This anthology of 17 science fiction stories, each by a different author, is another of the quality short fiction collections, mostly in the speculatiThis anthology of 17 science fiction stories, each by a different author, is another of the quality short fiction collections, mostly in the speculative genres, that have been produced by WolfSinger Publications in recent years, and another one of which I received a copy of as a gift from my friend Andrew M. Seddon, who has a story included. Besides Andrew, editor Carol Hightshoe and Rebecca McFarland Kyle are also familiar names from earlier WolfSinger titles, as editors and/or contributors. (A check of previous anthologies that I've read from this publisher shows that Lyn Godfrey and S. D. Matley have also been represented before, though I didn't specifically remember their work.) The present collection is so new it has no other reviews on Goodreads as yet, so it's particularly satisfying to be able to give it a favorable one!
In this case, though, "favorable" doesn't imply pleasant reading and feel-good stories. The organizing theme of the book is a look at some kind of imprisonment, almost always in the context of the correctional system (Hightshoe and her husband, who contributes 1-2 sentence introductions to each story, have both worked in corrections as deputy sheriffs, which prompted the idea), seen through the lens of science fiction, usually extrapolating from present trends in society to paint a picture of how these might shape the "justice" systems of the future. (And the quotation marks are well advised.) These tend to be dark, grim stories, generally utterly bleak and devoid of any note of hope (the title of Godfrey's flash fiction "Here Lies Hope" is indicative). Often the protagonists (who may not be genuinely guilty of any criminal behavior at all) are thrust into situations that could be described as starkly horrific. But the stories are mostly extremely well-crafted for emotional effect, and so gripping that once you begin one, you have to finish it.
As in much dystopian fiction (which is definitely what this is), the utterly pessimistic depiction of the triumph of tyranny and injustice provides a galvanizing motivating force for the reader to want to oppose, with every fiber of his/her being, the forces driving us towards the kinds of futures depicted here. The typical canard thrown at speculative fiction by its detractors is that it's "escapist," but nothing of that sort applies here. On the contrary, readers who want to bury their heads in the sand like ostriches and ignore (assuming they even know about, because the media won't tell them!) the ongoing gradual transformation of the U.S. and the rest of the West into brutal police states run for the benefit of an elitist oligarchy, in which constitutional rights and the rule of law are relics of the past, can find plenty of distractions in the real world's "news;" but this collection will rub their noses in it. And it rightly points to dangers that cloak themselves both in the rhetoric of the Right (with its obsession with profit, "privatization," and cost-cutting, in tales like Kyle's "Research Project" and Cheryl Toner's "The Sponsor Trials") and of the Left, with its run-amok "political correctness" and goal of a drug-stoned citizenry, as seen in Dean Anthony Brink's "The San Francisco Fun House" and Melodie Bolt's nauseating "Green Matter," respectively.
My favorite story here was Andrew's "Malicide," which is one that doesn't deal directly with imprisonment in a literal sense (but there's more than one kind!), and which, though dark, is characteristically one that manages a note of hope. (I beta read an earlier version of this a couple of years ago; but he's transformed it here into something that's exponentially more powerful and meaningful; I think it's one of the best stories he's ever written!) "As Bad as It Gets" by A. L. Sirois is another standout story, particularly reminiscent of Philip K. Dick in some respects. R. Joseph Maas' "The Truth" is especially evocative and gut-wrenching. There are so many layers of deception in David Boop's far-future "A Taste of Freedom" that it's actually hard for the reader, by the story's end, to be definitely sure how much of what went before was a lie and how much wasn't, which takes away something of the impact (though it's still very ugly and disturbing); "The Sponsor Trials" leaves, IMO, too many unanswered questions about key elements of the plot, and I still don't understand the last sentence of Matley's "The Auditor." But these are minor criticisms overall.
Some stories have a certain amount of bad language, and a few contain uses of the f-word. Given the milieu, this isn't necessarily gratuitous. There's no explicit sex, and not a lot of reference to sex at all, though it's alluded to in a couple of stories.
