortlist



The British Science Fiction Association has just announced its shortlist: this year there are only four nominees in the Best Novel category, and six nominees in the Best Short Fiction and Best Artwork categories due to ties for fifth place. The Awards will be presented at this year’s Eastercon, Odyssey.

Novel

The City and the City,
China Mieville (Macmillan) - a review by Liviu and another by me.
Ark,
Stephen Baxter (Gollancz)
Yellow Blue Tibia,
Adam Roberts (Gollancz) -reviewed by Liviu
Lavinia, Ursula Le Guin (Gollancz)


Short
The Beloved Time of Their Lives,
Ian Watson & Roberto Quaglia - The Beloved of My Beloved, Newcon Press
Sinner, Baker, Fabulist, Priest; Red Mask, Black Mask, Gentleman, Beast,
Eugie Foster - Interzone
The Assistant,
Ian Whates - The Solaris Book of Science Fiction Volume 3
Vishnu at the Cat Circus,
Ian McDonald
Johnnie and Emmie-Lou Get Married, Kim Lakin-Smith - Interzone
The Push,
Dave Hutchinson - Newcon Press


Art

Adam Tredowski - covers of Interzone issues 220, 224 and 225
Nitzan Klamer - 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, cover, art project published online HERE.
Stephanie Pui-Min Law - Emerald.
Stephan Martiniere - Cover of Desolation Road by Ian McDonald.

Non-Fiction Mutant Popcorn,
Nick Lowe - Interzone
Canary Fever,
John Clute - Beccon
Ethics and Enthusiasm,
Hal Duncan
I didn't Dream of Dragons, Deepa D
A Short History of Fantasy, Farah Mendlesohn and Edward James

The Fantasy Book Critic team congratulates all the nominees.
Monday, January 25, 2010

“Pleasure Model” by Christopher Rowley (Reviewed by Robert Thompson)

Official Christopher Rowley Website
Order “Pleasure ModelHERE
Read Excerpts HERE
Watch the Book Trailer HERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Christopher Rowley is a prolific writer of science fiction and fantasy including the Compton Crook Award-winning “The War for Eternity”, “Starhammer”, “Bazil Broketail”, the Books of Arna trilogy, etc. He also co-wrote two television animated series by Robert Mandell, and is the author of the illustrated novel “Arkham Woods”.

PLOT SUMMARY: In “Pleasure Model”, the first volume in the Netherworld Trilogy, Senior Investigating Officer of Homicide, Rook Venner, is assigned to a bizarre and vicious murder case. The clues are colder than the corpse and the case looks like it’ll remain unsolved—until an eyewitness is discovered. But the witness is a Pleasure Model, an illegal gene-grown human. Plesur’s only purpose is to provide satisfaction to her owner—in any way.

When the murderer targets Plesur in order to eliminate the one witness, Rook takes her into hiding to protect her. Thus begins a descent into the dark world of exotic pleasure mods and their illicit buyers and manufacturers. Rook frantically searches for clues, struggling to stay one step ahead of those looking to kill them both. But is Rook falling under Plesur’s spell….?

FORMAT/INFO:Pleasure Model” is 240 pages long divided over twenty-one chapters. Each chapter includes 25-30 b&w illustrations (see example below) provided by comic book artist Justin Norman (Elephantman, Justice League). Narration is in the third person via SIO Rook Venner and the dominatrix Mistress Julia/Angie. “Pleasure Model” is the first volume in the Netherworld Trilogy, and ends on an unresolved note.

February 2, 2010 marks the North American Trade Paperback publication of “Pleasure Model” via Tor. Cover art provided by Gregory Manchess. ARC provided by the publisher upon request.

ANALYSIS: Apart from watching the movies, browsing through a few issues of the magazine, and being a huge fan of Luis Royo, I have only a passing familiarity with Heavy Metal. All the same, I was immediately intrigued by Heavy Metal Pulp—“a new line of novels combining noir fiction with fantastic art featuring the themes, story lines, and graphic styles of Heavy Metal magazine.” Christopher Rowley’sPleasure Model” is the first offering from Heavy Metal Pulp, and for the most part, the novel delivers on its promise of noir, Heavy Metal style, and fantastic artwork...

