Sarah Chorn (GUEST)

SARAH CHORN, one of our regular guest reviewers, has been a compulsive reader her whole life, and early on found her reading niche in the fantastic genre of Speculative Fiction. She blames her active imagination for the hobbies that threaten to consume her life. She is a published photographer, world traveler and recent college graduate and mother. Sarah keeps a blog at Bookworm Blues.

This River Awakens: Beautifully dark and very challenging

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This River Awakens by Steven Erikson

Pretty much all you have to do is say Steven Erikson and I’m there. This River Awakens (2012) is far different from anything most people will think of when they hear the author’s name. It’s not set in a secondary world. It’s not epic fantasy. There isn’t a huge war or expanding empire in the core of the book. From what I understand, This River Awakens was Erikson’s first book and it’s more fiction and urban fantasy than anything else. While it is far different than typical Erikson, it is still glorious.

This River Awakens was re-released in 2012 after initially being published in 1998 under Erikson’s pen name of Steve Lundin. I love reading author’s works that are t... Read More

Vision in Silver: Keeps readers guessing

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Editor’s note: We thank Sarah Chorn of Bookworm Blues for contributing this review to our site. Kat did not like the first two books, Written in Red and Murder of Crows, but the series is extremely popular, so we are pleased to have Sarah’s opinion of the third book, Vision in Silver.

Vision in Silver by Anne Bishop

Each installment of Anne Bishop’s THE OTHERS series seems to only make me a bigger fan.

Before you read Vision in Silver, I should say that it is absolutely necessary for you to read the previo... Read More

The Visitant: Satisfying historical fantasy

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The Visitant by Kathleen O’Neal Gear & W. Michael Gear

The Visitant brought all sorts of family vacation memories to my mind. It reminded me of all the times I’d hiked through the ruins of Mesa Verde and imagined all the people who had worn those same rocks smooth hundreds of years ago. That’s part of the power of the book. It takes people back in time to revisit portions of their own lives, and back to the time of the Anasazi.

The Visitant is told from two different periods of time. There is the modern day story, centering around the archeologist Dusty and his crew as they unearth bones which tell a mysterious story. There’s also the ancient past involving the war chief Browser and his warrior Catkin. Their perspectives basically tell the reader how the bones got to be where they were. These two very different perspectives ... Read More

The Curve of the Earth: A pulse-pounding adventure

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The Curve of the Earth by Simon Morden

Simon Morden’s The Curve of the Earth is a book that flew below the radar. It’s set in a sort of futuristic Earth. Politics and the whole “the earth is flat” thing have effected how people live, communicate, work and understand each other. The world is a different place. Some areas, like America, are ultra conservative, while others are downtrodden and rather terrifying, ruled by crime bosses. It’s a world where crossing the Atlantic takes a fraction of the time it takes now. In a world like that, the proverbial ripple of a butterfly’s wing can cause massive, sprawling political and ecological impacts worldwide in a matter of minutes. It makes today’s digital, satellite, and almost instantaneous world look like a snail’s pace in com... Read More

The Hollow City: Complex, but still accessible

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The Hollow City by Dan Wells

Love it or hate it, The Hollow City is a fast, whirlwind read that will completely devour your time.

Having not read any other of Wells’ books, I can’t say if having an untraditional lead character is normal for him, but following a protagonist who has been diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic is not normal for me. This divergence from the norm was incredibly welcome. Michael’s diagnosis brings another level of depth and confusion to the plot and helps push The Hollow City from interesting to fascinating as Wells seamlessly blends fantasy (Michael’s hallucinations) with reality. For much of the book, readers are left to puzzle out what is happening due to Michael’s illness, and what is happening because it’s actually happening.

Usually, when authors write a book where the line betw... Read More

The Coldest War: An alternate look at the Cold War

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The Coldest War by Ian Tregillis

I loved Bitter Seeds, the first volume of THE MILKWEED TRIPTYCH. Ian Tregillis is executing a brilliant spin on twentieth-century world history with this series. The Coldest War begins roughly twenty years after the events of Bitter Seeds, and the name is fitting. Not only is this the Cold War, but it’s also a very cold part of the lives of the protagonists. In fact, the first half of the book is downright depressing as characters realize what an unfortunate life March lives, and while Will seems very lucky, his life takes a negative spin as well. Then, you insert Gretel (who makes my skin crawl) and her brother Klaus, and you have a simmering pot of dark tension just waiting to boil... Read More

The Barsoom Project: Fun even for non-gamers

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The Barsoom Project by Larry Niven & Steven Barnes

