Beth Johnson Sonderby (guest)

BETH JOHNSON, one of our guest reviewers, discovered fantasy books at age nine, when a love of horses spurred her to pick up Bruce Coville’s Into the Land of the Unicorns. Beth lives in Sweden with her husband. She writes short stories and has been working on a novel.

Tentacles: A real blast!

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Tentacles by Roland Smith

When I picked up Tentacles by Roland Smith, I had no idea it was a sequel (the first book being Cryptid Hunters). But I quickly discovered that it didn't matter. Not only is there a list of dramatis personae at the beginning of the book, but Roland Smith is very deft at refreshing plot details without info-dumping the events of the previous book on unsuspecting readers.

In Tentacles, Marty, his cousin Grace, and his friend Luther join Marty's uncle on a journey to capture a live giant squid — something that's never been done before. But they'll have to deal w... Read More

Ruined: There’s nothing I like better than a good ghost story

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Ruined: A Ghost Story by Paula Morris

There's nothing I like better than a good ghost story. And New Orleans is a great city to set one in. In fact, Ruined's greatest strength is its setting.

Because I've been doing research on NO for a project of my own, some of what the book offers is stuff I already know. Even so, all of it is fascinating, especially for people only just being exposed to it. Paula Morris paints the city into the perfect backdrop for her ghost story, setting it right down between history and modern day in such a way that you could easily believe that the story has its roots outside of the author's imagination.

Ruined isn't afraid to question racism and bigotry. Nor does it shy away from tackling the matter of Hurricane Katrina's effects on the city — and what people may or may not be doing to help. But it does... Read More

Thief With No Shadow: Delightful little romp

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Thief With No Shadow by Emily Gee

Ah, Thief With No Shadow. Add this one to the ever growing list of books that leave me utterly baffled as to what the term "romantic fantasy" is supposed to mean. Whatever else it is, this delightful little romp of a fantasy tale is no romance novel.

Though Thief With No Shadow is of a serious nature, it has the benefit of not being extremely bogged down and dreary as seems to be the current fantasy trend. There's no hoards of starving peasants living in mud and dung and no evil overlords acting in ways that really ought to get them killed but don't due to contrivance. The book focuses more around its characters than its world-building, making for a delightfully light, easy read.

Thief With No Shadow centers mainly around Melke and Bastian, but also involves Melk... Read More

Darkborn: A solid fantasy debut

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Darkborn by Alison Sinclair

Like most veteran readers, I know to take the author endorsements on the front of a book with a sizable grain of salt. Among other things, they're often taken slightly out of context. I had to relearn that lesson recently when I picked up a copy of Darkborn by Alison Sinclair and saw a cover quote from Carol Berg. My inner fangirl, whom I keep tied up and gagged somewhere down in the dark pits of my black, cranky reader heart was unable to resist. The cover art didn't help matters, because it's jawdroppingly gorgeous. Why can't we have more of this?... So I gave in and bought Darkborn.

Darkborn plays on the theme of light and darkness and, so too will my review, because Darkborn has ju... Read More

Breath and Bone: Carol Berg has left me a spoiled fantasy reader

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Breath and Bone by Carol Berg

Anyone who's read my review of Flesh and Spirit knows that I was a little bit disappointed in some aspects of the book (I maintain that this is due to the fact that Carol Berg has left me a spoiled, fussy fantasy reader). So how did Ms. Berg do this time around?

Okay, fair enough, Breath and Bone starts a little slow. This isn't a huge surprise, since the story is more like one book broken into two, than two separate books. Yet despite being a bit slow, it's not as though you're learning nothing. In fact you learn a great deal. Some of these things came as no surprise to me (likely because I had only just finished reading the first one) whereas others made my jaw hit the floor. And I simply love what Berg has done with Navronne. Things and people are just not what they first seem. It's diff... Read More

Heroes Adrift: Not as funny as it wants to be

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Heroes Adrift by Moira J. Moore

When I first picked up Heroes Adrift and read the back, I felt a sudden pang of 'uh oh'. Okay, I don't read Moira J Moore's work for the extremely complex plots. I read her work because it's entertaining and funny, because I like the characters, and because her occasional bouts of dry irreverence for our genre just tickle me pink. But she always manages to hold her own enough in the plot department that it works with what she's doing.

