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Fisher of Bones: Half-baked prophetess for half-mutinous followers

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Fisher of Bones by Sarah Gailey

Sarah Gailey’s novella Fisher of Bones (2017) is a bewildering revision of the Talmud/Old Testament Exodus story with the “Moses” role cast as a prophetess dubbed Fisher (formerly Ducky).

Fisher assumes the prophetess mantle only on her father’s deathbed when the patriarch prophet lays his hands upon her in a would-be ordination and declares her an outcast, “forever banished from [her] people.” And in the next breath commands her to lead the same. I never could get over this contradiction. This kind of launching and halting, lurching and jolting is characteristic of the entire story’s progression and it is not a device that works.

The story’s principle tension involves threats to Fisher’s authority as the pro... Read More

The Suffering Tree: Witchcraft in the United States

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The Suffering Tree by Elle Cosimano

When Tori Burns’ family is contacted shortly after her father’s death about a house and some land that was left to them in Chaptico, Maryland, they are suddenly moving into a century home. So begins the uncovering of the mysterious circumstances that lead to Tori’s family owning a small parcel of land on the historic Slaughter farm. The move kicks off many unexplainable happenings that seem to all come back to a witch’s curse from 300 years ago. Elle Cosimano strives to connect the present of the Slaughter land with a darker past, with little success overall.

The Suffering Tree (2017) is one part historical fantasy, one part adolescent romance, and two parts mystery. Tori is a teen navigating a new community, the grief of losing her father, and her personal demons. Often when Tori gets overwhelmed with ... Read More

Forever Peace: Wildly implausible and poorly written

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Forever Peace by Joe Haldeman

For the life of me, I can’t understand why Forever Peace won the Hugo, Nebula, John W. Campbell Memorial Awards for Best science fiction novel in 1998. Certainly Joe Haldeman’s earlier 1975 The Forever War is a beloved science fiction classic that deals with the Vietnam War, time paradoxes, and the absurdity of endless conflict. First off, Forever Peace is not a direct sequel, and is hardly related other than sharing a military science fiction theme. Even that connection is tenuous, so I can only think the publisher intended to sell more copies by linking them. It creates unfair comparisons, as this book should be judged solely on its own merits (or lack of). I though this book was pretty bad, but the only way for ... Read More

Up the Line: Fornicating in ancient Byzantium — shameless time travel porn

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Up the Line by Robert Silverberg

Robert Silverberg was clearly a big fan of sex back in the late 1960s, and I’m sure he wasn’t the only one. But in Up the Line, he absolutely revels in it. He doesn’t miss a chance for his (all male) characters to fornicate with women at every possible opportunity both in the future and the past, in dozens of exotic time periods in Byzantium, Constantinople, Rome, etc. The act may be as old as time, but that doesn’t stop Time Courier Judd Elliot from trying to bed his great-great-great grandmother Pulcharia with a lusty enthusiasm and complete disregard for all social taboos that have existed for millennia. Sure, it’s generally a serious no-no in society to screw your ancestors, but when she is as saucy a sex-kitten as Pulcharia, well who ... Read More

Unnatural Issue: Great premise executed poorly

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Unnatural Issue by Mercedes Lackey

All of Mercedes Lackey’s ELEMENTAL MASTERS novels are stand-alone retellings of fairy tales from around the world. Unnatural Issue (2011) is Lackey’s adaption of Charles Perrault’s “Donkeyskin,” a more obscure French tale from 1695 about a king who wanted to marry his daughter. In Lackey’s version, this king is an Earth Mage named Richard Whitestone, a country squire who was devastated by his beautiful wife’s death 20 years ago. When his daughter Suzanne, who he’s never met, grows up to look just like his wife, Whitestone notices her and decides to use necromantic arts to have his wife’s spirit displace his daughter’s in Susanne’s body. Fortunately, Suzanne has some powers of her own because she’s been trained as an Earth Mage... Read More

Finches of Mars: Flat, boring characters and narrative

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Finches of Mars by Brian W. Aldiss

It was with mixed feelings that I picked up Finches of Mars by Brian W. Aldiss. On the one hand, I had fond memories of being introduced to his short stories via my father's book collection. And fond memories too of reading, much later, his HELLICONIA series and his history of science fiction. On the other hand, I'd read that Finches of Mars was to be his "last novel," and I've had some poor luck with those in the past. Unfortunately, that bad luck held true and though it pains me to write, given the circumstances, Finches of Mars was one of the worst reads I've had in a while. As usual in these cases, this will therefore be a relatively brief review.

The novel is set ... Read More

Outlander: Verra, verra dull

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Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

When a novel has as much buzz surrounding it as Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander (New York Times #1 Bestseller! Published in 40 countries!) it’s impossible not to approach it without certain expectations. What’s more, a new TV show based on the book has recently been developed, and is touted to be the next Game of Thrones. All of which had me asking the question: are we talking about the same book here?

