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Throne of Glass: Teenage escapism and wish-fulfilment

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Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

There are two main storylines in Throne of Glass. In one, a deadly assassin is unleashed from prison to travel to the capital and take part in a royal tournament for hired killers where the competitors often meet mysterious and gruesome ends (because, you know, assassin tournament). In the other, an extremely flaky girl tries on lots of expensive dresses, goes to parties, gushes over how pretty she looks today, and flirts with attractive men who like to pamper her with expensive presents. In a brighter universe, the novel would end with the assassin murdering the Popular Girl before she had the chance to complete her dude-harem. Alas, the assassin and the girl are of course the same person, and consequently neither plotline feels fully realized. It’s as if author Sarah ... Read More

Twilight Zone: Shadow and Substance by Mark Rahner, Tom Peyer, and John Layman

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Twilight Zone: Shadow and Substance by Mark Rahner, Tom Peyer, and John Layman Illustrated by Edu Menna, Randy Valiente, Rod Rodolfo, Jose Malaga, and Colton Worley.

Twilight Zone: Shadow and Substance is a large (250 pages) collection of, well, new Twilight Zone stories in graphic form. Or maybe “newish” might be better, as several have deliberate (I’m assuming) echoes of classic Twilight Zone tale, and most have, at least in my mind, a bit of a retro feel to them. I’m not sure this element however is as intentional, leaving many of the stories feeling more than a little predictable and stale. I suppose, for those who don’t read often in the genre o... Read More

White Mars: A response to KSR’s MARS trilogy

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White Mars by Brian W. Aldiss

While rereading Kim Stanley Robinson's MARS trilogy, books I consider to be among the very best in science fiction, I came across various references to White Mars; Or, The Mind Set Free: A 21st-Century Utopia (1999) by Brian W. Aldiss, written in collaboration with prominent physicists Roger Penrose. Robinson's utopian vision of a terraformed Red Planet is not something everybody would see as ideal or even morally acceptable. In the MARS trilogy Robinson pays a lot of attention to the discussion between what he calls the Reds, a faction opposed to terraforming the planet and convinced of its intrinsic value, and the Green faction who would exploit the plane... Read More

The Long Utopia: Intriguing mysteries, disappointing characters

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The Long Utopia: by Terry Pratchett & Steven Baxter

I read this book thinking it was, finally, the end of Terry Pratchett and Steven Baxter’s LONG EARTH series. Unfortunately, I have since read that one more is going to come out. In some ways, this is fine. The Long Utopia (2015) in no way provides a conclusion to many of the plotlines that Pratchett and Baxter have set in motion in previous installments and about which I am still, despite my better instincts, curious. In other ways, though, it is tedious, since my experience of these books cannot really be described as “enjoyment.”

In The Long Utopia, life on the Long Earth continues as it did when we left it. The Next, the evolved super-smart humans we met in The Long Mars, have found a home up in... Read More

Voodoo Island: For Uncle Boris completists only

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Voodoo Island directed by Reginald LeBorg

The 1957 Boris Karloff film Voodoo Island seems to have a widespread reputation as being one of the actor's all-time worst, so it was with a feeling of resignation and borderline cinematic masochism that I popped this DVD into the player the other night. Voodoo Island was Karloff's first horror picture in four years, his only release for 1957; he would rebound a bit the following year, with the releases of the fun shlockfest Frankenstein 1970 and the even better (British) film Grip of the Strangler. Filmed on the Hawaiian island of Kauai on the cheap, the picture turns out to be a modest little B film that, despite its many flaws, still retains a certain strange charm.

In it, Boris plays a character named Phillip Knight, who seems to be a professional debunker of popular myths. Knight, when we first encounter him, has ... Read More

3001: The Final Odyssey: Short, unnecessary series conclusion

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3001: The Final Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke

The elements that make 2001: A Space Odyssey a classic — the pacing, dramatic tension, smartly efficient plot lines — are mostly missing from Arthur C. Clarke's Space Odyssey finale, 3001: The Final Odyssey. What it retains is Clarke's obvious exuberance for biological, technological and cultural evolution. Each book in the series represents an evolution in itself even, of Clarke's own perspective and thinking on the growth of humanity overtime, while providing a platform for his reflections on extraterrestrial life and evolution.

