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I.D. by Emma Rios

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I.D. by Emma Rios

Emma Rios’ I.D. is a graphic story with a good premise, and some flashes of excellent artwork, but overall the illustration style didn’t work for me, while the characters and plot weren’t developed enough for my liking.

It begins with a trio of seemingly mismatched people conversing in a coffeeshop, and one of those aforementioned flashes of brilliance come via the page after we see a pull-back view of the three at their table. The next page is a series of fifteen close up of eyes, fingers, hands, and coffee cups conveying in wonderfully expressive and economic fashion the discomfort these three feel.

... Read More

The Mysterious Case of Mr. Strangeway: It’s hard to believe in Cherry

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The Mysterious Case of Mr. Strangeway by Karina Cooper

I picked up The Mysterious Case of Mr. Strangeway (2013) because it was free at Audible a while back. It’s the prequel to Karina Cooper’s ST. CROIX CHRONICLES which is set in Victorian London and begins with the novel Tarnished. In The Mysterious Case of Mr. Strangeway, we meet Cherry St. Croix, an opium-addicted tomboyish teenage orphan who lives with a wealthy benefactor and sneaks out at night to earn money to support her addiction. She does this by being a “collector,” which is something like a bounty hunter.

This is the story of her first collection attempt. She must bri... Read More

A Court of Thorns and Roses: Fantasy romance tropes mixed with grit

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A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

In a fantasy world where humans and faeries have a long and violent history together, there's been an uneasy, armed truce for many years. Feyre, the 19 year old daughter of a once-wealthy family fallen into deep poverty, is the provider for her beaten-down father and two sisters, hunting with bow and arrow to keep her family from starvation. It’s the dead of winter, game is extremely scarce, but she has the good fortune to spot a small doe. Not so fortunately, before she can shoot it an enormous wolf appears and kills the doe. Faeries are known to appear in wolf form, and to kill one is asking for trouble. Still, Feyre, with hatred for the fae in her heart, rationalizes that it’s probably not a faerie, and if it is, she’s doing the world a favor by killing it. So she shoots and kills the wolf with her handy, magic-neutralizing ash wood arrow, and sell... Read More

Cyteen: Exhausting study of clones, identity, and power

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Cyteen by C.J. Cherryh

After enjoying C.J. Cherryh's 1982 Hugo Award winner Downbelow Station, it was a natural thing to move on to her 1989 Hugo winner, Cyteen. I know that Cyteen is a very different creature, of course. It is a hefty 680 pages long, and extremely light on action. In fact, if you removed the extensive dialogue and exposition, I think the story would be about 50 pages long. That means the story had better be pretty compelling or it could be quite an ordeal to get through. Unfortunately, at 36 hours in audiobook format, I found Cyteen to be more of a chore than a pleasure. There’s no question of the seriousness and rigor of its exploration of power politics, the ethics of cloning, genetic engin... Read More

The Sin Eater’s Daughter: In which Sin Eating doesn’t feature

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The Sin Eater's Daughter by Melinda Salisbury

Twylla is an executioner. Though she's been taken from her lowly home to live in the palace, been engaged to the prince, and is wanting of nothing, she is haunted by the people she must kill and resents every moment of her life in the palace. For her skin is poisonous and any person she comes into contact with dies a gruesome and painful death; only the prince is immune to her touch. But everything is not as it seems in the palace and soon Twylla will find herself questioning not only her role but also her faith.


Twylla has a cohort of guards, but when her personal guard falls ill, she falls into the sole care of Lief, a foreigner who is apparently immune to the fear the rest of the kingdom feels for Twylla. He's at ease where others are frightened, and keeps coming dangerously close to touching her where others stay away. Bu... Read More

Daughters of Ruin: An interesting concept, but a muddled execution

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Daughters of Ruin by K.D. Castner

Daughters of Ruin is the debut novel from K.D. Castner and, presumably, the first of four books. This first title focuses on Princess Rhea of the Kingdom of Meridan, shown on the cover in her country’s colors (red and gold) and displaying an ornate set of jewelry which also doubles as her weapon of choice.  The cover art is quite striking, and seems to promise a tale full of intrigue and danger, but I couldn’t see past the narrative missteps and flimsy logic, and Daughters of Ruin never came to more than a disappointment for me.

