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Coming Home: Searching for the past in the distant future

Coming Home by Jack McDevitt

In the distant future, humanity will remember the period when NASA landed on the moon and explored our galaxy as the Golden Age. The people of the future won’t remember much else from our century because of the Internet crash that caused so much literature and scientific knowledge to be lost forever.

Alex Benedict and his pilot, Chase Kolpath, are in the artifact business. Benedict’s profession consists of finding rare items and selling them to the highest bidder – and Benedict has a lead on a bunch of Golden Age artifacts. He suspects that Garnett Baylee, one of his predecessors, may have uncovered and hoarded a cache of Golden Age artifacts. So Alex and Chase return to Earth to see if they can find the past again.

Meanwhile, Alex and Chase also find themselves caught up in the Capella affair. The Capella is a spaceship trapped in transwarp space, which means tha... Read More

The Pilgrims and Shadow: A solid opener followed by a more flat and meandering bridge book

The Pilgrims and Shadow by Will Elliott

The Pilgrims and Shadow by Will Elliott are the first two books of the PENDULUM TRILOGY. Book one came out a little more than a year ago, while its sequel was published in February of this year. I read The Pilgrims while on a long trip last year, and so never wrote up a review (camping and hiking not being conducive to such activity). Which means this dual review will focus heavily detail-wise on Shadow while making reference to the first book based on some fuzzy recollection, some quick skimming to refresh, and an old hand-scrawled note or two in the margin I may or may not have deciphered correctly.

The Pilgrims introduces us to Eric Albright, and young and not-particularly-upcoming journalist, and Stuart Casey ... Read More

The Boy Who Lost Fairyland: Weakest of the series

The Boy Who Lost Fairyland by Catherynne M. Valente

The Boy Who Lost Fairyland is the fourth in the FAIRYLAND series by Catherynne M. Valente, the second in a row that has been somewhat of a disappointment to me, and the first whose strengths I thought were not enough to fully overcome its flaws.

Valente takes a bit of a risk here in book four, shifting focus from her primary protagonist, September and her friends, to a whole new cast of characters. The titular “boy” of the book is Hawthorn, a young troll scooped up by the Red Wind and dropped off in our world as a changeling, where he lives as a “Not Normal” boy for some years before encountering Tam, another changeling. Eventually, the two of them realize their true selves and make their way back to Fairyland, and it is there that t... Read More

The Warring States: A step backwards

The Warring States by Aidan Harte

The Warring States is the second book in Aidan Harte’s THE WAVE trilogy, coming after last year’s Irenicon, to which I gave a three-star rating recently. Unfortunately, I’d describe The Warring States as a bit of a step backwards, mostly due to pacing issues.

You can take a look at my review of Irenicon for the detailed back-story. Suffice to say here that the setting is a roughly alternative Renaissance Italy in a world where Christ was killed by Herod, and Mary (a far cry from Christianity’s Mary) becomes the progenitor of a religion; where Concord, not Rome became the imperialistic head of an Empire; and where Concord’s Master Engineer Bernoulli mastered a quasi-science/quasi-magic sys... Read More

The Gospel of Loki:  Falls far short of its potential

The Gospel of Loki by Joanne M. Harris

I was greatly looking forward to Joanne M. HarrisThe Gospel of Loki, being a large fan of Norse mythology, anti-heroes, and subversive retellings of well-told tales. Especially if that retelling is going to be done by one known for his silvery tongue, biting wit, and clever mind. Really, if you’re going to have a first-person subversive anti-hero narrative, who would you pick over Loki as your main character?  So admittedly, maybe there is a bit of overly high expectations going on here, but while I found The Gospel of Loki enjoyable enough, it was a somewhat bland kind of enjoyment. The kind that went down easily enough, like say a plate of spaghetti topped with a mild store-brand marinara, but left you wishing for something with a lot more zing — a spicy fra diavolo sharpened with a half-dozen or so cloves of minced gar... Read More

The Shadow Master: Nice action, no fabric of reality

The Shadow Master by Craig Cormick

My low rating of this book reflects my disappointment in the gap between this concept and the execution, especially in the world-building. I also must say that many people on Goodreads loved The Shadow Master by Craig Cormick. Perhaps I’m just not the right reader for this book.

At first glance the book appears to be set in an alternate 15th century Italy with two warring families. There are the star-crossed lovers, Lucia and Lorenzo; each one an orphan, each one taken in by one of the feuding families … and deeply in love. There’s the Shadow Master leaping around, sword fighting, smiling a mocking smile from behind his mask. The name of the city is the Walled City.