Beware of spoilers for the previous books below. I’m assuming anyone who... Read More

2061: Odyssey Three: Blandly going where he has gone twice before

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2061: Odyssey Three by Arthur C. Clarke

This is not a great book. It's really more of an extended novella or perhaps part one of Arthur C. Clarke's SPACE ODYSSEY finale, 3001. This story has none of the depth, nuance or scale of Clarke's classic original, 2001 nor its solid follow up 2010.

Beware of spoilers for the previous novels below. I’m assuming anyone who reads this review will likely have read the two preceding novels, or at least seen their movie companions.

In 2061, Clarke creates a pair of focal points 60 years after modern man first comes across The Monolith buried deeply bene... Read More

Arena: Sex, drugs and virtual gaming

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Arena by Holly Jennings

In the year 2054, virtual gaming has become a major sport with a huge following, and the RAGE tournaments are the ultimate competition, a virtual fight to the death between two five-person teams. The death matches take place in a simple virtual world: a field of tall wheatgrass and two stone towers, one tower assigned to each team. The rules are simple ― kill everyone (in a virtual kind of way) on the opposing team ― but real-world strength and skills translate directly to this virtual world, so rigorous physical training and well-developed martial arts skills in real life are critical.

Kali Ling is a member of Team Defiance, which is favored in the main tournament. But then things quickly start to go wrong for Kali and Defiance, following the rule of bad things coming in threes: First, a stunning loss in the final game of the pre-season to Team InvictUS sends ... Read More

Stardance: A dated double-award winner

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Stardance by Spider Robinson & Jeanne Robinson

Spider & Jeanne Robinson’s Stardance was first published in Analog in 1977 and won both the Hugo and the Nebula Awards for Best Novella. It was up against Vonda N. McIntyre’s Aztecs, John Varley’s In the Hall of the Martian Kings, Gregory Benford’s A Snark in the Night and Keith Laumer’s The Wonderful Secret. In 1978, Analog published a sequel called Read More

Transgalactic: Disappointing follow-up to its predecessor

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Transgalactic by James Gunn

Last year I gave a qualified thumbs-up to James Gunn’s Transcendental, which as I noted in the review, read like a mix of old guard sci-fi, The Canterbury Tales, Ship of Fools, and And Then There Were None. I absolutely loved (seriously, loved) the Chaucerian aspect, which were a series of stories embedded in the larger narrative that explained how various individuals — human and alien — ended up aboard the spaceship on a pilgrimage in search of the rumored Transcendental Machine (TM). The rest of the novel, however, I found far less successful. Now Gunn is back with the sequel, Transgalac... Read More

The Terminal Experiment: A substandard Crichton-style thriller

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The Terminal Experiment by Robert J. Sawyer

Robert J. Sawyer is a very popular Canadian science-fiction author, with many novels under his belt and several major awards, including the 1995 Nebula Award for The Terminal Experiment, 2003 Hugo Award for Hominids, and 2006 John W. Campbell Award for Mindscan. I hadn’t read anything of his so I decided to give The Terminal Experiment a try. It’s about an engineer who creates three artificial copies of his consciousness, and one of them becomes a killer. The audiobook, by Recorded Books, is narrated by the very competent Paul Hecht, and is an easy listen. But how well does it hold up as an award winner?

I’ll freely admit I am not a big fan of ... Read More

The Geek Feminist Revolution: Just didn’t do it for me

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The Geek Feminist Revolution by Kameron Hurley

The Geek Feminist Revolution is a collection of writing by Kameron Hurley, much of which was originally published online. And at the risk of sounding curmudgeonly and persnickety, from my viewpoint the problem was they read that way. Some of that I think is in the nature of the writing, and some of that probably is my own issue in the expectations I come with when a book is subtitled “Essays” (and there’s that “persnickety” part).

The collection is made up of nearly 40 essays divided into four sections, though as one would expect, there’s a fair amount of overlap in their subject matter. The sections are: Level Up (dealing with the craft and business of writing), Geek (media criticism), Let’s Get Personal (these are, well, more persona... Read More

The Ruby Airship: Slogging across France by land and by air

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The Ruby Airship by Sharon Gosling

The Ruby Airship is a direct sequel to The Diamond Thief and the second book in Sharon Gosling’s DIAMOND THIEF YA steampunk trilogy; though some key events from the previous book are recapped in this installment, I suggest that if you’re interested in the trilogy, you should read these books (and their reviews) in sequential order.