The plot has a fascinating premise: after long years of war with the neighboring kingdoms of Tasan, Findain, and Corent, King Declan of Meridan declared that he would symbolically adopt one daughter of royal blood from those countries and raise them alongsi... Read More

So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish: Amiable but superfluous

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So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish by Douglas Adams

The original HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY trilogy was a massive hit, so it was inevitable that fans would clamor for more. The first three books ranged across the galaxy, a wild ride carried along by an eclectic cast of comic characters, held together by Douglas Adams’ droll British humor, intergalactic hitchhiker Ford Prefect, former President of the Galaxy Zaphod Beeblebrox, Marvin the Paranoid Robot, and grounded by befuddled English everyman Arthur Dent. This time Adams has taken a very different tack, returning to that little backwater planet in an unfashionable corner of the Milky Way known as... Earth.

But hang on, you say, Earth was destroyed by the Vogons at the opening of the first book to make way for an int... Read More

Elven Star: Second verse; same as the first

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Elven Star by Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman

Elven Star, second novel in THE DEATHGATE CYCLE, is almost exactly the same as book one, save that the progression of the plot’s quality is inverted. That sounds confusing, I’m sure, but I will explain. In case the reader didn't look at my review of Dragon Wing, my thoughts were more or less as follows: fun YA premise, good world-building, somewhat simplistic characters, and it all came crashing down into rushed nonsense right at the end. Elven Star has the same fun YA premise, similarly decent world-building, and even more simplistic characters. The only difference is that it starts as rushed nonsense and evens out to something more focused and enjoyable right at the end. All in a... Read More

The Orion Plan: Standard sci-fi diversion

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The Orion Plan: A Thriller by Mark Alpert

A homeless man sleeps fitfully in a park in New York City. He’s startled awake when an object crushes the box that affords him only a modicum of protection for the elements. He clambers out of the box and gapes at a:
black sphere at a center of a pit, half-buried in the mud. It looked like a bowling ball but slightly bigger, about a foot across. Its top half shone in the moonlight ... it was as black as coal and yet its surface gleamed as if it were polished ... it seemed to be glowing.
Joe’s a broken man ... an alcoholic, divorced and separated from his family and now forced from his latest home, however transient it may have been.

Several members of a local Latino gang, led by Emilio, hear the crash and descend on the same location where Joe’s rotting around the object that crashed from the heavens.

Several ho... Read More

The Ringworld Engineers: Boring sequel

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The Ringworld Engineers by Larry Niven

In 1970 Larry Niven published Ringworld, a high-concept novel that won the Hugo, Nebula, and Locus Awards. What mostly captured readers’ imaginations was not RIngworld’s characters or plot, but its setting. The Ringworld is a huge (and I mean HUGE) artificial ring-shaped structure that orbits a star outside of Known Space. Nobody knows who built it or for what reason it was built. The protagonist of the story, Louis Wu, a bored 200 year old human from Earth, is invited on a quest to visit and study the Ringworld. As I mentioned in my review, I thought the novel was talky and a bit dull, but I absolutely loved the Ringworld itself.
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Unbound: A somewhat weaker continuation of an OK series

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Unbound by Jim C. Hines

Unbound is Jim C. Hines’ third book in his MAGIC EX LIBRIS series, and I had the same response I pretty much had to book two, which was that it is a light sort of fantasy which has issues that are somewhat, but not fully, balanced by the love of the genre evident in the storyline. I noted at the end of my review of book two, Codex Born, that I was worried about a sense of diminishing returns, and I think that is a bit realized here. Book four, Revisionary, has just arrived this year, and I’d say it’s good that it appears to be a concluding volume, though perhaps that should have come a book earlier.

MAG... Read More

Dragon Wing: Not very good

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Dragon Wing by Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman

The Margaret Weis/Tracy Hickman novels make up one of those corners of the Fantasy genre that you either enjoyed in your teens (and remember fondly)... or you didn’t. I have to admit that I’m of the latter camp, and while I strongly suspect that there was a time when I could have greatly enjoyed Dragon Wing, that time has passed me by. These days, I’m a little too jaded and I’ve read a few too many works in a very similar vein. Dragon Wing isn’t bad, necessarily, but I’d be lying if I said I particularly like it.