Bottom line: I would highly recommend this, both to science fiction short story fans who like SF that's more about social science than technology (technological advances are depicted, but this is soft SF, where the technology simply exists to serve a premise and isn't explained or extrapolated from real technology.) and to those who have a concern about the real-life justice system and a conviction that it needs serious reform. For the latter, this could be profoundly thought-provoking. The authors don't set forth a program for change, and it isn't the obligation of fiction writers to do so. But they might well prompt readers to think about programs for change on their own....more
Some time ago, I ran across some reviews of J. B. Lynn's series opener Confessions of a Slightly Neurotic Hitwoman, featuring a protagonist who becomeSome time ago, I ran across some reviews of J. B. Lynn's series opener Confessions of a Slightly Neurotic Hitwoman, featuring a protagonist who becomes a contract assassin (although not of innocent people) in order to pay the massive hospital bills for her comatose niece's care, and was intrigued enough to add it to my "maybe to read" shelf. (I haven't read many books with assassin protagonists, but I do think they have the potential to be interesting characters.) Recently, I stumbled across this short e-story/novella the author has published about the same character, Maggie Lee, designated as number 2.5 in the series, which turned out to be free on Kindle. Granted, the title is an eye-rolling and embarrassing double-entendre (though the actual meaning here isn't sexual). But despite that, I thought the chance to sample the series at short length for free was worth taking, so I downloaded it to my Kindle app. It actually proved to be a fun read, though far from great literature. A quick note up front is appropriate: despite the gun in the title character's hand on the cover, she's not packing one here, nor engaging in any homicidal activities. Instead, her particular adventure this time is strictly non-violent.
As I indicated above, I approached this mostly to get a feel for the author's style and vision, and to get more of a handle on how she develops her characters. In that respect, it's undoubtedly not as good an introduction to the series as the first novel would be; I was helped by first reading the previews of both of the two initial books, so I had a basic grounding in the characters and situation. Without having at least that basis, I don't think a reader would have much rapport with the characters here; but with it, I was able to relate all right. This tale has a straightforward, pretty linear plot: Maggie's asked by Patrick Mulligan, her mentor in the assassination trade (who's also a cop) to come to Atlantic City to help him steal a potentially incriminating thumb drive from a private party. (The thumb drive functions as a sort of McGuffin device.) A gift of two tickets to a Barry Manilow concert from one of her aunts gives her a perfect pretext to go, and go she does, with her niece's pet anole lizard Godzilla (whose care she took over after the accident that left the child in a coma) and her ultra-randy, slightly psychic co-worker from her day job, Armani Vasquez, in tow. It's not a smooth operation, and it's not made any smoother by Maggie's intense crush on Patrick.
Lynn goes for a light, humorous tone here, and succeeds pretty well with that; I actually laughed out loud at one point. (Obviously, in the novels the humor is more of a leaven for a serious and even dark dimension, because Maggie's family life was complicated by multiple trials and tragedies even before the car accident that killed her beloved big sister and her sister's husband, and left her the caregiver of six-year-old Katie. Katie's grim situation is an omnipresent concern; and the novels also deal with serious moral questions of life and death --and death at times by Maggie's own hand, which she doesn't take lightly.) Jersey girl Maggie, our first person narrator, actually comes across as a likeable and deeply kindhearted young woman whose intensely loyal to (most) family and friends; not a psychopath, but a pretty normal girl with a typically messed-up secular American upbringing (okay, even more messed up than usual), but with basically good instincts and a conscience that she hasn't checked at the door, despite being thrust into profoundly abnormal circumstances. We get into Patrick's head less, and he's a man of mystery in many ways, but we can recognize that in his own way, he's genuinely a man of honor, with a certain core decency.
At least one reviewer has dismissed the premise of the series as over-the-top implausible, and too ridiculous to allow suspension of disbelief. Obviously, it's an unusual premise, but that's not tantamount to impossible. In actuality, I'd say, from my reading of the previews, that Lynn does a decent job of plausibly explaining how and why the initial offer of Maggie's... extracurricular line of work came to her, and making her (reluctant) acceptance believable. The same reviewer took it for granted that a cop couldn't possibly moonlight as an assassin; but not all cops are as law-abiding as they're supposed to be, and law enforcement has the potential to offer good cover for an assassin. Since hitting her head in the same accident that took such a toll of her own family, Maggie's also imagined that she can understand the noises of the lizard and of her dog as intelligible speech. If we were meant to understand that she can actually converse with animals, IMO, it would be over the top; but the key word here is "imagined." Maggie (whose mom is in an insane asylum) "hears" these voices as a stress-induced coping mechanism --just as, I believe, she uses her wry humor as a coping mechanism-- and to give voice to inner counsels that need to be heard. The series title is a clue to that, as is the fact that Godzilla understands a lot more of human life, and is far more intelligent-sounding, than we could actually expect any lizard to do or be. (That also explains his supposed preference for being called "God" for short; I don't think that's intended by the author as sacrilege, but as a reflection of the fact that God-shy Maggie still knows her Creator is there, and recognizes with a part of her mind that there are things He wants to say to her --some of which are apparent in this story.) That doesn't make her "nutty" or inferior; we've ALL got our own coping mechanisms, and most of us don't have nearly as much inner and outer stress as she does.
