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

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 destination whose coordinates are provided by a magi... Read More

Beauty Awakened: Did Not Finish

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 excuses. After a while, even the fact that I w... Read More

The Long War: Searching the High Meggers for a plot

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 Maggie Kauffman, who wants to figure out how to ... Read More

Time Enough For Love: For masochists only

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 feels like he’s done it all and he’s refusin... Read More

Chosen: So many problems

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, who Zoey thought was her nemesis, is... Read More

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

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

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 out how to make more spaceships because the a... Read More

Dead Man Rising: Unpleasant in every way

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 I decided to give Dante another chance since... Read More

Beyond the Highland Mist: Everything I hate about romance novels

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 wonder what might be throbbing under his kilt. Read More

Deathworld 2: The Ethical Engineer

Deathworld 2: The Ethical Engineer by Harry Harrison

Deathworld 2: The Ethical Engineer is the second of Harry Harrison’s novels set on Pyrrus, the planet that tries to kill most humans who set foot upon it. In the first DEATHWORLD novel, space rogue Jason dinAlt discovered the secret of Pyrrus and negotiated a very tense peace between the planet and its two human colonies.

Now Jason has a new problem. A man named Mikah, who represents the religious Truth Party, has arrived to arrest Jason for fleecing casinos across the universe. The purpose is to display Jason’s decadence and sinfulness so that they can topple the government of Cassylia which has been using “Jason Three-Billion” as a poster child to advertise their casinos. Mikah kidnaps Jason and on their way back to Cassylia for trial by the Truth Party, they are shipwrecked and enslaved on a planet that sports a curious mix of primitive tribal cultures with v... Read More

The Seedbearers: Virtually unreadable

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 general plots of most of these works include... Read More

Keeping it Real: Painful to finish

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.

Unfortunately, that’s about all... Read More

The Land of Painted Caves: Disappointing

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 technological and social development making huge jumps... Read More

The Shape of Desire: Big disappointment

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 looking at the story because I love her writing. U... Read More

Guenevere: Queen of the Summer Country: Not a sucess

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 their own husbands, but then take a champion/l... Read More

Evermore: Not recommended

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, similar to Read More

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

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 the Explorer’s Club, but don’t expect t... Read More

Hamlet’s Father: Transparent political and religious argument

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, all about King Hamlet’s homose... Read More

Angelology: Fails to create a willing suspension of disbelief

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 in the world, hiding in plain sight among hum... Read More

Wraith: A textbook example of an Idiot Plot

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 musical and learn wheth... Read More

Wicked Appetite: Fortunately it’s short

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 looking forward to Wicked Appetite... Read More

The Questing Road: Flat characters, weak writing

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); the second just wandered into the portal wh... Read More

What Curiosity Kills: Crawls slowly to lacklustre end

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 perspective, but Mary’s voice is shaky and never com... Read More

The Pillars of the World: Not appealing

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 Roman myth, and their ability to... Read More

Original Sin: A hot mess

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 eventually learn where the names come from — after ... Read More