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The Mapmaker’s War: Did Not Finish

The Mapmaker’s War by Ronlyn Domingue

I really wanted to like The Mapmaker’s War, by Ronlyn Domingue. For so many reasons. First, it had “mapmaker” in the title. I love maps. I have books upon books of maps — old maps, strange maps, historical maps. And books upon books about maps, or mapmakers. So it had that going for it. And second person. I know lots of folks can’t stand it, but I like second person. I like reading it. And I like writing in it. Granted, I’ve always said it’s a tough POV to employ over the length of a full novel, and I can count on one hand the number of times a novel carries it off well, but I was willing to give it more than a chance.

And while The Mapmaker’s War had at its center what appeared to be your typical upper-class-young-woman-chafing-at-society’s-constrictions-and-hooking-up-with-a-prince character, it was pretty clear fro... Read More

Visions: I boarded the wrong train

Visions by Kelley Armstrong

It always feels weird to write a DNF review for a book that’s not actually bad. There is nothing objectively wrong with Kelley Armstrong’s Visions, at least in the portion of it I finished, and it would be a perfectly fine read. For someone else. For me, it felt like I’d boarded a train that I thought was going to Albuquerque, and it turned out to be headed for Chattanooga instead. There’s nothing wrong with Chattanooga, but I’ve been there before, and I was really looking forward to that trip to Albuquerque, so I’m getting off this train in the hopes I can still catch the other one.

Visions, the second book in Armstrong’s CAINESVILLE series, begins with Olivia finding a corpse in her car, dressed to look like her. The corpse then disappears, and with Olivia’s talent for seeing omens, she’s not initially sure whether ... Read More

In the Night Garden: A convoluted masterpiece that may not be for everyone

In the Night Garden by Catherynne M. Valente

Catherynne M. Valente's In the Night Garden, the first in a duology, has been sitting on my to-read shelf for more than two years, and I've had it highly recommended to me by numerous friends and librarians, not to mention my colleagues here, Bill, Kat, Alix, and Rebecca. For the most part, I agree with their reviews, especially Alix's piece detailing the themes and philosophical consequences of the work. I can definitely see the literary merit of the work: it's a beautifully written masterpiece full of creative and non-traditional storylines, made all the more powerful by Valente's prose. However, the truth is that I was able only to get through the first half of In the Night Garden Read More

Anathem: This book could be anathema to some readers… DNF

Anathem by Neal Stephenson

At one point do you admit defeat and give up on a book? Especially one that you really WANT to like, by an author whose work you respect, and has been lauded by critics and readers alike. I’ve put off tacking Anathem for many years because: 1) it’s a massive door-stopper about an order of monks millennia in the future devoted to philosophy, science, and mathematic theorems; 2) it’s got an entirely new lexicon of neologisms invented to describe this alternate world; 3) most of the readers I respect have found it challenging but rewarding; 4) will I lose all my SF street cred if I admit to not liking this?

I decided that the audiobook format might be the best way for me to take on this behemoth. It features four different narrators (Oliver Wyman, Tavia Gilbert, William Dufris, and Neal Stephenson d... Read More

The Puppet Masters: Early Heinlein at his most embarrassing. DNF.

The Puppet Masters by Robert A. Heinlein

Slug-like alien invaders who land and take over Des Moines, Iowa, 50s-style cold war paranoia, wise-cracking secret super agents, and a totally hot red-headed babe with deadly weapons concealed on a voluptuous body who is strong-willed but still totally subservient to our intrepid, tough-talking hero Sam. Yes, that would be a Robert A. Heinlein book, this one first published back in 1951. Apparently what I read was the extended version, and I guess they just stuffed back all the embarrassingly-bad, sexy repartee and other bits that should have remained on the editing floor.

Most readers either love or hate Heinlein, and I've only read a few of his books, having absolutely hated Starship Troopers and Stranger in a Strange Land, but really liked Read More

Inside a Silver Box: Too-unorthodox storytelling and a jumbled plot. DNF.

