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.

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

Blackdog: Stand-alone epic fantasy

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Blackdog by K.V. Johansen

While religion is often found in epic fantasy, rarely is it the main focus of a novel, as it is in Blackdog. It’s even more rare to find an epic fantasy that is a stand-alone rather than part of a long series or trilogy. While the fact that Blackdog is a stand-alone might turn some epic fantasy fans off, it is rather refreshing to read a fantasy on an epic scale that is contained within one book and has a definite beginning, middle and ending.

K.V. Johansen’s world building reminds me a bit of Steven Erikson’s MALAZAN series. The world is large, intricate and sprawls into lands that are just hinted at. It has a rich history which will keep the reader interested and yearning to learn more. Furthermore, the gods are... Read More

Black Halo: Sam Sykes is a versatile author

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Black Halo by Sam Sykes

In his first book, Tome of the Undergates, Sam Sykes proved he was a versatile author. He wrote some intense, realistic battles and mixed them with some of the most peaceful, beautiful passages I’ve seen in such a violent book. Interspersed with all of this was some fantastic humor that I’ve come to associate with Sykes.

In Black Halo, he takes everything he proved himself capable of in Tome of the Undergates and perfects it. The humor is more biting and the plot is paced perfectly. The reader will notice a lot of growth in the author between the first and second books of this series, and that’s really saying something, considering how impressive a debut Tome of the Undergates was.

Perhaps most impressively is how Sykes has so carefully deci... Read More

Dirty Magic: An entertaining set-up novel

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Dirty Magic by Jaye Wells

Dirty Magic tells the story of Kate Prospero, a woman with plenty of baggage to lug around as she struggles through life taking care of her teenaged brother and barely making ends meet. Slowly Wells reveals the fictional (somewhat superheroish) city of Babylon, and as Kate is fleshed out, her history (much of which remains a mystery) is also deliciously divulged to readers. In fact, it’s probably the pacing in regards to world building and character development that really makes Dirty Magic shine. Things aren’t revealed all at once, or even all in this novel. Instead, the foundation is set and enough questions are answered that will satisfy readers, but readers will have to work for those answers, which makes them so much sweeter.

Dirty Magic is an interesting mix of police procedu... Read More

Garrett for Hire: Collects three Garrett, P.I. adventures

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Garrett for Hire by Glen Cook

Garrett for Hire is an omnibus edition of three books in Glen Cook’s popular GARRETT, P.I. series. These books are Deadly Quicksilver Lies, Petty Pewter Gods and Faded Steel Heat, books seven, eight and nine in the series, respectively. However, because each book fairly stands alone, I never felt that I was missing out on any important details by joining the series at the halfway point. Nor did I feel like I could have used a bit more background to fully appreciate the characters, events or location. Therefore, don’t let the fact that this omnibus isn’t comprised of books one, two and three keep you from reading it.

Garrett for Hire reads like a noir novel with a little bit of a Read More

The Merchant Emperor: Revisiting a series I fell in love with long ago

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The Merchant Emperor by Elizabeth Haydon

The Merchant Emperor is the seventh book in the SYMPHONY OF AGES series by Elizabeth Haydon. This series happens to be one of the first epic fantasy series I ever read, but that was years ago. I was excited about this book, but also reluctant. It’s been a long time since I’ve visited this world, and my memory isn’t what it used to be due to numerous cancer treatments.

According to the publisher, The Merchant Emperor is a good entry point to the series for new readers. Knowing how fantastic my memory was, I decided to give The Merchant Emperor a shot without revisiting the previous books to refresh my memory first.

The good thing is that Haydon really infuses this book with plenty of backstory and character building.... Read More

Seed Seeker: Interesting world, weak characters

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Seed Seeker by Pamela Sargent

Seed Seeker is the third book in Pamela Sargent’s Young Adult EARTHSEED trilogy (following Earthseed and Farseed), but you don’t necessarily need to read the previous two books to get up to speed — Sargent does a great job at catching the reader up without any info dumps. Seed Seeker fairly stands alone. Most of the characters are new, though Nuy, from Farseed, does make an appearance.

Seed Seeker is a rather dark novel wrapped in an exploration/adventure tale and is also filled with enough angst and hope to satisfy any series fan. The dynamics between the civilizations are interesting and complex. Advanced technology has been developed, but much of the world lives a med... Read More

Farseed: A lot of filler

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Farseed by Pamela Sargent

The interesting thing about Pamela Sargent’s EARTHSEED series is that it doesn’t really seem to matter overly much what order you read the books in. There is a sizeable gap between each book, and Farseed, just like Seed Seeker, does a good job at recapping what has happened in the previous book so people new to the series might not find themselves unfamiliar with what is happening.