I’ve never read anything by Larry Niven or Steven Barnes before, and after reading The Barsoom Project, I’m wondering why. While there were parts that didn’t completely connect with me, the writing was great and the story was interesting enough to hook me almost right away. Though I haven’t read Dream Park, the first book in the DREAM PARK series, I did not feel that my interest and understanding of this, the second book in the series, suffered at all. There is a nice synopsis of Dream Park on the back of the book which caught me up to speed on the main conflict the protagonist, Eviane, faced. Also, there is a prologue which was (I’m assu... Read More

Stone Cold: A duology ends with a bang

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Stone Cold by Devon Monk

Stone Cold is the second book in a spinoff series by Monk (from her ALLIE BECKSTROM series/world). I have to admit, the first book in this BROKEN MAGIC series, Hell Bent, actually hooked me so hard it made me give the ALLIE BECKSTROM books a try, which I also enjoyed so much I am having a hard time making myself finish the series (which is the best compliment this bookworm can ever give any series).

BROKEN MAGIC is a two part spinoff series, and Stone Cold ends impressively. This is important for readers because it gives a nice, round conclusion for both Shame, and Allie, in her own way. It’s nice to have a definitive ending to things, and ... Read More

Hell Bent: Realistic struggles with powerful magic

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Hell Bent by Devon Monk

This is the first Devon Monk book I’ve ever read. After some digging, I discovered that the main characters in the BROKEN MAGIC series, Shame and Terric, were introduced as backburner characters in another book/series that Monk wrote, the Allie Beckstrom series. Never fear, you obviously don’t have to have read those other books to enjoy Hell Bent. I didn’t have a clue who the author or her characters were, and I still had a lot of fun. That being said, I’m sure if I’d read other books by this author (as they are set in the same world) I would probably understand some of the nuances more clearly. For example, I never really did figure out the ins and outs of the magic system, or why some people are able to “break” mag... Read More

Hollow World: Exploring humanity with an Everyman

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Hollow World by Michael J. Sullivan

As soon as I heard about Hollow World I jumped on the bandwagon. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I love it when authors take a left turn and tries something absolutely new and different. Michael J. Sullivan is known for his epic fantasy, so a time travel/futuristic sci-fi is absolutely different than his usual work. He had my attention.

The thing is, despite the fact that this is an absolutely different genre than Sullivan fans will expect, there are still some qualities here that are owned by the author. For example, Sullivan excels at telling an action-packed story set in a huge world that is slowly expanded upon in the periphery of the story. Also, he does a great job at developing characters you can really cling ... Read More

Jack of Ravens: Lovers separated by millennia

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Jack of Ravens by Mark Chadbourn

I’m one of those people who is a diehard fan of anything Celtic. All you really have to do is say, “Hey, Sarah, this book is obviously inspired by Celtic lore/legend/traditions/etc” and I’m there. So when Pyr emailed me about Mark Chadbourn’s Jack of Ravens, and I saw “Celtic” in the description, I knew I had to read it. Seriously, that’s all it took. Yeah, I’m discerning like that.

Jack of Ravens is a slow burn, and while that might aggravate some, it’s well worth it. Chadbourn doesn’t waste any of his words. In fact, his lyrical prose and descriptions are instrumental in whisking the reader away to other times and places. What is, perhaps, more amazing than anything else is that all his t... Read More

Sparrow Hill Road: A thrilling and ghostly road trip

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Sparrow Hill Road by Seanan McGuire

One of the things that sets Sparrow Hill Road apart from typical ghost stories is the fact that this is told from the ghost’s (Rose) point of view. You’d think that after her tragic death, and after years of being stuck as a teenager wandering the ghost roads, she’d be bitter and angry, but she’s not. Instead, she’s used her (after) life as a sort of second chance. She goes where the wind takes her, eats the food given to her, and borrows the coats people loan her. She helps where she can, and learns and grows with each experience. I fell in love with Rose instantly.

Sparrow Hill Road is told in a rather unique fashion: interlocking ghost stories that make up the whole novel. Some readers might get exhausted with the individual feel to each piece, but it really was a smart move for McGuire t... Read More

Happy Hour in Hell: Rip-roaring fun containing a deeper message

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Happy Hour in Hell by Tad Williams

Happy Hour in Hell is the second novel in Tad WilliamsBobby Dollar series. While readers might enjoy and appreciate the book more if they read The Dirty Streets of Heaven first, its sequel is one of those books that can be understood and enjoyed on its own merit, too. Happy Hour in Hell is darker than its predecessor, the world expands, Bobby Dollar is a more complex character (while never losing his humorous or cynical edge), and there’s strong emotional appeal. The book as a whole benefits from this immensely.