The story of The Shadow Master involves a plague that kills everyone except the people inside the Walled City, who can slow the effects of the p... Read More

Cadmian’s Choice: A long middle book

Cadmian’s Choice by L.E. Modesitt Jr

Cadmian’s Choice is the fifth book in L.E. Modesitt Jr’s COREAN CHRONICLES and the second in the trilogy about Mykel and Dainyl. You don’t need to read the first trilogy in the COREAN CHRONICLES (Legacies, Darknesses, Scepters) before reading this one. In fact, I think it makes more sense to read this trilogy first since it focuses on events that occur generations before Legacies. However, you do need to read Alector’s Choice before starting Cadmian’s Choice.

In Alector’s Choice we met Mykel, a “lander” who lives on the planet Corus. He, like most of Modesitt’s protagonists, is ultra-honorable and ultra-competent, and he has risen remark... Read More

The Soldiers of Halla: Finally, some answers!

The Soldiers of Halla by D.J. MacHale

It’s been a few years since Bobby Pendragon first found out he was a Traveler. He’s been all over the territories of Halla, trying to thwart Saint Dane’s plans to throw all of Halla into chaos. Now the final battle is here. Can Bobby and his friends kill Saint Dane, or will all of Halla be forced to live in the terrible universe he has created?

The Soldiers of Halla, the final PENDRAGON book by D.J. MacHale, begins with Bobby learning who he is, where he came from, and what happened to his family — all in one huge infodump. I’m not sure why Bobby couldn’t know these things before... (Well, actually, I do know why — it’s because MacHale likes to withhold information for dramatic effect, even if it doesn’t make sense to the plot. This happens freq... Read More

Raven Rise: Sloppy plot, but I read on

Raven Rise by D.J. MacHale

Raven Rise is the penultimate novel in D.J. MacHale’s PENDRAGON series. (Expect spoilers for previous PENDRAGON books in this review.) At the end of the last book, The Pilgrims of Rayne, Bobby destroyed the flume on Ibara, trapping himself and Saint Dane on that territory. Now Bobby can never go home, but at least Saint Dane will not be able to destroy the rest of Halla. Or so Bobby thinks. Saint Dane is trying, as we knew he would, to find a way off of Ibara.

Meanwhile, the “Convergence” that Saint Dane keeps monologuing about has finally begun. Every territory is in turmoil. The territories have regressed so much that it’s as if all the work that Bobby and the Travelers did in the previous books has been wiped out. The Tr... Read More

Black Water: The plot suffers for the sake of the Message

Black Water by D.J. MacHale

In Black Water, the fifth book in D.J. MacHale’s PENDRAGON series, the rules seem to be changing. All the things we thought we knew about how the flumes, the territories, the Travelers, and the acolytes work are different. Saint Dane, the villain, has brought that deadly poison he used on Cloral (in The Lost City of Faar) through the flume to use in the beautiful but dangerous territory of Eelong. Bobby Pendragon figures that if Saint Dane has broken the rules, so can he. And so do his friends Mark and Courtney who finally decide to dive into the flume and see what happens. I expect that most fans will be thrilled to see Mark and Courtney in action. Unfortunately, Bobby and his friends will soon find out that breaking the rules sometimes has really bad consequences.

Poison isn’t the only problem in Eelong. When Bobby first arrives,... Read More

The Dark Water: Weaker than its predecessor

The Dark Water by Seth Fishman

Fair warning: spoilers for The Well’s End follow.

The Dark Water is the sequel to Seth Fishman’s The Well’s End and while the first book was a solidly entertaining and exciting book despite issues of weak characterization and a somewhat flat style, the sequel lacks its predecessor’s deftness in pace while it continues to have much of the same issues, making it a weaker novel overall.

At the close of The Well’s End (did I mention there will be spoilers? Seriously, stop now if you haven’t read the first book because I’m going to tell you its ending. No, really. I am), Mia and her friends dove into the miracle-water well to escape Sutton and find Mia’s father. They surface in an underground world, complete... Read More

Hive Monkey: This fun, fizzy concoction is not completely satisfying

Hive Monkey by Gareth L. Powell

Hive Monkey is the second book in Gareth L. Powell’s ACK ACK MACAQUE series, originally dubbed a trilogy but now, apparently, fated to be a quartet. The eponymous monkey, who likes cigars, rum and flying a refurbished WWII Spitfire, plays a large role in this book, gleefully wreaking mayhem on the bad guys. His sidekicks, Victoria Valois, journalist-turned-airship-captain, K8, plucky girl hacker, and Paul, a hologram, also have roles to play as they battle the colonized drones of an evil hive-mind.