Stylistically, “Pleasure Model” mixes pulp fiction, noir, cyberpunk and a dash of erotica—Blade Runner, Ghost in the Shell, I, Robot, and Aeon Flux were just a few of the things that came to mind when reading the book—for an experience that is instantly familiar. Exhibit A, the futuristic setting (New York, 2060) with artificial intelligences like Rook’s Nokia Supa named Ingrid, bioengineered humans (pleasure mods), enhancement chips, robotics, and neat gadgets like smart-mirrors that detect a person’s mood and show them want they want to see. Then there are the recognizable character types (femme fatales and a Chandleresque protagonist), well-trodden themes (humanity, playing god), and a plot that starts out simple, but then develops into something much more complex and dangerous for the heroes. In this case, a simple murder investigation evolving into a deadly conspiracy involving everything from law enforcement bureaucracy, government politics, dark military secrets, and the most powerful organization in the country to the criminal underworld, invisible assassination squads, and the former president of the United States. In short, “Pleasure Model” is a book that unabashedly wears its influences on its sleeve, but because of Christopher Rowley’s more than competent prose, breakneck pacing, and cinematic storytelling, “Pleasure Model” is entertaining nonetheless.

That said, don’t expect a lot of depth from the book. “Pleasure Model” is only 240 pages long, and a lot of that is because of the illustrations. So in reality, the book is no more than a novella, or one-third of a regular-sized novel. As a result, there’s not a lot of time to flesh out characters/settings, explore themes, or develop plotlines. Thankfully, it’s easy to ignore the size of “Pleasure Model” and just enjoy the action-packed ride, even though the book was over long before I wanted it to be.

As far as the artwork, Justin Norman’s illustrations are hit or miss. For the most part, the sketches are well-drawn and add texture to the book, but there are times when the PG illustrations would clash with the R-rated story rather than complement it. Also, the placement of illustrations was sometimes off, with the pictures depicting a scene that hadn’t happened yet in the text, thus ruining a surprising turn of events. Overall though, I really enjoyed the abundant use of illustrations in a prose novel, and hope it’s something that will catch on with more authors and publishers.

CONCLUSION: Christopher Rowley’sPleasure Model” is all-too-brief, treads over familiar territory, and is lacking in depth, but thanks to skillful writing, non-stop excitement, and Justin Norman’s artwork, I had a total blast reading “Pleasure Model”. In the end, I can’t wait to finish the Netherworld Trilogy and look forward to checking out more books from Heavy Metal Pulp...
Sunday, January 24, 2010

Odds and Ends - Aurealis 2009, PK Dick shortlist 2009 and Lovereading Top 50 novels of the 00's



Our co-editor Fabio Fernandes' regular blog Post-Weird Thoughts has some technical difficulties, so for now he is blogging at Eterno Provisorio both in English and Portuguese. Go visit him there if you miss his PWT interesting
and insightful posts.

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The 2009 Aurealis winners for various sff categories from Australian writers have been announced. Fabio has the list on his blog HERE. Perusing the list I was very intrigued by the Best SF novel winner "Wonders of a Godless World" by Andrew McGahan.

The blurb sounded extremely interesting:

"
On an unnamed island, in a Gothic hospital sitting in the shadow of a volcano, a wordless orphan girl works on the wards housing the insane and the incapable. When a silent, unmoving and unnerving new patient - a foreigner - arrives at the hospital, strange phenomena occur, bizarre murders take place, and the lives of the patients and the island's inhabitants are thrown into turmoil. What happens between them is an extraordinary exploration of consciousness, reality and madness. Wonders of a Godless World, the new novel from Miles Franklin-winner Andrew McGahan, is a huge and dramatic beast of a book. It is a thought-provoking investigation into character and consciousness, a powerful cautionary tale, and a head-stretching fable about the earth, nature and the power of the mind. It is utterly unlike anything you've read before - it will take you by the shoulders and hold you in its grip to its nerve-tingling finale."

The above blurb makes me want the book *now* and though the novel so far is available in print only in Australia as far as I know, with an UK edition sometime in May if the Amazon.uk listing is accurate and with an unknown date for an US edition, the wonder of the Internet is such that an ebook edition of it is available from eBooks.com. It is in the unwieldy pdf format and drm'ed to boot, though it's the famous inept drm, as well as quite expensive at 22.99$ but with a 20% off promotional code got with the help of Google and valid at least until February 1st, it was worth for me and from what I browsed, the novel reads extremely well, so look for a review this coming week alongside the delayed by circumstances review of Spirit Lens/Carol Berg.

