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A Phule And His Money: Lacks the appealing qualities of the previous books

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A Phule And His Money by Robert Asprin

The first two books in Robert Asprin’s PHULE’S COMPANY series, Phule’s Company and Phule’s Paradise, were fairly amusing and worth my time, especially in the audio formats that have been recently produced by Tantor Audio. However, this third book, A Phule And His Money, which was co-written with Peter J. Heck, was sadly lacking in the qualities that made the previous novels so much fun.

The story begins immediately after the events of Phule’s Paradise. The gang has just saved the Fat Chance... Read More

A Closed and Common Orbit: A popular Hugo nominee that bored me

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A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers

Warning: This review will contain a spoiler for the previous novel, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. It’s really impossible to talk about A Closed and Common Orbit without this spoiler. However, you don’t need to read The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet before reading A Closed and Common Orbit since this sequel focuses on two minor characters from the first book.

Becky Chambers’ debut novel The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet is immensely popular but I didn’t like it. As I explained in Read More

Blood of Innocents & A Shattered Empire: Execution fades as the story continues

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Blood of Innocents A Shattered Empire by Mitchell Hogan

Since I read the last two books, Blood of Innocents and A Shattered Empire, in Mitchell Hogan’s SORCERY ASCENDANT series one upon the other, I’m just going to review them together. There may be minor spoilers for book two (you’ll know which characters survive for instance), but I’ll avoid major spoilers. The takeaway is that the series disappoints in its conclusion, making it one I can’t recommend starting, and so as usual with my negative reviews, this will be relatively brief.

The narrative picks up where A Crucible of Souls ended. Caldan is on the run from Anasoma’s invasion with a group of allies (inc... Read More

Sin City (Vol. 5): Family Values by Frank Miller

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Sin City (Vol. 5): Family Values by Frank Miller

Family Values is the fifth volume in Frank Miller’s SIN CITY series, and its a serious stinker. Until now, the first four volumes have been consistently well-drawn, distinctive, hard-boiled, and fun in a mean-spirited way. I came in expecting more of that, and was shocked to see almost from the first panels an unmistakable drop in the quality of the artwork, dialogue, and story. Miller is still using his tried-and-true black-and-white palette, but all the details are sketched in whereas before they were precise and clean. He uses ink splashes to indicate rain, which look... Read More

Obsidian: A derivative YA paranormal romance with a hot, super-powered jerk

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Obsidian by Jennifer L. Armentrout 

Jennifer L. Armentrout’s Obsidian is one of a slew of young adult paranormal romances that were published in the aftermath of the runaway success of Twilight. The plot, therefore, will sound familiar, though some of the details are different: a teenage girl, Katy Swartz, moves to a small town in West Virginia with her widowed mother to make a new start. Katy is a 4.0 GPA student and book review blogger who’s never caused her family trouble and considers herself a reserved and practical girl. Trying to meet new friends, she drops by the house next door and is confronted with a naked, well-muscled chest attached to an unbelievably handsome but annoyed boy her age, Daemon Black, with eyes “so green and brilliant th... Read More

Libellus de Numeros: An admirable goal, but execution doesn’t deliver

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Libellus de Numeros by Jim West

Libellus de Numeros by Jim West is a self-published well-intentioned earnest debut middle-grade novel that reads, well, like a self-published well-intentioned earnest debut middle-grade novel. One certainly can’t quibble with its goal, presenting young readers — especially girls — with an engaging fantasy tale that incorporates math into its plot so that the audience might become more interested in mathematics, as well as believe that they too can “do” math (and that they can also be the hero of their own lives). Unfortunately, good intentions do not a well-crafted book make, and though it pains me to say, while Libellus de Numeros might be engaging enough for very young audiences, there are so many more better written novels out there that it’s difficult to recommend.

The plo... Read More

The Scorch Trials: A weak follow-up to a not-so-strong first book

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The Scorch Trials by James Dashner

I wasn’t a huge fan of The Maze Runner by James Dashner, thinking its frenetic pace was as much weakness as strength and that its characterization was pretty thin (plus there was the whole “let’s not have anyone talk to each other or explain things” pet peeve of mine). I admit, however, that it probably would meet the needs of a particular reader — one who likes fast paced action that blows by any annoying plot holes and who isn’t particularly looking for a lot of in-depth characterization. That same sort of reader will probably find the sequel, The Scorch Trials, just as satisfying, though again, for my own tastes, it falls mostly short of being a good book. It’s going to be impossible to discuss Th... Read More

From a High Tower: Rapunzel as Annie Oakley

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From a High Tower by Mercedes Lackey

The most recent addition to Mercedes Lackey’s ELEMENTAL MASTERS series of stand-alone retold fairy tales is a version of Rapunzel set in the Black Forest of Germany. Giselle (Rapunzel) is the natural daughter of a poor man who made a desperate deal that required him to give Giselle to a witch when she was born. The witch was an Earth Master who raises Giselle (who turns out to be an Air Master) as her own daughter. One day, when Giselle is locked in her tower bedroom while her mother is out of town, she lets a handsome man climb up her fast-growing golden hair. This turns out badly.