That being said, the blurb on the cover says that this series might be the next HUNGER GAMES, and I’m sure that will attract plenty of readers. They’ll see that and think, “hmm… HUNGER GAMES on another planet. That’s just cool.” And probably pick it up. There are a few similarities. First, this is a young adult series, with some pretty adult themes, like THE ... Read More

7th Sigma: Who doesn’t want to read about giant metal-eating bugs?

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7th Sigma by Steven Gould

One thing I really love about accepting review copies of books is that I end up reading stuff I never would have read otherwise. It really opens my eyes up to new authors, or authors that I should have read and heard of long ago. One of these authors is Steven Gould, who, after further investigation, I discovered is well known for a 1992 novel called Jumper. Well, I got 7th Sigma in the mail and realized that it was about giant metal-eating bugs and I knew I had to read it. Hey, who doesn’t want to read about giant metal-eating bugs?

7th Sigma takes place in the southwest United States, which was mysteriously overrun by metal-eating bugs. Most people have fled the territory, living in safe locations. However, some individuals remain in the southwest. These people are mostly hard-as-n... Read More

A Taste of Blood Wine: Read it because it’s Freda Warrington

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A Taste of Blood Wine by Freda Warrington

I’m pretty done with vampire novels. D-O-N-E. Done. It’s over. I never really liked them, but the whole genre is overblown and I’m finished with it. So why, might you be asking, did I read A Taste of Blood Wine by Freda Warrington? Because it’s Freda Freaking Warrington! I love her writing, and I couldn’t wait to experience it again, vampires or not.

A Taste of Blood Wine was first published in 1992, and is just now being re-released to the masses because we’ve finally discovered the absolute beauty of Warrington’s writing. The interesting bit of this is, Warrington wrote about vampires before they were cool. Anne Rice really broke open the vampire egg, but Warrington tapped into a vein that really hadn’t been tapped into much before then. Before her, vampires weren’t these se... Read More

The Red Knight: A valiant effort

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The Red Knight by Miles Cameron

The thing about military-esque epic fantasy is that it will always have an audience. Always. There will always be someone out there who sees a blurb about a knight on a horse and buys the book. It’s a sort of subgenre that will have fans no matter how redundant, or unique, the book may be. For me, books that fit into that genre have a greater challenge ahead of them. They need to do something new, or present an old story in a refreshing way because there really are only so many different things that you can say about a guy on a horse on a quest.

On the surface, The Red Knight is exactly what I look for in this kind of book. It’s unique. Set in an alternative earth/post-apocalyptic earth/secondary earth (I never was quite clear on that point), The Red Knight reads more like historical fantasy than anything else. There is a religious ... Read More

THE CHRONICLES OF SIRKARA: Underappreciated epic fantasy

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THE CHRONICLES OF SIRKARA by Laura Resnick

This series is also called THE SILERIAN TRILOGY and IN FIRE FORGED.

I enjoy running across books that haven’t received much attention. I also enjoy running across books that I enjoy a lot more than I expected to. When you smash both of those things together, you come up with THE CHRONICLES OF SIRKARA, a trilogy by Laura Resnick, which I read in about three days flat. Yep, that’s about a book a day. I should also note, I rarely read series books back-to-back. I’m not sure why. I usually take a little break between books in a series, probably to digest or something. I couldn’t do that with this series. I devoured them as fast as I could. That says something.

Epic fantasy is a genre I either love or hate. It’s easy to mess up epic fantasy, and it seems like a genre that’s hard to do right. I need a ... Read More

The Lazarus Machine: YA steampunk

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The Lazarus Machine by Paul Crilley

The Lazarus Machine hooked me at first because I really like the title. I mean, come on, that’s just a cool title. The Lazarus Machineis a young adult steampunk set in the late 1800’s in an alternative Earth. Paul Crilley, for the most part, pulls this time period off well, despite the Sherlock Holmes feel (which is starting to feel a little been-there-done-that for my taste). The book starts out with interesting steampunk inventions. There are steam powered computers, automatons powered by captured souls, steam carriages and the like. Many readers will be absolutely captivated by all that Crilley has created in his steampunk alternative earth.