Inside a Silver Box by Walter Mosley

Sometimes you read a book and think, “Well, that was a bad book.” And sometimes you read a book and wonder, “Was that a bad book?” Walter Mosley has been a widely praised author for decades, has won a host of major awards, and is known for his sharp characterization and compelling plotting. So when I read a book of his that just throws me wholly for a loop, one in which I can’t abide either the characters or plot at all, so much so that I have to force myself to reach the halfway point before finally giving up, I have to wonder, “Was that a bad book, or did I miss something?”

Inside a Silver Box offers up an all-powerful being/machine — the titular silver box — whose goal is to stop the last of a genocidal alien race from regaining control of the box (it had been the aliens’ super-weapon) and using it to wipe out an entire species y... Read More

Stranger in a Strange Land: Authorial politics override the story. DNF

Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein

Robert Heinlein was one of the most influential writers of sci-fi in the 20th century. He published more than thirty novels, several of which won awards, and many more received nominations. Considered one of the ‘big three’ alongside Asimov and Clarke — the American perspective, that is — Heinlein’s agenda included independence, personal responsibility, freedom, and the influence of religion and government on society. Stranger in a Strange Land, arguably his most famous book — and perhaps most controversial — is the subject of this review.

Stranger in a Strange Land is the story ... Read More

Dove Arising: Did Not Finish

Dove Arising by Karen Bao

Dove Arising is a new YA science fiction novel from Karen Bao, and one which I persevered through despite a host of issues, until I reached the last fifth or so when things really began to go off the rails. I pushed on, admittedly skimming a bit, thinking “I’m this far in, I can finish,” but the cumulative effect was just too much and I ended up giving up about forty pages from the end.

The setting is one of a series of bases on the moon, in a future where Earth is under the domination of two floating city-states and their respective alliances, and in a cold-war (that occasionally heats up) relationship with the moon bases. Phaet is a 15-year-old girl whose life is turned upside down when her mother is taken away for quarantine and then later arrested for “disruptive print,” as the bases system is a bit dictatorial (ruled by a committee, constant surveillance, proh... Read More

Atlantis Rising: Did Not Finish

Atlantis Rising by T.A. Barron

I gave Atlantis Rising by T.A. Barron a pretty fair shot I’d say—200 of its 370 pages, but eventually I just had to give it up. And I wasn’t alone in that, as my wife and 13-yr-old son gave up far, far quicker. As usual with books I didn’t care for, and especially for books I didn’t finish (a rarity for me), this will be a relatively short review, as I don’t like to belabor the point.

The problems began immediately, with the introduction of the main character (Promi), a sassy and spunky orphan street thief with a heart of gold who is good with a knife (though not good enough to avoid trouble with a corrupt and brutal priest), that ends up in a chase scene where Promi gets to toss off barbs at the chasing guards while performing acrobatic feats of derring do. Now, I’ve always been one to let... Read More

All Those Vanished Engines: All those vanished meanings…

All Those Vanished Engines by Paul Park

I'm not a big reader of avant-garde fiction. In fact, I'm SO not a big reader of it that I'm not even sure if I'm applying the term correctly to Paul Park's recent novel All Those Vanished Engines. I'm probably not. But the thing is, I'm not sure what term to apply to it: meta-fiction? Experimental fiction? Alternate history with several unreliable narrators who may or may not be Paul Park himself?

All Those Vanished Engines is a novel told in three parts. The first part is about a child, Paulina, who lives in Virginia after the Civil War in an alternate history in which the States aren't so United anymore. The conflict continues, with the Queen of the North brokering an uneasy truce with the South. Paulina, forbidden to read, has begun to wr... Read More

Plague Seed: Did Not Finish

Plague Seed by Wade Alan Steele

I did not finish Plague Seed by Wade Alan Steele and so as is usual when that happens, this will be quite the short review, as I don’t like to belabor the point about why I found a book to be so bad that I put it down.

