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Beyond This Horizon: Did Not Finish

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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 Sc... Read More

House Rules: Did Not Finish

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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 co... Read More

Between: Did Not Finish

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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 informa... Read More

The Wild Ways: Did Not Finish

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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... Read More

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

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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 s... Read More

The Dead of Winter: A setting in search of characters to care about

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The Dead of Winter by Lee Collins

In this urban fantasy with a twist — set in the Wild West in wintery Colorado — monster hunters Cora and Ben are hired to deal with an unknown beast that slaughtered some wolf hunters in the mountains. As they investigate, they realize that they are looking for a beast neither of them is familiar with. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the evil beasties lurking in them thar hills.

I don’t read a lot of urban fantasy these days for a few reasons. When I think of the urban fantasy subgenre, I think of Charles deLint and Emma Bull, instead of t... Read More

Flora Segunda: Did Not Finish

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Flora Segunda by Ysabeau S. Wilce

Flora Segunda by Ysabeau S. Wilce is just odd. For one thing, the book is fully titled as Flora Segunda: Being the Magickal Mishaps of a Girl of Spirit, Her Glass-Gazing Sidekick, Two Ominous Butlers (One Blue), a House with Eleven Thousand Rooms, and a Red Dog, and while I don’t have a problem with long titles in general — see my love for Catherynne Valente’s Fairyland books, or Caroline Stevermer and Patricia Wrede’s collaborations — the problem with this title is the same problem I had with the book. It’s just trying to contain too many... Read More

A Touch Mortal: Did Not Finish

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A Touch Mortal by Leah Clifford

Full disclosure: I didn't finish this book. I didn't even get that far in. But I'm a firm believer that life's too short to read bad books. A Touch Mortal hit one of my biggest peeves about YA paranormal romance, and it hit it really quickly.

It starts out with what could be an interesting premise: teenage Eden is somehow slipping from the minds of everyone around her, and doesn't know why her friends and family are ignoring her. She's depressed about this and contemplating suicide when she meets two young men on the beach. One of them picks her up with some cheesy lines, and we're off to the Insta-love Races.


In this case, it's not even exactly insta-love, but love that is almost entirely developed offscreen. Eden and Az have one date, then the narrative jumps ahe... Read More

City of Saints: Alternate LDS history

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Editor's note: When Ruth reviewed this book in 2012, she reviewed the "first part" of CITY OF SAINTS called Liahona. Since then, the series has been released as one novel called City of Saints.

City of Saints by D.J. Butler

It’s the days leading up to the Civil War, and both the North and the South are desperate to bring the Kingdom of Deseret, with President Brigham Young, in on their side. Both forces send envoys to the remote kingdom, hoping to secure the allegiance of the Mormons and their rumored phlogiston weaponry. The British Empire is also seeking to secure the favor of Deseret, and Samuel Clemens, Edgar Allen Poe, and the famed British explorer Richard Burton all set out from Fort Bridger in a desperate race to the Salt Lake Valley. Throw in a dwarf, some Pinkerton detectives, a woman who may or may not be a spy, fle... Read More

The Number of the Beast: Great audio, awful story

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The Number of the Beast by Robert A. Heinlein

When I was a kid I loved some of Robert A. Heinlein’s “Juveniles” — science fiction stories for children and teens. Red Planet was one of my favorites and I must have read it at least five times. These novels are part of the reason I kept reading science fiction — they left such an impression on my young mind.

Despite this nostalgia, I haven’t read Heinlein in years. When Blackstone Audio recently started releasing some of his later novels on audio, I thought it was time to check out some I’d never read. The first one I tried was The Number of the Beast, written in 1980 after a seven-year hiatus brought on by ill health when Heinlein was in his seventies.

