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Early Riser: Solid enough but has pacing issues

Early Riser by Jasper Fforde

Jasper Fforde offers up his trademark sardonic wit in his new novel Early Riser (2019), though it’s more chuckle-worthy than laugh out loud and has several issues that relegate it to the category of a lesser Fforde. I was, to be honest, a bit disappointed, at least partly because I so love much of his earlier work, but despite that disappointment, the book still manages to (just) tip on the side of being a worthy read.

Early Riser is set in a world (limited to Wales for the novel’s plot) where the human race hibernates through each brutal winter, save for a stalwart group who does all the necessary work to keep the world working and the sleepers alive. This isn’t some recent apocalypse; in this universe, winters have always been far worse than our own, i... Read More

Breach of Containment: Doesn’t live up to the advertisement

Breach of Containment by Elizabeth Bonesteel

This third novel in Elizabeth Bonesteel’s CENTRAL CORPS series needs to be read after you’ve finished the previous novels, The Cold Between and Remnants of Trust.

When publishers make promises such as “a page-turning hybrid combining the gritty, high-octane thrills of James S. A. Corey and the sociopolitical drama of Ann Leckie” I just can’t help but point out when the book doesn’t deliver. I have enjoyed Elizabeth Bonesteel's CENTRAL CORPS novels enough to continue the series when I already have the audiobooks loaded onto my phone, and I was multi-tasking by doing a jigsaw puzzle at the same time, but that’s about it. I object... Read More

The Ruin of Kings: A solid series starter with some structural issues

The Ruin of Kings by Jenn Lyons

Jenn LyonsThe Ruin of Kings (2019) is the first of a five-book series, A CHORUS OF DRAGONS, that didn’t fully win me over but did do just enough to keep me reading through its 500-plus pages and end up sufficiently intrigued to move on to the sequel when it eventually arrives. I just wish I could have written “excited to move on to” rather than “sufficiently intrigued.”

The novel’s structure is a bit complicated. Two narrators (Kihrin and Talon) are each recording the tale of how Kihrin ended up in prison with Talon as his jailor, alternating narration (Talon’s in third person, Kihrin’s in first). Each, however, picks up the story in a different part of the past and then moves forward chronologically, so we have two time-lines set in the past and a “current” timeline with the Kihrin and Talon telling their stories. I... Read More

Remnants of Trust: Some improvements, but still kinda bland

Remnants of Trust by Elizabeth Bonesteel

Remnants of Trust (2016) is the second novel in Elizabeth Bonesteel’s CENTRAL CORPS trilogy. If you haven’t yet read The Cold Between, you should read it first. This review may contain spoilers for that first novel.

Elena and Greg were appropriately court-martialed for their actions in The Cold Between and, instead of prison, their ship Galileo was given a low-level assignment in a backwater sector of space. This partially restored my faith in their military structure, but Elena and Greg suspect that there is a secret segment of the military (called Shadow Ops, actually) that may be manipulating th... Read More

City of Broken Magic: Enjoyable

City of Broken Magic by Mirah Bolender

Mirah Bolender’s debut novel, City of Broken Magic (2018), is an enjoyable book, with an interesting magical system and a main character, Laura, who matures as the story progresses. Physical descriptions of the city of Amicae, where Laura lives, and the various settings for action sequences, are nicely done. I’d recommend this book for a long, rainy afternoon, or a snow day — it’s an entertaining way to spend a few hours.

Laura Kramer is an apprentice Sweeper. Sweepers deal with the “monsters” who infest the broken or drained magical amulets everyone in the city (and all neighboring cities) use. The monsters eat magic; magic is in everything, including people, which means they eat us. Laura is the main Sweeper’s, Clae Sinclair’s, senior apprentice and his onl... Read More

The Voodoo Killings: Urban fantasy, zombie-style

The Voodoo Killings by Kristi Charish

Kincaid Strange is one of the two known remaining voodoo practitioners in Seattle. She’s had a hard time making end meet, ever since new laws went into effect restricting the raising of zombies. Permanent zombies ― called five-line zombies for the magical lines that anchor their four limbs and head to life ― are outlawed entirely; four-line temporary zombies (who are missing the magical line to the head) may be raised only under severely restricted circumstances. Temporary zombies are actually quite useful in resolving issues like murders and last will and testament disputes, but under the new laws that’s mostly forbidden as well.

Kincaid’s prior job as an independent consultant for the Seattle police department has ended as well; the new police chief is adamantly anti everything paranormal. So Kincaid gets by with the help of her roommate Nathan Cade, the ghost of a grunge rocker wh... Read More

The Dreamers: Not enough pay-off

The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker

At a small California college, a strange illness has broken out on one floor of a co-ed dorm. Some of the students have fallen asleep and can’t be woken. Doctors and psychiatrists are baffled. All they know is that these students are dreaming and their brain activity is off the charts.

