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The Seedbearers: Virtually unreadable

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The Seedbearers by Peter Valentine Timlett

The 1970’s were the heyday of the “sword and sorcery” boom that started a decade earlier with the publication of pulp fantasy adventure writer Robert E. Howard’s CONAN stories by Lancer Books. The popularity of Howard’s newly rediscovered (at least to young fantasy readers such as myself at the time) work, coupled with the earlier surge of interest in fantasy spearheaded by the mass market paperback editions of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and THE LORD OF THE RINGS published by Ballantine Books, led to a decade where mass market paperback fantasy books could be found almost anywhere: grocery stores, newsstands, and of course bookstores. The ... Read More

Keeping it Real: Painful to finish

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Keeping it Real by Justina Robson

Lila Black is a high-price cyborg special agent. She used to be a regular human, but after a disastrous encounter with someone from a parallel realm, she nearly died. Then she was rebuilt, at huge expense, and is now being sent by her government intelligence agency to be the bodyguard of Zal, an Elfin rockstar who has received some threatening letters. Things get complicated when Zal and Lila become involved in Elfin politics.

Justina Robson’s Keeping It Real has an intriguing premise: a nuclear bomb explosion in 2015 opened up the fabric of the universe and made five parallel worlds accessible to each other. Until then, humans had thought that elves, elementals, and demons were the stuff of fantasy novels, but now they must figure out how to live at peace with all these other species, not to mention the magic they wield. Read More

The Land of Painted Caves: Disappointing

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The Land of Painted Caves by Jean M. Auel

The Land of Painted Caves is the sixth and final volume in Jean M. Auel's EARTH'S CHILDREN series. It has taken her more than three decades to complete the series. The previous volume, The Shelters of Stone, appeared in 2002. Auel has sold millions of books in the past thirty years, and The Land of Painted Caves was definitely one of the big releases of 2011. The publisher even pushed back the publication date so that it could be released in a number of different languages at the same time. Although her first novel, The Clan of the Cave Bear, is highly regarded, the rest of the series is not as well thought of. And with reason: Ayla's story is taken far beyond what could be considered realistic, with human technologi... Read More

The Shape of Desire: Big disappointment

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The Shape of Desire by Sharon Shinn

Maria is madly in love with Dante. It doesn't matter that he is a shapeshifter, spending longer and longer periods away from her in animal form. Maria's motto is "you can't choose who you love," and she loves Dante, regardless of the increasingly brief moments of time they can spend together as humans. But when mysterious animal attacks start claiming lives close to home, does her love for Dante put her own life at risk?

Oh my holy hand grenades barf.

I love Sharon Shinn. Her Samaria books are some of my favorites, and I thought Troubled Waters was fantastic. She always has a heavy element of romance in her books, but her world-building is so intricate and her characters so well-realized that it has never been a problem. So I went ahead and bought this book without really lookin... Read More

Guenevere: Queen of the Summer Country: Not a sucess

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Guenevere: Queen of the Summer Country by Rosalind Miles

The literary world is crammed full of books surrounding Arthurian lore — so many, in fact, that it could very well be a genre of its own. The problem, however, is that because the main events, characters and storylines are already set out in the mythology, authors cannot tamper with them... at least not too much. This poses the challenge of presenting the familiar story in an original way, and the latest trend seems to be taking a character and telling the story through their point of view. In Guenevere: Queen of the Summer Country, Rosalind Miles has done this with the titular character.

In her version, the city of Camelot already exists in Guenevere's home country, the Summer Country. The Summer Country is a matriarchal society that worships "the Goddess" and where the Queens choose th... Read More

Evermore: Not recommended

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Evermore by Alyson Noël

Evermore is the first in the Immortals series by Alyson Noël. Immortals are a bit like vampires… but not. Ever Bloom is a teenage girl who becomes entangled in the world of the Immortals.

Ever’s backstory feels pieced together from other works. Like Buffy Summers, she was one of the popular girls at her old school, but after a disaster, has to start over at a new school where she’s considered a freak and only has two friends. In Ever’s case, the disaster is a tragedy in which her family died; Ever survived with a scar on her forehead a la Harry Potter. One of the reasons she’s socially awkward is that,... Read More

The Affair of the Chalk Cliffs: A pastiche still needs to entertain

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The Affair of the Chalk Cliffs by James P. Blaylock

Langdon St. Ives returns in The Affair of the Chalk Cliffs, James P. Blaylock’s latest Langdon St. Ives Adventure.

