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Twisting the Rope: A sequel to Tea With the Black Dragon

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Twisting the Rope by R.A. MacAvoy

Twisting the Rope (1986) is a sequel to R.A. MacAvoy’s Tea With the Black Dragon. It’s recommended, but not necessary, to have read Tea With the Black Dragon first.

It’s been five years since Martha Macnamara met Mayland Long at the hotel in San Francisco. They’ve been together since. Martha is now approximately 55 years old and Mayland appears to be around the same age, but we don’t really know how old he is. He has secrets.

Martha, an exellent violin player, has put together a folk band that travels around playing traditional Irish tunes. Mayland manages the band, collecting their ea... Read More

The Queen of Swords: A disappointing step backwards in the series

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The Queen of Swords by R.S. Belcher

R.S. Belcher’s first two Weird West books set in Golgotha, Nevada (The Six-Gun Tarot and The Shotgun Arcana) were hot mess cacophonies of fantasy tropes, characters, source elements, and the like — huge Sunday brunch all-you-can-eat buffets where lifting a lid off of one of those big metal serving bins might reveal zombies, bat-people, cannibals, a primal evil, primal evil’s minions, Mormon artifacts, mythos from just about anywhere or anywhen, martial-arts-wielding female assassins, a hundreds of years old pirate called “Gran,” and more. Lots more. Neither book should hav... Read More

The Man Who Used the Universe: Unlikable protagonist makes it hard to enjoy

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The Man Who Used the Universe by Alan Dean Foster

I picked up Alan Dean Foster’s The Man Who Used the Universe because it was just released in audio format. It’s a stand-alone science fiction novel, set in the far future, about a man named Kees vaan Loo-Macklin. Kees is a brilliant tactician who is building a career and an empire for himself. When we first meet him, he’s the lackey of a local crime boss, but we watch for years as he works his way up, gaining riches and power as he rises. He even forms a trading alliance with a hated alien species called the Nuel.

But there are two strange things about Kees vaan Loo-Macklin. One is that he seems to form no real bonds with any individual human or alien. He doesn’t seem to care about anyone. The other, perhaps mos... Read More

The Prey of Gods: Two takes on this imaginative and compelling story

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The Prey of Gods by Nicky Drayden

The Prey of Gods (2017), by Nicky Drayden, takes a well-worn concept — what if gods walked among regular humans? — and breathes new life into it through her innovative uses of location, technology, mythology, and complex characters in this blend of real-world problems and fantastical situations.

Life is pretty great in futuristic Port Elizabeth, South Africa (so long as you’ve got money); people have access to genetically-engineered pets, personal robots with varying degrees of intelligence and capability, and solar wells that draw both energy and moisture from the air. When a long-forgotten demigoddess currently styling herself as Sydney sees an opportunity to restore her former glory and supremacy, just as a powerful new hallucinogenic hits... Read More

Indestructible Man: 300,000 volts of fun

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Indestructible Man directed by Jack Pollexfen

Oh, what a wacky film experience I had over the weekend: the 1956 Lon Chaney, Jr. outing Indestructible Man! This movie was originally shown as part of a double feature for the kiddies back when, paired with one of my favorite sci-fi shlock adventures ever, World Without End, for one truly mind-boggling afternoon at the movies. In the film in question, Chaney plays a criminal named Butcher Benton, who, after a botched robbery, has been sentenced to the gas chamber. He is indeed put to death, but soon after, his body is sold to a scientist (Robert Shayne, who most viewers will remember from his role of Inspector Henderson on TV's Adventures of Superman, and whose work I recently enjoyed in the 1953 film The Neanderthal Man) who is doing experiments regarding a cancer cure. Read More

In Search of Lost Time: A Robin Hood character steals life and memories rather than gold

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In Search of Lost Time by Karen Heuler

Hildy, who’s been experiencing odd gaps in her awareness, is hit with the news that she has cancer of the Tempora, a (made-up) part of the brain where the body experiences time. Her chemotherapy has an odd side effect: Hildy can now see auras around people in the form of colorful mists and vapors. What’s more, she finds that she can pull away bits of aura from other people and inhale it. It gives her the feelings and memories from the person she took the bit of aura from. An old person has a thin aura that gives her a sense of duty and money worries; a younger person’s aura makes her feel exhilarated.