With Heroes Adrift, I'm not so sure about that anymore. The plot is thin enough that our heroes, Lee and Taro, spend pretty much the whole book wandering around on a parody of southern isles in fantasy that I don't find as funny as I think I should. And they're wandering with a traveling circus, basically. Still, this offers some really entertaining moments ... Read More

The Blue Girl: I just don’t believe any of it

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The Blue Girl by Charles de Lint

What drew me to The Blue Girl wasn't the bad girl trying to be a good girl premise. It wasn't the thing about the resident student ghost or the gang of malicious fairies or being a social misfit. Been there, seen that — not just in books. It was the line about Imogene's imaginary friend manifesting into reality that piqued my interest. Now that was something I couldn't really recall seeing before. It tickled that whimsical part of me that my mom is so fond of talking about (and envying).

And there were some things about The Blue Girl that I liked, that I found fascinating. It's one of those books where it's a bit difficult to put into words exactly what it was I enjoyed; it's more a feeling than actual things that I can point out and explain.

But the problem I had with The Blu... Read More

Tangled Webs: A glorified Halloween episode

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Tangled Webs by Anne Bishop

Warning: This review will contain some spoilers.

The Black Jewels Trilogy was and is one of my very favorite guilty pleasures. Yet I've been avoiding Tangled Webs (what is tagged book six in what is now called The Black Jewels Series — don't even get me started on that) for some time. To explain why, I'll give you a quote from the publisher's blurb:

"The invitation is signed "Jaenelle Angelline," and it summons her family to an entertainment she had specially prepared. Surreal SaDiablo, former courtesan and assassin, arrives first. But when she enters the house, Surreal finds herself trapped in a living nightmare created by the tangled webs of Black Widow witch... Read More

Dog Days: No soul, no personality, no style

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Dog Days by John Levitt

I've been eyeing Dog Days curiously for a while now (insert obvious feline joke here), mainly intrigued by the blurb's promise of a magical dog. Yes, that's right, I freely admit it — my inner three-year-old wanted to see the magical doggie.

The magical dog is an Ifrit, which I found kind of intriguing. Besides that, though, Dog Days has little to offer. I don't like the main character, Mason, one bit. To avoid making him a Gary Stu, Levitt makes him pretty much incompetent (which means the villains have to be even more incompetent), lazy about mastering his magic, and constantly has him blundering stupidly into traps even when he knows the likelihood of them being there is high. ... Read More

Finders Keepers: A romance novel with spaceships

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Finders Keepers by Linnea Sinclair

I enjoyed Ann Aguirre's Grimspace so much that I thought I ought to start looking into this whole "romantic" sci-fi thing. It all seemed so right up my alley. And I'd seen Linnea Sinclair listed as an author of this type of work, and Finders Keepers sounded interesting.

Finders Keepers is undoubtedly a romance novel with spaceships and laser rifles (no lightsabers). No matter how you shake it, that's what it is. Now, I'd like to be able to tell you that it was a good romance novel with spaceships and laser rifles, but I can't.

Alarm bells start going off immediately when I read, very... Read More

Dead to Me: Too hokey

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Dead to Me by Anton Strout

What is there to say about Anton Strout's Dead to Me? Good things, I mean, since that is my quest these begin my reviews with the positive rather than the negative. This isn't proving to be easy and if I was a more paranoid person I'd wonder if Mr. Strout didn't just write Dead to Me for the sole purpose of trying my (admittedly rather short) patience.

Well, I love the fact that Strout chooses to give his character the power of psychometry. Oh, urban fantasy has all manner of necromancers, mind-readers, clairvoyants, and goodness only knows what else, but I can't recall ever seeing psychometry before. Certainly not by that name. The idea is pretty interesting and the fact that using it causes the main character, Simon Canderous, to suffer low blood su... Read More

Stacia Kane talks about her Personal Demons and Unholy Ghosts

Beth Johnson interviews Stacia Kane, author of Personal Demons.

Beth: So for starters... one of the things I really loved about Personal Demons was Megan. She was a good, strong character without being one of those attitude-packing tough broads so common in urban fantasy. What made you decide to make her that way? Was that how you originally envisioned her, or did she end up having her own ideas?

Stacia Kane: It's basically how I envisioned her from the beginning. While I enjoy reading stories about really tough gir...

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Wanderlust: I gobbled it up

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Wanderlust by Ann Aguirre

So one of the problems I've been having recently, when it comes to returning to authors I've already read, is book blurbs that fill me with a sense of foreboding. The plots have been sounding so thin (and often matching). Not Wanderlust though. When I read the blurb for Wanderlust, I got excited.