St. Ives is described as “the greatest, if largely unheralded, explorer and scientist in the Western World … piecing together a magnetic engine for a voyage to the moon.” Unfortunately, the premise of The Affair of the Chalk Cliffs is less ambitious than its protagonist. Although our heroes are explorers and scientists, they do little exploring here. In fact, they don’t even leave England. Worse, there is little mention of magnetic engines or steam engines, though an emerald’s power has a slight impact on the plot.

The adventure begins with an outbreak of madness at... Read More

Hamlet’s Father: Transparent political and religious argument

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Hamlet's Father by Orson Scott Card

Those of us who majored in English in college have all read Shakespeare’s Hamlet at least once, and we’ve all seen at least one performance. Some of us go to as many performances as we possibly can, enjoying every new spin on the old tale. I’ve seen at least three movies made from the play and seen it staged at least five times. I’ve studied the text of the play in detail, and one thing never changes: Claudius murders King Hamlet in order to bed the king’s wife, Gertrude, out of good old heterosexual lust; and out of a lust for power, for the right to take the throne rather than see it go to Hamlet the younger when King Hamlet dies.

Trust Orson Scott Card, noted for his outspoken condemnation of homosexuality, to turn Shakespeare on his head and make his new novella, Hamlet’s Father Read More

Angelology: Fails to create a willing suspension of disbelief

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Angelology by Danielle Trussoni

Danielle Trussoni is a highly educated and well established non-fiction writer with an award-nominated memoir under her belt already. She has a degree in history and an MFA in creative writing. She puts both of those degrees to use in Angelology. When she is drawing on history, the book comes to life.

I should say that I tend to be biased against writers who come out of MFA programs. Maybe it’s just reverse snobbery, but it seems to me that they have learned to write exquisite paragraphs but don’t always have a good sense of story, or, if they have a story, plot is nearly impossible for them to master. Angelology has a plot, and it’s an interesting one, even if it isn’t terribly fresh. Danielle Trussoni postulates that hybrid human-angels, called Nephilim, exist i... Read More

Wraith: A textbook example of an Idiot Plot

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Wraith by Phaedra Weldon

This review is brought to you by the letters “T,” “S,” “T,” and “L.” Wraith is a textbook example of an Idiot Plot. The story is set in motion when the heroine does something stupid, and this sets the tone for the entire novel. Almost every plot development in Wraith is triggered by Zoë doing something stupid.

Zoë Martinique has the ability to leave her body and travel astrally. She has built a career on this talent, offering a sort of black-market PI service on eBay. She does some astral snooping, and then reports back to her clients with the information she finds out. As the novel begins, Zoë has taken a commission from some poor schmuck worried about losing his job. Her mission: to spy on his bosses as they attend a music... Read More

Wicked Appetite: Fortunately it’s short

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Wicked Appetite by Janet Evanovich

Janet Evanovich is the well-known author of the Stephanie Plum mystery series, and here she begins another series that edges firmly into the paranormal arena. Elizabeth Tucker lives in Marblehead, just north of Boston, and makes cupcakes for a living while living in the house bequeathed to her by Great Aunt Ophelia. Her life is perfectly pleasant but very ordinary when two men walk into it and proceed to turn it upside down. One is Wulf and he is a Bad Man. The other is Diesel, our Alpha Male, who explains to Liz that she is an Unmentionable and has to help him search out the SALIGIA stones (named for the first initials of the Latin names of the Seven Deadly Sins). Wulf is also looking for the stones and so Liz is caught in a race against time to discover their whereabouts.

I was really lo... Read More

The Questing Road: Flat characters, weak writing

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The Questing Road by Lyn McConchie

New Zealand author Lyn McConchie has written several novels with Andre Norton in that author’s WITCH WORLD and BEAST MASTER universes, so I was surprised that The Questing Road, though officially McConchie’s first solo fantasy novel, actually reads much like a debut novel. While there are a few moments of charm and sparkle, the characters are so flat, and the writing so uneven, that I would have easily believed this to be someone’s first attempt at a novel.

The story starts with two separate groups of travelers who, unwittingly, step through a portal into a different world. The first group was attempting to rescue a captured tariling (a young “felinoid” or cat-shaped sentient);... Read More

What Curiosity Kills: Crawls slowly to lacklustre end

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The Turning: What Curiosity Kills by Helen Ellis

The Turning: What Curiosity Kills is the tale of Mary Richards, a girl adopted from foster care into a plush life in the Upper East Side of Manhattan. When strange events begin taking place, Mary struggles to comprehend the idea that she is one of those who Turn — from human to cat. Previously, she mostly worried about trying to win arguments with her foster sister Octavia and getting her crush Nick to notice her; now she’s terrified as she tries to come to terms with her new life. When she is offered a way to recover her old life, Mary has a choice to make...