Plague Seed begins with a letter from the elven Seligre, “Savior of Oldenhome and the southern lands of Talandria,” to his newborn son, introducing his account of the Plague War. He’s written this account in response to the inaccurate, overblown “history” of the war by Rawlen Brokenhorn (a minotaur) so that his son will know what really happened, and that his father was not the “elven hero of epic strength and laudable intentions” portrayed in Brokenhorn’s multi-volume history. A short letter by Brokenhorn himself follows, in which he describes to the master librarian how he received Seligre’s story and why he thinks it should not grace the s... Read More

Shadowdance: Did Not Finish

Shadowdance by Kristen Callihan

Let me start this DNF review by saying that I have not read the previous books in Kristen Callihan’s DARKEST LONDON romance series. The books, which are set in a paranormal Victorian London, have overlapping characters, but each focuses on a different couple. My failure to enjoy Shadowdance has nothing to do with my unfamiliarity with the world or characters — I was able to pick up on those things well enough. My issues are with this particular story. I wouldn’t be surprised if I liked other DARKEST LONDON books a lot better (Kelly  likes the first one). Shadowdance gets great reviews at Amazon, Goodreads and Audible. The audio version is produced by Hachette Audio and features one of my newest favorite readers, British actress Moira Quirk. She’s phenomenal, as always, and is perfect in this role.

... Read More

Parasite: Did Not Finish

Parasite by Mira Grant

In Mira Grant’s new novel Parasite, a major new scientific development has transformed the medical world: the Intestinal Bodyguard is a genetically engineered parasite that lives in your bowels and can secrete drugs directly into your digestive tract. It’s nothing short of a medical revolution.

To be absolutely clear here, what we’re talking about is a tapeworm. That’s right: a company developed a benign tapeworm that people voluntarily ingest to stay healthy. It may be just me, but I cannot even begin to fathom the size of the marketing budget a company would need to convince people to voluntarily become hosts to a worm that lives in your gut. (Just for fun, look up some pictures of tapeworms. Look up how they used to be removed, prior to antibiotics. Nightmares. Nightmares, I tell you.)

Despite the fact that the Intestinal Bodyguard... Read More

Fireblood: Did Not Finish

Fireblood by Jeff Wheeler

I usually give books sent for me to review a lot more of a chance than books I pick up on my own, having some sense of obligation. And that was the case with Fireblood by Jeff Wheeler. According to my trusty Kindle, I read sixty-seven percent, giving it more than a week of picking it up and putting it down. Generally, if I can’t finish a book in two or three days, I know I’m having problems with it. So over a week and barely past halfway through, I decided to let this one go.

The story is set in a world visited regularly by devastating plagues. The first chapter, more of a prologue, shows us the tail end of an unsuccessful expedition into the Scourgelands in an attempt to end the plagues. The leader of the expedition, Tyrus, appears to be the sole survivor. Years later, Tyrus is involved once again in an attempt to stop the plagues, this time involving his nephew Anon, a Druidecht (yes, think... Read More

Man in the Empty Suit: Did Not Finish

Man in the Empty Suit by Sean Ferrell

The protagonist in Sean Ferrell’s Man in the Empty Suit has seen and done it all. Thanks to his ability to travel in time, he’s cruised all the way up and down the course of human history. There’s not much that’ll get him excited anymore. Every year, he travels to the year 2071, the 100th anniversary of his own birth, to celebrate his birthday with dozens of younger and older versions of himself. It’s the world’s most exclusive party: only he and other versions of himself are invited.

However, on the year he turns 39, things don’t go exactly as planned: he discovers the body of his 40-year-old self, apparently murdered by a gunshot to the head. Surrounded by alternate versions of himself in varying states of intoxication, his mission is clear: he has to find out who murdered his one-year-older self, before it’s too late.

