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Miniatures: Like pistachios; you won’t stop with one

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Miniatures: The Very Short Fiction of John Scalzi by John Scalzi

Miniatures: The Very Short Fiction of John Scalzi (2016), is a collection from John Scalzi, published by Subterranean Press. Sub Press cleverly chose only one blurb for the back cover, from Kirkus reviews: “Often verging on the silly, but on the whole, quite amusing.”

That was a stroke of marketing genius on the part of Sub Press because this collection of works does verge on the silly. It jumps the border of silly. It tap-dances and cartwheels through the world of silly, shrieking “Wheeeee!” the whole time until the end, where there is one serious piece. As a journalist, a columnist, and a long-time blogger, Scalzi works well in the very short form, particularly when he is aiming for humor. ... Read More

Shadowed Souls: One way to audition a new Urban Fantasy series

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Shadowed Souls edited by Jim Butcher & Kerrie L. Hughes

Shadowed Souls is an invitational anthology edited by Jim Butcher and Kerrie L. Hughes. Butcher is the author of three fantasy series: THE DRESDEN FILES, THE CODEX ALERA, and THE CINDER SPIRES. Hughes is an established short fiction writer who has edited several anthologies including Chicks Kick Butt, Westward Weird, and Maiden Matron Crone.

The theme of Shadowed Souls is, “good isn’t always light and evil isn’t always dark,” and the eleven stories here showcase main characters — often from the writer’s series — who struggle not to give in to the monster within... or to keep it contained. W... Read More

A Crucible of Souls: A solid if somewhat familiar entry in the fantasy genre

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A Crucible of Souls by Mitchell Hogan

A Crucible of Souls by Mitchell Hogan is the first book of a trilogy that runs over pretty familiar ground in the coming-of-age fantasy genre and rarely rises above average in its telling, but has a likable enough main character and an intriguing enough plot to keep the reader satisfied.

Caldan is a young orphan raised by monks in a relatively secluded monastery that typically educates the wealthy children of the empire. When an incident occurs between one of those wealthy entitled youth and Caldan, he is expelled from the monastery by the monks, who give him a pair of powerful (and possibly dangerous) heirlooms left to him by his parents. The monks also reveal that what Caldan had been told about his parents’ deaths wasn’t quite the full truth. Determined to make his way in the world, and maybe find out more about his pa... Read More

Do Elephants Have Knees and Other Stories of Darwinian Origins: Sometimes convoluted, thoroughly informative

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Do Elephants Have Knees and Other Stories of Darwinian Origins by Charles R. Ault, Jr

In Do Elephants Have Knees and Other Stories of Darwinian Origins (2016), Charles R. Ault, Jr. takes a unique path to explaining the complexities of evolution, using children’s books such as Morris the Moose, Treasure Island, Diary of a Worm and others as springboards to discussing Charles Darwin’s path to discovery, from his time as an insatiably curious child to his adventure-filled twenties to the twilight years he spent focused on the lowly (though not to him) earthworm.

The focus is, as the title notes, on origins, and so we learn about the early ancestors and evolutionary route to those elephants (yes, by the way, they do have knees), whales, tetrapods, and p... Read More

Last Song Before Night: A debut from an author with tremendous potential

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Reposting to include Kevin's new review.

Last Song Before Night by Ilana C. Myer

Last Song Before Night (2015) is the debut novel from Ilana C. Myer, and while many aspects of the work shine — detailed world-building combined with protagonist backstory and development — they come at the expense of antagonist development, prose ranging from lovely to overly ornate, and, most importantly, the plot of the novel itself.

The novel ranges far and wide, but at its crux, there is a woman named Lin who seeks to achieve the impossible by becoming a female poet, forbidden in the land of Eivar for reasons that are never satisfactorily explained. It comes across as nothing more than a deliberate authorial obstacle intended to make Lin’s against-the-odds journey that much more difficult and her successes that much sweeter. Acade... Read More

American Gods: Great premise that (we think) doesn’t quite deliver

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Reposting to include Stuart's new review.

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

This is a bad land for Gods... The old gods are ignored. The new gods are as quickly taken up as they are abandoned, cast aside for the next big thing. Either you've been forgotten, or you're scared you're going to be rendered obsolete, or maybe you're just getting tired of existing on the whims of people.

Shadow, just out of prison and with nothing to go home to, is hired to be Mr. Wednesday's bodyguard as he travels around America to warn all the other incarnations of gods, legends, and myths, that “a storm is coming.” There's going to be a battle between the old gods who were brought to melting pot America by their faithful followers generations ago, and the new gods of technology, convenience, and individuality.