Now that Sirantha Jax has exposed Farwan Corporation for what it really is, she's kind of suffering a bit of a career dilemma... i.e., she doesn't really have one. Until the Conglomerate offers her a job as an ambassador to Ithiss-Tor (for those of you who have read the first one, that's the home of Velith, the seriously awesome bounty-hunter from Grimspace.) The natives aren't likely to jump at the chance to join the Conglomerate as it is, but Jax is going to have to deal with organized crime... Read More

The Dream Thief: Did Not Finish

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The Dream Thief by Shana Abe

The Dream Thief stars Amalia Langford, the daughter of Kit and Rue from The Smoke Thief, and Zane, a thief who was introduced in the previous book. Zane is charged with retrieving a special diamond called Draumr. At the behest of Kit and Rue, he agrees to travel across Europe, into the Carpathians, in search of it. Accompanying him is Lia, who is possessed of the ability to hear the future. In her dreams she hears a future in which Zane, using the power of Draumr, holds her as his slave, slaughters her entire tribe, and uses her knowledge of precious gems to steal. So she decides to him retrieve the diamond. Oookay...

This only so-so plot is not helped by the characters. As much as I enjoyed Rue in The Smoke Thief, I can't stand Lia. She's just not very interesting. The p... Read More

Grimspace: I rather liked it

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Grimspace by Ann Aguirre

I'm not usually a sci fi reader. Call me a wuss, but whenever I would try to read sci fi, I usually got too distracted by all the sciencey stuff to remain focused on the story. But I had seen Grimspace advertised on a website and the cover caught my eye. At that point my reaction was about as intellectual as "Ooo, pretty colors..." but hey, attractive covers are a plus. Then the book caught my eye again, this time in the bookstore, and lo and behold, it sounded interesting. I figured, what the heck? What I didn't know at the time of purchase was that it's something called "romantic" sci fi. This left me a little worried; I wanted what was promised to me on the back of the book, not a romance novel with spaceships and lightsabers.

Starting out, I really wasn't sure what to make of it. I found Jax to be inconsistent as a character at first... Read More

Shadows Return: Didn’t feel right until the end

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Shadows Return by Lynn Flewelling

Lately, whenever I pick up a new book by a favorite author and read the back of it, I get this feeling of dread. I don't know what it is, but my favorites are throwing out some really thin-sounding plots. Lynn Flewelling has been a favorite for years, though, since I first began reading her Nightrunner series, so I held out hope for Shadows Return.

So Alec and Seregil are on a new mission when they're captured and sold into slavery. Seregil's time is spent hoping Alec is alive. Alec's is spent in the hands of Yhakobin, an alchemist who has a special purpose for the mixed blood running through Alec's veins. It sounds thin and it is thin, as the book encompasses no more than this. And it's certainly interesting, and none of it reads slow, even though... Read More

Kushiel’s Justice: Disappointing installment in an excellent series

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Kushiel's Justice by Jacqueline Carey

Compared to Kushiel's Scion, Phèdre and Joscelin return for a much larger portion of this book and they are as awesome as ever. They add excitement and helped me through much of the slog that was the first 300-odd pages. Yes, that's right. Though previous Kushiel books have been long and probably could have withstood some cutting easily, I never minded the extra. With both Scion and Justice, that extra could have been done without. Seriously, you could knock off the first 200 pages of Kushiel's Justice and not miss a thing.

Part of the problem is Imriel himself. He has his moments of improvement as well in this book. While he's married to Dorelei he actually grows as a character. I ... Read More

The Virtu: More of the same

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The Virtu by Sarah Monette

Wizard Felix Harrowgate is back and much less crazy than he was during 90% of Sarah Monette's Melusine. So is thief Mildmay the Fox, who's a bit less mobile, crippled by a curse that caught up to him in the previous book. Their goal: To travel back across the world, return to Melusine (the city) and restore the magical crystal called the Virtu.

If the plot sounds a little thin...well, that might be because it is. It's padded with events, ones not necessarily pointless exactly, but not entirely relevant, either. Some of it is really interesting, including a trip into a creepy underground maze and the introduction of a new character, Mehitabel Parr, who muscles her way in on the trip to Melusine.

I suppose that's the whole thing. The Virtu offers much of the same; the same things I loved about Read More

Sebastian: A romance novel with some fantasy concepts

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Sebastian by Anne Bishop

It always saddens me when an author I thought was good turns out to be...well, not so good. I was willing to forget about Anne Bishop's previous trilogy (Tir Alainn) and go into Sebastian with her original Black Jewels Trilogy in mind.
This just was not a good book. It was not a fantasy novel, so much as a romance novel with some fantasy concepts. And they are interesting concepts, as Bishop's often are (although a bit confusing until you get far enough into the book to make the right connections). But she seems to have no idea how to truly utilize them. The balance between fantasy and romance is horribly off kilter, with romance winning out.