Another potential criticism here (though, as I explain below, I don't think it's a justified one) is that Lynn panders too much to sexist stereotypes, in making Maggie inept and hormone-driven, and that she tries too hard to appeal to male readers by stressing the character's physical attributes. But while Maggie is inexperienced in the milieu of outside-the-law, dangerous activities, and sees herself as inept, she isn't really portrayed as actually inept or stupid --she handles herself quite capably in accomplishing what needs doing in this story, for instance, and as even she admits to herself, she's a good markswoman (though she's not shooting anything any more deadly here than a water gun in an arcade). And yes, she's physically attracted to Patrick; she's a 32-year-old single woman who's never been married, has normal physical drives, and doesn't approach sexuality from an understanding of Biblical teaching on the subject. But it's also clear that her feelings for him are deeper than the merely physical, and she's far more responsible in her behavior than Armani is. She's not mindlessly hormonal, just human. I do think Lynn deliberately tries to incite male readers to think of Maggie as sexy, by drawing attention to her bosom through having her use her bra as a convenient place to store small objects --including Godzilla, at times. (News flash, J. B. --ladies' pants and skirts typically DO contain pockets!) And the series cover art tends to emphasize our heroine's svelte figure. Nonetheless, I think male readers can picture Maggie as physically attractive without assuming that she's only that, or seeing her as deserving of any less respect because she's attractive. I'd see that aspect as essentially harmless (especially considering that the whole "lizard-in-the-bra" image misfires in that role --I don't think most male readers find it sexy!).
As noted above, there's no violence here, and no sex involving our main characters (and no sex at all that's directly described). Bad language is minimal and not very noticeable, though there's some (I don't recall any obscenity, though Maggie does drop the f-word at least once in the first book); it wasn't significant enough to be an issue. Overall, this isn't a bad free appetizer for the series. There's just one problem --the paper versions of the first two novels are out of print (and sky-high expensive in secondhand copies!), and the other novels were only published as e-books. (Sigh!)...more
Full disclosure at the outset: I received a free PDF copy of this story collection from the author, in advance of its scheduled publication next monthFull disclosure at the outset: I received a free PDF copy of this story collection from the author, in advance of its scheduled publication next month, in exchange for an honest review. Shane and I are Goodreads friends, and I've reviewed and greatly liked a couple of his previous books. Seriousness of purpose, a high degree of literary craftsmanship, in-depth characterization, and a willingness to deal with dark themes and subjects are all qualities I've come to associate with his work. These qualities are in evidence here as well. Most of the 13 stories are set in his adopted country of Canada ("Shock and Awe" is set in the desert country of the southwestern U.S., and "The Supreme Leader's Big Day" in a fictional Middle Eastern country); some employ present tense, some past, and first-person and third-person narration are similarly varied.
Darkness of themes and subjects, however, is much more prominent here than it is in In the Shadow of the Conquistador or in the stories in Paradise Revisited. The collection title comes from a line in the last story, but the image (though not the exact words) are also suggested by a quote from Dante's Purgatorio that serves as an epigraph; and Shane serves here very much as our Virgil guiding us on a tour of the moral and spiritual nether regions of of the modern world. To be sure, not all of the tales are extremely dark, though they all feature characters who are in some sense "lost," or lacking the beatific vision that would make them whole. Several stories, however, really plumb the depths of how much selfish egoism, depravity and cruelty to our fellow humans that our species is capable of, as we explore (among other things) the benighted subculture of wife-swapping, the mental world of the serial killer, and the senseless violence of North America's inner cities. Shawn's writing has always evinced a strong social consciousness, so we also experience the memory of the Holocaust, the horrors of Third World despotism propped up by Western greed for oil, and the ravages of a Big-Business oligarchy that treats its workers exactly like toilet paper. This definitely doesn't make the book a feel-good read. And the treatment of things like rape and abusive sex can be nauseatingly explicit and graphic.
