3

Click on stars to FIND REVIEWS BY RATING:
Recommended:
Not Recommended:

Hunter: Magical monster-hunting

Hunter by Mercedes Lackey

In Mercedes Lackey’s new young adult novel Hunter, post-apocalyptic science fiction mixes with magical fantasy to produce an adventure in the tradition of The Hunger Games and Divergent. A series of catastrophes called the “Diseray” — a corruption of Dies Irae — has hit our world: a nuclear bomb (blamed on Christians) was set off in the near east, the North and South Poles switched, plagues killed countless people, and storms have permanently grounded most aircraft. These disasters culminated in the Breakthrough, a permanent rift in reality that allows deadly magical creatures to invade our world from the Otherside. Luckily, along with all of the hostile magical monsters have come some friendly ones, called Hounds by humans, even t... Read More

Konga: A somnolent stroll around Big Ben

Konga directed by John Lemont

Released in 1961, the U.S./U.K. co-production of Konga marked the first time that theater goers were shown a giant ape going bonkers in the heart of a major city since King Kong itself, 28 years earlier. Of course, fans had been given the 1933 sequel Son of Kong, but in that one, Kong, Jr. is more of a good-natured, oversized pet, and one who never makes it off Skull Island and into civilization, as had the old man. And in Mighty Joe Young (1949), although the titular big guy does engage in a mild temper tantrum, he is more fondly remembered today for his heroic efforts at a small-town, burning orphanage. In Konga, however, the ape is huge and the rampage is through the heart of London, and if Konga's fury is a bit on the somnolent side and his general appearance rendered somewhat tacky by dint of some truly subpar special FX, these two factors do not prevent the film f... Read More

Without a Summer: Cold magic in Regency England

Without a Summer by Mary Robinette Kowal

Without a Summer is the third book in Mary Robinette Kowal’s GLAMOURIST fantasy series set in an alternative Regency-era England where magic, or "glamour," is used as an art form to create intricate visual illusions. Jane and Vincent, both accomplished glamour artists, are visiting with Jane’s parents and younger sister Melody in the country.  It’s an unseasonably cold spring, giving rise to concerns about the harvest. Jane and Melody’s father is concerned that a poor harvest could affect his ability to provide Melody with a suitable dowry; Melody is frustrated with the dearth of interesting and marriageable men in the area.

So when Jane and Vincent are offered the change to create a magical illusion for a London family, they invite Melody to come along and enjoy a stay in London. But some unexpected troubles and complicat... Read More

The Map to Everywhere: A new whimsical series for kids

The Map to Everywhere by Carrie Ryan & John Parke Davis

The Map to Everywhere is the first installment in a new four-book children’s fantasy series by Carrie Ryan and her husband John Parke Davis. I listened to it with my daughter Tali, who just turned 13. The story made us smile and chuckle occasionally and generally kept us entertained for several hours. We thought it compared favorably with other new fantasy series for kids, but we weren’t blown away.

The story is about two children in tough situations. Marrill is an American girl who gets to travel around the world with her archeologist parents. She has just found out, though, that her mother is sick and the family will have to settle down for a while so that her mom can get treatment. That means Marrill will be going to school and doing ... Read More

Beneath London: Langdon St. Ives meets vampiric mushrooms

Beneath London by James P. Blaylock

James P. Blaylock’s stories are an acquired taste, I think. Or maybe it’s just that the reader needs exactly the right combination of quirks and proclivities to truly appreciate them. I am that reader. Not all the time, but regularly enough to recognize when my mood would benefit from opening one of Blaylock’s books. When this happens, I usually choose a LANGDON ST. IVES story. Each of these steampunk stories is set in an alternate Victorian London and each can stand alone.

Langdon St. Ives is a retired professor who spends his time pursuing eccentric scientific hobbies. Recently he’d been building an airship in the barn on the country property that he and his wife Alice (who loves to fish) recently moved to after they left London. The airship was destroyed in his last adventure... Read More

The Kings of Clonmel: Another adventure for Flanagan’s superheroes

The Kings of Clonmel by John Flanagan

The Kings of Clonmel, the eighth book in John Flanagan’s RANGER’S APPRENTICE series, begins a new story arc that occurs after the events of book six, The Siege of Macindaw. (Book seven, Erak’s Ransom, went back in time a bit.) For the best experience, you’ll want to read all the previous books before beginning this one. Book nine, Halt’s Peril, is a direct sequel to The Kings of Clonmel.