That's the premise of Read More

The Dispatcher: Interesting premise that’s hard to believe in

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The Dispatcher by John Scalzi

A weird thing has happened in our world. Suddenly, people who are murdered can come back to life. Nobody knows why. It doesn’t happen when people die naturally — only when they’re murdered. To take advantage of this new death loophole, the job of Dispatcher has been created and Tony Valdez is one of them. His job is to murder people so they can end up in their own beds a few hours before they died. For example, in one scene we see Tony murder a man who is about to die on the operating table and in another we see him shoot a woman who just got hit by a bus. Dispatchers occasionally do less savory jobs, too, such as shooting injured stuntmen on movie sets so the studio won’t get sued for damages.

When one of Tony’s fellow Dispatchers disappears, a policewoman asks him to help with the investigation. Tony is reluctant, but she is persuasive and he get... Read More

Ice Like Fire: Winter’s been saved — but not for long

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Ice Like Fire by Sara Raasch

When I reviewed Snow Like Ashes, the first book in the SNOW LIKE ASHES series (back when I was a FanLit newcomer), I complained of a lack of depth to the world that Sara Raasch created. In some ways, its sequel Ice Like Fire (2015) gave me what I desired; I was pleased that the world of Primoria is explored and developed in this book. But where one issue was partly solved, others were thrown up. Once again I found a story with plenty of potential that, if looked at in any depth, felt incomplete.

Interestingly, Raasch starts her acknowledgements by saying that “sequels are hard”. She admits that this second book hurt and that s... Read More

Angel Catbird by Margaret Atwood

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Angel Catbird by Margaret Atwood, Johnnie Christmas & Tamra Bonvillain

For a literary giant who is approached with a seriousness that borders on reverence, Margaret Atwood is perfectly willing to have fun and write whatever she wants. Sometimes that is clearly genre-tinged; sometimes it is darkly humorous, and sometimes it’s a graphic novel for children about a superhero who is part human, part cat and part owl. And that’s the premise of Angel Catbird, Volume 1.

Atwood’s story and words are illustrated by Johnnie Christmas and colored by Tamra Bonvillain. (I do wonder whether at least one of those surnames is a pseudonym.) Christmas’s images have a simple, comic-strip look to them. With a few exceptions, they reminded me of Kid Beowulf by Alexis Farjado. They’re at least in that style. Bonvillain nicely mixes color palettes... Read More

Catchman: A too-elusive serial killer

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Catchman by Chris Wooding

There’s a murderer loose in the city. Catchman (1998) centers on a group of homeless teenagers and the news circling around a serial killer nearby, who has been dubbed the ‘Catchman’. As victims surface one by one, the tension grows and with it, tempers run high among the teens.

One of the greater strengths of Catchman was the intriguing set-up. I actively wanted to know what was going to happen from the beginning of the story and throughout the narrative. The tension of the background, Catchman included, helped lend gravity to the struggles of the young protagonists.

The main creep factor (the Catchman himself) wasn’t immediately threatening enough for me to get into the heads of the characters. To me, the elusive villain was too elusive — to the detriment of the story. The murders in ... Read More

Redemption Ark: Promising ideas but excessive page-count

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Redemption Ark by Alastair Reynolds

Redemption Ark (2002) is the follow-up to Revelation Space, Alastair Reynolds’ debut novel and the second book in his REVELATION SPACE series of hard SF space opera in which highly-augmented human factions encounter implacable killer machines bent on exterminating sentient life. The first entry had elements of Bruce Sterling’s Schismatrix, Frank Herbert’s Read More

Amazonia: A Haggardian adventure for the modern age

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Amazonia by James Rollins (aka James Clemens)

A scientific expedition of thirty people enters the Amazon jungle and is never heard from again. One of the expedition’s members was Gerald Clark, a former special forces turned CIA agent after he lost an arm in combat. Four years after he disappeared with the expedition, Agent Clark stumbles into a remote mission — covered in markings, his tongue cut out — and then dies in a fit of convulsions. That’s not even the strangest part. When Agent Gerald Clark comes out of the jungle, he has two arms.

