Thoughtful Thursday: Guess what we’re reading!

Six months ago, we tried a new game that didn't go over very well because it was just too hard. So, we'll try an easier version of the game today.

Grab a well-known speculative fiction book off the shelf (something you think that many of us will be familiar with), choose a passage and give us 50 words from that passage. Other readers will try to guess your book while you try to guess theirs.

Here are the rules:

Submit as many passages as you like — just put them in separate comments.
When you guess someone’s book, reply directly to that comment so we keep the threads neatly organized.
Please keep your 50 words family-friendly and free of major spoilers or obvious clues such as well-known character names.
When you guess books, you may not use any resources outside of your own brain. No Google, no ... Read More

The Naked Sun: Entertaining murder mystery

The Naked Sun by Isaac Asimov

The Naked Sun is the second of Isaac Asimov’s books about police detective Elijah Baley and the humanoid robot R. Daneel Olivaw. Asimov wrote the first book, Caves of Steel (reviewed by Steven), as the answer to John W. Campbell’s challenge to create a science fiction murder mystery. Asimov succeeded, of course, and chose to give us another installment. You don’t absolutely need to read Caves of Steel before reading The Naked Sun, but it’d probably be a little easier if you did. The Naked Sun takes place a couple of years after the events of Caves of Steel, in some far-future Earth after humans have created and evolved separate cultures by settling other planets.

Eli... Read More

Jack in the Green: Disappointing

Jack in the Green by Charles de Lint

Maria Martinez works as a maid in an upscale gated community. One day while she’s cleaning an upstairs bedroom, she glances out the window and notices a gang burglarizing the house next door. One of the gang members is a girl who used to be her best friend and another is a cute red-headed green-hoodied boy who catches Maria’s eye. Maria doesn’t call the police. Why should she? It’s not her house, they’re not her neighbors, and therefore it’s not her business. Later, when she runs into the burglars at the skating rink, Maria meets them and gets seduced into their world. It turns out that the gang has an admirable agenda — they steal from the rich and give to the poor. And they’ve got some magical help.

I love the Robin Hood legends and I love what I’ve read by Charles de Lint, so I should have really loved the novella Jack in the Green, de Lin... Read More

A Vision in Velvet: This series hasn’t let me down

A Vision in Velvet by Juliet Blackwell

Juliet Blackwell’s WITCHCRAFT MYSTERIES hasn’t let me down. This is a solid series with a fun setting and great characters. Tantor Audio’s versions read by Xe Sands are terrific and I’m certain that her narration adds a lot to my enjoyment. Honestly, I’ve got a bit of a voice crush on her. I wouldn’t think of reading these books any other way.

In A Vision in Velvet, the sixth installment, Lily’s vintage clothing store is thriving, she has made friends with her neighbors on Haight Street, and she’s got a steady romance going. Life is pretty good. But, of course, soon enough Lily manages to get wrapped up in another murder mystery. This one involves a trunk full of old clothes, a velvet cape, a dying tree in Golden Gate Park, some scientists, psychedelic frogs, The Crucible, and an ancient curse. The mystery ge... Read More

In Winter’s Shadow: Tragic and painful

In Winter’s Shadow by Gillian Bradshaw

In Winter’s Shadow is the final book in Gillian Bradshaw’s DOWN THE LONG WIND trilogy, an elegantly written historical fantasy about King Arthur that’s inspired by the Welsh legends. While the first two books, Hawk of May and Kingdom of Summer, have focused on Gwalchmai (Sir Gawain), this last novel is written from Gwynhwyfar’s perspective. You certainly don’t need to read the previous books to fully appreciate In Winter’s Shadow, but if you’re a fan of the time period or the legends, you’ll probably want to read Hawk of May and Kingdom of Summer at some point. They are lovely historical stories.

In In Winter’s Shadow, Gwynhwyfar gives us some of the history of the Roman Empire... Read More

Thoughtful Thursday: Fantasy Limericks!

It's time for our annual Fantasy Limerick contest!