As the story begins, Will, now a full-fledged Ranger, is at the annual Rangers meeting, overseeing the testing of other apprentices. During this process he is amazed to discover that some of his past exploits, such as the siege of Castle Macindaw, are being used in testing exercises... Read More

Erak’s Ransom: Goes back in time

Erak’s Ransom by John Flanagan

Erak’s Ransom is the seventh book in John Flanagan’s RANGER’S APPRENTICE series, but chronologically its story occurs after the events of book four, The Battle for Skandia. I would recommend reading Erak’s Ransom after book four and before you read books five and six (The Sorcerer of the North and The Siege of Macindaw). Since I had already read those stories and knew what happened to the characters, it reduced some of the tension. This review will contain spoilers for books one through four.

Will, Halt, Horace and Princess Cassandra are back from overseas after helping Skandia, their former enemy, defeat a common foe. They help broker a peace with Erak, Skandia’s new Ob... Read More

Cold Burn of Magic: Power struggles in the magical Mafia

Cold Burn of Magic by Jennifer Estep

In Jennifer Estep’s Cold Burn of Magic, a 2015 young adult fantasy novel and the first book in her BLACK BLADE urban fantasy series, the world is divided into mortals and magicks, humans who have some type of magical power. The southern U.S. town of Cloudburst Falls, a hotbed of magical power, caters to tourists who want to see magical people and creatures. It’s reminiscent of Harry Potter World, except that it contains real magic, including pixies who are household servants and monsters like the aptly named lochnesses, who lurk under bridges and require a toll of jewelry or money from all who pass over their bridges. Cloudburst Falls is controlled by mafia-like families with powerful magical abilities, particularly the Draconi and Sinclair Families.

Lila,... Read More

The Siege of Macindaw: Fans won’t care about the flaws

The Siege of Macindaw by John Flanagan

This review will contain a few plot spoilers for previous books in the series.

The Siege of Macindaw is book six of John Flanagan’s RANGER’S APPRENTICE series and it’s a direct sequel to the previous book, The Sorcerer of the North. When we left Will at the end of that book, his girlfriend Alyss had been captured and imprisoned in Castle Macindaw by a man who has allied himself with the Scotti, invaders from the north who plan to use the castle to get a toe-hold in Araluen. Now Will must use all his wits and resources to get Alyss out of the castle while saving his country from the Scotti invaders.

The solution to Will’s problem seemed obvious to me right from the start, so the plot of The Siege of Macindaw Read More

Horrible Monday: Vampires of Manhattan by Melissa de la Cruz

Vampires of Manhattan by Melissa de la Cruz

Vampires of Manhattan is the first book in Melissa de la Cruz’s latest urban paranormal fantasy series, THE NEW BLUE BLOODS COVEN. This new series is a continuation of her BLUE BLOODS septalogy, and Vampires of Manhattan picks up ten years after the events of Gates of Paradise, the seventh and last BLUE BLOODS book. Though there are many moments of exposition for the previous series, I would not recommend starting with Vampires of Manhattan, as readers may have a hard time keeping track of the complicated history and mythology de la Cruz presents. For my own part, I found Wikipedia to be tremendously helpful.

As is suggested by the series ... Read More

The Sorcerer of the North: World-building problems begin to show

The Sorcerer of the North by John Flanagan

This review will contain minor spoilers for John Flanagan’s previous RANGER’S APPRENTICE books: The Ruins of Gorlan, The Burning Bridge, The Icebound Land, and The Battle for Skandia. The Sorcerer of the North begins a new story arc and new readers could start here, but for maximum enjoyment, I recommend going back and starting with The Ruins of Gorlan.

When we left Will and his friends at the end of The Battle for Skandia, our hero Will, a Ranger’s apprentice, had finally returned home to Araluen with the princess Cassandra after they had been kidnapped by Araluen’s long-time Viking-ish enemies, the Skandians. ... Read More

The Chart of Tomorrows: Willrich expands his fantasy world

The Chart of Tomorrows by Chris Willrich

The Chart of Tomorrows is the third book in Chris Willrich’s GAUNT AND BONE series. Book One, The Scroll of Years, began with Persimmon Gaunt, a rebellious poet, and Imago Bone, her thief husband, leaving a place that looked a little bit like the cities of classical European antiquity, and having adventures in a land like China. In the second book, Willrich expanded his mythology further, including a people of the steppes, the Karvaks, modeled on the Mongols. Along the way, Willrich mixes conventional folklore with his own magical systems. In The Chart of Tomorrows, he’s turned to the north, introducing northern European folklore, in a story filled with trolls, cow-maidens, battle-axes and runes. Read More

Seveneves: 600 pages of info-dumping leaves little room for plot development

Seveneves by Neal Stephenson

I must be developing an immunity to the Kool-Aid that Neal Stephenson serves his fans. Snow Crash and Crytonomicon are two of my favorite books, but I was lukewarm towards The Diamond Age and then hit a wall with Anathem. So when I heard he was coming out with Seveneves, and that the plot was much more like traditional “hard” SF than his earlier cyberpunk, steampunk, nanotech, cryptography, technothriller works, I wasn’t sure I’d like it. And after reading Kate’s review, what I read confirmed my suspicions. But really there’s only one way to know if you like a book or not — you have to read it for yourself.