This isn't to say, however, that Shane deals with these kinds of things from a nihilistic standpoint. On the contrary, he's always approached the darkness of his fictional world redemptively, and I would say he continues to do so here. While the Goodreads description, which probably just repeats the publisher's blurb, speaks of the characters' "driving quest to find purpose in a meaningless world," it doesn't seem to me that he presents the world as meaningless, but rather (as Dante himself would have agreed) fallen and cursed. This is a book that concentrates much more on the fallenness and the curse than on redemption, though; some characters may make moral turnarounds that have a promise of deliverance, but it won't be an easy road, and moral insights are sometimes qualified by ambiguous endings. We're still in the realms of Limbo and Purgatory here, not Heaven yet.
Not all the characters here are foul-mouthed, but a number of them are; there's a lot of profanity and obscenity in places, as well as lethal violence in some stories and frequent depiction (some of it explicit) of very misguided sexual attitudes and behavior. This is, tragically, a realistic reflection of a debauched culture in which morally un-moored and adrift grown adults in real life seriously imagine, like some of their counterparts here, that they're "supposed" to engage in sexual intercourse on a second date. Is this aesthetically pleasing? Definitely not. (It could also be said that the stories here tend to be shorter, starker, and not as textured and immersive as those in Paradise Revisited.) This wasn't as enjoyable a read as the earlier collection, and I had to struggle more with the question of the rating. But books that "amaze" don't always do so in a pleasant way; like Heart of Darkness or 1984, this isn't pleasurable reading, but it is reading that lays bare the roots of human evil in a way that exposes it and enables readers to recognize and reject it. (It does not make it attractive, and the sex scenes are not titillating --any reader who would find them so should probably seriously consider professional counseling.) This isn't the kind of reading you'd want to experience very much (and it's honestly not a kind I'd seek out if I wasn't reviewing it), but it's a kind that needs to exist as a part of the world's literature.
"Waiting for the Train" was my favorite story here, but "Foundling" was also memorable. (That one reminded me of William Dean Howells' comment, in his preface to Hamlin Garland's Main Traveled Roads, to the effect that a writer's obligation isn't to always endorse everything his/her characters do as right, but to honestly depict them and the moral possibilities that grow out of their situation as it is, wherever those lead.) "Shock and Awe" is unique in that it has a dog for a narrator; obviously, this is a dog who understands a good deal more of human speech and life, and demonstrates more intelligence, than a real-life dog would, but the power of the narration carries us along with the premise anyway. I'd have preferred more of a concluding resolution to that story than the author provides; and I'd also say that some of the dialogue in several of the stories sounds stilted in places, because characters don't use contractions where most speakers realistically would. But those are minor quibbles. This is a compulsively readable collection; despite the unpalatable character of some of the tales, you can't let them go without seeing what happens. Since I don't read things in electronic format very quickly, I expected to take about six weeks to finish this volume. It should tell you something that I actually finished it in six days....more
Lance Charnes and I are Goodfreads friends, having "met" (electronically) a few years ago through the Action Heroine Fans group. Some time ago, I bougLance Charnes and I are Goodfreads friends, having "met" (electronically) a few years ago through the Action Heroine Fans group. Some time ago, I bought a copy of his outstanding debut novel, Doha 12, and it got five stars from me. This new novel, the opener for a projected series, didn't come to me as an official review copy --instead, Lance generously donated a print copy to the library where I work-- but he knew I would read and review it, and knew my tastes well enough to be pretty sure I'd like it. Of course, we both understood that he might be wrong --but he wasn't! For much of my reading experience, I expected to rate the book four stars --a denouement and conclusion that blew me to pieces and then knit me back together easily pushed it up to five stars.
Being his Goodreads friend, I try to keep abreast of Lance's book reviews, so I know firsthand how well read he is in the whole area of the contemporary fine arts market, and particularly of its increasingly seedy underbelly. (In real life, art by big-name artists can command staggering prices, and in the last 15-20 years it's come to be a major commodity in the world of big-time international money laundering and shady commercial exchanges where cash transfers come too easily to the attention of authorities. (And a lot of art that's traded this way may be stolen, or forged.) Rich collectors with an enthusiasm for art aren't the only players any more; we're dealing with crime syndicates, corrupt and despotic governments and their officials, and billionaires looking for ways to cheat the tax authorities, and violence and murder may be aspects of normal business operations for some of these people. Lance sets this novel in that milieu, and he and his protagonist Matt Friedrich know it like the back of their hand. The author is also well-traveled; he sets his tale mostly in Europe, and principally Milan, and brings the locale to life with an assurance and level of detail which suggests he's actually been there, or researched it a LOT online.