It all gets very exciting, so I was baffled to start Chapter One with a boring, stereotypical character, William Cole. Cole is a meth-addled science fiction writer. He opens the book by standing on a wharf looking at scenery and mourning his dead wife ... Read More

The Dark Water: The story switches from SF thriller to lost world fantasy

The Dark Water by Seth Fishman

The Dark Water is the sequel to last year’s The Well’s End, a fast-paced and suspenseful YA SF thriller that I enjoyed despite its reliance on several well-worn teen themes. To discuss The Dark Water, I’ll have to spoil a little of the plot of The Well’s End, so if you’re planning to read that novel, you may want to stop after the next paragraph.

The Well’s End was written in first person from the perspective of Mia Kish, a nationally-ranked swimmer who attends an elite boarding school. When Mia was a toddler, she fell down a well and was eventually rescued as the world watched on CNN. (This story was inspired by Baby Jess... Read More

Shadow Games: The Black Company regroups

Shadow Games by Glen Cook

It’s been so long since the Black Company left Khatovar that the annals of that time are lost. Now, the campaigns in the North against the Dominator and the Taken — powerful sorcerers that vied against one another for world domination — destroyed everything but a handful of the Company’s soldiers. It’s time to regroup.

Croaker, a former physician and Company annalist, is now the Company’s Captain. The Company retains its history and its merciless tactics. Its two wizards, Goblin and One-Eye, are still alive, and they still hate each other. And then there’s Lady. Lady had been one of the Taken, but she has now lost her power. There might be something between Lady and Croaker, but they have to take care of their responsibilities before they can figure out whether their shared attraction can turn into a relationship. Looking at his exhausted troops, Croaker decides to return to the distant Sout... Read More

The Fortress in Orion: Things go too smoothly in this space-opera heist

The Fortress in Orion by Mike Resnick

The Fortress in Orion is the first book in Mike Resnick’s DEAD ENDERS series. Colonel Nathan Pretorius is a decorated hero in the Democracy’s twenty-three year war with the Traanskei Coalition. Just as he is recuperating from his last mission, Pretorius is given a new assignment, one that seems impossible. It means infiltrating the heart of one of the Coalition’s best-defended fortresses and substituting an imposter for an important Coalition member. Early in the book, the odds of success are given as three percent. Later, they rise to six or seven percent.

Despite the military costuming, The Fortress in Orion is basically a heist or a caper story. Instead of The Dirty Dozen, think A-Team, Ocean’s 11-13 or Leverage. Pretorius assembles the generic heist team: the Strong Man, the Saf... Read More

Tolkien and the Great War: An exploration of Tolkien’s early influences

Tolkien and the Great War: The Threshold of Middle-earth by John Garth

Tolkien and the Great War is an obviously well-researched book that goes into explicit (at times I must admit tedious) detail on J.R.R. Tolkien’s involvement in World War I and its possible impact on his then-current and later writings. We begin by observing Tolkien’s earliest close friendships formed at St. Edward’s Grammar School under the auspices of the “TCBS” (an acronym for Tea Club, Barrovian Society) where the core group of Tolkien, Christopher Wiseman, Robert Gilson, and G.B. Smith became close artistic confidantes, encouragers and critics of each other’s work. Convinced that they were a group that would change the world with their work, their dreams were turned to harsh reality with the advent of “the war to end all wars”.

We spend the majority of Tolkien and the Great War following ... Read More

The Whispering Swarm: Incandescent prose gives way to boredom

The Whispering Swarm by Michael Moorcock

“… There was Blackfriars Bridge and the rich waters of the river, marbled by rainbow oil, poisonous and invigorating, buzzing like speed. What immune systems that environment gave us! It was an energy shield out of a science fiction story. The city lived through all attacks and so did we. Our bit of it – almost the eye of the storm – was scarcely touched. I grew up knowing I would survive. We all knew it.”

Michael Moorcock is one of Those Names in the SFF field. Larger than life, striding across the 1960s in his velvets, lace and plumed hats with his rock-and-roll band, his British accent, his Eternal Champion and a plethora of sex partners, he and his colleagues created “the New Wave” movement. In The Whispering Swarm, Moorcock revisits those years and his earlier life, growing up in London during and after World War II. At ... Read More

Victory of Eagles: Darker than the previous novels

Victory of Eagles by Naomi Novik

(Contains slight spoilers for Empire of Ivory)

Victory of Eagles is the fifth instalment in Naomi Novik's TEMERAIRE series. I thought the previous four books had ups and downs but in general they are fun, fast reads. The fourth book, Empire of Ivory, had a very promising end, so I was rather looking forward to reading this. I guess Victory of Eagles mirrors the series as a whole in that it has its ups and downs but is generally enjoyable.

