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

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

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

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 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

The Barsoom Project: Fun even for non-gamers

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 assuming) straight out of Dream Park... Read More

Stone Cold: A duology ends with a bang

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 what an ending this is. That being said, the... Read More

Hell Bent: Realistic struggles with powerful magic

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” magic and make it more powerful, but most can... Read More

Hollow World: Exploring humanity with an Everyman

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 to. And all of that is evident in Read More

Jack of Ravens: Lovers separated by millennia

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 times and places seems to shine and are craft... Read More

Sparrow Hill Road: A thrilling and ghostly road trip

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 to make when she told Rose’s tale. Each sec... Read More

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

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 novel, which explores the afterlife and death i... Read More

The Dirty Streets of Heaven: Entertaining and unexpected

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 Heaven, the title alone should tell... Read More

A Different Kingdom: Rich with details and surprising maturity

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 doorstep, Michael must choose between locking the... Read More

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