Outlander opens in Inverness, 1946, just after World War II. Claire Randall is a British Army nurse and is currently on a second honeymoon in Scotland with her husband Frank. On a walk to collect plants (she’s particularly interested in their medicinal properties) she encounters a circle of huge standing stones – think Stonehenge, but in the Scottish Highlands. T... Read More

Prince of Chaos: It’s over!

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Prince of Chaos by Roger Zelazny

Prince of Chaos is the final (hooray) novel in Roger Zelazny’s AMBER CHRONICLES. I really liked the first five AMBER books. These are often referred to as the Corwin Cycle because they detail events that happened to Corwin, one of the nine princes in the “real” world of Amber (our world is just a Shadow world that they visit). The remaining five books are called the Merlin Cycle because their protagonist is Merlin, son of Corwin. The last of these, Prince of Chaos, was published in 1991, 21 years after the first AMBER book, Nine Princes in Amber, and just a few years before Zelazny’s death at age 58 in 1995.

Merlin has just found out that he is t... Read More

On the Oceans of Eternity: A disappointing finale

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On the Oceans of Eternity by S.M. Stirling

On the Oceans of Eternity is the final novel in S.M. Stirling’s NANTUCKET series. In the first novel, Island in the Sea of Time, which I really enjoyed, a strange electrical storm caused the entire island of Nantucket to be transported back in time to 1300 B.C. It was entertaining to watch the island’s citizens make this discovery and deal with the resulting personal, cultural, economic and political changes. Then, one of the citizens, William Walker, decided to use his modern knowledge and technology to attempt to establish himself as emperor in this “new” world. He left the island to search for people he could rule.

The second book, Against the Tide of Years, felt very much like a middle book. We watched the islanders trying to usher in an in... Read More

Hellhole: A major disappointment. Not recommended.

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Hellhole by Kevin J. Anderson & Brian Herbert

After a failed rebellion against the corrupt regime of the Constellation (an interstellar empire that spans dozens of worlds) General Tiber Adolphus is exiled to the newly colonized and extremely hostile planet of Hallholme. Because of the harsh conditions of this world, it is quickly awarded a nickname: Hellhole. His rebellion may have failed, but Adolphus still commands the loyalty of much of the population. Despite attempts by the ruler of the Constellation, Diadem Michella Duchenet, to make sure his attempt to settle Hallholme fails, he survives the first years there. Now, more than a decade later, Adolphus is at the point where he once again has the support and resources to undertake action against the tyrant Duchenet. And this time he means to succeed.

Hellhole is without a doubt, one of the worst books I... Read More

The Gripping Hand: Boring sequel

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The Gripping Hand by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle

The Gripping Hand (1993) is Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle’s sequel to their popular 1974 novel The Mote in God’s Eye, which you probably want to read first. This review will have a couple of spoilers for The Mote in God’s Eye.

Recall that by the year 3017 AD, humans had designed the Alderson Drive — an interstellar transporter which allowed them to jump out of our galaxy to colonize different star systems. Then they discovered the first alien species — the Moties — who were excellent engineers but did not know the science behind the Alderson Drive. The Moties must breed to survive and were quickly overpopulating their own star system. Because they represent a major th... Read More

The Flight of the Silvers: Did Not Finish

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The Flight of the Silvers by Daniel Price

Daniel Price’s The Flight of the Silvers is a 600-page story about a half-dozen people who are pulled from the end of the world into an alternate Earth, where they become the subjects of scientific scrutiny, partially for their origin stories and partially because each evinces a “weirdness” — some sort of power involving the manipulation of time. When their laboratory residence is attacked by a group who fear these “breachers” will cause the end of their own world, the “Silvers” take off on a cross-country trek seeking answers in a possible sanctuary, a refuge they heard of via the future self of one of them.

The premise is an interesting one and certainly beginning with the literal end of a world is a pretty wild opening. But then, to be honest, once the pace goes downhill a bit (it is u... Read More

Yesterday’s Kin: Tries to do more than it actually does

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Yesterday’s Kin by Nancy Kress

Yesterday’s Kin, by Hugo and Nebula award winning author Nancy Kress, is a first-contact story set in a not so distant dystopian future. We follow Marianne Jenner, a geneticist who is celebrating a recent career breakthrough — the discovery that all human beings are descended from a common female ancestor — when she is unexpectedly called to a meeting set up by the secretive aliens that have landed recently in New York Harbor. Not understanding why, of all people, the aliens have asked her to be part of the first visiting committee to speak with the aliens, she quickly discovers that there is a surprising link between the aliens and her recent discovery.