Your task is to create a limerick that has something to do with speculative fiction. It could be about a character, a series, an author, or whatever fits the theme. Here are the rules for creating a good limerick (I have quoted from this source). A limerick:

is five lines long
is based on the rhythm "da-da-DAH" (anapest meter)
has two different rhymes
Lines 1, 2, and 5 have three of those da-da-DAH "feet," and rhyme with each other.
Lines 3 and 4 have two, and rhyme with each other.
You can break the meter rules if there's a good reason. You may

drop the first "da" in a line, changing that foot to da-DAH
add an extra "da" or two at the end of a line IF it's used for an extended rhyme, such as cannibal and Hannibal


The best limericks a... Read More

Scissors Cut Paper Wrap Stone: A fascinating pilgrimage

Scissors Cut Paper Wrap Stone by Ian McDonald

Scissors Cut Paper Wrap Stone is a fascinating short novel by Ian McDonald. At the beginning of the story we meet Ethan Ring, who’s feeling conspicuously tall and red-headed as he chants in a Buddhist temple. Ethan and his friend, a famous Japanese manga artist, are on a bicycle pilgrimage in Japan. Neither of them knows what kind of demons the other is struggling with, and neither does the reader at first, but as they journey on, their stories come out and even though each man’s tale is different, they realize that both of them are searching for redemption and peace.

Many stories deal with a hero’s search for redemption, but Scissors Cut Paper Wrap Stone is unique. The setting is a neo-feudal Japan where tech corporations are the fiefdoms and gangs of armed vigilantes threaten citizens’ peace and security. This is jarringly j... Read More

Sacrifice of Fools: Aliens in Belfast

Sacrifice of Fools by Ian McDonald

Ian McDonald grew up in Belfast, a city known for the turmoil and unrest it has endured because of the conflict between Catholics and Protestants. Some of McDonald’s novels allegorically explore the causes and results of a divided city. In Sacrifice of Fools, McDonald presents a vivid and lively conflicted Belfast, and then he throws a third element into the mix: aliens.

The Shian are a peaceful alien species who, upon arrival on Earth, are allowed to settle in Belfast in exchange for sharing the secrets of their technological superiority. The Shian are humanoid in appearance, but have enough biological differences that they cannot successfully mate with humans. They also have very different languages, laws, culture, and customs. While their similarities make them attractive to many humans (and weird fetishes evolve), the differences cause misunderstandings and culture... Read More

Scourge of the Betrayer: Surprisingly gripping

Scourge of the Betrayer by Jeff Salyards

Arkamondos the scribe has just been given a new and unusual commission. He’s been hired by a notorious band of Syldoon soldiers to travel with them and observe and transcribe their adventures. The leader of this motley crew is Captain Killcoin, a brooding authoritarian figure whose weapon of choice is a frightening looking flail that has magical properties. Killcoin is accompanied by a few loyal companions who are just as scary and tough as he is. Arkamondos is intimidated by all of them, and he wonders if he’s made a big mistake, but Killcoin’s insistence that important events are about to occur makes Arkamondos decide that it will be best for his career if he stays... Plus, they’ll probably kill him if he leaves.

So off he goes with Killcoin’s band. They are coarse and vulgar but their dialog is frequently sharp and witty. There is much drinking, cursing, barfing, bleeding, piss... Read More

The Unfairest of Them All: Cute and clever

The Unfairest of Them All by Shannon Hale

The Unfairest of Them All is the second book in Shannon Hale’s EVER AFTER HIGH series for children. These are tie-in novels for Matel’s line of EVER AFTER HIGH dolls, clothing, diaries, and sundry accessories. I feel like a real chump for obliviously falling into Matel’s greedy little trap, but I love Shannon Hale’s children’s books, so.... so THERE.

The first book in the series (The Storybook of Legends) was sweet and charming, so I went in to this one knowing exactly what I was doing and I found it just as original and adorable as the first one. In The Unfairest of Them All, Raven Queen, daughter of the evil queen, refuses to sign The Storybook of Legends, a contract that would require her to carry on in her mother’s evil role. Raven doesn’t want to be evil, but b... Read More

The Oversight: One of the best audiobooks I’ve read this year

The Oversight by Charlie Fletcher

Charlie Fletcher, previously best known for his Middle Grade STONEHEART trilogy, makes his adult debut with The Oversight, the first book in his OVERSIGHT trilogy. I listened to Hachette Audio’s version read by the illustrious Simon Prebble, an Audie-winning narrator who always brings out the best in the books he reads.