The premise of Man in the Empty... Read More

The Hot Gate: Did Not Finish

The Hot Gate by John Ringo

The Hot Gate is the third novel in John Ringo’s TROY RISING series. This series started off well with the first half of the first book, Live Free or Die. Then Ringo’s protagonist, Tyler Vernon, turned out to be an outspoken Nazi-sympathizer and TROY RISING plummeted. The second book, Citadel, was better, but still not good enough to recommend. (Please see my reviews for specifics.) I began reading the third book, The Hot Gate, hoping that things would continue to improve, but only because the publisher sent me a free review copy.

Unfortunately, the story regresses in book three. I read most of The Hot Gate, but couldn’t finish it. I don’t want to spend a lot of time on this review because chances are that you’re not reading this unless you’re thinking about reading The Hot Gate, which means you probably have... Read More

Blood Song: Did Not Finish

Blood Song by Anthony Ryan

I purchased Anthony Ryan’s Blood Song because it showed up in my Goodreads "recommended" list with a ton of 5-star reviews. I'm usually suspicious, however, when the reviews so overwhelmingly endorse the greatness of a book. Based on my experience with Blood Song, I was right to be suspicious.

While Blood Song is not horrible — I probably would've slid it 3 stars had I finished — I'm totally clueless as to how it earned so many 5-star reviews. Granted, I'm long past the age where I enjoy coming-of-age stories, if I ever did like them much. So maybe that's the reason I don't understand why Blood Song is getting so much love.

I read about 60% of the book, and it still seemed like it was in the prologue. I get that the harsh military training the characters endure is a big part of the story, but does it have to be so much of it? Call me... Read More

The Goddess Inheritance: Did Not Finish

The Goddess Inheritance by Aimée Carter

Aimée Carter’s GODDESS TEST series has always been a bumpy ride for me, with its sometimes baffling take on Greek mythology and its focus on petty bickering even in the face of potential worldwide catastrophe. Yet I always felt there was enough of a seed of a good story here that I wanted to see how Carter would finish it out, so I decided to read the final book, The Goddess Inheritance. I’ve now gotten a little over halfway through the book and am giving up. I’ve decided I simply don’t care anymore.

We pick up as Kate is on the verge of giving birth in captivity — having been kidnapped by Calliope and Cronus at the end of the last book — and the other gods having just realized she’s actually missing. Then she does give birth, in the most Mary Sue manner one can imagine, i.e. with none of the commonplace annoyances that come with childbirth. Labor only lasts a few mi... Read More

Triumff: Her Majesty’s Hero: Did Not Finish

Triumff: Her Majesty’s Hero by Dan Abnett

It’s 2010 and Queen Elizabeth XXX is on the throne of a magical alternate England. When the throne is threatened, Sir Rupert Triumff, discoverer of Australia, comes to the rescue.

I’ll make this short. I didn’t get very far with Triumff: Her Majesty’s Hero. The story is a comedy of the sort that has no appeal to me. It’s written in a self-consciously long-winded style where extensive detailed descriptions and explanations of every minor person and place keep interrupting the plot in order to provide background trivia and to crack jokes. Unfortunately, the trivia isn’t interesting or relevant and the jokes aren’t funny. By the end of the first chapter I felt buried under minutiae and puerility. Here’s just one example (read the first chapter at Amazon to get more of the sense of it):
Gonzalo would attempt to distract Her Majesty with discourses on the correct stri... Read More

Beyond This Horizon: Did Not Finish

Beyond This Horizon by Robert A. Heinlein

Hamilton Felix is a genetic superman, carefully crafted from the best chromosomes his ancestors had to offer. He lives in a world where most people live long easy lives untroubled by disease, poverty, and tooth decay. It’s boring. Until Felix accidentally infiltrates a revolutionary group of elitists who want to take over the world and run things their way.

As boring as Hamilton Felix’s life is, this book about him is even more boring. There are lots of ideas in Beyond This Horizon, but very little story to connect them together and make them interesting. One problem is that most of these ideas — eugenics, selective breeding, survival of the fittest — are neither new nor particularly interesting for the 21st century reader, though that’s not Heinlein’s fault because Beyond This Horizon was published in Astounding Science Fiction in 1942. What is He... Read More

House Rules: Did Not Finish

House Rules by Chloe Neill

Chloe Neill’s CHICAGOLAND VAMPIRES novels have been brain-candy reading for me for a few years now. The books are quick reads that don’t require a lot of thinking but provide action, romance, humor, and occasional pathos. But, sad to say, I think I’m breaking up with this series.