This is crime fiction more than traditional mystery; and as in his debut novel, Lance uses the knowledge of skulduggery, weapons, and high-technology snooping gained as a military intelligence officer to good advantage. The plotting is taut (first-person, present-tense narration is used for maximum immediacy) and the pace brisk, with a steady dose of dangerous situations and life-threatening tension. Matt's crafty scheming sometimes takes the reader by surprise, and he's sometime majorly taken for surprise himself, along with the reader. Action scenes aren't frequent, but you never know when they could erupt, and when they do they're well depicted. I've used the term "thriller" for this book, and that's one I seldom use; I don't seek out books that bill themselves that way, because I think the plotting is usually so cliched and stereotyped that it fails to thrill. This one doesn't fail. I've also used the term "gritty." As described above, the moral world of this novel is a dark one where people are generally guided by the most selfish and cynical of motives, where the law is typically powerless to do much, and where innocent people are hurt as a by-product of what some of the characters routinely do. The DeWitt so-called "Agency" is a morally ambiguous enterprise that works for the highest bidder, and our narrator is an ex-con who was once involved in crooked art deals, and is now so crushed under a mountain of legal debts that he's willing to violate his parole by working for said agency if it gives him a shot at paying it down.
And yet this is a surprisingly (or perhaps not surprisingly, given the moral vision that animates the author's earlier novel) moral work of fiction, with a main character who's learned something about life and ethics from his time in prison, and who wants to become a human being that he can look in the mirror and respect. He's going to encounter challenges and decisions here that will put that resolve to the test. Both Matt and Carson (the female operative he's paired with --who provides the team's muscles and fighting skill when it's needed) are intensely vital, round, realistic characters with a credible pattern of interactions that doesn't stay static, but develops believably. Unlike some writers of this type of fiction, Lance understands that characters you care about are the only thing that can truly provide it with its heart, and he gives character development and relationships their due. There's a lot that I can't tell you because I'm determined to avoid spoilers; but I can say that this is where the book really earns its stars. (The principal supporting characters are masterfully drawn as well.)
You don't have to be familiar with the world of the contemporary art market to enjoy this book (I'm not, at all); the author explains everything you have to know, and he does it easily and smoothly, in small doses with no info-dumps. None of the discussion is detailed enough to be boring. He uses enough physical description to let you visualize scenes, but not, IMO, too much; the same with technological exposition. (At one point, I didn't really understand what one of the villains was trying to gain by his conduct; but the narrative drive carried me through without asking questions.) Matt's very sensible to feminine charms (he hasn't been out of prison very long), but there's no sex here, and actually some modeling of responsible sexual behavior, which I found quite refreshing. Violence here isn't any more frequent or graphic than it needs to be. As for bad language, not all of the characters swear, which is more realistic than some writers admit; but (also realistically) some do, including Matt, though he's more restrained than some. Carson and one of the villains have the worst mouths (including the f-word as regular vocabulary), the latter is a lowlife and sounds like it, while Carson is an ex-cop whose speaking style tends to be shaped by cop culture. (Lance has explained in a personal message that this kind of language is common in that circle --I'd guess because of affinities to military culture, from which a fair number of cops are actually recruited.) I never felt that he was trying to mainstream that kind of thing, nor push the envelope with it.
If you're any kind of fan of crime fiction thrillers in a contemporary setting, and my review intrigues you rather than turning you away, I'd say this is definitely worth your checking out. I'm certainly going to be following the series; and I'm now even more anxious to read the author's South, sooner rather than later!...more
Full disclosure at the outset: I received a copy of this short e-story as a generous gift from the author (long story!), but there was no quid pro quoFull disclosure at the outset: I received a copy of this short e-story as a generous gift from the author (long story!), but there was no quid pro quo involved, and no obligation to write a review, good or bad.