As the unknown disease keeps spreading, the dorm is quarantined, then the hospital, and eventually the entire college town.

Citizens are panicked as they worry about themselves and their families. It seems like just a matter of time before the whole town is asleep. Some of the quarantined people are visitors and they can’t get out, while family members of the sleeping students and townspeople can’t get in to see their loved ones.

The story focuses on several students, faculty, and residents:

Rebecca, a freshman from a very religious homeschooling family who is... Read More

Trifles and Folly: A Deadly Curiosities Collection

Trifles and Folly: A Deadly Curiosities Collection by Gail Z. Martin

I haven’t read any of Gail Z. Martin’s DEADLY CURIOSITIES novels, but Tantor Audio sent me Trifles and Folly: A Deadly Curiosities Collection (2016) and I thought it’d be a good introduction to the series.

The premise reminds me of Juliet Blackwell’s WITCHCRAFT MYSTERIES, which stars a young woman, Lily Ivory, who gets vibes from used garments. She has a vintage clothing store in San Francisco and, because of her knack, gets pulled into all sorts of mysteries which she then solves. The San Francisco setting features prominently in the tales, as do a few people in Lily’s orbit, such as the friends who help her run the shop. Read More

How to Fracture a Fairy Tale: Grim undertones to Grimm

How to Fracture a Fairy Tale by Jane Yolen

One year after Tachyon Publications published The Emerald Circus, a collection of Jane Yolen's fantastical short stories based on various fairy tales and legendary people (both fictional and real), it has followed up with a similar collection, How to Fracture a Fairy Tale (2018). Like The Emerald Circus, this is a compilation of Yolen’s older, previously published stories, spiffed up with new author’s notes in which Yolen briefly discuss each story and how she “fractured” it with significant departures from its original source material. These end notes for each story also include a poem by Yolen that’s linked to the same original source material. The source material varie... Read More

The Harsh Cry of the Heron: How a finale can undermine a series

The Harsh Cry of the Heron by Lian Hearn

Whilst it never gained the traction of the likes of Pullman and Potter, the TALES OF THE OTORI series has all the same ingredients: the epic scope, mystery and intrigue, impossible love and an entirely immersive setting. Whether it was luck or timing that never saw the series reach the same heights as its contemporaries, its same crossover appeal proves it is surely one of the great YA fantasy series. So how is it possible that Lian Hearn (pseudonym of Gillian Rubinstein) can undermine this entire sweeping epic in one fell swoop?

The Harsh Cry of the Heron (2007) begins sixteen years after the trilogy's finale in Read More

Nightflyers: Mystery and horror aboard a haunted spaceship

Reposting to include Marion's review of the new SYFY channel adaptation of Nightflyers. You can find it below our reviews of the novella.

Nightflyers by George R.R. Martin

Nightflyers was first published in 1980, won the Locus Award for best novella, and was nominated for a Hugo Award. It was made into an unsuccessful film in 1987. It’s recently been on people’s radars due to the upcoming SYFY series based on the novella. You can purchase it in several new (2018) formats including an illustrated edition, a story collection, and an audio version. I listened to the audio version, which was narrated by a... Read More

THE CORPORATION WARS: Dissidence, Insurgence, Emergence

THE CORPORATION WARS by Ken MacLeod

My preference is to review the books in a series Individually, but I find myself so busy at the moment that I don't have much time for writing reviews. And in the case of THE CORPORATION WARS by Ken MacLeod, I don't feel that there's much distinction between the individual novels and it makes sense to review the series as a whole.

THE CORPORATION WARS is a trilogy that consists of the books Dissidence, Insurgence, and Emergence. The story is set in the far future when Earth-based prospecting corporations vie for interstellar resources and use robots, artificial intelligence, and virtual reality two mine planets and fight wars.

At the beginning of book 1, Dissidence... Read More

The Vampire Diaries 2: The Fury & The Reunion

The Vampire Diaries: The Fury & The Reunion by L.J. Smith

This is the second bind-up for THE VAMPIRE DIARIES. The Fury and The Reunion were originally published as two separate books; in fact, The Reunion was published some time after The Fury, which effectively closes the trilogy begun with The Awakening and The Struggle). In The Fury Elena, alongside her friends Bonnie and Meredith, struggles to control her nature and discover the source of the evil Power that is haunting Fell’s Church. She knows that the only way it can be defeated is if the two vampire brothers Stefan and Damon can put alongside their lifelong enmity and work together. In The Reunion Fell’s Church is once again being terrorised b... Read More