However, once the story gets going, small problems arise. For example, in this Victorian-esque setting, many of the characters’ dialogue is a bit too modern for the ti... Read More

Reaper: Even better than Lightbringer

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Reaper by K.D. McEntire

I’ve noticed a few things about Pyr’s new line of young adult books, and this observation makes me endlessly pleased. While I can always count on Pyr to produce top quality books, their young adult line pleases the part of me (which is a larger part than I’d like to admit) that really doesn’t enjoy young adult books that much. Pyr’s young adult books are more mature, less full of angst than most that I’ve run across. It’s incredibly refreshing, and the part of me that looks at young adult (much like urban fantasy) and recoils, starts to relax and ease into each YA book Pyr throws my direction. So huzzuh to them.

K.D. McEntire’s Reaper starts off where Lightbringer ends. Reaper is pretty much owned by Piotr. While the perspective is split between Piotr and Wendy, Wendy seemed a bit more confused and less developed... Read More

The Queen is Dead: A fun fast-moving follow-up

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The Queen is Dead by Kate Locke

The Queen is Dead is the second installment of Kate Locke’s THE IMMORTAL EMPIRE series. As such, you kind of know what to expect and it does, therefore, lose some of its surprise. In God Save the Queen, our protagonist Xandra was established to be a tough-as-nails heroine who couldn’t seem to sit still for so much as a minute without finding some sort of chaos to get involved in. She’s always running from one disaster into another, and that’s pretty much what you can expect from The Queen is Dead, as well. Xandra is still Xandra, despite her Goblin Queen status. She still somehow manages to accomplish more in an hour than I probably will in my entire life and chaos must be glued to her.

While much of the plot and characters remain the same as in God Save the Queen, there is still plenty of characte... Read More

God Save the Queen: A good escape from reality

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God Save the Queen by Kate Locke

First, before I say anything else about God Save the Queen, I need to applaud Orbit for the design of this hardcover. I never realized, until I had a one-year-old, how annoying dust jackets were on hardcover books. My daughter, darling though she is, manages to find them and destroy them wherever they are. I am now in the habit of taking off the dust jacket as soon as I get the book and hiding it somewhere. Then I take bets with my husband about how long it will be until Fiona finds the dust jacket and ruins it. God Save the Queen is a hardcover, but there is no dust jacket to worry about. The design is right on the cover and it’s wonderful, blissful even, to have that sort of book in my house. Publishers, please make more hardcover books like this one!

I read God Save the Queen right after I had surgery. I needed somet... Read More

There Will be Dragons: Standard

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There will be Dragons by John Ringo

The premise of There Will Be Dragons is interesting, the kind of premise that made me want to read the book just to see where John Ringo would go with it. Ringo paints a unique, utopian world with a nearly perfect society. Then, in this perfect world, an apocalypse happens and forces these individuals to live in pre-industrial style. I would consider There Will Be Dragons a science fiction/fantasy hybrid.

This is a broad undertaking for any author, and Ringo does it with gusto. His writing is simple to follow and easy to understand. He is descriptive as he paints his picture for the reader. It is easy to understand the world he is setting up.

It's obvious that Ringo did his homework when writing this novel. The writing is meticulously detailed regarding war and period life, at times making the novel seem more like a text... Read More

Territory: The gunfight at the OK Corral becomes a romping fantasy adventure

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Territory by Emma Bull

Emma Bull turns the infamous gunfight at the OK Corral into a romping fantasy adventure in Territory.

Since I don't know much about this period, most of the historical specifics were lost on me. For example, I can't critique her characterization of Wyatt Earp or Doc Holliday or say if she was accurate with the nitty-gritty details of events. Thus, historical accuracy wasn’t a huge deal to me, which allowed me to sit back and really enjoy the book for its story.

Territory opens on a rather grim note at the scene of a robbery where two people are killed. While this scene is important for the plot, it doesn’t set the tone for the whole book. There are incredibly dark and suspenseful moments, but they are nicely juxtaposed with an overall feel of innocence as the widow Mildred Benjamin and the trave... Read More

Dragon Prince: Intensely emotional

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Dragon Prince by Melanie Rawn

There’s something to be said for an author who isn’t afraid to take memorable, emotionally compelling characters and really put them through the wringer. It takes strength for an author to attach their readers to a character and then put that character through turmoil. Furthermore, it’s quite a gamble. While many authors will put their characters through physical battles, there’s almost never really any doubt how it will all end. However, when the plot is emotionally charged and the battleground is on a more personal level, some readers are lost along with a lot of the certainty many are used to. Thus, I should congratulate Melanie Rawn for making that gamble with her characters. It was a bold move, and in many ways it paid off.