This is the first sequel to Demon's Night, and is much of a piece with it in terms of quality and stylistic features (positive and negative). Though the author says the stories don't have to be read in order, I'd definitely recommend reading the first one first in order to orient yourself to the premise and characters. (Reading my review of the first story first would also be instructive; it can be found here: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... .) This story is set about three months after the series opener (so, still in 1879). Fans of the first tale will be glad to learn that Siu Lin is still a house guest of Jason and Lady Wellesley (in Victorian, and earlier, parlance, an "apartment" is simply a room, as in various novels and stories written in that period). Here, we find the Geister Jaeger pitted against a coven of vampires, who have disguised themselves as an acting troupe operating out of a London theater. Henkel's treatment of vampires is basically traditional; they're all predatory and vicious by virtue of what they are, not persons with real moral freedom and the possibilities that accompany it.
However, the violence level here is greater than it is in the typical classical horror tradition; it's more influenced by splatterpunk, though not quite to that level. There are, for instance, references to arterial blood spurts "four feet into the air" from jugular vein wounds --which I believe greatly exaggerate the effects of what such punctures would really produce. (If this were a movie, it would be more comparable to Van Helsing than to any of the classical Dracula adaptations.) There's also no particular difficulty about identifying the troupe as vampires or tracking them to their lair. As in the first story, the whole idea of "crystallized sunlight," is scientifically dubious (Henkel recognizes this enough to put objections to the idea into Siu Lin's mouth, with which the reader will probably agree!). Also, the problem of obtaining holy water isn't handled well; no priest would hand out quantities of it on the strength of a sob story about a dying grandmother, and that entire conversation comes across as unrealistic and unconvincing. The awkwardness of the prose in places is as much in evidence as in the first story. I'm guessing that English isn't Henkel's first language (he's German-born), and these stories could have benefited from a serious edit.
To Henkel's credit, though, he does throw in one wildly unexpected plot twist, which I for one did not see coming for an instant. His incorporation of tie-ins to popular culture in places, such as a cameo appearance by Dr. Watson (of the Sherlock Holmes canon) is basically a plus. (Though he does make a blunder there that Holmes fans will catch --in the first Holmes novel, A Study in Scarlet, set in 1881, Doyle establishes that Holmes and Watson met in that year, after the latter returned from serving in the second Anglo-Afghan War, fought in 1878-1880. In 1879, Watson was still in Afghanistan.) Action heroine fans will appreciate the fact that Siu Lin is as butt-kicking as Jason is, and gets to show her mettle here as well as in the first story. (I'm not opposed to strong and brave heroes rescuing a damsel in distress at times --and when a lady's involved in dangerous goings-on, it's no disgrace for her to need a rescue once in awhile-- but it's refreshing to see a strong and brave damsel rescue a guy in distress, as well!)
Anti-Oriental prejudice, and particularly revulsion at the idea of interracial marriage, was strong in British society in the late 19th and early 20th centuries; it's often reflected in literature written or set in that time. Jason and Lady Wellesley are commendably free of it, but I'm not sure if that's a conscious decision on Henkel's part. The facts that he has Siu Lin allowed, without challenge, to join whites in eating in the dining room of a fancy hotel, and that a friend can nonchalantly ask if she and Jason are "an item," makes me wonder if he's actually aware of the kinds of attitudes that would have been rampant in that setting. (I'd also have to wonder if a speaker in 1879 would have used that particular idiom to denote a couple, but that's a different sort of quibble.) Be that as it may, though, while romance-phobic readers will be relieved to be reassured that our lead characters are still "just friends," those of us who don't mind some chaste romance might cherish the hope that friendship might eventually blossom into something more. It's clear that to each of them, the other has come to mean a great deal, and that they have a high regard for each other's merits. I think they're made for each other --no matter how British "polite society" feels about it!
These stories aren't great literature by a long shot --they're pure New Pulp, with no "literary" pretensions, and probably strictly merit just three and a half stars. But for what they are, they're good entertainment --not the literary equivalent of a nourishing meal (and you wouldn't want to substitute them for that as your whole diet!), but the equivalent of an enjoyable treat after a meal. I won't spend money to follow the series (I save my spare money for paper books!), but if I get another chance to get one free or with a gift card, I'd be up for another one, and I didn't feel guilty about rounding up on my rating. (Yes, reading such stuff is evidence of lamentable lack of sophistication. But chucking your sophistication sometimes can allow you to have some fun. :-) )...more