This story starts when professor Zebadiah John Carter meets Deety (short for Dejah Thoris) Burroughs and her ... Read More

Seven Princes: Did Not Finish

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Seven Princes by John R. Fultz

Trimesqua, King of Yaskatha, is murdered by Emhathyn, an ancient wizard who raises the dead to kill everyone in the palace. The young Prince D’zan manages to escape, helped by his faithful bodyguard Olthacus the Stone, and sets out on a quest for vengeance. To retake Yaskatha, he seeks the help of other rulers, including the two princes of Uurz: the strong warrior Vireon and the scholar/writer Lyrilan.

Meanwhile on the other side of the world, King Vod rules the city of New Udurum where Giants and Men live peacefully together. Vod was born a Giant but became human to marry Shaira, Princess of Shar Dni. Their children are a new breed: Princes Tadarus and Vireon have the shape of humans but the strength of Giants. Prince Fangodrel, on the other hand, is pale of skin, addicted to the bloodflower drug, and lacking the strength of his brothers. Princess Sharad... Read More

Gene of Isis: Did not finish

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Gene of Isis by Traci Harding

Traci Harding’s Gene of Isis, the first book in her MYSTIQUE trilogy, is about three related women in three different time periods who have descended from the Grail kings: Ashlee Granville, an independent young woman who is unhappy about being on the “marriage market” in 19th century England; Dr. Mia Montrose, Ashlee’s 21st century descendent who is an expert in ancient languages; and Lillet du Lac, a 13th century priestess who is fighting the Catholic Church. Each woman has clairvoyant talents and is drawn to a mountain that contains ancient mysteries and is the source of these women’s psychic gifts.

The first part of the book reads like one of those Regency romances where the enlightened (and in this case pagan) heroine wishes she was a man so she could pursue her real interests, but is instead stuck in ... Read More

White Tiger: Did Not Finish

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White Tiger by Kylie Chan

White Tiger by Kylie Chan sounded like a great departure from the usual urban fantasy fare. Set in Hong Kong, White Tiger incorporates Chinese mythology rather than the more trodden ground of European mythology. The plot sounded like fun, too. It centers on Emma Donahoe, an Australian woman who becomes a live-in nanny in the employ of John Chen, a rich Chinese widower with a little daughter. This scenario gave off a vibe of Gothic romance, a genre that is one of my guilty pleasures. But I was disappointed in White Tiger, despite really wanting to like it, and stopped reading at a little over 100 pages.

A large part of the problem is Chan’s characterization of Emma. Most of the time, she’s bland. She simply doesn’t seem fleshed out beyond her adoration of Mr. Chen... Read More

Changes: Giving up on Valdemar

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Changes by Mercedes Lackey

And it is on this day, the 23rd of April, in the year two thousand and twelve, that I, Ruth Arnell, having been ushered into the world of fantasy readerdom by Arrows of the Queen, have given up on Valdemar.

Mercedes Lackey was my gateway to fantasy as a teenage girl. Valdemar was fascinating to me, but after 30some-odd books set in the world, the magic has faded, especially in the volumes written with her husband Larry Dixon.

This is the third book in the COLLEGIUM CHRONICLES series, and I have chronicled my problems with the previous two books in the series, Foundation and Intrigues. Those problems are magnified in this volume. More kirball for no apparent reason. The same fights with the same characters. Dialect so strong tha... Read More

Chrysanthe: Did Not Finish

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Chrysanthe by Yves Meynard

I’ve been trying to read Chrysanthe for two weeks now, and still haven’t hit the halfway point. It’s that experience where the bookmark never seems to move; whenever I sit down to read, I can’t get far before my mind starts to wander. With roughly three hundred pages left to go, I’ve decided to cut my losses.

It starts promisingly enough. Yves Meynard introduces us to a little girl, Christine, who lives with her unpleasant uncle in a world similar to our own present day, but has vague memories of a very different life — a life in a castle, where she wore beautiful gowns and was surrounded by people who loved her. What Meynard does really well here is capture that time in childhood where memory is muddled, where you can never be quite sure if you’re remembering an incident you really witnessed or one you... Read More

The Demi-Monde: Winter: Did Not Finish

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The Demi-Monde: Winter by Rod Rees

One more acronym and murder will be done.