That link, however, is secondary to why the aliens have chosen to allow, for the very first time, people to visit their base. There is an incoming interstellar spore clo... Read More

The Sweet Far Thing: A messy ending

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The Sweet Far Thing by Libba Bray

The Sweet Far Thing is the final book in Libba Bray’s GEMMA DOYLE trilogy about four girls at a boarding school in Victorian England. Gemma has inherited a magic that allows her to cross over to the Realms, the fantasy world that’s the source of her magic. She and her friends Felicity, Pippa, and Ann have been trying to keep the magic safe from people who might use it to unleash horrors upon the real world, yet Gemma has promised to share the magic with the people who have helped her so far. In this book she must figure out how to do both of those things at the same time.

As The Sweet Far Thing begins, Gemma and Felicity are getting ready to finish school and enter genteel society where eventually they’ll be expected to take on the roles of wives and mothers. Ann will suffer a wor... Read More

Direct Descent: Frank Herbert’s worst novel

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Direct Descent by Frank Herbert

Direct Descent (1980) is by a fair margin the weakest novel by Frank Herbert I've read.

In the far future the whole of Earth's interior has been taken up by a gigantic library. Ships travel the known universe to collect information about just about everything and bring it back to Earth to archive it and make it available to the entire galaxy. The first and foremost rule of this organization is always obey the government whomever that may be — a rule meant to underline the library’s strict neutrality. But what if the government sends its warships at you? How can you defend yourself armed with archives full of useless knowledge and a policy of strict obedience?

Direct Descent is expanded from the short story “The Pack Rat Planet,” which first appeared in Astounding in Decembe... Read More

Steadfast: More like Stead-slow

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Steadfast by Mercedes Lackey

Steadfast by Mercedes Lackey is another fairy-tale retelling from her ELEMENTAL MASTERS series. It recasts Hans Christian Andersen’s story of the Steadfast Tin Soldier.

Katie Langford is a circus acrobat on the run. She flees to Brighton and ends up as a dancer and magician’s assistant for a small theatre. Lionel Hawkins, the magician she works for, is an elemental magician; he and his good friend Jack, the one-legged doorman of the theater, soon see that Katie also has undiscovered magical abilities. They train her in these abilities while trying to help her escape the Big Bad that is coming for her —her angry, abusive husband, Dick, who happens to be the circus strongman.

I listened to Steadfast read by Carmela Corbett, and I liked this novel okay at the beginning. The... Read More

The House of the Four Winds: Shoddy plot and no romance

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The House of the Four Winds by Mercedes Lackey & James Mallory

Do you ever read a book and wonder how it got published? Or read an established author and think, "Don’t they understand basic storytelling?"

The House of the Four Winds, by Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory, starts innocently enough. Princess Clarice of the Duchy of Swansgaarde must go out and seek her fortune because she has eleven sisters and a brother, and the Duchy cannot support twelve royal dowries. Clarice is a master sword fighter and intends to make her living as an instructor. First, however, she seeks adventure on a merchant ship, disguised as a man named Clarence. The ship is captained by an evil lout, Captain Sprunt, but Clarice/Clarence falls in love with one of the ship's officers, Dominick. After the crew mutinies against the wicked Sprunt, they set sail for an unknown destinat... Read More

Beauty Awakened: Did Not Finish

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Beauty Awakened by Gena Showalter

I’d never read any of Gena Showalter’s books before trying Beauty Awakened, but I’d gotten the idea they were fun reads. Unfortunately, I did not have fun with Beauty Awakened — in fact, it made me angry — and I abandoned the book partway through.

The setup is that Koldo, a physically and emotionally scarred dark-angel type, and Nicola, a self-sacrificing young woman with a heart condition and a dying twin sister, meet and eventually fall in love. But Showalter made Koldo so insufferable that I couldn’t root for them as a couple. At one point, he performs a miraculous task and Nicola asks him what he is, to have this ability. He berates her for not doing research. The woman is working two jobs and her sister is in the hospital! She explains, but he keeps lecturing her about priorities and ex... Read More

The Long War: Searching the High Meggers for a plot

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The Long War by Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter

The Long War, the second installment in Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter’s five-book LONG EARTH series, is more tedious than the first one, probably because I have already seen the inside of their bag of tricks and I am no longer impressed.

This sequel happens about 12 years after the events of The Long Earth. Joshua, now married and with a son, has been summoned by his old friend, Lobsang (the AI reincarnation of a Tibetan motorcycle repairman) to go on another journey through the Long Earth, all the way up into the High Meggers, the worlds over a million “steps” from Datum Earth.