Basically, when you have over 900 pages to work with, you ca... Read More

Dark Eden: Lord of the Flies in Space

Dark Eden by Chris Beckett

Chris Beckett’s Dark Eden has a backstory to rival the book of Genesis. Several generations ago, two humans, Tommy and Gela, survived a crash-landing on a planet without a sun. The planet was not devoid of life or light, though; glowing plants and animals survived by feeding off of the planet’s thermal energy. On this new planet, which they called Eden, Tommy and Gela have children, becoming the Adam and Eve of a new race of humans.

Now, generations later, their progeny, several dozen people, many of whom are afflicted with birth defects and called “batfaces” or “clawfeet,” live huddled together in a relatively safe area of Eden, frightened to explore beyond the snowy mountains or deep waters that border their land. A young man, John Redlantern, wants to change that. Defying the orders of the clan’s leader, David, the charismatic John gathers a group of dissenters... Read More

Shadow Show: Stories in Celebration of Ray Bradbury by various authors and artists

Shadow Show: Stories in Celebration of Ray Bradbury by various authors and artists

Shadow Show is a graphic adaptation of a previously released anthology of the same name. That collection rounded up a host of well-known authors and asked them to write original stories inspired by and/or as a tribute to Ray Bradbury. The graphic version, which uses just a few of the stories from the original anthology, includes:

“By the Silver Waters of Lake Champlain” by Joe Hill
“The Man Who Forgot Ray Brad... Read More

Red Planet: A children’s adventure on Mars

Red Planet by Robert A. Heinlein

I’ve mentioned several times how much I loved Robert A. Heinlein’s “Juveniles” when I was a kid. I found them on my dad’s bookshelves (I don’t think he’s ever gotten rid of a book) and I read some of them several times. If you had asked me last week which was my favorite, I would have said “Red Planet.” I remember loving this book, though all I could recall about it was a cute fuzzy round alien named Willis who bounces around like a basketball, and a couple of boys crossing the desolate landscape of Mars.

Last week, with much anticipation, I downloaded Red Planet (1949) from Audible so that I could listen to it with my 12 year old daughter, Tali. I was so excited to share this story with her. In the opening scene we met Willis, and Tali loved him as mu... Read More

Blind Lake: Lockdown at an Interplanetary Observation Facility

Blind Lake by Robert Charles Wilson

Of course I know what to expect when reading one of Robert Charles Wilson’s novels: a strange technology or entity has a localized effect that snowballs until it has the potential to completely change the world. We follow the ride primarily from the point of view of one everyman character, but he just happens to know both the scientists and the politicians that are responding to the strange technology. 300 pages later, the story is finished.

But that’s not how Blind Lake works — or at least not exactly.

Yes, there is a strange technology — the O/BECs. Are the O/BECs like telescopes? Well, they allow us to see distant planets, including one that hosts sentient life (aliens!). The center of these machines is referred to as “eyeball alley,” but perhaps the true center of these machines is their quantum technology and adaptive cod... Read More

The Short Victorious War: Honor feels more human

The Short Victorious War by David Weber

So far I have not much cared for David Weber’s extremely popular HONOR HARRINGTON series. In the first two books, On Basilisk Station and The Honor of the Queen, I thought there was way too much exposition and that Honor was cold and distant and too much of a Mary Sue (here are my reviews). It’s hard for me to enjoy a series if I don’t like its protagonist unless it has some other excellent qualities that can make up for that. I decided to give Honor Harrington another try, though, because Marion has recently written a review for the fourth book, Field of Dishonor, and I already had the third book, The Short Victorious War, in my Audibl... Read More

Nova: A New-Wave Grail Quest space opera from the 1960s

Nova by Samuel R. Delany

Nova is Samuel "Chip" Delany's 1968 space opera with mythic/Grail Quest overtones. It is packed with different themes, subtexts, allegorical and cultural references, and literary experiments, and the young author (just 25 years old) is clearly a very talented, intelligent, and passionate writer.

