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.

Mars, Inc.: The business of space

Mars, Inc. by Ben Bova

Mars, Inc. (2013), by Ben Bova, is an interesting exploration of how to get to Mars, not by way of NASA or the government, but by privatizing the space industry and using big business, investors, and the like to get there. While you might expect some trips into space in this book, most of the novel takes place on solid ground, watching Art Thrasher gather his investors, headhunt for scientists, and test out his program.

That’s both the strength and the weakness of the novel. When most people pick up a science fiction book, they want something to do with space, or futuristic technology, or something. There’s very little of that in Mars, Inc. Instead, the world is very much like our own. In fact, it is so similar to ours that these happenings could be taking place today, right now. Mars, Inc. is more about s... Read More

The Boost: The premise is fascinating

The Boost by Stephen Baker

I’m a sucker for social science fiction. I love the stuff. I really think it is interesting to see how authors visualize technology and society progressing, the relationship between the two, and how they will influence each other. Our world is such a dynamic place, and the future is full of possibilities. I love authors who aren’t afraid to toy with what is over the horizon.

The Boost (2014) takes place in a fairly near future where everyone has computers (known as “Boosts”) in their heads. Everything we have at our fingertips is instantaneous in their minds. GPS, the internet, social networking, and so much more is right there, constantly. Life is lived as much in the virtual realm in their minds as in the real, three-dimensional world around them.

The premise is fascinating. The interplay of society and technology is nearly flawless. Woven into this ta... Read More

Head Rush: Short and sweet

Head Rush by Carolyn Crane

Head Rush (2012) is a perfect finale for THE DISILLUSIONISTS TRILOGY. The thing about Head Rush is that readers won’t read it to be surprised. You know how it’s going to end; you just don’t know the details. Carolyn Crane makes those details fun, and keeps Head Rush rather short and sweet, which is perfect for the series as a whole.

In fact, Crane seems to know exactly how long each book should be, and she never overstays her welcome. She could have easily made this book longer than it is, but she seemed to know that dragging out events would make readers more exhausted with the book than they need to be. Things move fast, and the period of time covered is short.

While the ending is no big sur... Read More

The Last Days of Jack Sparks: Part horror, part cerebral, and a whole lot of thriller

The Last Days of Jack Sparks by Jason Arnopp

The Last Days of Jack Sparks (2016) is a unique contemporary thriller. The protagonist, Jack Sparks, was a controversial journalist, now dead. The premise of the novel is that you’re reading notes from the book Jack was writing before he kicked it, released as-is by his brother, along with notes for his agents and editor.

Jack Sparks is an interesting character. At first blush he seems similar to some real-life culture journalists. He’s a man with a unique, strong voice and a fearless desire to investigate aspects of life that most of us don’t think about. He has a huge fan base, and he obviously really likes himself (dude has a huge ego), but he’s also gotten himself in a bit of trouble. He’s a notorious drug addict, and has a tendency to close himself off to possibilities. All in all, Jack Sparks is quite repugnant and I instantly couldn’t stand ... Read More

Hot Blooded: More worldbuilding and character development

Hot Blooded by Amanda Carlson

Hot Blooded (2013) is the sequel to Full Blooded and the second in Amanda Carlson’s JESSICA MCCLAIN series. This review will contain some spoilers for the previous book.

Jessica’s mate has been stolen, and her goal is to get him back. Readers who are really hell-bent on the romance aspect of the series will find this rather frustrating. There are quite a few (logical) detours Jessica must make before she can get her man back. There’s business to put in order, and while that makes sense to me as an adult, and I respected Carlson for allowing Jessica to put things in order rather than running hell-for-leather into the action like so many other urban fantasy authors do, I can see where this might frustrate people and get them wanting the plot to move a bit faster.

That being said, all of Jessica’... Read More

Double Cross: Characters evolve and develop

Double Cross by Carolyn Crane

If Mind Games is where Carolyn Crane sets up her world, Double Cross (2010) is where she hits her stride. The world has been built and Crane can really take her time to enjoy the plot and flesh out her characters. Usually the second book in a trilogy suffers a bit, but this one doesn’t. Characters evolve and develop. Crane turns flaws into impressive strengths and the twist at the end rather surprised me and added a nice tragic note to everything. It’s a fast-paced book that is sure to absorb readers.

THE DISILLUSIONISTS TRILOGY is intensely psychological, and Crane’s use of various psychological issues in her main cast is incredibly brave. I can’t... Read More

Servants of the Storm: Hurricanes and demons in Savannah

Servants of the Storm by Delilah S. Dawson

I spent a few months on the Mississippi Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina. The disaster I saw was staggering, and the soul of the area was absolutely clear. There were a lot of frayed and frazzled, dark emotions, but there was also a lot of hope.

Because of that experience, Servants of the Storm (2014) has been on my radar for a while. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was interested in seeing how a talented author could take a natural disaster and turn it into a young adult novel. That’s a true challenge, and Delilah S. Dawson handled it quite well.