It’s been roughly six months since the water-soaked conclusion of The Diamond Thief. Rémy Brunel and a mechanically-inclined street urchin, known only as J, have moved into the Professor’s old workshop. Rémy works as a stage performer and moonlights as a vigilante, somehow having translated her skills as a trapeze artist into lite... Read More

Red Queen: Reads like a YA lucky dip

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Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

Red Queen reads a little like a YA lucky dip. You get the feeling that Victoria Aveyard just chucked a list of YA clichés into a bag and picked them out blindfolded. Katniss, sorry, Mare Barrow is a “Red”, which makes her a lower class of citizen compared to the “Silvers” who govern the world. But... isn’t that exactly the concept behind the “Reds” in Red Rising? And wasn’t the protagonist of that YA mega-franchise called Darrow? Sort-of-almost-exactly-the-same-as Barrow? Hmm, there is something fishy going on here...

So Mare Barrow is seventeen and about to be sent off to war, because that’s what usually happens in these dystopias. The Silvers are needlessly wasting thousands of Red lives — ... Read More

Camouflage: Species meets The Abyss

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Camouflage by Joe Haldeman

How did Joe Haldeman’s Camouflage beat Susanna Clarke’s monumental work Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell for the Nebula Award in 2005? Granted, I haven’t read that book, but I have read many glowing reviews from my fellow FanLit reviewers and Goodreads friends. It was also made into a major BBC miniseries and received many accolades. Clarke’s book is incredibly long and filled with dense footnotes that show the depth of research and creative energy, perhaps too much for some readers but showing great effort on the author’s part. It is a major literary work of speculative fiction, and won the Hugo, World Fantasy, Locus, and Mythopoeic awards, and was... Read More

The Illusionists: An intriguing premise lacks magic

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The Illusionists by Rosie Thomas

There is something rather bold about naming your Victorian protagonist Devil, and that sets the tone for the premise of Rosie Thomas’s novel, The Illusionists. Add to the mix a bad-tempered dwarf called Carlo Bonomi, a Swiss inventor named Heinrich who becomes obsessed with his creations of automata — mechanical women with rubber skin — and you’ve got yourself the beginnings of quite a tale. But The Illusionists falls short of the magic it promises and readers may struggle to sit through Devil’s performance.

We first meet Devil roaming the streets in want of a drink and a job. Instead, he finds a dwarf, dressed as a child and picking pockets with more skill than Devil has ever seen. The dwarf is Carlo Bonomi, a fellow illusionist and showman. Devil persuades Carlo to embark on ... Read More

YOU: For the nostalgia of the burgeoning game industry only

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YOU by Austin Grossman

Russell was a nerd in high school, running with a crowd of computer geeks before anyone knew what computers could do. Unlike his childhood friends, he didn’t stay a computer geek. He went on to try to have a ‘normal’ life. His friends went on to release a hugely popular video game, and founded a game label in its own right. Years later and after many changes in plans Russell comes back and applies to work for the people he left behind. Austin Grossman’s YOU is the story of a guy who isn’t quite anything but finds a place where maybe he can create something.

Characters are a huge part of any story for me. I can forgive most trope-filled plots if I can really dig into the characters. I had no such luck with Y... Read More

Ultimate Spider-Man Vol. 1 by Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley

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Ultimate Spider-Man Vol. 1 by Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley

Note: if you’ve never stumbled your way into a Spiderman/Spider-Man movie, or even past the poster, there will be spoilers in this review. If you’re somewhat familiar with the Spider-Man story and/or the Marvel universe (particularly in New York) then nothing in here should surprise you.

Ultimate Spider-Man Vol. 1 covers a huge amount of Spidey: from his humble beginnings as a simple high-school student in New York through a seemingly never-ending parade of villains. Ultimate packs in romance, intrigue, S.H.I.E.L.D., loss, abandonment, sports, a... Read More

Only the Stones Survive: Has the emotional impact of a textbook

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Only the Stones Survive by Morgan Llywelyn

Morgan Llywelyn has written dozens of historical novels about Ireland, the Celts, and the Túatha Dé Danann. Her latest, Only the Stones Survive, recounts her version of the legendary Gaelic conquest of the Túatha Dé Danann in ancient Ireland. According to the myths, the Milesians sailed to Ireland and, after fighting a battle, and with the help of the bard Amergin, made peace with the fae folk. They divided up the island so that the Milesians lived atop the land while the Túatha Dé Danann lived in the underworld below.