To train soldiers for different high-stress combat scenarios, the U.S. military has developed a virtual reality game called The Demi-Monde. The game world is divided into different sections with boundaries like spokes on a wheel. These adjacent sections are overpopulated and made up of different mixtures of races and cultures that should clash and create wars. In addition, scientists have used the DNA of real historical people to create “Dupes” (duplicates) of actual historical tyrants and other bad guys to populate the Demi-Monde with the kinds of people who are likely to initiate conflicts. These dupes think they are real people and that the people who come in from the real world are “Daemons.” To make it as realistic as possible, when U.S. soldiers are in training in the Demi-Monde, their bra... Read More

Anathem: Don’t skip the Note

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Anathem by Neal Stephenson

In his “Note to the Reader” at the start of Anathem, Neal Stephenson writes “if you are accustomed to reading works of speculative fiction and enjoy puzzling things out on your own, skip this Note.” My advice is this: Don’t skip the Note. In spite of years of speculative fiction reading, I found myself constantly referring to the novel’s chronology and glossary, not to mention online summaries and Stephenson’s acknowledgements page.

Here’s why. Our narrator, Fraa Erasmus, is an avout, a fid, and an Edharian. He is a Hylaean, a Protan, and a Decenarian. He lives in the mathic world, not extramuros. Nor does he live in the Sæcular world, though he was born there. It is worth noting that Erasmus is also not a Procian, an Ita, n... Read More

Key to Conflict: Badly written erotica

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Key to Conflict by Talia Gryphon

I did not finish Key to Conflict by Talia Gryphon. I stopped at around the 100 page mark. Key to Conflict is the kind of book that makes people think "urban fantasy" is a euphemism for "badly written erotica."

In the first sentence, we are introduced to: "Gillian Key, United States Marine Corps Captain, Special Forces Operative, former flower child, wiseass extraordinaire, also legitimately known as Dr. Gillian Key, Paramortal psychologist," and that sets the stage for Gillian as a character. She's all over the place. Not only does she have more training and degrees and honors than seem plausible for her age, but the different aspects of her character seem clumsily cobbled together rather than parts of a whole. One minute she'll be caring and empathetic, and the next minute she's flying ... Read More

The Coming of the Horseclans: Did Not Finish

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The Coming of the Horseclans by Robert Adams

After two centuries, the undying High Lord Milo Morai has returned to the Horseclans to lead them to their prophesied destiny. First they must conquer their enemies and the Witchmen — pre-holocaust scientists who have continued living by transplanting their minds into stolen bodies.

I stole most of that synopsis from the back of the book, because I only made it to page sixty-nine, the end of chapter six, and I still hadn’t gotten to the meat of the story.

I’ve wanted to get my hands on a copy of The Coming of the Horseclans for a while now. When I was a kid, I remember seeing these books on the grocery store magazine shelves or drugstore spinner racks, and later on at the mall bookstores in the Men’s Adventure section. I was already a fan of Read More

Timothy and the Dragon’s Gate: Did Not Finish

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Timothy and the Dragon’s Gate by Adrienne Kress

Timothy Freshwater, 11 years old, has been expelled from the last school in the city. He’s played too many pranks and his teachers say he’s “too smart for his own good.” Since he’s now out of school, Mr. Bore, the CEO of the company his dad works for, recruits Timothy as his intern so Timothy can teach Mr. Bore how to make people like him. In Mr. Bore’s office, Timothy also meets Mr. Shen, a small Chinese man who happens to be an enslaved dragon. In order to free him so he can regain his dragon form, someone must steal a golden key from Mr. Bore and take Mr. Shen to China so he can pass through the Dragon’s Gate. That someone turns out to be Timothy, but it’s not as easy as he hopes because he’s being pursued by a Ninja and three mysterious black taxicabs.