Servants of the Storm is a young adult book, but don’t let that push you away. I sometimes struggle with the YA genre, but I have learned that I enjoy young adult books tha... Read More

Mystic: Enchanting

Mystic by Jason Denzel

I almost didn’t read Mystic (2015). I got through about three pages, and I was 90% sure I would put it down. However, I pulled through, and in the end I’m glad I did. This book enchanted me, and once I got used to the thing that bothered me at first (which I will expand on below), it was easy to ignore because there was so much else for me to enjoy.

So what bothered me so much at the start? Honestly, it was something that hasn’t ever bothered me this much before. Normally, naming conventions usually don’t faze me. However, for whatever reason, it bothered me this time. The words that bugged me are “fathir” instead of “father,” and “grandmhathir” instead of “grandmother.” I’m mentioning that because I do know that some people are big on naming conventions, and thus, should be prepared to expect this.

Honestly, that’s the biggest gripe I have... Read More

Owl and the Japanese Circus: A homage to Indiana Jones

Owl and the Japanese Circus by Kristi Charish

Owl and the Japanese Circus (2015), by Kristi Charish, is an urban fantasy that exceeded my expectations. “Owl” is a nickname given to our protagonist, who is delightfully different from most protagonists in this subgenre. She’s got a real Indiana Jones vibe, and her history with archeology and her obvious knowledge regarding ancient artifacts backs it up. She can hold her own, and has an obsession with online RPGs that plenty of people will relate to. Furthermore, she’s not perfect. She’s trigger-happy, and often reacts without thinking. She doesn’t want to wait for things to happen, she just wants them to happen, which causes her to act rashly on occasion. She’s quirky and unique, but most importantly, she’s real.

The supernatural creatures are just as unique as Owl is. While they do have the charisma, mystery, an... Read More

The Urban Fantasy Anthology: Not what I expected it to be

The Urban Fantasy Anthology edited by Peter S. Beagle & Joe R. Lansdale

It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of most urban fantasy. I tend to find problems with almost every urban fantasy book I’ve tried to read. When I got this book in the mail, I kind of rolled my eyes and shot it to the top of my “to be read” pile so I could get it over with fast. I didn’t expect to actually enjoy this book. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d open this anthology and think, “hot damn, this is good stuff…” but I did. I cracked open this book, started reading, and shocked myself by enjoying it.

As with every anthology, not every story will be a hit. Where The Urban Fantasy Anthology seems to differ from many other anthologies was the fact that the stories all appealed to me differently due to their plots, not due to their quality, which is the case with many other anthologies. This book is fil... Read More

Anna Dressed in Blood: A unique start to a YA horror series

Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake

I usually struggle a bit with young adult books, however, Kendare Blake’s Anna Dressed in Blood (2011) was a book I was really excited to see in my mailbox. First of all, the title is catchy and so is the cover. But it was the idea that really caught me — a teenage boy falling for a serial killer ghost. Interesting. How on earth could an author turn something like that into a book geared toward teens?

Blake does a great job at creating a world that is both familiar and different for readers to immerse themselves in. Cas, the protagonist, moves around the country (violently) sending the ghosts that linger into the beyond. The world itself is familiar, because it’s our world. However, Blake adds a nice layer of supernatural to things with Cas’ Wiccan mother and Cas himself, who can see and talk to ghosts. The normal and supernatura... Read More

Full Blooded: Some clichés, but fun and fast-paced

Full Blooded by Amanda Carlson

When I really need a mental vacation, I turn to romantic urban fantasy for a light, fun read. Full Blooded (2012), by Amanda Carlson, was just what I was looking for when I was going through a stressful time. It’s the first in Carlson’s JESSICA MCCLAIN werewolf series.

Full Blooded introduces us to our protagonist, Jessica, who wakes up in the middle of a change she shouldn’t be having, as women have never been able to change into werewolves before. She’s the first of her kind, and her father is coincidentally a very powerful, very important man in the pack hierarchy. Jessica lives under a false identity doing what many protagonists in urban fantasy do: private investigation. Jessica is tracked down by a mercenary rather quickly, and, helped along by her father’s high status, a war breaks out as superstitious werewolves (a... Read More

Empire of Dust: Thought-provoking

Empire of Dust by Jacey Bedford

I’m a huge sucker for science fiction books that toy with the mixing and merging of society and advanced technology. Just how would said technology impact people, morality, society and the like? It’s a fascinating moral gray area that leaves so much for authors to explore. Add in some additional mental abilities — like the ability to talk to animals, and to communicate with other people mentally across millions of miles — and you have something quite interesting.

Empire of Dust (2014) by Jacey Bedford has all of the elements of a good science fiction debut. While I found it enjoyable in a sort of classic-science-fiction nostalgic sort of way, I never really crossed into “love” territory, which is unfortunate.

Part of the problem is that Empire of Dust is competing against such genre-bending titles as Read More

City of Light: Unique worldbuilding and memorable magic

City of Light by Keri Arthur

Keri Arthur’s books aren’t normally my style, but the description of City of Light (2016) interested me, so I jumped on it. A futuristic world that has been ravaged by war? Reality has been fundamentally altered? Yes, please.