When she begins hanging around a playground to surreptitiously capture part of babies’ auras in jars, she’s confronted one day by a man who accuses her of stealing time. He informs her that there’s a market for stolen time; dying people wh... Read More

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet: Like watching Barney & Friends while eating cotton candy

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The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

Becky Chambers self-published her debut novel The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet in 2014 after a successful Kickstarter campaign. It was picked up and published by Harper Voyager the next year and since then has been included in all sorts of “best of” lists and nominated for major awards. People I trust love this book and I can see why. I don’t love it, and I’ll explain why here, but I encourage you to try it out for yourself (if you haven’t already) and let me know what you think. There are lots of things to like about The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. It’s just not my thing. It had too little tension, action, and plot for me. It was just too sweet.

Running away from her secret past, Rosemary Harper takes a job as a clerk on the Wayfarer Read More

Soleri: Unoriginal but engaging, potential marred by execution

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Soleri by Michael Johnston

Soleri (2017), by Michael Johnston, isn’t going to make anyone marvel at its originality, which in and of itself isn’t necessarily a problem. I’ve said many a time that with genre books, often one can get away with employing standard tropes in terms of characters and plots so long as the craft and execution is there. Unfortunately, Johnston doesn’t quite succeed with either, and so despite having some potential, it’s hard to recommend Soleri at this point, especially given that the story ends wholly unresolved.

The setting is the sprawling and ancient Soleri Empire, which has kept its four subjugated kingdoms mostly under control for over 2000 years, though there has been an occasional revolt now and then. One of the ways the Empire keeps its kingdoms submissive is by taking the king... Read More

The Phantom From 10,000 Leagues: More dangerous than your average sea cucumber

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The Phantom From 10,000 Leagues directed by Dan Milner

Although I really do try to keep an objective mind when it comes to my cinematic adventures, I must confess that The Phantom From 10,000 Leagues (1955) already had one strike against it, personally speaking, as I sat down to peruse it recently. I mean, how dare this picture rip off the title of one of my favorite films of all time, The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms (1953)? The fact that the esteemed Maltin's Movie Guide gives Phantom its lowest BOMB rating did not bother me overmuch (the editors there are a notoriously grumpy bunch as regards genre fare), but an attempt to overtly copy one of the greatest monster movies ever made ... not forgivable! Anyway, as it turns out, despite the negative word of mouth and blatant title riffing of a beloved classic (actually, that title is almo... Read More

In the Shadow of the Moon: A somewhat disappointing look at solar eclipses

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In the Shadow of the Moon by Anthony Aveni

I really wanted to like In the Shadow of the Moon (2017), Anthony Aveni’s look at eclipses across time and culture, but while it had its moments, it never really compelled for any length of time and its sometimes abrupt shifts and almost random approach created a sense of distance between reader and subject.

Aveni mostly handles the scientific aspects fine, whether it has to do with the main focus of the book (such as explaining what causes an eclipse and why they repeat in the patterns they do) or with one of his many digressions (a concise explanation of a bee’s communication dance, a brief look at the craze to find the planet Vulcan). Sometimes the numbers get a little overwhelming, mostly in the section dealing with the various ecl... Read More

A Symphony of Echoes: Not well crafted

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A Symphony of Echoes by Jodi Taylor

A Symphony of Echoes (2013) is the second book in Jodi Taylor’s CHRONICLES OF ST. MARY’S, a series about an academic institution where researchers study history by travelling back in time to witness historical events. Tadiana and I enjoyed the first book, Just One Damned Thing After Another (2013), as a light fluffy time-travel story that doesn’t take itself too seriously. The premise is fun, similar to stories by Kage Baker and Connie Willis (though not nearly as well... Read More

Children of the New World: Check it out of the library for the several excellent stories

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Children of the New World by Alexander Weinstein

Children of the New World
(2016) by Alexander Weinstein was a bit of a mixed bag as a story collection, with a few excellent ones, several decent ones, and several that fell flat. At his best, Weinstein offers up moving examinations of the impending impact of near-future technology, even if many of the ideas will seem familiar.

Example number one is the first story, “Saying Goodbye to Yang,” as Weinstein starts off with the best of the bunch (a choice that has its advantages and disadvantages). When they wanted a child three years ago, the parents in this tale choose to not go the trendy “clone” route and instead adopted a Chinese baby. Their agency also suggested an android older brother to serve as a “Big Brother, babysitter, and storehouse of cultural knowledge,” the kind of “cultu... Read More

The Truth: This by-the-numbers Discworld outing failed to satisfy

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The Truth by Terry Pratchett

The truth about Sir Terry Pratchett’s novel The Truth is that for the first time a DISCWORLD book failed to satisfy me. While there is nothing seriously wrong with the story, the feeling that Pratchett was bolting set pieces together to make a whole overwhelmed the general fun of the book.