Told from multiple perspectives, Llywelyn’s tale fills in all the details, explaining some of the customs and powers of the Túatha Dé Danann, why the Milesians came to Ireland, why the peaceful Túatha... Read More

Hear the Wind Sing: Murakami’s debut novel

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Hear the Wind Sing by Haruki Murakami

First published in 1979, Hear the Wind Sing is Haruki Murakami’s debut novel (or novella, depending upon where one draws the line). An unnamed narrator tells the story of what happened to him over the course of eighteen days when he was a university student. He spends most of his time either drinking beer with his friend, “The Rat,” or else in a confused relationship with a woman.

To be honest, I did not enjoy Hear the Wind Sing, since I prefer to latch onto the plot when reading. The novel is divided into forty chapters, and though a larger narrative loosely ties everything together, Hear the Wind Sing might actually be better read as a series of related vignettes that prod... Read More

Barely Bewitched: I’m done with Tammy Jo

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Barely Bewitched by Kimberly Frost

Note: Barely Bewitched has a rating of over 4 out of 5 stars at both Amazon and GoodReads, so please let that information guide how you perceive my review.

Barely Bewitched is the second novel in Kimberly Frost’s SOUTHERN WITCH series. I recently reviewed the first novel, Would-Be Witch, and wasn’t too impressed with Frost’s ditzy heroine and her aggressive alpha male lovers. If the book had had some redeeming qualities such as beautiful prose, appealing humor, or even an interesting plot, I could have happily gone along for the ride.

I only decided to pick up Barely Bewitched because Tantor Audio sent me a review copy of the audiobook. Penguin ... Read More

Diary of a Haunting: Great concept, but uneven execution

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Diary of a Haunting by M. Verano

The conceit behind Diary of a Haunting is that M. Verano is an associate professor at a university in Idaho who has devoted his life to “editing a series of first-person narratives” which demonstrate instances of occult or paranormal incidents. “Montague Verano” is a pseudonym used to lend authenticity to the framing device for this narrative, which purports to be a collection of journal entries from a turbulent six-month period in the life of a teenaged girl. Naturally, the reader is assured that pertinent details like names have been changed to protect affected individuals.

Book 2



Paige, her scientifically-minded younger brother Logan, and their mother have just relocated from sunny L.A. to dreary small-town Idaho following a much-publicized divorce. Mom, a m... Read More

The Spine of the World: Never mind, bring back Drizzt

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The Spine of the World by R.A. Salvatore

R.A. Salvatore’s The Spine of the World tries so hard that I actually feel a bit bad for giving it low marks. It’s akin to how I imagine a judge at a dog show must feel when sizing up that one dog who’s a bit too flaky for the event. It won’t stand on the podium or heel properly and it gets singed going through the fiery ring (this might be a good time to own up to the fact that I’ve never actually watched a dog show), but all the same it just looks so enthusiastic and eager to please that one feels guilty giving it a poor evaluation. The Spine of the World is that dog. It desperately wants your approval, but unfortunately it has committed a sin so heinous — especially for this series — that I don... Read More

Would-Be Witch: 1 ditzy heroine, 2 alpha males

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Would-Be Witch by Kimberly Frost

Would-Be Witch (2009) is the first book in Kimberly Frost’s SOUTHERN WITCH paranormal romance series. I picked it up because Tantor Audio has just released its sequel, Barely Bewitched, and offered to send me a copy for review. There are currently five novels in this popular series.

Tammy Jo is a fiery red-head descended from a line of witches. Tammy Jo’s magical powers never developed, so she doesn’t practice witchcraft. She spends her days working as a pastry chef and her nights sleeping with Zach, her gorgeous ex-husband, a good ol’ macho conservative Texas boy who works in law enforcement and doesn’t believe in magic. But one day everything blows up. Tammy gets fired from her job, ... Read More

The Anubis Gates: A very generous book

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Reposting to include Katie's new review.

The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers

Tim Powers' fourth novel, 1983's The Anubis Gates, is a book that I had been meaning to read for years. Chosen for inclusion in both David Pringle's Modern Fantasy: The Hundred Best Novels and Jones & Newman's Horror: 100 Best Books, as well as the recipient of the Philip K. Dick Memorial Award in 1984, the book came with plenty of good word of mouth, to say the least. And, as i... Read More