Phoenix Unbound: Fantasy romance in a grim and gritty world

Phoenix Unbound by Grace Draven

The Krael Empire is a brutal and corrupt kingdom, reminiscent of the Roman Empire, with leaders who are intent on expanding its borders by conquering its neighbors. Inside its borders, life is nightmarish for those of its people who get the short end of the stick … like Gilene and Azarion. Gilene is a young woman from a small village with a deep secret, known only to the other villagers. She has a magical affinity for fire, as well as the ability to create illusions, where she takes on the appearance of someone ― or something ― else. These powers come in handy each year when the Krael emperor and empress hold the Rites of Spring, forcibly collecting women from each village to be a “Flower of Spring.” The name glosses over the actual fate of these women: they spend a night being raped by the kingdom’s enslaved gladiators, and the next day they are sacrificed, burned alive in a bonfire as an offering to ... Read More

The People’s Republic of Everything: An experimental collection

The People’s Republic of Everything by Nick Mamatas

I don’t know if I simply wasn’t in the right mood for Nick Mamatas’ short-story collection The People’s Republic of Everything (2018), or if I’m not the right audience for his preferred themes and overall style, but this book and I just could not mesh.

There was one story, “Tom Silex, Spirit-Smasher,” which gripped my attention and had everything I look for in short fiction. The story focuses on Rosa Martinez, whose elderly grandmother might — through quirks of legality regarding her first marriage and the question of ownership of her first husband’s pulp publications — own the rights to a series of stories revolving around psychopomp Tom Silex. The character work is strong, the plot is laser-focused, and Mamatas’ ideas about family and the... Read More

La Belle Sauvage: Our different opinions

La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman

I always find it a little nerve-wracking when an author returns to a successful series after a long time away. There's always the fear, for me at least, that one of two things is going to happen: either the author will be nostalgic about the original work to the extent that s/he makes the new book into a fawning tribute without substance, or the author will have changed enough in the time between installments that the magic is just gone. I'm happy to say, though, that Philip Pullman's new novel dispels both of those fears. La Belle Sauvage (2017) is, though not quite as much a game-changer as The Golden Compass, still a fantastic novel in its own right and a great opener to THE BOOK OF ... Read More

The Loved Dead and Other Tales: The story that saved Weird Tales

The Loved Dead and Other Tales by C.M. Eddy, Jr.

Sometimes, it seems, a little notoriety can be a good thing. Take, for example, the case of the legendary pulp magazine Weird Tales. Though famously cash strapped for most of its 32-year run, during its earliest days, in 1923, things looked especially bleak for the nascent publication. On the very brink of bankruptcy, editor Edwin Baird decided to purchase, against his better judgment, a story by a Providence, Rhode Island-born writer named C.M. Eddy, Jr.

Eddy had already had a few of his weird tales released in the pages of Weird Tales, but this latest one was a real envelope pusher, dealing as it did with the highly distasteful and borderline taboo subject of necrophilia. But Baird did indeed print the story, the now-classic tale “The Loved Dead,” with the result that the Richmond, Indiana PTA tried to shut the magazine down completely! The ... Read More

The Gates of Eden: Interesting ideas about evolution and species diversity

The Gates of Eden by Brian Stableford

Lee Caretta is a geneticist who has been sent, along with a xenobiologist, to the newly discovered planet of Naxos to investigate the mysterious deaths of the first exploratory team to arrive on the planet. As far as anyone knows, there are no sentient species on Naxos, but Lee and his colleagues will learn that there is life on Naxos, and it is strange and dangerous.

But it’s not only the new planet that is hostile. There is some political and personal intrigue going on, too, and it might be just as deadly. Lee will be hard-pressed to discover the planet’s secrets, as well as the humans’ secrets, before it’s too late.

The Gates of Eden (1983) is an entertaining, tense, and pretty quick read. I was interested in the planet’s ecology and I wanted to know what killed the exploratory team. Lee has some thoughtful ideas about evolution, n... Read More

Witch Creek: I was disappointed, but fans may love it

Witch Creek by Laura Bickle

I was disappointed in Laura Bickle’s 2018 contemporary fantasy Witch Creek. To be fair, this is the second book in a series and I haven’t read Nine of Stars. (There are also two prequels to this series.) It’s possible I would appreciate this book more if I knew more of the background.

Since I haven’t read Nine of Stars, I may give one or two mild spoilers for that book without realizing it.