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The 2009 Philip K. Dick Award nominees have been announced

  • Bitter Angels, C. L. Anderson (Ballantine Spectra)
  • The Prisoner, Carlos J. Cortes (Ballantine Spectra
  • The Repossession Mambo, Eric Garcia (Harper)
  • The Devil’s Alphabet, Daryl Gregory (Del Rey)
  • Cyberabad Days, Ian McDonald (Pyr)
  • Centuries Ago and Very Fast, Rebecca Ore (Aqueduct Press
  • Prophets, S. Andrew Swann (DAW)
Leaving aside the two collections (McDonald and Ore), I either read or took a look at all the five novels on the list.

The only one I would recommend is Prophets (Goodreads impressions, A) by SA Swann which is a great mil-sf/space opera with a libertarian "who has the biggest guns and shoots first" ethos set in the author's wonderful Moreau/Race universe of his previous two series, as well as being the start of a new trilogy that can be read independently with all the back-story filled in.

The sequel
Heretics is due soon in February and I plan to read it as soon as I get a copy, most likely on its publication day, and hopefully the timing will work out to write a full review of both here since last year while I wanted to review Prophets, my review schedule did not work out for it, so I did only a short FBC capsule review based on the Goodreads impressions linked above.

I read The Repossession Mambo (Goodreads impressions, C) fast in a bookstore cafe only because of a rave review on sfsignal since otherwise the book is not something that tempts me; while it was ok'ish, it was nothing special; if you like satire sf that takes itself seriously, you may like it better but for me the concept of the book was way too preposterous to really suspend disbelief. An hour and the price of a coffee was worth for me, but no more.

Bitter Angels (Goodreads impressions, C) was a book that I was really looking forward too and when I found out in the copyright page that the author is actually Sarah Zettel who has written two excellent sf novels in the 90's though I did not care for her later fantasy, I was even more excited. Sad to say, after a very promising beginning the book devolved into a morass and while I read it reasonably carefully and gave it a C, I have no intention of reading more in the series. While the Garcia book above was sort of better than I expected, this one was a minor disappointment:

"There are two major problems - after a tight beginning the novel starts scattering, while the more I learned about its universe the less I could suspend disbelief; also the moons on which the action mostly happens never feel truly real, while the little that happens on ships and in space is just great and shows how good the novel could have been."

I got an arc of The Prisoner by Carlos Cortes though it's another kind of book that holds very little interest for me; I browsed it just to do my duty but the writing style had very little appeal - at least Eric Garcia's style was very energetic and I would be very excited to read a book by him with a subject that interests me - so off it went into the "library donation box" since none of my co-editors here was interested either.

For some reason Darryl Gregory's writing style is completely "so-not-for-me" though I browsed The Devil's Alphabet too since the author got some acclaim with his debut Pandemonium and I thought maybe this one will be "for me"; no luck, so another "tried but not for me" novel here. However Mihir liked this one and you can read his review HERE and get a more informed opinion.

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And for fun, the venerable Lovereading UK site put 50 novels from the 00's that in their considered opinion are the "best" of the decade, whatever that means of course, and everyone can vote for any number of them if they agree with the selection. The top 10 vote getters will be announced in April. As with all such list you can quibble and argue, but the list makes good reading and it may suggest new novels which after all is the main purpose of all such lists imho.

From the list I read (at least partially and enough to have an opinion) the following:

Atonement/I.McEwan (A)
Cloud Atlas/D.Mitchell (A++ and a top novel of the 00's for me)
Fingersmith/S.Waters (A+ and in the next tier of the 00's novels after the top-top)
JS&MN/S.Clarke ("not for me", one of those "English" novels that did not work out in any way for me - I read it partially only but enough to realize that)
The Gone Away World/N. Harkaway (A, FBC review)
The Shadow of the Wind/CR Zafon (A+)
TTT's Wife/A. Niffenegger (C)
The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo/Larsson ("not for me", another one that I read enough from to realize that)
The BookThief/Zusak (tentatively a "not for me" one, but willing to retry at some point)

and I have and plan to read at some point:

Half of a Yellow Sun/CN Adichie
Shantaram
/GD Roberts
The Sea/J. Banville
The Master/C. Toibin
The Gathering/A. Enright
Suite Francaise/I. Nemirovsky

I voted for the three A+/++ novels only since a top 10 decade list should have only such!