Happy Hour in Hell starts on a rather dark, lonely note with Bobby Dollar crossing the bridge to enter Hell. This sets the tone for the whole nov... Read More

The Dirty Streets of Heaven: Entertaining and unexpected

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The Dirty Streets of Heaven by Tad Williams

Tad Williams and I go way back. (Not literally, of course: If I walked up to him on the street, he wouldn’t know who I was.) He was one of the first epic fantasy authors I read and fully enjoyed. I have been an avid Tad Williams fan for years due to the high quality of his work. Understandably, I was champing at the bit to read The Dirty Streets of Heaven, an adult urban fantasy which is completely out of Williams’ epic fantasy zone. I was excited to see how he’d handle the change.

I’ve recently read a number of books which have proven to me that religiously-themed fantasy novels don’t have to contain a sermon. Even though the discussion of God, Heaven, sin, and angels are quite common in The Dirty Streets of Heave... Read More

A Different Kingdom: Rich with details and surprising maturity

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A Different Kingdom by Paul Kearney

A Different Kingdom is a reprint of one of Paul Kearney’s first novels, first published in 1993. The good news is that this doesn’t read like an early novel in an illustrious career: it actually reads like something a well-practiced author would produce after a lot of hard work.

A Different Kingdom is set in the picturesque countryside of Ireland and the farm where Michael lives. Alongside this, perhaps on top of it or layered throughout it, is a fantasy world where other creatures live, creatures that seem to spring out of our own myths and legends. The fact that this other world is set in a landscape that has thrilled many (myself included) with beautiful myths and legends is just perfect. This is a book for dreamers.
When the wolves follow him from the Other Place to his family’s doors... Read More

London Eye: Too short to meet its potential

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London Eye by Tim Lebbon

The young adult genre seems to be moving beyond vampires. They’ve toyed with werewolves for a while, but I think those creatures are being left in the past like their fanged cousins. Now it seems like anyone who really wants to write young adult is going dystopian (thank you, Hunger Games). To be honest with you, I don’t get the thrill with dystopian or after-the-big-catastrophe plots, but whatever. It’s what the public wants, and the authors are delivering. Now, I’m not saying that to gripe, I’m saying it because I think people should know my general disposition toward this stuff before they read my review of Tim Lebbon’s London Eye.

London Eye will appeal to many readers because of the after-the-cata... Read More

The Straits of Galahesh: A strong second book

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The Straits of Galahesh by Bradley Beaulieu

When I picked up Bradley Beaulieu’s The Straits of Galahesh, the second book in his THE LAYS OF ANUSKAYA series, it had been a while since I’d read the first book, The Winds of Khalakovo, so I was worried that I had forgotten many of the story details. But Beaulieu, in his infinite wisdom, put a summary of the first book where a prologue would be. Not only did this refresh my forgetful brain, but it kept Beaulieu from having to drop in constant “reminders” throughout the book. There were no refresher paragraphs sprinkled throughout the prose, which was absolutely wonderful. If you just came from reading The Winds of Khalakovo, you could skip that section. If it’s been a while, reading the first section will bring you up to speed and help you remember every... Read More

The Mist-Torn Witches: Fun but forgettable

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The Mist-Torn Witches by Barb Hendee

The Mist-Torn Witches is a book that kind of leaves me torn. In some aspects, it’s a really great fantasy book and in others it just lacks… something. The Mist-Torn Witches is a rather short, fun little murder mystery with some magic thrown in for good measure. It’s the kind of fantasy that is a lot of fun to read, but ends up being not quite so memorable.

The two main protagonists in The Mist-Torn Witches are sisters, Celine and Amelie. Celine earns their money by pretending to be a seer and her sister Amelie is the tom-boy, protector of the two. She can kick ass and take names. The plot really starts running when it becomes apparent that two princes are vying for power over their area. One of them is shadowy and presented as being almost unbelievably evil. The other ... Read More

Arcanum: Interesting historical fantasy

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Arcanum by Simon Morden

Alternative history stories usually either thrive or fail for me depending on plausibility. The writer can’t just tell me a good yarn, (s)he also needs to be able to fit this yarn into a world I recognize, and make me buy the history. That’s not an easy thing to do. When you take a well-known, often romanticized period of time, and infuse it with magic, that task is even harder.