There was very little that I enjoyed about this book — except maybe the length. At just over 200 pages, it was at least quick to read!

What Curiosity Kills
is told from a first person perspectiv... Read More

The Pillars of the World: Not appealing

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The Pillars of the World by Anne Bishop

I loved Anne Bishop's Black Jewels Trilogy so much. But it took me a long time to pick up The Pillars of the World, because it just didn't sound terribly appealing.

And it wasn't appealing in the least. The one character I did like was portrayed as a cold, possessive jerk by the end of the book. The mysterious Lucien is shunted aside for the "sweet" Neall who has about as much depth as a puddle. And Ari, as a heroine, is a joke. There was nothing to like about her at all. The Fae storyline was tragically typical. They're arrogant and uncaring, so now their world is disappearing. Can't we have some Fae that aren't high and mighty? The only thing truly interesting about them was their positions which coincided with gods of ancient Greek and Ro... Read More

Original Sin: A hot mess

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Original Sin by Allison Brennan

Original Sin is a hot mess, and I’m not quite sure where to start.

Allison Brennan may not have known where to start, either. The early chapters jump around in time to a head-spinning degree. There are so many flashbacks to years ago, and references to events of weeks ago, that Original Sin gives the impression of beginning in the wrong place. If the monastery murders and fire are so important, why not put them in the novel? Well, it turns out they occurred in a previously published short story. The story is called “Deliver Us from Evil” and appears in an anthology called What You Can’t See. Not having read the story, I spent a lot of time feeling like I’d missed something. The priests’ naming conventions don’t help either. The reader does eventuall... Read More

Shadow Prowler: Every fantasy cliché in the book

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Shadow Prowler by Alexey Pehov

Shadow Prowler, the first fantasy novel by Russian author Alexey Pehov to be translated to English, pulls out every fantasy cliché in the book: elves, dwarves, orcs, ogres, goblins, guilds of thieves and assassins, and an evil overlord (the “Nameless One”) who is about to awaken and take over the land with an army of evil beasties. Shadow Harold (yes, that's his name) is a master thief who, against his will, gets involved in rescuing the world from said Nameless One. To do so, he must retrieve a magical doohickey (the Rainbow Horn) from someplace dark and scary in, yes, the Desolate Lands. If you wanted to play a drinking game, taking a shot whenever Shadow Prowler matches up with entries in Read More

The Swordbearer: Read The Black Company instead

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The Swordbearer by Glen Cook

The Swordbearer is an early standalone novel by Glen Cook, originally published in 1982 and re-released by Nightshade Books in 2009. If you're a fan of Glen Cook, whose CHRONICLES OF THE BLACK COMPANY are classics of the genre, this would probably be an interesting read, as you'll be able to see some of the author's themes and quirks taking shape. However, taken on its own, The Swordbearer isn't anywhere near as good as some of Glen Cook's other works.

Gathrid, the main character, is the youngest son of a noble family who lives on the border with a growing empire. He wants to become a warrior like his older brothers, but isn't allowed because of his relative weakness which was caused by a childhood illness. When his childhood home becomes the latest front in the war with the east, he flees and stumbles upon the magic sword Daubendiek. The swo... Read More

Morrigan’s Cross: Toss in a dozen fantasy clichés and stir for 352 pages

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Morrigan's Cross by Nora Roberts

Nora Roberts (aka J.D. Robb), as you probably know, is a prolific award-winning (and best-selling) author of romance novels. Not being a romance novel reader, I had never before read any of her work. But, when I found that I could freely download her fantasy trilogy (The Circle) from my public library’s website, I decided to give it a try.

First, let me say that authors don’t get to be award-winning best-sellers for writing poorly, so I’m perfectly willing to believe that Nora Roberts is an excellent romance writer and, if I ever decide to read a romance novel, I won’t hesitate to pick up one of her books.

However, I couldn’t help but get the impression from Morrigan’s Cross, the first book in her ... Read More

The Four Forges: Leave this one on the shelf

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The Four Forges by Jenna Rhodes

Rarely do I not like a book at all. But occasionally, a novel just doesn't resonate. Sometimes it's just reading the novel at the wrong time, perhaps at a time of reading burnout, or a style that just doesn't click. But even rarer is the book that I find to be just awfully written. Jenna Rhodes' The Four Forges is just awful. Rhodes writes an epic fantasy with a great setting, but a disturbing lack of a central plot.