Timothy and the Dragon’s Gate is Read More

The Accidental Demon Slayer: Did Not Finish

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The Accidental Demon Slayer by Angie Fox

Lizzie’s long-lost grandmother reappears in her life, turns out to be a witch, and informs Lizzie she’s destined to be a demon slayer. A demon pops out of Lizzie’s toilet. Lizzie suddenly gains the ability to understand what her dog is saying. Her grandmother introduces her to her coven of elderly biker witches. Oh, and there’s a hunky griffin shapeshifter.

If this sounds a little chaotic, that’s because it is. Angie Fox bombards the reader with one wacky event after another in The Accidental Demon Slayer, and the plot feels like a random string of these odd events rather than a coherent whole. Characters are inconsistent; for example, the biker witches know Lizzie has just found out she’s a demon slayer, but then berate her for not already knowing all about demon slaying. Action scenes are co... Read More

The Wind From a Burning Woman: Dated

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The Wind From a Burning Woman by Greg Bear

I don’t think early Greg Bear and I are a good match. I did not finish The Wind From a Burning Woman, a collection of short stories from the late 1970s and early 1980s. That may be part of the problem. Maybe these stories are just dated.

Bear seems to be a “writer of ideas,” and several of these tales feature fascinating “what-ifs” or technological wonders, like an asteroid shaped into a deep-space vessel, a surrealistic cathedral in a world where God has definitively Died, or a walking city. Unfortunately, problems with characters and prose undercut the gadgets or the thought exercises.

There are six stories in the book. I read five:

In “The Wind From a Burning Woman,” a desperate woman threatens Earth’s draconian nanny-government with an act of global terrorism in order t... Read More

The Edge of the World: Did Not Finish

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The Edge of the World by Kevin J. Anderson

I’m not a fan of belaboring why a book is bad, so this will be a pretty brief review. Suffice to say that I did not finish Kevin Anderson’s The Edge of the World, the first book of his Terra Incognita series. Not finishing is rare for me, even if a book is mediocre, so that gives you some sense of what I thought of The Edge of the World. I made it 300+ pages in, roughly halfway, so I think I gave it more than a fair chance to overcome the flaws that were troubling me from the start, but as they began to pile up — along with the many other to-read books on my shelf, I just couldn’t justify continuing.

The concept itself was intriguing — two nations (Tierra and Uraba) founded ages ago, both thinking each i... Read More

Sword of Fire and Sea: Would work better as an RPG

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Sword of Fire and Sea by Erin Hoffman

At the start of Erin Hoffman’s debut novel Sword of Fire and Sea, Captain Vidarian is tasked by the priestess Endera to transport Ariadel, a young fire priestess, to the safety of a water temple. The journey will be dangerous, because Ariadel is pursued by the telepathic Vkortha, so Vidarian is understandably reluctant to take on the assignment, but when Endera invokes an old pact between his family and the Temple of Kara’zul, he has no choice but to comply....

For many reasons, I rarely give up on fantasy debuts, especially ones by authors from my hometown San Diego, but Sword of Fire and Sea by Erin Hoffman just didn’t have what it takes to keep me reading past the midway point — and even making it that far was a struggle.

If anything, Read More

Small Persons With Wings: Did Not Finish

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Small Persons With Wings by Ellen Booraem

Mellie Turpin has been suffering for her entire school career. Not only has she always been teased about being overweight, but she made the mistake of promising her kindergarten class that she’d bring in Fidius, her fairy friend, for show-and-tell. When Fidius disappeared the night before show-and-tell, Mellie was declared a liar and earned the sticky nickname “Fairy Fat.”

Now that she’s thirteen, Mellie has learned to suppress her imagination, but she’s still smart and overweight and she’s still being bullied and ostracized at school. She dreams of the day when she’ll be a famous scientist while the popular pretty girls who tease her will be the nobodies. When Mellie’s grandfather dies and her family moves to Baker’s Village to fix up the inn they’ve inherited, Mellie is happy to be starting a new life. But she never imagined... Read More