That being said, Dragon Prince is a more emotional book than anything else. Whil... Read More

Lightbringer: Refreshing YA

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Lightbringer by K.D. McEntire

I’ve been on a young adult kick recently, which is odd for me because I tend to not enjoy young adult books. I’ve lucked out, though. I’ve actually been enjoying the recent flood of young adult books that have come my direction. It’s been a refreshing change of pace from my usual reading routine. Lightbringer is one of those young adult books I didn’t expect to enjoy, but ended up appreciating more than I anticipated.

Lightbringer takes place both in our world and in a parallel world called The Never. This parallel world is a place where life and death exist together. Readers will have a little terminology to grasp (for example, the terms used to describe the dead like Rider, Walker, Lost and Shade), and The Never does take a little time getting used to. But once the reader is familiar with the ru... Read More

Thirteen Hallows: Incredibly dark

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Thirteen Hallows by Michael Scott & Colette Freedman

I don’t generally read urban fantasy, but this one looked too good to ignore. Thirteen Hallows is an incredibly dark, urban, mystery/suspense novel based on the legend of the thirteen hallows, which I had never heard about before I read this book. The hallows fill the book with an interesting and appealing history that may inspire readers to research these legendary objects on their own.

Thirteen Hallows is told from multiple points of view and while some of these perspectives are done better than others, switching perspectives helps keep this fast-paced book fresh without overly exhausting the reader with the nearly constant action. That being said, Thirteen Hallows is almost overflowing with bad guys, who are so purely evil that their chapters are al... Read More

Rules of Ascension: A pleasant surprise

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Rules of Ascension by David B. Coe

I picked up Rules of Ascension randomly from the library. I was wandering around the shelves and saw the guy on the cover and thought, “huh, he’s oddly white…” This sealed the deal. I had to learn more about the abnormally white guy on the cover (isn’t my thought process fascinating?). It was rather exciting to pick up a book I had never heard of and knew nothing about. The experience paid off. I didn’t have high hopes for this book, but it ended up pleasantly surprising me.

David B. Coe takes his time setting up a rich and intricate world. For the first third of Rules of Ascension, this attention to detail and world building can be tedious and is almost a hindrance to the overall plot rather than a boon. There are no real sides to the conflict, and furthermore the reader ... Read More

Shadow: Immerse yourself in the world of an amnesiac

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Shadow by K.J. Parker

Shadow by K.J. Parker is a difficult book to recommend because I highly enjoyed it, but I can also understand why many readers might hate it or be unable to finish it. It’s a unique book.

Shadow opens with the protagonist waking up surrounded by dead bodies and having no memory of who he is. He goes from one odd situation to another trying to make some sort of life for himself while trying to find out who he is and where he fits in the world. This may seem to be a rather cliché plot, but Parker keeps the reader just as clueless as the protagonist is through most of Shadow, so the reader gleans bits and pieces of the world, culture, and custom at the same rate as the protagonist does. Parker does this artfully, with a finesse that adds much-needed layers to the world. Read More

The Escapement: Fascinating and provocative

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The Escapement by K.J. Parker

The Escapement picks up where Evil for Evil left off. It’s shorter than the previous two books in The Engineer Trilogy, but for all its brevity, it’s still packed with surprises. After reading two books without fully knowing what is being manipulated and planned, readers are presented with nearly constant revelations regarding characters and plot points that had only been hinted at and alluded to before.

Up to this point in the trilogy, Parker has indirectly discussed love and the question of the existence of good and evil. The Escapement explores these ideas openly in dialogue and self-monologues. Conversations about whether good and evil truly exist and about the driving force and impact of love are absolutely f... Read More

River of Gods: A complex, foreign, unique world

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River of Gods by Ian McDonald

Ian McDonald’s River of Gods is a complex, multi-threaded tale that takes place in near-future India which has been split into somewhat warring states. There is a water shortage as the monsoon hasn’t come in three years, a rigid caste system is in place, and political and economic strife is tearing cities apart at the seams. While the rich get richer and designer babies are common among the elite, there is a gross gender imbalance where men outnumber women by two thirds. It’s a complex, foreign, and unique world.

McDonald’s writing at times reminded me of a mixture of K.J. Parker’s dry, cynical humor and a dash of Peter F. Hamilton’s science fiction. McDonald is incredibly descriptive, and he seems to purposefully take a “no holds ... Read More

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