First published in 2000, The Truth is 25th in a 49-book series according to Wikipedia. The DISCWORLD books break into definable categories, even if fans give those categories different names; my name for Going Postal, Making M... Read More

Final Girls: Intriguing, but overall, did not satisfy me

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Final Girls by Mira Grant

Stories about people trapped in virtual reality have been thoroughly done, and the trope of the horror-story “final girl,” the lone survivor or almost-survivor who makes it to the end of the movie, at least, is pretty familiar too. In Mira Grant’s latest story, the novella Final Girls (2017), she mixes both of these with a dash of science fiction for an interesting tale that didn’t completely work for me.

Dr. Jennifer Webb is a visionary who has created proprietary VR technology designed to help people address and ultimately heal old traumas. Webb’s favorite VR technique is to run the patient (or patients, if it is a family situation) through a horror movie scenario. With all the safety subroutines in place, the patient can use fleeing fro... Read More

The Mighty Zodiac Volume 1: Starfall by J. Torres

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The Mighty Zodiac Volume 1: Starfall written by J. Torres,  Corin Howell (illustrations), Maarta Laiho (color), Warren Wucinich (letters)

The Mighty Zodiac has a wonderfully cosmic and original premise — the death of a constellation leads to the fall of six stars from the skies and the freeing of the Rabbit Army from the moon. Or as it is put early on:
When the Blue Dragon died, he left the eastern skies vulnerable. Without another dragon to immediately take its place and ascend into the position of the Guardian of the East, six stars fell out of heaven . . . Darkness fell across the region like no one had seen before. The darkness drew out dark creatures with dark designs!
Soon it’s a race between the heroes (the anthropomorphized ani... Read More

Empress of a Thousand Skies: Propulsive plot but a few too many issues

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Empress of a Thousand Skies by Rhoda Belleza

Empress of a Thousand Skies by Rhoda Belleza is a YA space opera that feels a bit like old-time science fiction with a modern sensibility, in that characterization takes a back seat to a plot that can’t really be examined too closely, but those relatively flat characters are a nicely diverse mix in terms of gender and color. Sometimes such a propulsive plot can compensate for, or at least ameliorate somewhat, flat characters, but the plot also had its issues, and so the book didn’t succeed for me, though YA readers may be a bit more forgiving, particularly younger ones.

Years ago, Crown Princess Rhiannon’s father, mother, and sister died in an “accident” that led to her growing up in exiled protection while the galaxy was ruled by Regent Seotra. The book opens up as Rhee, as she’s called, i... Read More

Her Fearful Symmetry: Needed more substance than the ghosts

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Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

Two sets of twins, a disillusioned husband, a grieving boyfriend, one ghost. The lives of Her Fearful Symmetry’s characters are as tangled as they sound, in a drama that will play out amongst the tombstones of Highgate Cemetery. A sticker on the front reminds potential readers that Niffenegger is the author of The Time Traveler’s Wife. Yet let that be the first and last time Niffenegger’s debut novel is mentioned. Her Fearful Symmetry is described as a ‘delicious and deadly ghost story,’ and should be judged in and of itself.

We o... Read More

Tempest: All-New Tales of Valdemar: Too many fragmentary tales

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Tempest: All-New Tales of Valdemar edited by Mercedes Lackey

Tempest (2016) is the most recent in a lengthy series of light fantasy anthologies set in and around Mercedes Lackey’s well-known Valdemar, is a land where people called Heralds are “Chosen” (read: magically bonded for life) with telepathic white horse-like creatures known as Companions. Once bonded, the pair joins others in traveling and policing their kingdom against wrongdoing, threats and evils of all kinds. While I’m a relative newcomer to the world of Valdemar, I’ve read several other works by Lackey and was impressed by a couple of her short stories of the Companions. Brilliant and heroic telepathic horses! What’s not to like? And many of these stories feature non-Herald humans from all walks of life, as well as gryphons, kryees (huge, intelligent wolves), and firecats (think large, magical, sentie... Read More

The Devils of D-Day: Extraordinary concept; disappointingly delivered

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The Devils of D-Day by Graham Masterton

All the devils and demons that appear in this book are legendary creatures of hell, and there is substantial recorded evidence for their existence. For that reason, it is probably inadvisable to attempt to conjure up any of them by repeating out loud the summons used in the text, which are also genuine. I would like to point out that the Pentagon and the British Ministry of Defense strenuously deny the events described here, but I leave it to you to draw your own conclusions. - from the Author’s Note