It's your typical soulmates... Read More

Dreams Made Flesh: Won’t win any new readers

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Dreams Made Flesh by Anne Bishop

I enjoyed Anne Bishop's Black Jewels Trilogy. And I liked the little stories in Dreams Made Flesh — especially the one about Lucivar. But if you haven't read Bishop's work before, I would not recommend picking this up. It's little more than relaxing, enjoyable fluff meant for folks who are already fans of The Black Jewels.

These are the stories that fans write fiction about because they desire so much to see them. Dreams Made Flesh isn't astounding literature... just good old, kick back, put your heels up, and munch on chocolate fluff stories. Read More

Resenting the Hero: One of the funniest comic fantasies

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Resenting the Hero by Moira J. Moore

Sometimes, a fantasy story comes along that simply isn't meant to be taken seriously. This is one of them.

Not to say that that's a bad thing. On the contrary, it's wonderful. Resenting the Hero happily mocks a number of fantasy standards, yet manages to avoid completely sacrificing its own story to do so. The plot is not mindblowing or anything, far from it, but it is well suited to the humorous type of story that Resenting the Hero is.

Moira J Moore definitely has the ability to write something completely serious. You can see that in her world, which has some very interesting aspects to it. And it would be nice in the future to see what else she can do, but hopefully NOT with this series. The satirical tone is priceless, and I'd hate to see the sense of humor disappear.

... Read More

Redeeming the Lost: Short on redeeming qualities

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Redeeming the Lost by Elizabeth Kerner

Sometimes authors lose the plot. In Redeeming the Lost, Elizabeth Kerner loses... everything.

She loses what restraint she had on her overly flowery writing style. It reached a point where some of the language was laughable and ridiculous, and often it looked like there were several words missing from sentences. Kerner is one of those fantasy authors that unfortunately can't fight the desire to show off her knowledge of archaic language.

She loses the pacing. In actuality about 72 hours passes from start to finish of the book. Lanen has been kidnapped and so everyone... stands around and does nothing!? They chat and eat and mourn her kidnapping, but that's about it. And that redeeming the title mentions? Happens before 100 pages are up. And the way it's done makes no sense whatsoever, nor does Kerner offer u... Read More

Queen of Dragon: Not bothering with the next one

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Queen of Dragons by Shana Abe

So here we are in the third book. The plot has something to do with the mysterious Drakon princess, Maricara, who was introduced in The Dream Thief and Kimba the White Lion — I mean, Kimber, the son of Kit and Rue from The Smoke Thief. There's something to do with someone murdering Drakon, I think, but frankly I didn't make it far enough to find out. Which is kind of sad, actually, because if the reader isn't sure of what's going on by page 70 or so, you're doing it wrong.

I suppose a large part of the problem was that nothing was going on. One party is talking and doing tedious stuff, the other party is talking and doing tedious stuff, and that's it. The main characters — the love interests, for crying out loud — do not even meet one another until page 50. We don't actually get to see them interact u... Read More

The High King’s Tomb: Meanders for a long time

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The High King's Tomb by Kristen Britain

From early on in The High King's Tomb, alarm bells started going off in my head. It doesn't take very long, if you've read the other two books (and you should have), to realize that a "grab the reader by the throat" event is conspicuously absent from the beginning of the story. There's one in the first book, there's one in the second book, but The High King's Tomb starts out on a noticeably meandering path.

And it continues to meander, without a great deal of urgency, for a long time. A lot of events happen, some of them interesting in relation to the world Britain has created, but overall none of them seem hugely relevant to solving the tensions of the main plot arc. In fact, they just seem to add in a bunch of new tensions without solving any old ones. Uh oh.

It takes a long time ... Read More

The Charmed Sphere: Asaro’s SF is much better

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The Charmed Sphere by Catherine Asaro

This is not going to be pretty, but then, neither was the reading experience.

I'm filled with dread right within the second paragraph, when Catherine Asaro for some reason feels the need to inform me that apple yellow is Chime's favorite color. This dread is not soothed as the scene carries on, full of Chime's rather juvenile observations. She sounds more like she's five rather than almost eighteen, and I'm just not happy.

Neither am I pleased with her male opposite, a prince and heir to the throne of the realm, who is named (brace yourself for this one, folks) Muller Startower Heptacorn Dawnfield. Pair that alongside names like Della No-Cozen and Anvil the Forged, and Catherine Asaro is making me miss Janine Cross. But I digress. Here's a snip... Read More

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