At this point the story loses its Rapunzelness as Giselle becomes a sharpshooter and decides to join Captain Cody’s traveling Wild West Show as an Annie Oakley type character. Since the show is touring Central Europe, Rosamund (the Red... Read More

Knight of Shadows: I don’t care anymore

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Knight of Shadows by Roger Zelazny

The usual spoiler warning: This review will contain spoilers for the previous novels.

This penultimate novel in Roger Zelazny’s famous AMBER CHRONICLES is a mercifully short continuation of the lackluster drama that this series has become since the POV changed from Corwin to his son Merlin.

The story opens after Merlin is fighting a sorcerer named Mask and realizes that Mask is actually his dead girlfriend, Julia. I have to admit that I was surprised at this, though I shouldn’t have been. I fully expected we’d be seeing Julia again, since nobody ever seems to stay dead in this series, but I guess I figured she’d be female when we saw her again. But, Zelazny seems to break all the rules in this story, so I shouldn’t have ... Read More

Sign of Chaos: A really bad soap opera

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Sign of Chaos by Roger Zelazny

Note: You must read the previous seven AMBER CHRONICLES before picking this one up. Expect spoilers for those previous books in this review.

Sign of Chaos (1987) is book eight in Roger Zelazny’s ten-book AMBER CHRONICLES. It starts right where book seven, Blood of Amber, ended: with Merlin and his frenemy Luke in the midst of an LSD drug trip that has conjured up the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. (Zelazny delights in literary allusions. Expect plenty of Lewis Carroll, Shakespeare, Kuttner & Moore, as well as Arthurian legend and Celtic mythology.)

When Merlin finally escapes Wonderland, he is once again plunged into the political and personal machinations of his extended family, including step-brothers and half-brothers, a couple of bastards, and some peop... Read More

A Case of Conscience: A Catholic priest faces aliens with morality but no religion

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A Case of Conscience by James Blish

Great A-side, dreadful B-side. A Case of Conscience is James Blish’s 1959 Hugo-winning SF novel, expanded from the1953 novella. Part One (the original novella) is set on planet Lithia, introducing a race of reptilians with a perfect, strife-free society and innate sense of morality. However, to the consternation of Father Ramon Ruiz-Sanchez, they have no religion of any kind. Their morality is inherent, and they have no need of a religious framework to direct their actions.

As a Catholic, Ruiz-Sanchez cannot make heads or tails of this. Without religion, do the Lithians have souls? If so, are they fallen into sin like humans, or still in a state of grace like Adam and Eve? He struggles with this conundrum, as well as the purpose of the expedition to Lithia, which is to determine whether the planet should be ... Read More

Low Volume 1: The Delirium of Hope (Issues #1-6)

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Low Volume 1: The Delirium of Hope by Rick Remender (author) & Greg Tocchini (artist)

Low Volume 1: The Delirium of Hope
, written by Rick Remender and drawn by Greg Tocchini has an intriguing concept whereby in our far, far future (it’s actually the deep past relative to the characters in the story) humanity has fled our burgeoning sun by setting up cities in the depths of the oceans, where they await the news from space probes sent out to seek inhabitable planets. Unfortunately, by the time of the storyline, no probes have returned, the air in what appears to be the only remaining city is turning toxic, and its citizens have turned to a nihilistic, hedonistic lifestyle of sex, drugs, and violence as a means of “dealing” with their impending doom.

The story focuses on a single family whose DNA allows them to work an i... Read More

The Glass Arrow: Shallow world-building, sloppy characterization

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The Glass Arrow by Kristen Simmons

I was about as close to a Did Not Finish with Kristen Simmons’ The Glass Arrow as I can get without putting a book down, so you can tell already where this review is going to end up.  As usual in these situations, preferring not to belabor the point with regard to what I consider a bad book, I’ll keep this review relatively brief.