The setting, which I found to be unique, and part of the reason I picked up the novel in the first place, is full of high fantasy elements. The Four Forges Is a story about two orphans. Sevryn is an accomplished street waif who rises to become the right hand of the queen of the elves. Rivergrace is an orphan who ends up being raised by a loving family of hobbit/dwarf-like peo... Read More

The Wanderer’s Tale: I’ve seen better character development in cheesy RPGs:

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The Wanderer's Tale by David Bilsborough

Described as an “epic fantasy series in the very best tradition of Tolkien,” The Wanderer's Tale is an old-school story about a band of misfits embarking on a quest north to Melhus through the land of Lindormyn — populated by many different races, religions, deities and other creatures — to prevent Drauglir, The Evil One, from being resurrected 500 years after he was supposedly slain. Along the way, the travelers get caught up in numerous (mis)adventures as they journey through strange lands and meet up with a menagerie of beasts — ogres, Leucrota, wolves, Huldre, Jaculus, Ganferd, Spriggans, Kobolds, Afanc, giants, etc. — both familiar and terrifying.

Based on the synopsis alone, comp... Read More

Tangled Webs: A glorified Halloween episode

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Tangled Webs by Anne Bishop

Warning: This review will contain some spoilers.

The Black Jewels Trilogy was and is one of my very favorite guilty pleasures. Yet I've been avoiding Tangled Webs (what is tagged book six in what is now called The Black Jewels Series — don't even get me started on that) for some time. To explain why, I'll give you a quote from the publisher's blurb:

"The invitation is signed "Jaenelle Angelline," and it summons her family to an entertainment she had specially prepared. Surreal SaDiablo, former courtesan and assassin, arrives first. But when she enters the house, Surreal finds herself trapped in a living nightmare created by the tangled webs of Black Widow witch... Read More

Dog Days: No soul, no personality, no style

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Dog Days by John Levitt

I've been eyeing Dog Days curiously for a while now (insert obvious feline joke here), mainly intrigued by the blurb's promise of a magical dog. Yes, that's right, I freely admit it — my inner three-year-old wanted to see the magical doggie.

The magical dog is an Ifrit, which I found kind of intriguing. Besides that, though, Dog Days has little to offer. I don't like the main character, Mason, one bit. To avoid making him a Gary Stu, Levitt makes him pretty much incompetent (which means the villains have to be even more incompetent), lazy about mastering his magic, and constantly has him blundering stupidly into traps even when he knows the likelihood of them being there is high. ... Read More

Prophecy: It’s turned into a romance novel

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Prophecy by Elizabeth Haydon

I enjoyed the first book, Rhapsody, and looked forward to this one, but I barely got through it.
Maybe its because I'm a guy, but when whole chapters are spent on romantic interludes, or the heroine having a good cry, I'm sorry but I just can't hang in there.

This book started out as promising as Rhapsody, then it turned into a therapy session/romance novel. By the time I finished this book I had the same nauseous feeling I get when my wife's got the TV remote and she's watching the Lifetime network. I don't mean to sound like a male chauvinist, but I'm sure many women feel the same way about a football game. Read More

Fire of Heaven: Inconsistent

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FIRE OF HEAVEN by Russell Kirkpatrick

The Fire Of Heaven series is a Christianity-inspired fantasy. My rating for these three books varies quite a bit from the first book to the last. The first book, Across the Face of the World, was a promising start to the story and I would rate it at perhaps three stars. I had hoped the writing would improve as the story progressed, but the second book, In the Earth Abides the Flame, was, unfortunately, a step backwards rather than forwards and it introduced elements that bothered me, so I would rate it at two to two and a half stars. The last book, The Right Hand of God, was, frankly, abysmal. Had the series started at this level I would never have finished the first few chapters, let alone the entire trilogy. I rate it at one star... Read More

Naked Empire: Sad decline

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Naked Empire by Terry Goodkind

The Sword of Truth, though a bit derivative, started off well and, while it has had its stops and starts, it has generally been well-worth reading.

Sadly, Naked Empire fails even the minimal standard of "if it's in a series, you've gotta read it if only to know what happens." So little of import happens here, and it's so painful to get to what little does, that it simply isn't worth it. The book is preachy, talkative, dogmatic, repetitive, one-sided, and simplistic, with the "arguments" ridiculously stacked. All of which possibly could have been forgiven if it weren't only those things — if you could have been drawn in by strength of character or plot or ideas. But there are no new characters of interest introduced, the main characters have become in this book either uninteresting or unlikeable, and the action (what little there ... Read More