Thankfully, that’s not a problem that Morden has. I often face the issue of the Middle Ages being a bit too romanticized. There is no mention in many books of people with no teeth, dead teeth, dying teeth (sorry for my tooth obsession), body odor (seriously, can you imagine how bad people must have smelled back then?), horrible illnesses, and limbs being cut off from infection. These are details that many authors leave out. The brutal truth is, this period of time is dirty, dusty, in... Read More

The Doctor and the Kid: A fun-filled romp through the Wild West

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The Doctor and the Kid by Mike Resnick

The Doctor and the Kid is the second novel in Mike Resnick’s WEIRD WEST TALES. I haven’t read the first book, The Buntline Special, but I could follow the events and characters just fine. The Doctor and the Kid works well as a stand-alone, though I probably would have had more attachment to the characters and the events if I had read The Buntline Special first. The only place where my lack of background was evident was with descriptions of the Buntline itself. I could never quite picture what exactly it was and I’m sure I wouldn’t have had that problem if I’d read The Buntline Special first.

The Doctor and t... Read More

The Grendel Affair: Popcorn isn’t a bad thing

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The Grendel Affair by Lisa Shearin

The Grendel Affair is a sort of hybrid police procedural/governmental sort of book with a quirky main character who is easy to laugh with (and at), but also easy to sympathize with. Makenna is one of those characters that will probably seem rather cookie-cutter, and she is in many ways, but she’s endearing despite that. She has a quip for just about everything. She seems to have a knack for getting herself into ridiculous and unpredictable situations, and she’s also very pretty. It’s all the things that most authors write into their urban fantasy characters, but despite all of that, she’s a lot of fun, and most importantly, she makes mistakes, and those mistakes often propel the plot.

Supernatural Protection & Investigation is one of those super-secret agencies that is out to police all of the nasties that the huma... Read More

Child of a Hidden Sea: Satisfying

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Child of a Hidden Sea by A.M. Dellamonica

Child of a Hidden Sea is the kind of fantasy book that usually leaves me very aggravated, not because it’s bad, but because parallel world/portal fantasy (whatever you want to call it) usually doesn’t work for me. There are too many leaps of logic that I never really buy into. Things feel clunky, and a good plot seems to be messed up by the complexity that a secondary world alongside our world creates. Therefore I approached Child of a Hidden Sea with a huge amount of skepticism, but I decided to give it a chance anyway because the strong female protagonist really interested me. I’m glad I gave it that shot, because Dellamonica nicely sidesteps most of the speed bumps that so many other authors get slowed down by.

Firstly, Sophie, our protagonist, is far from perfect. She’s a fairly flaw... Read More

Replica: A novel that can’t decide what it is

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Replica by Jenna Black

Jenna Black’s Replica is a young adult science fiction novel which I read in only one day. Readers who follow my blog might know that when I read a book in a day it means I either loved it or hated it. Well, Replica tries hard, but in the end, it just wasn’t for me.

One of my issues right off the bat is that for a science fiction world, there really isn’t much SciFi in Replica and  Black never gives the reader a timeline to reference. Different aspects of the world suggest different time periods. The story takes place in the Corporate States, a future dystopian version of our own world, and Nathan has a Replica, so we know it’s the future, but many the social structures make me think of the 1800s. Women wear long dresses... Read More

Jaran: A truly charming tale

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Jaran by Kate Elliott

Kate Elliott is best known as an epic fantasy writer. Her books are powerful and sprawling. Her characters are well developed and emotionally intense. Her writing pulls it all together so perfectly. She’s an author that, no matter what flaws I might find with her books, I always tend to enjoy. Jaran is no different. It’s not a perfect novel, but it’s mighty enjoyable, despite that.

Jaran is billed as a SciFi, but it’s really an epic fantasy book with hints of SciFi thrown in to make things interesting. Jaran starts with Tess in a futuristic galaxy and she ends up on a very behind-the-technological-times planet. She’s highly placed in the governmental order of things, as her brother is an important Duke who has been fighting for human rights against the alien Chapalii. Tess stands to inherit all of that, b... Read More

Carrion Comfort: An early work by Dan Simmons

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Carrion Comfort by Dan Simmons

Carrion Comfort is one of Dan Simmons’s earlier works, first published in 1989. It is about psychic vampires who feed off of other people, manipulating their thoughts and thereby controlling their actions.

The notion of a psychic vampire is what made me want to read this book — it’s an idea far too interesting to pass up. Simmons’s vampires are unique, and they do live up to the hype in some ways. Ultimately, though, they often tiptoed right up to being absurd and ridiculous. The lack of believability at certain parts of the book diminshed my enjoyment of the novel. If there had been fewer completely unbelievable scenes — unbelievable even in the context of horror fiction — Carrion Comfort ... Read More

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