It starts well, mind you, as master assassin Hugh the Hand is e... Read More

The 5th Wave: One too many apocalypses in this YA alien novel

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The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

An alien apocalypse is Rick Yancey’s take on a new challenge for the plucky heroine prototype that has emerged in the wake of Katniss Everdeen. Whilst The 5th Wave is not quite a dystopia, there is something startlingly familiar about the feisty female lead who attempts to single-handedly take down the alien race that’s oppressing humankind in a post-apocalyptic world. With the film adaptation just released in the US, could this be the next YA mega-franchise?

First things first, how did the world fall to its knees? It seems Yancey couldn’t decide on his weapon of choice to wipe out humanity, so he chose them all. To begin with, there was an electromagnetic pulse that ... Read More

Ruffleclaw: Silly children’s story narrated by the author

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Ruffleclaw by Cornelia Funke

Ruffleclaw is a chapter book (114 pages) recently written and illustrated by Cornelia Funke, the German author and artist whose books (e.g., Inkheart, The Thief Lord, Dragon Rider) are loved by children and adults around the world. Ruffleclaw is translated into English by Oliver Latsch. I listened to the audio version which is read by the author and is just over 1.5 hours long.

Ruffleclaw is a furry red monster who lives under the toolshed in Tommy’s back yard. He thinks humans are icky (he calls them “slimy slugs”) but he loves their food, their cozy beds, and the music that he hears coming from Tommy’s mother’s piano. That’s why, against the ... Read More

In Endless Twilight: Timely discussions, then a really weird ending

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In Endless Twilight by L.E. Modesitt Jr

In Endless Twilight (1988) is the final installment in L.E. Modesitt Jr’s THE FOREVER HERO trilogy. My review will probably contain spoilers for the first two novels, Dawn for a Distant Earth and The Silent Warrior. You need to read them before opening In Endless Twilight.

During Dawn for a Distant Earth, we saw Gerswin getting the education and skills he needed to be able to fulfill his dream of restoring the ruined Earth. In The Silent Warrior, we see Gerswin’s character darken as he realizes that the galactic empire he serves doesn’t share his goals. The commercial barons who co... Read More

Dragon Heart: Needed to be longer or shorter

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Dragon Heart by Cecelia Holland

Cecelia Holland’s Dragon Heart had so much potential, with its gothic, Mervyn Peake-like setting and darkly surreal family dynamics. Unfortunately, Dragon Heart never fulfilled its promise, marred especially by a frustrating lack of fluidity or cohesion.

The relatively slim novel (about 270 pages) is set mostly in Castle Ocean, home to the ruling family of a small coastal land threatened (and really mostly-conquered) by an aggressive large empire to the east. The former king was killed by the Empire, leaving his queen with little choice but to marry one of the Emperor’s brothers. In fact, she has already killed the first brother-fiancé, but now a second inhabits Castle Ocean, waiting only the return of Tirza ... Read More

Made to Kill: Should have kept it as a long short story

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Made to Kill by Adam Christopher

In his afterword to his new novel Made to Kill, Adam Christopher explains how the idea first saw life as a long short story/novelette entitled “Brisk Money.” While this more extensive take on the story is still relatively slim for a novel, coming in at just over 200 pages, I have to admit that it seemed to me that Christopher would have been better off simply writing another “episode” of his narrative via another short story rather than trying to expand the original into something larger.

That original story germinated out of a question from a Tor roundtable: “If you could find one previously undiscovered book by a nonliving author, who would it be?” Christopher, a huge Raymond Chandler fan, thought he’d like to read Chan... Read More

Dreams of Shreds and Tatters: Gradually, my suspension of disbelief eroded away

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Dreams of Shreds and Tatters by Amanda Downum

I’m giving this book a lower rating than I expected to. Usually a 2.5-star rating from me means I found serious structural, character or writing problems with the book, and that’s not the case here. My low rating of Amanda Downum’s Dreams of Shreds and Tatters reflects the gap between my expectations and my experience. The writer did do a few things that jarred me out of the book, though, and I am going to discuss those.