The story is set in a supernatural Victorian London where five gifted people who call themselves The Oversight attempt to protect the world from the paranormal baddies that live in another dimension and are trying to break through. The Oversight used to be a much larger group, but sometime in the past they were decimated by an event that is related to us bit by bit throughout the story. As long as there are at least five people (a “hand”) left, the border between worlds will stand, but the group is now so... Read More

Shattered: Introduces an excellent new character

Shattered by Kevin Hearne

When Kevin Hearne’s IRON DRUID CHRONICLES series started with Hounded a few years ago, the story starred Atticus O’Sullivan, the world’s last druid, and his funny movie-watching Irish Wolfhound, Oberon. In Shattered, the seventh novel (and the first one released in hardback!), we now have two more point-of-view characters. One is Granuaile, the former barmaid who became Atticus’ apprentice and is now a druid in her own right and has her own hound (Orlaith) that she can mind-speak to. The other is Owen, Atticus’ mentor who has just escaped the Morrigan’s time stasis spell. All three of our human POV characters share page space in Shattered as each goes about his or her own dangerous mission.

Atticus spends his time helping Owen acclimate to modern times, getting his magical tattoos fixed, and trying to figure out what Loki is up to and how the gods are linin... Read More

Kingdom of Summer: Sir Gawain’s story continues

Kingdom of Summer by Gillian Bradshaw

In Kingdom of Summer, Gillian Bradshaw’s second novel in her DOWN THE LONG WIND trilogy, Gwalchmai (the Welsh version of Sir Gawain) is traveling Britain in search of Elidan, a noblewoman he fell in love with off screen. He wronged her eight years previously and hasn’t seen her since. (We didn’t see any of this happen in the previous novel, Hawk of May, but he tells us the story near the beginning of Kingdom of Summer.)

During his travels, Gwalchmai stays with the family of the farmer who helped him in the last book. Rhys, one of the farmer’s sons, is fascinated by King Arthur and his band of warriors, so he asks Gwalchmai if he can be his servant. Gwalchmai accepts him and takes Rhys to Camelot before they set out again to be King Arthur’s ambassador to King Maelgwn, who Arthur distrusts.

When they get to Maelgwn’s court they dis... Read More

The Broken Land: Surreal visions of the horrors of civil war

The Broken Land by Ian McDonald

Ian McDonald’s The Broken Land (Hearts, Hands and Voices in the UK) is a book I admired more than I loved. It’s an allegorical look at the horrors of civil war caused by religious zeal and division. The story is set in a fictional country that feels like it could be in a future Africa where biotechnology has led to the development of mechanical infrastructure that is part organic and part artificial intelligence. The citizens are divided by their religious affiliation — some are Proclaimers and some are Confessors. All are subject to the Emperor who lives across the river.

Our protagonist is a young woman named Mathembe who, because of her particular convictions, decides not to speak. Mathembe is a confessor, so she is skilled in the manipulation of genetic material to create new life. When members of her family die, their heads are attached to a huge tree where they are event... Read More

The Master of Whitestorm: A satisfying self-contained story

The Master of Whitestorm by Janny Wurts

Janny Wurts’ The Master of Whitestorm is a stand-alone high fantasy that, like the author’s other work, differentiates itself from other fantasies published in the late 20th century that feature a medieval-style setting. The book has recently been produced in audio format by Audible and is read by British actor Simon Prebble, a highly decorated audiobook narrator and someone whose name I’m always happy to see in the credits. As expected, he does a wonderful job with The Master of Whitestorm and I recommend this audio version to anyone who wants to read or re-read this exciting and emotional story.

The story begins in the slave galley of a ship. Haldeth, whose wife and children were slaughtered by the Murghai, is now chained to the oar of one of their ships. As he slaves for his captors, he observes his benchmate, a man named Korendir who looks fierce but so far has neve... Read More

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