Go check out the list and vote too!!
Saturday, January 23, 2010

Capsule Review: Two Children's Books that take place in Scotland



Scotland is such a beautiful country. It's amazing that it really isn't as popular of setting in books as it should be. Most of the books that I've encountered take place either in the US, London, England, and most recently Asia. Recently while reading some middle grade fantasy books I came across two books that took place in Scotland, and wanted to share them with you.
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Grey Ghost: Book One in the Wolf's Apprentice Series by Julie Hahnke Illustrated by Marcia Christensen

Grey Ghost takes place in the Scottish Highlands in the 16th century. Black Duncan Campbell has taken it upon himself to start murdering all his neighbors, making his clan the ruling clan. Eleven year old Angus finds himself the sole survivor of his clan, Macnab, after his family home is burned down, and his parents are killed. Angus takes it upon himself to try and end the bloody rampage that Black Duncan Campbell has started. Along the way he learns about his family's heritage, some secrets that are hidden in his ancient family home, and even gains a little help from some animal friends.

Grey Ghost is a great middle grade fantasy book. Although there isn't magic and the likes there are talking animals. The main attraction of this novel is the research and setting. Julie Hahnke does an excellent job of setting up and portraying 16th century Scotland. The problems and situations that arise throughout the novel are all situations that were going on during that time period. To avoid any confusion there is a glossy of terms and weapons for words that are used within the book.

Grey Ghost is a short book, but a somewhat complete story. It stands at 183 pages but there are plenty of drawings and most of the pages aren't filled with words, which make this story a very quick read. The ending leaves readers with a complete sense but does lead into the other books that will be coming out.

Although there are talking animals, the only complaint that I had, was the talking moth. The other animals were all helpful and useful throughout the story. However there is a talking moth that talks in an almost repeat type language. It's never explained what this moths purpose is, and I believe as this is a series this will probably come up again.

The illustrations within this novel are excellent. Although the pictures are done in pencil drawing compared to color, they captivate the story and help readers to visualize the setting, and areas that are involved with this book. Marcia Christensen did a wonderful job with adding to this story. Although on a side note, there is one picture of a dead head being carried off that might not be for everyone.

I would readily recommend this book to anyone looking to introduce children to the Scottish setting, or just for a fun quick read.
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The Case of the Purloined Professor: The Tails of Frederick and Ishbu by Judy Cox

Frederick and Ishbu are two rat brothers that live in Miss Dove's fifth grade classroom. They enjoy reading, eating, and learning along with the class. One evening, a lovely rat, Natasha seeks the brothers help when her father, the great professor and scientist has gone missing. The rats must travel the world in order to find out where Natasha's father could be, and also find themselves solving a mystery as to why some of the humans pets seem to be hypnotized all of a sudden.

The Case of the Purloined Professor, is the second in the "Tails" of Frederick and Ishbu series by Judy Cox. It isn't necessary to read the first book in the series but it does help if you don't want some of the events to be spoiled from the first book.

This book is just perfect for the age group that it is meant for. There is just that perfect amount of mystery and learning combined. Judy Cox does a wonderful job of slipping in factual information without making it appear as though the book is trying to force children to read and learn at the same time. The characters are all very entertaining, and fun to read. Ishbu and Frederick although they are brothers each have their own individual characteristics, and flaws. However they always seem very caring and fun to be around.

On the rat duo's adventure, the first stop that they make it to Scotland, where they meet up with a band of badgers. Talking badgers in any kids story is always a fun thing. Although Scotland isn't the only place the rats stop at, they do spend a lot of time there. There are descriptions of the moors, and the lochs which are fun to read about. All the badgers talk with little Scottish accents. These badgers are also the ones that teach the duo how to fight so that they are able to defend themselves against the enemy dogs.

The book had a complete story, but there is the continuing thread of "The Big Cheese". So there are sure to be plenty of other installments into this series.

The story was interesting enough for adults, but it really is geared for the 8-12 range, which is just the perfect age for this type of story. I'd readily read another book in this series.




Friday, January 22, 2010

"Libyrinth" by Pearl North (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman)



Introduction: Any lover of reader would be instantly drawn to a book that deals with a young girl who has the books "talking" to her. That was the first thing that attracted me to Libyrinth and made me want to see what was in store.