I had high hopes for Graham Masterton’s The Devils of D-Day. The U.S. Army knew it had to end World War II quickly, and was going all-in at Normandy, France. During the battles following D-Day, the American’s w... Read More

Patterns of the Wheel: Not the right format for this art style and subject

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Patterns of the Wheel: Coloring Art Based on Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time
by Robert Jordan & Amy Romanczuk

Patterns of the Wheel is a posthumous collaboration between late author Robert Jordan, of THE WHEEL OF TIME fame, and officially licensed Wheel of Time™ artist Amy Romanczuk, who has merged phrases or dialogue from many of Jordan’s novels with pysanky, a style of Ukrainian folk art most often seen on brightly-colored Easter eggs. While marketed as an adult coloring book, the black-and-white images and quoted selections from Jordan’s novels are certainly suitable for all ages, though the designs lack the level of finesse I would expect from an officially-sanctioned pr... Read More

The Apothecary’s Curse: An original idea with too many plot elements

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The Apothecary’s Curse by Barbara Barnett

The Apothecary’s Curse, by Barbara Barnett, has wonderful ideas and many interesting elements. In particular, Barnett has a unique thought about the Celtic Faerie. Unfortunately, the story can’t quite support the weight of all the ideas, and the book’s time-jumping structure creates an episodic effect that vitiates the urgency. I don’t think this one succeeds, but I love the imagination at work here.

There are at least two discrete stories in The Apothecary’s Curse. There is a Victorian metaphysical thriller, of sorts, as two men, each immortal, struggle to keep their state a secret, and one of them is imprisoned in Bedlam and tortured. There is a present-day story that wants to be a medical thriller in the style of Robin Cook or Read More

The Nightmare Stacks: This one just missed for me

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The Nightmare Stacks by Charles Stross

In my review of the LAUNDRY FILES book before this one, The Annihilation Score, I noted that there was a lot I liked and a few things I disliked. Unfortunately for me, my experience with The Nightmare Stacks (2016) was the reverse. There were a number of things I enjoyed, but overall I didn’t like this book very much. Charles Stross is a smart, funny, inventive writer, and it distresses me to give this book two and half stars, but it just missed for me, big time. Please note that people on Goodreads are giving it four and five stars, so clearly other people are enjoying more than I did.

I’ve prepared a Power... Read More

The Naked God: Brings this trilogy to a merciful end

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The Naked God by Peter F. Hamilton

Disclaimer: This audiobook, and the series, is extremely popular and has high ratings at Goodreads and Audible. I will explain why I am not enthusiastic about it, but please take my opinion with the proverbial grain of salt.

The Naked God (1999 print, 2016 audio) is the third and final book in Peter F. Hamilton’s NIGHT’S DAWN trilogy. It begins immediately after the events of the previous book, The Neutronium Alchemist which follows the first book, The Reality Dysfunction. At this point in the story, the... Read More

The Brass Giant: Beautiful images and a disappointing main character

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The Brass Giant by Brooke Johnson

At the beginning of Brooke Johnson’s steampunk fantasy-romance novel The Brass Giant (2015), Petra Wade, our protagonist, is a strong-willed young woman with a driving desire: she wants to be an engineer. Specifically, she wants to attend the University and Engineers Guild, which does not admit women. Petra, an orphan, has learned clockwork from an elderly shopkeeper, but her talent for engineering is far beyond that, and she thirsts to use her ability to improve the world.

Emmerich Goss is a wealthy, good-looking University student with copper-colored eyes, and he asks for Petra’s help powering his automaton, which is distinctive because it responds to controls that are manipulated remotely. Eager to prove herself, Petra agrees to disguise herself as a boy and sneak into the University to help him, but soon... Read More

Storm Front: A series to live and grow with

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Reposting to include Tadiana's new review:

Storm Front by Jim Butcher

It is hard to believe that Storm Front, the first book of the Dresden Files, came out more than a decade ago. Jim Butcher introduces his scrappy wizard-detective in this inaugural adventure. That was a more innocent time, and Harry was a more innocent character back then.

Harry is a working wizard in Chicago. He has an office with the word “Wizard” on the door and he advertizes in the yellow pages. (“No Children’s Parties; No Love Potions.”) Harry is the real deal, a powerful magical practitioner, but lately most of his income comes from the Chicago PD, particularly their Special Investigations or SI unit—think “X Files.” Early in Storm Front, his police contact Karrin Murphy requests his help at a shocking murde... Read More