But I didn't enjoy it, sadly. While I thought Babel-17 was a very fast-paced, vivid and engaging space opera that centered on language and identity, Nova felt very turgid and forced. Why, you ask? Well, the author was determined to mold the story along the lines of a Grail Quest, Moby Dick, and Jason and the Argonauts, with the goal being a race to retrieve the super-material Illyrion from the heart of a recently-explode... Read More

Justice, Inc.: Fun, but a little overstuffed

Justice, Inc. by Michael Uslan (Author), Giovanni Timpano (Illustrator), Alex Ross (Illustrator)

Justice, Inc.
is a complete storyline mashup of three pulp heroes: Doc Savage, The Shadow, and The Avenger. Written by Michael Uslan and drawn by Giovanni Timpano, the end result is a bit mixed, and some of one's enjoyment will probably be based on one's awareness of those three in their original incarnations, as well as the ability to pick up on some inside jokes in the text/artwork.

The three are brought together by a major threat from several pulp villains whom I won't name as one of them is (I think) meant to be a behind-the-curtain "big reveal" kind of moment. What is an interesting twist in this particular mash-up tale is that while The Shadow and The Avenger are their old selves, Doc Savage is the contemporary version, with this time travel thread made possible via a su... Read More

The Radiant Seas: Better than previous books

The Radiant Seas by Catherine Asaro

The Radiant Seas is the direct sequel to Primary Inversion, Catherine Asaro’s debut novel which introduces her Skolian Empire. Readers should note that the book Catch the Lightning was published between Primary Inversion and The Radiant Seas, its sequel. If you’ve just read Primary Inversion (which you need to read before picking up The Radiant Seas), I advise skipping Catch the Lightning for now (or forever). This review will contain spoilers for Primary Inversion.

The Radiant Seas begins a short time before Primary Inversion ends — ... Read More

Primary Inversion: I should have loved this

Primary Inversion by Catherine Asaro

Dr. Catherine Asaro’s award-winning SKOLIAN EMPIRE series has long been on my TBR list because of its unusual blend of space opera, romance, quantum physics, relativity, genetic engineering, biomechanics, and computer science — all written by a Harvard-educated female physicist. That sounds like something I’d devour.

The saga is about the Skolian Empire and their long-time enemies, the Eubian (Trader) Empire. They are distant spacefaring civilizations that must have been seeded by humans from Earth many millennia ago, though we don’t yet know how that happened. The Skolian Empire used to be run by a monarchy called The Ruby Dynasty that has the psionic powers of empathy and telepathy. At this point the monarchy is mainly a figurehead while politicians run the empire, but the descendants of the Ruby Dynasty are still needed because they are the only ones who can control ... Read More

Memory of Water: Lyrical post-apocalyptic Scandinavian tea ceremonies

Memory of Water by Emmi Itäranta

It’s the distant future and the world seems to be quieting after the tumultuous Twilight Century that followed the end of the oil age. Still, it’s a difficult time. New Qian has taken over the Scandinavian Union. Water is scarce, so people survive on monthly water rations.

Noria Kaitio lives with her parents. Her mother is a scholar, but her father raised her to follow in his footsteps, so Noria trains every day to become a tea master like him. For the most part, her family follows the old traditions. However, her ancestors have also kept a dangerous secret: they know the location of a spring that still gives clean water.

Now, it seems, the military has begun to suspect their secret. Commander Taro visits their backwater village to try Master Kaitio’s tea. When he remarks on the clarity of the water and of the tea, he is offering both a compliment and a threat. Soon, Taro’s ... Read More

Trumps of Doom: Begins the Merlin Cycle

Trumps of Doom by Roger Zelazny

Trumps of Doom (1985) is the sixth novel in Roger Zelazny’s immensely popular AMBER CHRONICLES. It does not stand alone. You need to read the previous books first, starting with Nine Princes in Amber, and you’ll need to read the rest of the series if you want to get the full story.

The first five AMBER books, which are more popular than the latter five, told the story of Corwin, one of the nine princes of Amber, the one true world (our world is only a “Shadow” parallel universe). Corwin’s family, which rules Amber, is somewhat dysfunctional. The story details their plotting and scheming against each other while they try to keep at bay the forces of Chaos that are constantly assaulting them. They have a few magical... Read More

Edge of the Universe: The Road by Cormac McCarthy

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

In our Edge of the Universe column, we review mainstream authors that incorporate elements of speculative fiction into their “literary” work. However you want to label them, we hope you’ll enjoy discussing these books with us.

In a way, the literary mystique that surrounds Cormac McCarthy's The Road makes it easier for me when it comes to review it. Several of the world's most prestigious literary reviewers have already dedicated thousands of words dissecting McCarthy's prose, lifting the veil from his words to reveal the obvious — to them — genius of his brain. This autopsy performed by dozens leaves me, a humble reader and reviewer, without having to bear the weight of having to go from word to word try... Read More