Although this novel is often referred to as Pearl North's debut novel, North has been published under a different name. Libryrinth is Pearl North's first YA novel.

Overview: Libyrinth takes place many years in the future. Where there is almost a deserted area of Earth where magic and technology are mixed, and most importantly wars are started over books.

Haly is one of the Libyrarians. The Libyrarians are a group of people chosen to preserve and protect the sacred books that have come from all over the Earth and hold the knowledge that is passed down from the Ancients. The books are stored in a maze like library known as the Libyrinth. Haly has held a secret close to her, the books can talk to her, reading aloud in her head passages from their stories.

Every year the Eradicants come to the Libyrinth and destroy a certain amount of books. They hold an almost celebration in which they celebrate the burning of hundreds of books. The Eradicants fear books and anyone that can read, for they are a sacred group that rely on song and stories to pass down information and believe that writing down of any information is bad and should be stopped.

On the last evening of the book burning, Haly overhears a book describe the knowledge to a sacred book. This book is known as the Book of the Night, and will lead to the destruction of all books if it falls into the hands of the Eradicants. The description of where this book is hidden is being passed on to one of the lead Eradicants, who will most certainly send a group to find this book.

Haly takes it upon herself to go off in search of this sacred book and finding it before the Eradicants do. Along on the quest she takes her mentor Selena, and one of her friends from the kitchen, Clauda. However, the quest turns into a learning experience not only for the girls about themselves but about the history of the war between the Libyrarians and the Eradicants, and Haly learns that there is a prophecy that has been told among the Eradicants that might just involve her.

Analysis: My expectations for Libyrinth were fairly high. A storyline that involved books talking to a young girl, seemed like something I'd love and really enjoy. However, I had somewhat of a mixed experience with this book. There were parts that I enjoyed but there were parts that didn't work for me and I feel fairly strongly about.

The storyline of the novel is fairly straight forward. There isn't anything to complicated and allows the reader to start and stop without having to keep going back and flipping pages. Pearl North's writing has a very YAish feel to it, in that events move quickly and there isn't anything over complicated to the story.

The idea of having books talk to Haly was a unique and attention grabbing idea. Any lover of books and reading would be instantly attracted to a story that involved this type of plot. Throughout the story there are many times that quotes are used from various classic stories. The Diary of Anne Frank plays a pivotal role in the ending of the book, and while the quotes were enjoyable they also served as a hindrance, which I will talk about later.

Another area that I liked was although the author bio suggests that there will be more novels involving this land and characters. Libyrinth really could serve as a stand alone novel, and the events are pretty much wrapped up at the end of the novel.


Although the plot was attention grabbing there were many parts of this novel that just didn't work for myself and really prevented me from really enjoying the novel.

The first part was the use of Nod. Nod is Haly's imp friend/pet that travels with her throughout Libyrinth and the quest. While this might seem a little out there, the character was annoying and appeared to just be thrown out there. The imps do play a major part in the end of the book but it just didn't jive with the feel of the book. There were no other demony type characters mentioned and I couldn't figure out why the imp talked in such an annoying way. This was just a personal issue as many people may have enjoyed this character.

While I enjoyed the use of quotes from classic books, the use of quotes as the novel moved on seemed to be overused and not really conductive to the movement of the story. Instead I found myself skipping a book quote when it'd come up because it really had nothing to do with the plot. A little here and there was enjoyable but when Haly started reading The Diary of Anne Frank the quotes just seemed to overtake the story and disrupt the flow of the book. I loved that she used the novel as a way to help, but I didn't feel we needed to be reading as many quotes as we were given.

Another area of the story that seemed to hinder my enjoyment was the huge segments of the book dedicated to describing of the use of massage and energy flow. Clauda at one point in the novel is attacked by a weapon that disrupts her energy flow. While she is receiving treatment for this, Pearl North takes pages upon pages to describe the energy and vibes that Clauda has. This was really a downfall of the story as it felt as if a lot of time was spent on making the readers understand this segment, and there were various times in the novel that readers were taken back to the treatment, and again we were bombarded with unnecessary explanations of the energy and vibes.

There were a lot of areas that I felt could have been explored more. One of the characters in the novel starts to struggle with her feelings for another girl. She doesn't seem to understand why she has these feelings and she doesn't know if she should act upon it. While there isn't a lot of focus upon this, it did feel as though it was randomly thrown out there. There are maybe 3 references to this romance, sexual orientation, and that's it. The girl doesn't act on them, and she doesn't really mention it again in the novel. For such an issue that could be so controversial, especially in a YA book, it really should have either been developed more or left out of the book completely.