How’s that for a premise? If that’s not a spectacular story hook, then I don't know what would be. While not technically classified as fantasy, Amazonia does contain its fair share of monsters, magic, and lost worlds. It’s fanta... Read More

The Blind Astronomer’s Daughter: Starts strong but loses focus and energy

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The Blind Astronomer’s Daughter by John Pipkin

The Blind Astronomer’s Daughter by John Pipkin is the second book I’ve read this year that makes use of the story of Caroline Herschel, sister of famed astronomer William Herschel, though I’d say with less success than the first (The Stargazer’s Sister by Carrie Brown). Pipkin’s novel has some nicely lyrical passages and is rife with sharp historical and scientific detail, but the author seems to lose control of his story about halfway through, leading to a dissipation of effect.

It is another Caroline, not William’s sister, who is actually the focal point of The Blind Astronomer’s Daughter. This is Caroline... Read More

Bright Blaze of Magic: Monsters and magic spice up a deadly feud

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Bright Blaze of Magic by Jennifer Estep

Note: some spoilers for earlier books in this series.

The hair-raising adventures of Lila Merriweather conclude in Bright Blaze of Magic, the third volume of Jennifer Estep’s BLACK BLADE young adult urban fantasy series. Lila, age seventeen, is not only a highly skilled thief, but also has amazing sword-fighting abilities and extraordinary magical powers, not to mention championship snarking abilities. In the town of Cloudburst Falls, where magical power is so prevalent that the town attracts tourists who want to see magical people and creatures, people’s magical strength lends itself to political power. Lila is a bodyguard for the Sinclair Family, particularly the son and heir of the family, Devon Sinclair. S... Read More

Hell Divers: What it lacks in depth it makes up for in fun

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Hell Divers by Nicholas Sansbury Smith

We dive so humanity survives.

I haven’t read pop sci-fi author Nicholas Sansbury Smith before, but something drew me to his newest release Hell Divers, the first in a projected trilogy. Yes, the cover is cool, and artificial as that is, the art sometimes draws me in. But even better was the concept: 250 years ago, the world was at war. Nuclear bombs laid waste to the planet. Nothing could and nothing did survive. The apocalypse left a world utterly unlivable. So humanity had taken to the skies.

Two huge airships carrying over 500 souls each were now all that humanity had for the future. The world had ended so fast that the airships, the very same ships used to bomb the planet into its inhospitable present, had become lifeboats for those who boarded them before the bombs dropped. Read More

The Wolf in the Attic: Like reading two different books. I really liked one of them.

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The Wolf in the Attic by Paul Kearney

Reading The Wolf in the Attic, by Paul Kearney, was like reading two different books. One of these books was a solid three-star read. The other was very familiar and ultimately unsatisfying, and would probably get a 2.5 star rating from me. I’ll explain at the end of the review how I came to the overall rating I chose.

Kearney’s other work is described as second-world epic fantasy and he is compared to David Gemell. The Wolf in the Attic is a departure for him. It’s set in 1920s Oxford, England, and the main character is an eleven-year-old girl named Anna.

Anna Francis, like her father, is a Greek refugee, forced t... Read More

A Fine and Private Place: A gentle tale of love, death, and lost souls

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A Fine and Private Place by Peter S. Beagle

Peter S. Beagle is a well-known author of many fantasy novels, including the classic The Last Unicorn. However, I don’t often hear mention of his debut novel, A Fine and Private Place (1960), written when he was only 19 years old. Given his age it’s a phenomenal achievement — the prose is polished, filled with pathos and humor, and the characters’ relationships are deftly described. And yet I couldn’t get into the story at all, because there was almost no dramatic tension of any kind — just two central romantic relations, one between two people lonely and disconnected in the living world, and one between two recently deceased spirits not ready to let go of life.

The story bears remarkable sim... Read More

The Deadbringer: Promising debut fantasy series

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The Deadbringer by E.M. Markoff

Kira Vidal is a Deadbringer. His touch brings rot, death and destruction to anything that comes into direct contact with his skin — human flesh disintegrates, metal turns to rust. Kira can also ‘summon’ death and put flesh and life back to that which is no more.

Kira’s an orphan. As is often the case in this fantasy trope, the lone wanderer seeks his past, family and the truth of his power, and has grown in a world with ‘parental ambiguity’. In Kira’s case, his father is a mystery and his mother is dead. Kira lives with his uncle Eutau in the north of Moenda, a region ruled by The Bastion. The Bastion exists in an unsteady peace with the large militaristic entity in the south known as The Ascendency — a political entity with a very cold-war-Soviet vibe.

Rookie author E.M. Markoff shows herself more th... Read More

I Am Princess X: An exciting YA thriller

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Reposting to include Marion's new review.