The Long War also follows a lot of other characters, some from the first novel and some just introduced, on un- or loosely-connected journeys of their own. For instance, the US Navy Commander Magg... Read More

Time Enough For Love: For masochists only

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Time Enough for Love by Robert A. Heinlein

You’d think I’d learn, but no, I just keep torturing myself with Heinlein’s adult novels. That’s because when I was a kid, Heinlein was one of my favorite authors, so I still think of him that way. I know it’s not that my tastes have changed because I still love those books I read as a kid. The problem is that many of the books he wrote for his adult audiences, especially those he wrote in his later years, are just horrid. And Time Enough for Love (1973), even though it’s a classic, is one of these. It’s everything I hate about Heinlein’s later novels. In fact, if I had to sum it up in one word, I’d say “YUCK!”

Time Enough for Love is the last of Heinlein’s novels about Lazarus Long. In fact, the full title is Time Enough for Love: The Lives of Lazarus Long. Lazarus is 2000 years old. He feel... Read More

Chosen: So many problems

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Chosen by P.C. and Kristin Cast

Chosen is the third book in the HOUSE OF NIGHT young adult paranormal romance series by P.C. and Kristin Cast. Don’t start here if you haven’t yet read Marked and Betrayed. But, actually, I don’t recommend that you start anywhere unless your tastes run completely contrary to mine (which is, of course, quite possible and utterly understandable). I got the series on audio from Audible and my library and at this point, frankly, I’m just reading them so I can get them reviewed for FanLit. I’m not enjoying them. So, let me just tell you why and you can perhaps determine whether you’ll feel differently. Obviously, many people do because HOUSE OF NIGHT is popular with the YA demographic.

Okay, so in this installment, Zoey has figured out that her mentor Neferet is actually her nemesis while Aphrodite,... Read More

The Sandcats of Rhyl: Possibly the worst novel I’ve ever read

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The Sandcats of Rhyl by Robert E. Vardeman

The Sandcats of Rhyl, Robert E. Vardeman’s first novel, is possibly the worst novel I’ve ever read. It is bad in every sense — so bad that I wondered if it might be a parody of bad science fiction. Apparently it’s not a parody; it’s just simply bad.

So how did I end up with this awful book? It was one of those daily ebook deals at Amazon. I think I paid 99¢ and then added the audio narration for 99¢ more. Before I bought it I checked the star ratings at Amazon just to make sure it wasn’t something everyone hates. Well, according to the average rating at Amazon (4.5 stars at this moment), readers love The Sandcats of Rhyl. So, a 4.5 star ebook and audiobook for $1.98? A no-brainer, right? I bought it. What I realize now is that I looked at the average rating but didn’t bother to read Read More

Extinction: Did Not Finish

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Extinction by B.V. Larson

Extinction is the second novel in B.V. Larson’s STAR FORCE series about professor Kyle Riggs who was picked up by an alien spaceship and now captains a fleet of ships that are protecting earth from other aliens. I called the first book, Swarm, “a silly, but exciting, male wish-fulfillment fantasy.” I wouldn’t have moved on to book two, but the audiobook publisher sent it to me for a review, so here we are.

Extinction takes place soon after the events of Swarm. Kyle has made a deal with the bad aliens. He promised that if they’d leave the Earth alone, he’d supply them with trained troops to help them fight their other battles around the universe. He needs to get those troops ready before the aliens come to collect. He also needs to figure o... Read More

Dead Man Rising: Unpleasant in every way

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Dead Man Rising by Lilith Saintcrow

Dead Man Rising is the second book in Lilith Saintcrow’s DANTE VALENTINE series. Dante, a freelance necromance, has lived through her first assignment for the devil. (She didn’t want to work for him, but the devil can be very persuasive.) Now Dante’s brooding because her demon lover is dead and she’s just had a nasty surprise about her own heritage. When her friend Gabe, the police investigator, calls to tell her that her old school friends are being brutally murdered, Dante, with the help of her ex-boyfriend Jace, sets out to solve the crimes. Thus not only does Dante have to deal with her current grief, but she has to face her horrible past, too.

I didn’t like the first DANTE VALENTINE book, Working for the Devil (reviewed here), but ... Read More

Beyond the Highland Mist: Everything I hate about romance novels

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Beyond the Highland Mist by Karen Marie Moning

Modern Seattle: Ravishingly gorgeous Adrienne de Simone (whose every body part is “perfect,” though she doesn’t know that) hates beautiful men because she just had a bad experience with the gorgeous man who was her fiancé. Never! Never again!
Medieval Scotland: Sidheach James Lyon Douglas, otherwise known as “the Hawk” (even his mother calls him that) or “the King’s Whore,” is the hottest laird on the Highlands, but he’s never met a woman he could love. Every one of his body parts is “perfect” and he knows it.
The Fairy Court: When the fae start to meddle with Adrienne and the Hawk, mischief ensues. Hawk falls in love with Adrienne and she, despite the promises to herself, starts to wond... Read More