First of all, I’d like to talk about what I liked. I loved the idea here, of a group of artists under the sway of a magician, searching for a portal to a mysterious city in another realm. I liked moments in the writing; when she wants to, Downum can unleash a passage of weird, lush prose that is capti... Read More

The Crystal World: Time and death are defeated as crystallization takes over

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The Crystal World by J.G. Ballard

The Crystal World (1966) is J.G. Ballard’s third apocalyptic work in which he destroys civilization, the other two being The Burning World (1964) and The Drowned World (1962). It seems he likes the elements, having employed floods, draughts, and now crystallization. The process somewhat resembles Ice-9 in Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle (1963), but there is no ironic humor to be found in this book as far I could tell. In The Drowned World, the flooding of the world was used as a metaphor for diving deep into the collective racial memories of the Triassic-age, when dinosaurs r... Read More

Empire Ascendant: A disappointingly muddy follow-up to The Mirror Empire

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Empire Ascendant by Kameron Hurley

I thought Kameron Hurley’s first book in her WORLDBREAKER SAGA, The Mirror Empire, was a richly imagined, ambitious novel that landed on the positive side of the ledger even if its flaws gave the book’s strengths a run for their money. Unfortunately, the flaws do a bit more than that in the sequel, Empire Ascendant, leading to an overall weaker second effort.

The Worldbreaker setting is a multi-verse with parallel worlds that, over time, shift relative to the others and with “ascendant” and “descendant” satellites that serve as sources of magical power for select people (known as “jistas”) sensitive to a particular one. One of those worlds, facing its destructio... Read More

Talking to Dragons: The first, fourth, and final ENCHANTED FOREST book

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Talking to Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede

Talking to Dragons is the fourth and final book in Patricia C. Wrede’s ENCHANTED FOREST CHRONICLES, though it was actually the first book in the series to be published (1985). Wrede wrote the later three books (Dealing with Dragons, Searching for Dragons, Calling on Dragons) as prequels and now the correct reading order is to start with those three prequels and read Talking to Dragons last. So, in this review, I’ll be spoiling a bit of the plot of the prequels.

The hero of Talking to Dragons is Daystar, son of Princess Cimorene and King Mendanbar. At the end of the previous book, Calling... Read More

Queen of Fire: A series goes out with a whimper

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Queen of Fire by Anthony Ryan

Warning: Will contain spoilers for previous books in the RAVEN’S SHADOW series

Anthony Ryan’s RAVEN’S SHADOW series follows the life of Vaelin Al Sorna and his comrades, from his childhood in the religious, militaristic 6th Order to his career as a general, commander, and practitioner of the Dark (magic). Queen of Fire, the third and final book of RAVEN’S SHADOW, brings the series to a conclusion that leaves much to be desired. Following the victory at Alltor orchestrated by Vaelin, Queen Lyrna, the new leader of the Unified Realm after the bloody assassination of her brother, proceeds to invade the Volarian Empire, which has been controlled by the Ally for centuries. At the same time... Read More

The Sleeping King: Like reading the script of a LARP session

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The Sleeping King by Cindy Dees & Bill Flippin

Fantasy role-playing games come in all flavors and styles: from the well-known tabletop format of Dungeons and Dragons, to live-action role-playing (LARP) sessions in which players craft armor and characters, to video games based on the D&D format (Baldur’s Gate, Neverwinter Nights), to chat forums in which players create text-based adventures, to card-based games like Magic: The Gathering, there truly is something out there for any interested person to explore. Cindy Dees, a best-selling author of suspense and thriller novels, and Bill Flippin, the creator of the Dragon Crest LARP game, have brought the world and characters of Dragon Crest to the page in The Sleeping King, the first in a planned epic fantasy series.
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Raphael: A bit of a struggle to finish

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Raphael by R.A. MacAvoy

Warning: This review will contain spoilers for the previous books, Damiano and Damiano’s Lute.

R.A. MacAvoy winds up her DAMIANO trilogy with Raphael, a book that focuses on the angel Raphael instead of Damiano, the young man who was the protagonist of the first two books. That’s because at the end of the previous book, Damiano’s Lute, Damiano died when he sacrificed himself for Gaspar’s sister. That deed was noble, I suppose, and perhaps MacAvoy is saying something about sacrifice and redemption in this religiously-inspired story, but it probably didn’t resonate much with readers since we don’t like Gaspar and don’t even know ... Read More

The Black Star Passes: For a very limited crew

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The Black Star Passes by John W. Campbell, Jr.

Back in the late 1970s and early ‘80s, some of my favorite reading material, sci-fi-wise, was the wonderful series of 21 “Best of” anthologies put out by Ballantine. In an early indication of my future tastes, my favorites among those 21 collections were those by C.L. Moore, Henry Kuttner, Leigh Brackett, Edmond Hamilton and Philip K. Dick, although to be truthful, I thoroughly enjoyed them all… with one exception. The Best of John W. Campbell Read More