I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest

My 14 year-old daughter (Tali) and I recently listened to the audiobook version of Cherie Priest’s I Am Princess X. We took a look at the print version, too, since the story is part novel, part comic. It’s about a slightly awkward girl named May who, back in fifth-grade, became best friends with a girl named Libby during recess when the two of them, both new to the school, had to sit out. Bored on the playground, together they created a cartoon heroine named Princess X. She has blue hair, wears red Chuck Taylors with her princess dress, and carries a katana instead of a wand (because “anyone can be awesome with magic... Read More

Imprudence: Very similar to Prudence

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Imprudence by Gail Carriger

Imprudence is the second book in Gail Carriger’s CUSTARD PROTOCOL series, a spin-off of her popular PARASOL PROTECTORATE books and related to her wonderful young adult FINISHING SCHOOL series. I didn’t love the first CUSTARD PROTOCOL book, Prudence. I thought the plot was silly, the humor was too often forced, and the romance was dull. However, I loved the audiobook narration by the amazingly talented Moira Quirk, so I was happy to give the sequel, Imprudence, a try.

In this instalment, Prudence (Pru) and the crew of her dirigible, The Spotted Custard Read More

In the Courts of the Sun: Promising techno-thriller/time travel hybrid can’t quite deliver

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In the Courts of the Sun by Brian D’Amato

In the Courts of the Sun is an interesting novel, built Frankenstein’s-monster-like from the elements of a Michael Crichton techno-thriller, Gary Jennings' Aztec series, and one of Stephen Baxter's unique spins on time travel. I enjoyed the book, but it's uneven. The book was written by artist Brian D'Amato and is the first in the JED DE LANDA two-book series.

The story is heavily character-driven, led by Jed DeLanda, a supremely intelligent, anti-social, hard-core gamer of Mayan descent. DeLanda is one of the few people in the world who can play an... Read More

Yorath the Wolf: A good follow-up to A Princess of the Chameln

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Yorath the Wolf by Cherry Wilder

Warning: May contain spoilers for A Princess of the Chameln

One of the mysteries laid out in Cherry Wilder’s A Princess of Chameln is the identity and whereabouts of Aidris’s cousin, the child of Elvedegran, her mother’s sister and the queen of Mel’Nir. The common understanding is that, because of a monstrous birth defect, the child and the mother both died. However, late in A Princess of Chameln, Aidris receives news that confirms her mother’s deathbed prophecy: Elvedegran’s child lives.

Yorath, the titular character of Yorath the Wolf (1984), the sec... Read More

A Deepness in the Sky: Might have been interesting at half the length

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A Deepness in the Sky by Vernor Vinge

A Fire Upon the Deep was a big success for Vernor Vinge, winning the 1993 Hugo Award. Seven years later, he followed up with A Deepness in the Sky, set 20,000 years earlier in the same universe, and this captured the 2000 Hugo Award and John W. Campbell Award. I came to both books with high expectations and was eager for a big-canvas space opera filled with mind-boggling technologies, exotic aliens, galactic civilizations, and a big cast of characters. Sadly, the first volume didn’t engage me, and I’m afraid the second didn’t either. At 28 hours, this audiobook became a chore about halfway through, and I mainly forced myself to finish it becau... Read More

The Days of Tao: Checking in with Cameron Tan

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The Days of Tao by Wesley Chu

Warning: Contains mild spoilers for Chu’s TAO trilogy.

Wesley Chu’s TAO trilogy (The Lives of Tao, The Deaths of Tao, The Rebirths of Tao) about two enemy alien species (the Prophus and the Genjix) who’ve been occupying human hosts and battling it out on Earth for thousands of years, came to a satisfying conclusion last year but I was hoping for more because, as I said in Read More

The Guns of Empire: Unexpectedly falls prey to middle book syndrome

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The Guns of Empire by Django Wexler

In The Guns of Empire, Django Wexler continues one of the strongest military fantasy series to date. With Queen Raesinia determinedly in tow, Janus and Marcus chart course for the holy city of Elysium in hope of destroying the Pontifex of the Black to bring a more permanent peace to Vordan. Our protagonists return to begin a massive military invasion of Vordan’s powerful neighbors, and if you enjoyed Wexler’s world building in book three, The Price of Valor, wait until you get your hands on The Guns of Empire! Unforeseen challenges (and unforeseen romances) arise, and the story of Vordan grows ever more complex.

Wexler’s storytelling is particularly stellar in The Gu... Read More