The worldbuilding impressed me from the start. This world felt strange enough to not be our world, but similar enough for me to try to pick out where all this was taking place from various points of reference Arthur gave her readers. The war that happened roughly a hundred years before completely changed society and cultures as we know it. Life is rough, and brutal, and people hack out their existence with their hard work and determination. It’s not a pretty world, and it was surprisingly gritty but so well done. It was layered and textured and packed full of atmosphere. I haven’t read any of Arthur’s other books, but if this is... Read More

The Witches of Echo Park: Complex, surprising, restrained

The Witches of Echo Park by Amber Benson

The Witches of Echo Park (2015) is a book that kind of has me stumped. The publisher sent me this first book in the series along with the second book. I read this one, and I’ve just kind of sat on it, wondering what to say about it. On the one hand, I loved it. It’s a unique, well written spin on what could easily have been a completely typical urban fantasy. On the other hand, I spent a good chunk of the book waiting for something to happen.

I loved the writing style. Benson has a high quality writing that felt both restrained, and lyrical. That really stuck out to me. Most (not all) urban fantasy I run across is written a lot more straightforward, with a fast moving plot and punchy dialogue. This book is written in such a way that makes you pay attention, and there are details everywhere. Benson really put a lot of effort into writing this n... Read More

A Turn of Light: An upbeat, positive read

A Turn of Light by Julie E. Czerneda

Have you ever read a book that you fell head over heels in love with purely because the writing was so breathtakingly beautiful? For me, A Turn of Light (2013) by Julie E. Czerneda is one of those. It contains some of the most lyrical, breathtakingly beautiful writing I have run across in my many years writing reviews.

That being said, the lyrical writing might also be a downside for many readers. It takes quite a while for Czerneda to get to the point. Sometimes it feels like you have to wade through paragraphs of lyrical prose just to understand that the sun lit the meadow perfectly, or something like that. I tend to enjoy that sort of thing, but I certainly have to be in the mood for it, and I’m sure many other readers do, too.

A Turn of Ligh... Read More

This River Awakens: Beautifully dark and very challenging

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 totally different from what I typically asso... Read More

The Rapture of the Nerds: Facilitates deep thought and plenty of laughter

The Rapture of the Nerds by Cory Doctorow & Charles Stross

The Rapture of the Nerds (2012) is an odd duck, and that’s probably the reason I’m struggling so much to write this review. On the one hand, there are some deeper themes that are absolutely fascinating. On the other, the book feels like a mashup of as many clever curses as the authors can possibly think of, with some odd situations thrown in. Is this good or bad? I can’t even seem to decide. There is a place for fun and funny books, but sometimes a person could wish for the substance to be a little less subtle and the humor to be a little less in-your-face. Basically, I think this is one of those books that will sink or swim based on the mood of the reader.

Cory Doctorow and Read More

The Brotherhood of the Wheel: Full of atmosphere and heart

The Brotherhood of the Wheel by R.S. Belcher

The Brotherhood of the Wheel (2016) was one of those books I never really thought I’d read. However, I picked it up and it took exactly one paragraph for me to be hooked. The reason for that is simple. Belcher has one hell of an addicting style of writing. Lyrical, flowing, full of imagery and atmosphere, this book instantly sucked me in.

And then he hit me with all the mythology and urban legends and I was in heaven.

Belcher creates a whole new culture with The Brotherhood of the Wheel, a nomadic sort of life where almost everything worth happening happens on the move. The United States is a landmass drawn by highways and byways, and this is where the action happens – fast moving, across states and landscapes. Nothing happens in one place for very long, but despite this sprawling world where this book takes place,... Read More

Dark Ascension: Brennan has me hooked

Dark Ascension by M.L. Brennan

Dark Ascension is the fourth book in the GENERATION V series, which has quickly become my favorite urban fantasy series. It seems like I spend a good few months every year looking forward to the next book in the series. Brennan has me hooked.

Dark Ascension is far different from any other book in this series. It has a much darker tone, and the humor, while there, is muted. It feels a lot heavier, a lot more thoughtful than previous books, as Fortitude Scott is forced out of his comfort zone(s) and has to grow in leaps and bounds, often in ways he has spent the previous three books trying to avoid.

Furthermore, some developments take place that Brennan has spent several novels building up to. It’s been a slow build, but the payoff is huge as Dark Ascension focuses on all the ant... Read More

Vision in Silver: Keeps readers guessing

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 previous two books, Read More

The Visitant: Satisfying historical fantasy

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 work together to unravel a very absorbing my... Read More

The Curve of the Earth: A pulse-pounding adventure

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 comparison.

Metrozone, the Londo... Read More

The Hollow City: Complex, but still accessible

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 between real and imagined is blurry, it’s fair... Read More

The Coldest War: An alternate look at the Cold War

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 over.

Gretel is, perhaps, on... Read More

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