Simmons sets her story in a world where women are treated as breeding cattle, basically. They’re bought and sold at auction, painted and sculpted and costumed. Their numbers are carefully managed by census and “reduction when needed,” and those who live in the wild are hunted by Trackers and brought back to the city because these “wild... Read More

Shakespeare in Hell: Should not have been published in its present form

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Shakespeare in Hell by Amy Sterling Casil

Shakespeare in Hell is an intriguing title. Think of all it can conjure up - allusions to Milton and Dante, who both had more luck finding stories in the darker realms of the afterlife, and with the villains of their pieces, than with an antiseptic realm of winged creatures playing harps, come to mind; one can imagine Shakespeare choosing Hell as a better stage for his plays and poetry. Or perhaps Shakespeare sinned with his Dark Lady, landing him in eternal flame. Or — well, the possibilities seem endless.

But Amy Sterling Casil has not taken full advantage of the myriad plotlines available to her. We are given no moral structure for this Hell, and no hint of a Deity meting out punishments and rewards. We never do learn precisely why Shakespeare is in Hell, though it does appear to have something to ... Read More

Murder of Crows: Worse than the first book

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Murder of Crows by Anne Bishop

Meg Corbyn, a blood prophet, has finally found a place to belong — among the ferocious shapeshifters called the Others. They love and protect Meg from the man who still hunts her. Meg’s prophetic abilities seem to be getting stronger and she is able to foresee violent interactions between the humans and the Others. Meanwhile Monty, a cop, is trying to defuse tensions before war breaks out.

I didn’t much like Written in Red, the first book in Anne Bishop’s THE OTHERS series. As I explained in my review, Meg is one of the dullest people I’ve ever read about. The only thing that makes her interesting is her addiction to cutting herself, but this is so unpleasant that, rather than making me feel sympathetic for Meg, I just feel revolted. I also didn’t believe in Bishop... Read More

Expiration Day: Give it a pass

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Expiration Day by William Campbell Powell

Expiration Day, by William Campbell Powell, was a book I almost didn’t bother finishing and only ended up doing so because of that added sense of obligation of having received it for free to review. Had I picked it up on my own, I almost certainly would have dropped it somewhere about halfway in. As usual, in these cases, this will be a relatively short review so as not to belabor the issue.

In 2049, humanity has all but died out and is racing to find a cure to this plague of infertility that has been around for some while now. Meanwhile, to give the race hope and meet the parenting instinct, “teknoids” (sophisticated androids) can be rented by couples to be brought up as their own child, with regularly scheduled “revisions” to mirror the physical development due to aging. Everyone knows this happens, but it’s considered ill manners... Read More

Six Heirs: Give it a pass

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Six Heirs by Pierre Grimbert

Six Heirs, the first book in the SECRET OF JI series by Pierre Grimbert, was originally published some years ago in the author’s native French. Sadly, it does not import well, though some of the flaws may be due to translation issues rather than authorial ones.

The novel opens with a captivating story of how several generations ago an enigmatic stranger (is there any other kind?) led a group of emissaries from most of the nations of the Known World to the island of Ji, where they simply vanished. When they eventually returned as mysteriously as they had disappeared, some had died, many were wounded, and none would speak of what they had been shown or where they had been. Over time, the survivors began to gather regularly every other year and share their secret with select “heirs” so that knowledge of the mysterious event wouldn’t di... Read More

The Sagan Diary: Not convincing

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The Sagan Diary by John Scalzi

The Sagan Diary was a prize and an experiment. As John Scalzi explains in the introduction, this novelette was written for Bill Schafer, editor of Subterranean Press, who won it in a charity auction. Schafer wanted a story set in Scalzi’s popular OLD MAN’S WAR universe. Scalzi wanted to challenge himself, so he decided to attempt a woman’s internal monologue. Fans will immediately realize from the title of the book that the woman is Captain Jane Sagan, a cyborg who features prominently in OLD MAN’S WAR. Scalzi has said that he originally wrote this story in free verse (which I did not know before I read it). The Sagan Diary is available for free in audio format on Scalzi... Read More

Live Free or Die: I wouldn’t pay for this

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Live Free or Die by John Ringo

Humans were alarmed when the first aliens that arrived to introduce themselves to Earth set up a hypergate that immediately connected Earth with all the outside universe. We were no longer alone. At least the Glatun were friendly aliens.

Tyler Vernon, a smart hard-working guy who chops wood for a living, decides to take this opportunity to improve his fortune. He finds a product that our new alien friends love and begins a business empire. Soon he’s the richest man on Earth, and that means he’s got a lot of influence on how things get done. When another alien race, the Horvath, come through the gate, declare themselves Earth’s “protectors” and start demanding tribute, Tyler is the only human who seems ready to take them on.