The last issue that I had with this novel was that of the timing of events. The events all had a fast paced, moving along feeling to them. By the ending of the book I thought that over time the events were within a week. Only after the characters returned to Libyrinth did I realize that it had been a month. The timing felt a bit off and it was a bit of a distraction.

In the end, Libyrinth had a lot of potential. The storyline really was something that most really could enjoy. However there were a lot of distractions that really prevented this novel from living up to the potential that it had. It wasn't a bad book, but it has a lot of components that might not work for a lot of people. While I would probably check out the second novel to see if any of these problems were fixed, I don't know if this book would be on the top of a list of recommended books.


Thursday, January 21, 2010

"Hell is an Awfully Big City" a Collection of D. L. Russell Stories (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)



Order "Hell is an Awfully Big City" HERE (Read Excerpt available)
Official DL Russell Website

AUTHOR INFORMATION: D. L. RUSSELL is the author of various published short stories and novellas. He is a gulf war veteran who promised to himself to realize his writing dreams after his return from the war. Hell is an Awfully Big City is a collection of his previously published short stories and novellas along with new ones. He's also the founder of the Strange, Weird, and Wonderful Magazine, which he now Co-Edits with Sharon Black.

PLOT SUMMARY: Hell is an Awfully Big City...

Yes it is! And it's filled with modern incantations of classic Horror, Dark Fantasy, and Science Fiction figures from tired Vampires to Ghouls, from a Sexy Ghost to the local neighborhood Witch, along with dealings with the Devil, and Aliens bent on taking over the Earth. Hell is an Awfully Big City...

The nine stories in this collection were created with the idea that every writer of Horror, should create his/her take on the classic horror themes; the Vampire, the Werewolf, the invading Alien, the Monster. There will always be a place for these iconic horror themes in books, movies, and television shows. These stories have helped the author become a more confident writer, primarily by allowing him to accept the fact this is just beginning as each tale began with nothing more than a generic idea in a note pad.

CLASSIFICATION: All the stories in "Hell is an Awfully Big City" are a mix of dark fantasy with horror and with a bit of humor thrown in as well. They reminded me a lot of the Twilight zone tales as they have quite a bit of "Lovecraftian weird" in them.

FORMAT/INFO: "Hell is an Awfully Big City" is 196 pages long divided into nine different stories and an Introduction. Narration is in the third-person in all the tales and each has its own POV characters. Each story is self-contained and may or may not be set in the same world. October 19th, 2009 marked the American Trade paperback publication of "Hell is an Awfully Big City" via Wild Cat Books.

ANALYSIS: I received a pdf review copy of the book after we got a query regarding it. The book description was alluring even though I'm not much of a short story reader as I usually find them ending too early for my liking. This however doesn't stop me from enjoying them every once in a while.

For this collection I'll be reviewing each short story in the order given in the collection. Here is the order as given in the book along with a single line description:

1] Raymond Doesn't Remember - And you wouldn't want to either. Neighborhood Witches can be that way sometimes.

2] Waas - For Rubin Marcello Waas, it's the fight in the meal, not the taste.

3] That Ain't No Chicken - A flock of hens will often refuse to lay eggs as a group, when stressed.

4] Hell is an Awfully Big City - All Rufus Quincy really wanted was one more ride.

5] Maxwell - Even if you were tired of living, would you fight for your life against the Werewolves?

6] Dreams Still On You - Sometimes, the Unloved, get a second chance.

7] Out of the Water - Frogs aren't the only creatures to ever fall from the sky during a storm.

8] Raalo, Becoming - There are some stinks just not meant to be washed off.

9] The Old Men of McDonald's - We've all seen them in there, sipping coffee all day.

The first story "Raymond Doesn't Remember" is a tale which is split into two time periods August 24th, 1985 & Jul y 20th, 2008. This story is quite the opener as we see the main protagonist in those 2 days and how the events of the former have affected the latter. While I kind of had an idea how the story would end, the author has quite a twist inserted in the end to outthink the reader. This story set the pace for the rest and is highly efficient.