Witch Creek opens with a powerful, shockingly realistic passage in which we see our protagonist, Petra Dee, in the aftermath of a chemo treatment for leukemia. The treatments have robbed her of her vitality. It’s unclear whether they are beating the disease. Petra decides to leave the hospital against medical advice to se... Read More

Umbertouched: A satisfactory duology, and mercifully, not a trilogy

Umbertouched by Livia Blackburne

Livia Blackburne’s second novel in the ROSEMARKED duology, Umbertouched (2018) follows the story of plague-infected Zivah and -recovered Dineas as they escape imperial quarantine to return to their tribe and village, prepare them for imperial attack, and try to widely expose the rogue physician who had used the plague to deliberately infect imperial troops.

Tension between Dineas and Zivah remains consistent and credible, despite Zivah’s having restored his memory. Zivah feels guilt for the lingering negative impact of the treatment and psychological burden of having, effectively, cut his mind in half. Dineas is sure that Zivah loves him only without his burdened memory. They work together expertly, however, and when certain of the Shidadi tribe want to make... Read More

Deathstalker: Too much like NIGHTSIDE

Deathstalker by Simon R. Green

The galactic empire is ruled by a brutal empress, a woman who terrorizes both the peasants and nobles who bow down to her. She’s the kind of ruler who decorates her palace with the tortured bodies of her dead enemies. Or she brainwashes them, augments their bodies and, as she sits on her Iron Throne, requires them to sit naked at her feet and protect her. Or, if she’s feeling merciful, she summons them to her throne room and, when they board her personal subway car to make the journey, has them gassed. They call her The Iron Bitch. She’s really mean.

One of her most recent targets is Owen Deathstalker, a quiet and studious young man who is the last “Deathstalker,” a lineage with a genetic gift that allows them to turn on a power “boost” when fighting an enemy. Owen wants to be a historian, not a rebel like his father, but the empress doesn’t like what he’s studying. When she strips ... Read More

The Soul Eater: Moby Dick in space

The Soul Eater by Mike Resnick

Nicobar Lane is a hunter. People hire him to acquire (dead or alive) exotic species from all over the galaxy. They pay him a lot of money to do this and he’s very successful. But there’s one creature who he refuses to hunt: a creature known by different cultures throughout the galaxy as the Soul Eater, or the Dreamwish Beast, or Starduster. People say this creature lives in space, is not affected by black holes, and perhaps even eats them! Nicobar thinks the beast is a legend and that it’s not worth his time to go looking for it.

But then he meets an old man who claims to have encountered the legendary beast many years ago. The man offers Nicobar a deal: if the old man can help Nicobar finish his current hunt in a fraction of the time it usually takes, then they’ll spend the time they save looking for the Soul Eater. That’s how Nicobar discovers that the legends are true — there is Read More

Slan Hunter: The sequel to a Retro-Hugo winner

Slan Hunter by A.E van Vogt & Kevin J. Anderson

A.E. van Vogt always intended to write a sequel to his most famous novel, the Retro-Hugo Award winning Slan. But by the time he got around to it, decades after publishing Slan, he had started to develop Alzheimer’s Disease. van Vogt’s wife, Lydia, gave her husband’s notes to Kevin J. Anderson, who wrote Slan Hunter and published it in 2007. Slan Hunter picks up right after the events of Slan and, if I hadn’t known better, I wouldn’t have realized the change in authorship.

At the beginning of the story... Read More

The Phoenix Empress: An improvement on book one, but still has issues

The Phoenix Empress by K. Arsenault Rivera

I’ll confess at the start that I was not a fan of K. Arsenault Rivera’s first novel in the THEIR BRIGHT ASCENDANCY series, The Tiger’s Daughter, and came about as close as I can to just stopping at several points along the way. So it was with some trepidation that I began The Phoenix Empress (2018), book two of this Asian-influenced series. The good news is that the sequel improves on its predecessor in many ways. The bad news is the bar was pretty low, so my response through much of it was mostly just lukewarm. Spoilers for book one to follow.

Rivera picks up pretty close to the end of book one here, with her two main characters — Shefali and... Read More

The Book of Hidden Things: Well, that was interesting

The Book of Hidden Things by Francesco Dimitri

Francesco Dimitri’s 2018 novel The Book of Hidden Things is one that I appreciated more than I liked. In fact, I had to think about it for a few days before I wrote this review, because I started seeing more positives in it upon reflection. This is because, despite the title and the packaging, I’m probably not the ideal audience for this book. In reading this review, understand that your mileage may vary.

The Book of Hidden Things takes place in Salento, where every year, on a specific day, four men gather at The American Pizza pizzeria. They made this Pact, to always meet on this day, when they were teenagers. This year, though, Arturo, who goes by Art, is missing. His three friends, Tony, Mauro and Fabio, embark on a search for him that leads them into madness, mysteries and disillusionment. As the story progre... Read More