Live Free or Die, the first in John Ringo’s TROY RISING series, starts strong. Tyler is, at first, ... Read More

Triton: The Trouble with Triton; its main character, for starters

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Triton by Samuel R. Delany

Samuel R. Delaney wrote Triton in 1974, but it was published in 1976, after his best-seller Dhalgren. Delany’s subtitle for this book was “An Amorphous Heterotopia,” and he stated at the time that the book was inspired by (or a response to) Ursula LeGuin’s “ambiguous utopia” The Dispossessed. Oh, how I wish that I had re-read that book instead of picking up this one.

Delany is a brilliant observer of humanity. I like what I have read of his memoirs and essays. I enjoyed The Fall of the Towers and Read More

Hunter’s Prayer: What’s the point?

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Hunter’s Prayer by Lilith Saintcrow

“I am not a nice person” — Jill Kismet

Jill Kismet is a Hunter — she keeps her city safe by tracking and destroying the creatures of the Nightside — those things that come out of hell to prey on humans. The cops call on Jill when there’s a crime that seems to involve paranormal beings. Jill takes care of it while the cops cover it up. Jill’s a badass — she can beat up anybody — but she also has some special powers of sorcery and healing which she got by making a bargain with a hellspawn named Perry. Perry keeps Jill alive and in return she gives him two hours of her “time” each month.

In Night Shift, the first book in Lilith Saintcrow’s JILL KISMET series (reviewed by Robert), we met all the main characters, but you don’t rea... Read More

Planet of the Damned: Cheesy, pulpy, boring

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Planet of the Damned by Harry Harrison

Brion Brandd has just become the champion of his planet by defeating all the other contestants in “The Twenties.” Many men train all their lives for a chance to be the winner and Brion is ready to savor his victory. But not so fast! When a former winner challenges Brion to do something truly meaningful and heroic with his life, Brion sets off to save the planet Dis from a war that will surely destroy the entire planet. Dis has a hostile environment that nearly kills Brion before he even gets to meet the natives. Then he needs to figure out how the planet and the species that have evolved on it work together so he can solve their political problems.

Since this is a story written by Harry Harrison, there must also be a hot chick for Brion to save and fall in love with. My eyebrows rose when I found out that the girl in Planet of the Damned is Dr... Read More

Technomancer: Doesn’t fulfill my criteria for good entertainment

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Technomancer by B.V. Larson

When Quentin Draith wakes up in a bed in a private hospital he has no idea how he got there or even who he is. He does realize, though, that he’s being drugged and, therefore, somebody must be trying to control him. After he manages to escape, he learns that he lives in Las Vegas and blogs about supernatural events. And there’s a lot of weird stuff going on in Las Vegas these days.

Quentin soon discovers that the world contains an assortment of powerful magical objects and that he’s a rogue member of a community of people who are trying to collect them. These objects have something to do with the mysterious Grey Men who keep popping out of rips in space and gruesomely killing Quentin’s new friends. When Quentin meets a pretty young bride whose husband has just disappeared into a rip, he feels protective and wants to save her from the Grey Men. Eventually he develo... Read More

Messenger: Whaaaa?

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Messenger by Lois Lowry

The book flap describes Messenger by Lois Lowry thusly: “For the past six years, Matty has lived in Village and flourished under the guidance of Seer, a blind man, known for his special sight. Village was a place that welcomed newcomers, but something sinister has seeped into Village and the people have voted to close it to outsiders. Matty has been invaluable as a messenger. Now he must make one last journey through the treacherous forest with his only weapon, a power he unexpectedly discovers within himself.” Do you want to know why I used the book flap description for the first time ever? Because I don’t trust myself not to get all snarktastic just describing the book.

Warning: Review is going to be snarktastic.

Okay, I freely admit I am getting more and more irritated by this series as I go furthe... Read More

The Awakening: Lacks anything special

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Magelord: The Awakening by Thomas K. Martin

It is interesting to read older fantasy novels and see how the genre has grown and evolved. Thomas K. Martin published Magelord: The Awakening in 1997, and it feels dated.

Bjorn Rolfsson is a young hedge-wizard. In a time when people who can use magic are hunted down and burned alive, he and his father are part of a hidden, secretive group, called a Circle, who teach each other to use magic. I felt like I was reading about early Christians under the Roman Empire, where being exposed was a sure death. There are many different groups who have been persecuted like this throughout history, but that was what jumped into my mind.

Gavin is the son of the King of Ryykvid and a decent enough guy. He is trying to do what is right, but he has a problem: one of the Magelords, the former rulers of th... Read More