After Laurence's decision to deliver the cure for the dragon disease that struck Britain in Empire of Ivory to the French, thereby undoing a deliberate attempt by the British to infect the French dragons, he is put... Read More

Storm Front: Things can only get better…

Storm Front by Jim Butcher

Despite having missed the bandwagon by more than a decade, I am finally reviewing the opening novel of THE DRESDEN FILES: Storm Front. And not without a little caution, for the series has a hardcore fan following and is now a benchmark in urban fantasy with almost cult status. In an interview, Butcher said he was trying to write the perfect story, the one that makes you laugh and cry, and end the book with a glowy satisfied feeling. I was not left feeling glowy or satisfied, but hey — Butcher did say he’s still searching for that perfect story. Maybe it’ll crop up somewhere along the next fifteen novels in the series…

Harry Dresden is a professional wizard, as it says in his ad in the yellow pages. He finds lost items and carries out paranormal investigations, and, for more vanilla requests, consults and advises, too. Read More

Her Fearful Symmetry: Needed more substance than the ghosts

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 open with the death of Elspeth Noblin. She and her (substantially younger) boyfriend, Robert, had, until her death, lived in two separate flats next to Highgate cemetery. Shortly before her death, Elspeth wrote to her twin sister Edie, who lives in America,... Read More

The Immortals of Meluha: The best part is the unusual setting

The Immortals of Meluha by Amish Tripathi

The Immortals of Meluha, by Amish Tripathi, is the first of a trilogy set in ancient (about 1900 B.C.) India detailing the conflict between the Meluha empire (the Suryavanshi) and their sworn enemies , the Chandravanshis, who seem to have allied themselves with the horrid demon-like Nagas. What gives the hugely outnumbered Meluha hope is their vastly superior technology (including a special cocktail that greatly extends life) and the arrival of the prophesied “Neelkanth,” in the form of a young man named Shiva.

That last name should indicate to you that we’re working in the milieu of myth here, and demons and gods make some brief appearances throughout. The focus is on Shiva becoming acclimated to the idea that he is “the one” once he’s found and brought back (the Meluhas have been searching for the prophesied one systematically, knowing he would come from an o... Read More

Dracula adapted and illustrated by John Green

Dracula adapted and illustrated by John Green

Dracula is not a easy novel to abridge, especially when one is trying to compact it to the size of a graphic novel and at the same time aiming it at a middle-grade audience, and to be honest, I can't say this version, adapted and illustrated by John Green, succeeds all that well.

One problem is that transitions are often awkward and abrupt. For instance, we cut from a panel telling us that Jonathan realizes “his only chance of escape was to scale the castle wall,” which sets the reader up for several expectations of what’s to follow: we expect to see Jonathan still in the castle trying to get out and we expect to see him climbing u... Read More

Royal Airs: Not as good as Troubled Waters

Royal Airs by Sharon Shinn

Royal Airs is the second book in Sharon Shinn’s ELEMENTAL BLESSINGS series. I loved the first book, Troubled Waters, which was a light romantic fantasy that told the story of Zoe Ardelay, a young woman who was brought to the royal court of Welce to be the fifth wife of its king. She discovered that she had power over the element of water and, using the personality traits that her water spirit gave her, she successfully navigated the dangers of the court and found true love. I’ll be reading that book again someday.

Royal Airs takes place after the events of Troubled Waters, but it can stand alone. Many of the characters overlap, but this is a separate story, not a direct sequel. In Royal Airs we become acquainted with more of the princesses of the five fami... Read More

The Three-Body Problem: Interesting, but not often enjoyable

The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu

The Three-Body Problem
, by Chinese author Cixin Liu, has some wonderfully evocative images and ideas and as well offers up a rare look inside his home country for many of us. It is often, therefore, an interesting book. From my experience though, “interesting” did not translate often enough into “enjoyable,” and the novel ended up being a bit of a slog for me to finish.

The book opens up with a powerfully vivid scene set during the Cultural Revolution as we watch a weary physics professor, Ye Zhetai, being battered by the Red Guards during yet another “Struggle Session”:
Other victims wore tall hats made from bamboo frames, but his was welded from thick steel bars. And the plaque he wore around his neck wasn’t wooden, like the others, but an iron door taken from a laboratory oven. His name was written on the door in striking black l... Read More

Vacant: My least favorite book in my current favorite urban fantasy series

Vacant by Alex Hughes

Vacant is the fourth book in Alex Hughes’ MINDSPACE INVESTIGATIONS. I absolutely loved the first three books, Clean, Sharp, and Marked (read my reviews) and this has been my favorite series for the past couple of years. Marked was my favorite book of 2013. However, I didn’t like Vacant as well and I hope (and expect) that this is just a minor setback in the series.

The most compelling element of the MINDSPACE INVESTIGATIONS series for me is all about the main character, Adam, and his fight with addiction. It is visceral and written so well that I can almost feel Adam’s pain as he craves something he knows will destroy him.

Adam ... Read More