The second story "Waas" tells us about Rubin Marcello Waas and his strange affliction. The story is also interspersed with 2 Mafiosi and one woman who have rather eventful encounter with Rubin. This story was good but not as enthralling as its predecessor. The story ended with an ironic twist!

The third story "That Ain't No Chicken" is one of the longer stories
and is in ways a great tale which mixes horror, SF & LC-weird in many ways to give the readers a tale which will constantly keep them on their toes. Just to give you a hint, the POVs in this tale includes humans as well as other animals and the way the plot kept turning on its head was very exciting for me as a reader. The ending is fast and brutal & doesn't disappoint either.

The next tale is the titular tale of this collection and is the shortest one. However it is quite the funny one amongst all and has a rather "Nice" ending with nice depending on how you view it!

The next tale "Maxwell" is another long one and is a vampire tale and is one of the best in this collection as it showcases Maxwell the vampire and his search for his fellow vampires. The vampires described in it are the darker versions more akin to earlier legends rather than the TV versions nowadays. The story had an ending which I expected a bit but the execution is what makes it so engrossing.

The 6th story "Dreams Still On You" is the best story in this entire collection as it has a haunting storyline and has ending which will invoke the strongest response from the reader. I absolutely loved this story and its conclusion was one which surprised me the most.

The 7th story "Out of the Water" is a tale of "Man versus the elements" as it tells us about a Rap star, his wife and the island on which they are on. With the weather turning worse, events do take a rather unnatural turn and they find out that the surviving the night will take much more out of them than just huddling in their house. This story started nicely and ends rather abruptly but still is very atmospheric and chilling in some ways.

The penultimate story "Raalo, Becoming" is a sort of sequel to the tale about Maxwell as it focuses on Raalo and his predicament; which he has no clue and is rather taken aback when he meets someone who might be able to help him. However the catch is will he be able to accept it? This story was another engaging piece and though disturbing on some level, the dialogue makes the pages fly and has the happiest ending amongst all the stories featured.

The last tale called "The Old Men of McDonald 's" was the book ender and again a big one. It features a retiring old man who recently meets compatriots of a similar age however there is more to the eye than just eating at McDonalds. This tale was the only disappointment for me as I couldn't really understand what was happening in this story. Some explanations are provided however they aren't deep enough for me.

The collection is a nice mix of Horror combined with Weird and dark Urban fantasy as well. D.L. Russell's writing is competent enough to highlight the various characters and their situations [This was really evident in the third story when it comes to POV characters this one took the cake for its sheer ingenuity]. The dialogue was also good enough and each story had its own nuances to differentiate the characters. All in all I went with an open mind for this book and I really enjoyed it, especially I absolutely relished 5 0f the 9 stories, 3 were rather gruesome with their narratives however the characterization was done neatly to uphold the stories. The last tale wasn't up to the mark for me in regards to the standards set by its predecessors and that doesn't mean it was a bad story. I'm sure some readers might like it more than I did.

The story arrangement is done very aptly, offering difference in plot themes and enough variation to keep the reader hooked. The author has taken various tropes and given them his own twist to make the stories dark and weirdly readable.

CONCLUSION: I very much enjoyed these stories and I'm definitely looking forward to what D.L. Russell has to offer in the longer story format especially if he decides to write more about the characters set in "Maxwell" & "Raalo, Becoming". This short story collection is definitely something which will surprise readers with its eclectic tales. Thoroughly recommended for readers who loved the Twilight zone tales and for those who like their stories on the darker side of the literary genre and with twisted plot lines.

NOTEWORTHY RELEASES

Click here to find out more about “Blood & Royalty”
Order HERE

NOTEWORTHY RELEASES

Click here to find out more about “The Abyss Beyond Dreams”
Review HERE

NOTEWORTHY RELEASES

Click here to find out more about “Unholy War”
Review HERE

NOTEWORTHY RELEASES

Click here to find out more about “Station Eleven”

Review HERE

NOTEWORTHY RELEASES

Click here to find out more about “The Knight”
Review HERE

NOTEWORTHY RELEASES

Click here to find out more about “The Dark Defiles”
Review HERE

NOTEWORTHY RELEASES

Click here to find out more about “Tom Swan and The Siege of Belgrade 1”
Review HERE

NOTEWORTHY RELEASES

Click here to find out more about “City of Stairs”
Review HERE

NOTEWORTHY RELEASES

Click here to find out more about “Bete”
Review HERE