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Legendary: If you like The Cheesecake Factory, this book might be for you

Legendary by Stephanie Garber

Legendary (2018) is the second novel in the CARAVAL trilogy. The third novel, Finale, is due out in May of 2019. I entered this series midstream, after sisters Donatella (Tella) and Scarlet have escaped their father’s controlling grip and freed themselves from the hold of their first Caraval competition. Now Tella is about to dive back into the stream for the sake of a debt she incurred in Caraval. This time she has to find the name and true identity of Legend, the grand master of the Caraval show. The only way she can do that is to enter and win. At the same time, she is trying to find clues to the whereabouts of her mother, who mysteriously disappeared when she was a young girl.

The CARAVAL series has been very wel... Read More

In Other Lands: A bisexual character comes of age in a paper-thin fantasy world

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In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan

Thirteen-year-old Elliot is pulled from his geography class one day, packed into a van with three other students, and driven to a random field in Devon, England, where he watches his French teacher exchanges money with a woman standing next to a high wall.
The woman in odd clothing “tested” him by asking him if he could see a wall standing in the middle of a field. When he told her, “Obviously, because it’s a wall. Walls tend to be obvious,” she had pointed out the other kids blithely walking through the wall as if it was not there, and told him that he was one of the chosen few with the sight.
When the woman asks Elliot to come with her to the magical land on the other side of the wall, he promptly tells her no one will miss him (Elliot’s problematic home life is explored later in the book) and heads over the wall with her. There he finds,... Read More

Blood of the Four: Dangerous magic and brutal conspiring

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Blood of the Four by Christopher Golden & Tim Lebbon

Magic is an elusive and dangerous thing in the kingdom of Quandis, forbidden to all except a few select priests who spend their lives preparing to handle the ancient magic, and even then inhale only a few smoky tendrils of the powerful magic. Princess Phela thrives on sneaking through hidden passages of the castle, seeking to overhear others’ information and secrets. When Phela hears her mother, the queen, confessing (in a drug-induced haze) to her lover Linos Kallistrate that she, the queen, has been exploring the far depths of the castle seeking out the magic of the Four, who are the gods of Quandis, she’s appalled at the heresy, but eager to find a way to use this secret to further her own ambitions.

Meanwhile, among the Bajumen ― the hereditary slaves of Quandis marked by their deep blue eyes and serpentine brands ― Bla... Read More

Dayfall: Did Not Finish (couldn’t get past the writing)

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Dayfall by Michael David Ares

Dayfall (2018) is set in a near-future after a short nuclear war between India and Pakistan created a partial nuclear winter, casting part of the world, including New York City, into perpetual darkness. Crime has risen and Jon Phillips, a PA cop who takes own a serial killer early in the book is sent to deal with another one in the city known as the Dayfall Killer. Complicating things is the immanent return of the sun (the titular “dayfall”) and predictions of chaos and panic (think Asimov and Silverberg’s Nightfall, but reversed).

As usual with my DNFs (Did Not Finish), I’ll be brief as I don’t ... Read More

The Dinosaur Knight: Dinosaurs weren’t enough (somehow)

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The Dinosaur Knights by Victor Milan

I’m always a bit iffy about reading a second book in a series whose first book I didn’t much care for, but I guess it’s the optimist in me that overrules my better judgment. Optimism, and the fact that while rare, occasionally the second book does reward that optimism. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case for Victor Milan’s The Dinosaur Knights (2016). As I noted in the review of book one, The Dinosaur Lords, the pitch for the series is simple: Game of Thrones meets Jurassic Park. Simple and oh-so-alluring. Knights riding dinosaurs — what could possibly ruin that concept? Sadly, as also noted in that review, it turned out s... Read More

The Waking Land: Too many issues

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The Waking Land
by Callie Bates

I’m sure there’s an audience for Callie Bates’ debut novel The Waking Land, but after reaching the halfway point (53% to be precise), I also became sure that I was not it, leading to a DNF review.

The story, which has some clear (at times perhaps too clear) historical referents, is set in a world where hundreds of years ago the nation of Caeris conquered the neighboring nation of Eren, while much more powerful than either of them is the empire of Paladis. More recently, about a decade ago, Elanna Valtai’s noble father tried to lead a rebellion to free Eren and bring back the “king in exile,” but his plans were discovered and while he was clever enough so that Caeris had no rock-hard proof, he was exiled to his estate while then five-year-old Elanna was taken hostage by Caeris’ King Antoine. Fast forwa... Read More

The Dark Mirror: Did Not Finish

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The Dark Mirror by Juliet Marillier

As a rule, I love Juliet Marillier’s work, but I’ve tried several times to read The Dark Mirror and have never managed to get very far.

Marillier’s prose is as beautiful as ever, but the story doesn’t hook me. It just feels like such a slow beginning, and the protagonist Bridei is very young and nobody tells him anything. Events occur, but we often don’t see them; a secondary character will exit stage left, come back having obviously had a perilous adventure, and not tell Bridei, or the reader, what happened.