I had high hopes at the beginning of this seventh book, House Rules. Neill introduces a mystery: two rogue vampires have gone missing, last seen at one of the vampire registration offices the new mayor has set up. In the other main plot, Cadogan House has voted to secede from the Greenwich Presidium, and that would surely shake things up a bit.

The series, however, has fallen into the same trap that Neill’s DARK ELITE series did for me. The plot often seems secondary to immature bickering among the characters. It’s not funny enough to work as comic relief; it’s just sniping. An example ... Read More

Between: Did Not Finish

Between by Kerry Schafer

I hate to give a DNF review to Between by Kerry Schafer. I love finding new authors to read, the cover art is pretty (check out the subtle scales on her shoulder!), and the premise sounded great. Unfortunately, I only got about halfway through the book before setting it aside.

Schafer’s heroine, Vivian, has always had strange dreams, and now those dreams are affecting reality, for her and everyone around her. She’s an ER doctor, and one of her patients dies after an attack by dragons — dragons that come from the Between, which is the realm that lies between the waking world and the dreaming one.

Meanwhile, her mother (who lost her grip on sanity because she slipped too easily between the worlds) has gone missing from the institution in which she lives, and her grandfather has died and left her some strange objects and cryptic information. And the handsome man she just met seem... Read More

Of Blood and Honey: Did Not Finish

Of Blood and Honey by Stina Leicht

Stina Leicht’s 2011 publication Of Blood and Honey has an interesting premise and lovely language, but I couldn’t stay with it. This was the book that kept getting set aside for others — any others — and even television. I did make it to page 191 of 295, but after three months of moving it to reach for something else, I just had to give up.

Of Blood and Honey is the first book in Leicht's THE FEY AND THE FALLEN series. It is set in Northern Ireland in the 1970s, a time of great political unrest, and the fantastical elements (the native fey folk and the fallen angels of Christianity) mirror the struggles between Catholics and Protestants. Liam, the main character, grew up in Catholic Derry. He is illegitimate, treated warily by his neighbors. Liam has always believed that his absent father was a Protestant, but his father was really a Fey.
Read More

The Wild Ways: Did Not Finish

The Wild Ways by Tanya Huff

The Wild Ways by Tanya Huff is the second book in THE GALE WOMEN series. While I enjoyed the first book, The Enchantment Emporium, even though it had serious flaws, The Wild Ways was not good. I got to about halfway through and didn’t care about the characters. In fact, on a semi-regular basis, I couldn’t keep the characters apart.

I also had serious difficulties with the “too much power/too little consequences” system of magic in this book. Basically, the Gale family can shift reality to meet their will, including things like making airline tickets magically appear when they need them for exactly what they can afford — a magical power I would surely like to develop — and yet it is used for the good of Canada. Or, at least, what the Gale family thinks is the good of Canada. If his... Read More

The Well of Tears: Taking the history out of historical fantasy

The Well of Tears by Roberta Trahan

From the back cover description of The Well of Tears by Roberta Trahan:
More than five centuries after Camelot, a new king heralded by prophecy has appeared. As one of the last sorceresses of a dying order sworn to protect the new ruler at all costs, Alwen must answer a summons she thought she might never receive. Bound by oath, Alwen returns to Fane Gramarye, the ancient bastion of magic standing against the rise of evil. For alongside the prophecy of the benevolent king, a darker foretelling envisions the land overrun by a demonic army and cast into ruin. Alwen has barely set foot in her homeland when she realizes traitors lurk within the Stewardry, threatening to destroy it. To thwart the corruption and preserve her order, Alwen must draw upon power she never knew she possessed and prepare to sacrifice everything she holds dear—even herself. If she fails, ... Read More