Mostly The Dark Mirror made me want to reread Nicola Griffith’s Hild, which is ... Read More

The Swan Book: Moments of brilliance, but never engaged me (Did Not Finish)

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The Swan Book by Alexis Wright

I really wanted to like The Swan Book by Alexis Wright. I mean, it has so many elements I would usually find enticing by themselves or a few at a time, let alone all at once: magical realism, non-linear structure, multiple POVs, moments of high-flying lyricism, biting wit and satire, dystopia, sharp dialogue, a social conscience. But man, did I struggle with this one from just about the beginning. But I kept going. Like I said, all those elements. Plus, rave reviews and awards — those people couldn’t all be wrong, right? And there absolutely were early moments of sheer brilliance, enough so that I kept going, sure I would soon turn the corner and fall in love with it. Sure that the moments would turns into pages then into chapters. And I’d look back ... Read More

Supervillains Anonymous: Cool premise, confusing plot

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Supervillains Anonymous by Lexie Dunne

I really wanted to like Supervillains Anonymous, by Lexie Dunne. The first book in the series, Superheroes Anonymous, was pretty fun and I was looking forward to seeing what happened after its cliffhanger ending, when Hostage Girl (aka Gail Godwin) was falsely accused of the murder of her close friend and superhero mentor, Angelica. Unfortunately, this second installment wasn’t as satisfying as the first; in fact, I found it very confusing and ended up not finishing it.

It started off well, though. As usual, Dunne’s writing is light-hearted, with a wry, modern voice. Even when Gail, the narrator and main... Read More

Echopraxia: Nowhere near as good as Blindsight

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Echopraxia by Peter Watts

I was extremely impressed by Peter WattsBlindsight (2006), a diamond-hard sci-fi novel about first contact, AIs, evolutionary biology, genetically-engineered vampires, sentience vs intelligence, and virtual reality. It is an intense experience, relentless in its demands on the reader, but makes you think very hard about whether humanity’s sentience (as we understand it) is really as great as we generally think it is.

The short answer, according to Watts, is no. It’s an evolutionary fluke, was never necessary for survival, and will actually be a hindrance when we encounter more advanced alien species, most of which may have developed high levels of intelligence without wasting any precious brain capacity on sentience, self-awareness, or “... Read More

Snakewood: Interesting premise that needs more work

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Snakewood by Adrian Selby

I picked up Adrian Selby’s debut novel, Snakewood, after hearing a lot of good things about the book. Promising a dark world of realpolitik in the tradition of Glen Cook, Snakewood tells the story of the company once known as Kailen’s Twenty. While the company is long disbanded, many of its members still live and thrive in various occupations, until they turn up with throats slit and a black, stone coin on their bodies — the mark of a traitor. Spooked by these occurrences, former company leader Kailen begins calling his soldiers back to his side both to protect them and to discover the truth behind the murders. It’s a fascinating story, but the execution in Snakewood leaves a lot to be desired.
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The Ringworld Throne: Did Not Finish

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The Ringworld Throne by Larry Niven

Larry Niven has great ideas but, in my opinion, he’s weak with characters and plot. The Ringworld, a huge artificial ring that surrounds a star, is Niven’s greatest creation and accounts for the success of his most famous novel, Ringworld, which won both the Hugo and Nebula Awards in 1970. As I explained in my review, it’s the Ringworld itself that’s exciting, not the actual events that happen upon it.

The sequel, The Ringworld Engineers, was written ten years later to address several Ringworld stability issues that scientists, including some rowdy MIT students, leveled at Niven’s creation (pun intended). This sequel did deal with those i... Read More

A Spell for Chameleon: Stay away!

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Reposting to include Kevin's recent review.

A Spell for Chameleon by Piers Anthony

You know that delighted little feeling you get when a package arrives on your doorstep? And with how excited you are, you just can’t wait to unbox whatever it is? Imagine you’ve just received a mysterious package, perhaps one you’ve been anticipating for a long time. Except, you’re so thrilled that you forget to check the name on the shipping label… and when you open it up, it’s not for you… Whoops.

You see, I’d heard so many things about Piers Anthony’s XANTH series, and as far as I was concerned, its popularity virtually guaranteed that A Spell for Chameleon, the opening novel of the series, would be spectacular… right? Wrong. In fact, just abo... Read More

The Mapmaker’s War: Did Not Finish

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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... Read More

Visions: I boarded the wrong train

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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 seein... Read More

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

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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) ... Read More

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

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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 i... Read More

Dove Arising: Did Not Finish

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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... Read More

Atlantis Rising: Did Not Finish

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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 de... Read More

All Those Vanished Engines: All those vanished meanings…

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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 write a story ... Read More

Plague Seed: Did Not Finish

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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... Read More

Shadowdance: Did Not Finish

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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... Read More

The Puppet Masters: Somewhat icky

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The Puppet Masters by Robert A. Heinlein

Unfriendly aliens from Titan have arrived on Earth and are planning to conquer us. To do this, the slug-like beings latch onto the backs of their human hosts and take over their bodies and minds. The aliens are rapidly spreading in the Midwest and they’ve managed to infiltrate the Treasury Department. To make world domination go even faster and easier, they’re planning to get the President of the United States. That’s why Sam Cavanaugh, secret agent, has been called in from his vacation. He’s teaming up with Mary, a beautiful red-head, to stop the invasion. But Sam and Mary soon learn that even secret agents are susceptible to alien body snatching.... and falling in love.

There’s plenty of action in The Puppet Masters — chases, capture, torture, escape, reconnaissance missions, hide-outs, vehicle crashes, parachute landings, vigilant... Read More

Fireblood: Did Not Finish

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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 involv... Read More

Man in the Empty Suit: Did Not Finish

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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.
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