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Handful of Stars: A Palmistry Guidebook and Hand-Printing Kit

Handful of Stars: A Palmistry Guidebook and Hand-Printing Kit by Helene Saucedo

October is here, Halloween parties are incipient, and that means group activities will be in order — spooky card games, spine-chilling board games, and, yes, palmistry kits. Helene Saucedo’s Handful of Stars: A Palmistry Guidebook and Hand-Printing Kit (2019) declares itself to be “everything you need to read and create a print of the hand,” and I was curious to see how well the kit actually met that challenge.

The guidebook is slim, covering the major steps of palm-reading and touching lightly on the history of palmistry, or chiromancy, as it was once known. While the lines on a person’s palm were once thought to contain such portentous information as the number of successful romances or the limit of a person’s life span, current palmistry seems to be more of a self-reflection or self-assessment t... Read More

The Little Broomstick: A strange and mysterious little story

The Little Broomstick by Mary Stewart

Having recently watched Mary and the Witch's Flower, I was curious about how it measured up to its source material, particularly since I usually read the book before watching its filmic adaptation.

And The Little Broomstick (1971) is a strange little book in so many ways: beautifully written, with plenty of haunting passages, but with a story and setting that would have been served well with a lot more detail and background. Imagine Hogwarts School without any sense of its history — though Endor College predates Harry Potter by over two decades, there are so many unanswered questions about why it exists and who attends.

Mary Smith is a ten year old girl who's thoroughly unhappy with her current situation: bundled off to the Shropshire countryside, sep... Read More

Give the Dark My Love: A dark story for young adults

Give the Dark My Love by Beth Revis

Nedra Brysstain is a new scholarship student at the Yugen academy in her country’s capital city. She comes from one of the rural villages in the north that have been suffering from the plague. She plans to study medicinal alchemy so she can learn how to heal people who’ve been infected with the plague.

Though most of the school’s wealthy students either ignore or attempt to ostracize Nedra, her talents and kind heart win her two important allies. One is the professor who takes her under his wing after he recognizes her potential. The other is a rich handsome student named Grey who is willing to look past Nedra’s low status.

As the plague continues to sweep the country, Nedra trains hard while she worries for her hometown, especially her parents and twin sister. As Nedra starts to become aware of her country’s political situation, and as the plague gets closer and closer ... Read More

The Nobody People: Interesting concept, but not a page-turner

The Nobody People by Bob Proehl

Avi Hirsch is an investigative journalist whose specialty is reporting on bombings. He’s obsessed with bombs and the people who make them. This preoccupation has led to the loss of a leg, but that doesn’t slow Avi down too much.

Avi’s latest obsession is with a video recording of a church bomber. There’s a couple of things that seem strange about it. One is that Avi has seen this same guy on two videotaped bombings and he should have died in each. The other weird thing is that matter seems to act strangely when this bomber is present. It’s almost as if the guy can nullify matter.

As Avi is on the bomber’s trail, some people come to visit him and tell him they’ve caught the bomber. These odd folks are faculty members at a school for kids with supernatural abilities. They call themselves Resonants and they want Avi to visit the school and write a news art... Read More

City of Ghosts: A genial enough middle grade story

City of Ghosts by V.E. Schwab

City of Ghosts (2018) by V.E. Schwab is a Middle Grade book that, well, reads like a Middle Grade book.

In other words, it’s entertaining and engaging enough for that age group, but doesn’t have the depth or complexity in plot or characters to expand beyond that audience, which I’m clearly well, well outside of.

Ever since she almost drowned, young Cassidy Blake has been able to see ghosts, to “pull aside the veil” and step for a brief time into their world.

She’s also picked up a best friend — Jacob — a ghost of roughly her own age.

Cass is looking forward to a nice easy summer at the beach, but instead her author parents, who write about the paranormal (dad’s the skeptic, mom the believer), have been picked up for a TV... Read More

Lies of Descent: Solidly written but too familiar

Lies of Descent by Troy Carrol Bucher

Troy Carrol Bucher’s Lies of Descent (2019) is the first book in a new trilogy, FALLEN GOD’S WAR, set in a world of magic, fallen gods, clashing cultures, and internal conflict within cultures. While the writing is solid enough, and Bucher offers up a few unexpected turns, the book suffers from overly familiar elements.

Ages ago the gods of light (led by Parron) and darkness (led by Tomu) warred with each other and to prevent that war from wiping out all life, the gods of light sacrificed themselves to drag their foes down with them to mortal lands where their power, though still strong, could not destroy the world. Those mortal descendants with the blood of Parron can wield magic, and the two warring militaristic cultures of the world, the Esharii and Draegorans, both test their youth and then train them (though the Esharii do so... Read More

The Lost Sisters: Answers questions, provides depth

The Lost Sisters by Holly Black

Twin sisters Jude and Taryn were taken to live in the Court of Elfhame after their parents were murdered by Madoc, a general in the land of faerie who is now their step-father and guardian. We witnessed how these mortal girls struggled as they came of age in the land of faerie in the first novel in Holly Black’s THE FOLK OF THE AIR series, The Cruel Prince, which was written from Jude’s perspective. Jude tells us how she was bullied, all the ways she fought back, and how her twin sister Taryn eventually betrayed her.

Now we get to hear Taryn’s side of the story.

The novella The Lost Sisters (2018) re-tells the most important events of The... Read More

The Affair of the Mysterious Letter: A Lovecraftian Sherlock Holmes pastiche

The Affair of the Mysterious Letter by Alexis Hall

Captain John Wyndham has returned to Khelathra-Ven after being away with the army for several years. Rents are high, so he decides to answer an ad for a housemate. When he moves in, he discovers that his new companion is Shaharazad Haas, a renowned and powerful sorceress who’s addicted to opium. When Ms. Haas is asked to find out who is blackmailing her ex-girlfriend, Captain Wyndham tags along and starts getting involved in a case which turns into a weird and wacky adventure.

The Affair of the Mysterious Letter (2019) is a gender-bending Lovecraftian Sherlock Holmes pastiche. Shaharazad Haas is Sherlock Holmes and Captain Wyndham, who was female when he was young, is Watson. The plot, which is quirky... Read More

The Gossamer Mage: A mixed bag

The Gossamer Mage by Julie E. Czerneda

I really wanted to like The Gossamer Mage (2019) by Julie E. Czerneda, because there is so much to like in it: the premise, the themes, the character cores. But more than usual, I felt the book was fighting me the whole way, so that while it always was in the realm of wholly enjoyable, something always got in the way of it reaching its full potential.

The story is set in the relatively small, isolated land of Tananen, apparently the only place in this world that still has magic, though it’s a particularly costly form. The magic is a “gift” from the Deathless Goddess, who bestows her magic words in different fashion to men and women. Men with the “gift” can be mage scribes, people who can write the Goddess’ words with “intention” and thus create made creatures such as unfailing oxen, powerful bodyguards, illuminating insects, etc. (Som... Read More

The Unbound: Not your typical high school drama

The Unbound by Victoria Schwab

The Unbound is the sequel to Victoria Schwab’s The Archived, which you should read before starting this book. There will be some spoilers for The Archived in this review, so beware.

Summer is over for Mackenzie Bishop, the Keeper whose secret job is to escort the “Histories” of dead people back to their resting place in the Archive. When we met Mac in The Archived, she had just moved into an old hotel in a new town and solved some murders that had occurred there decades ago. Also, she met Wesley, a spiky-haired eyeliner-wearing boy who turned out to have a lot more in common with her than she ever could have guessed.

... Read More

Reticence: Percy finally falls in love

Reticence by Gail Carriger

I adore Gail Carriger’s FINISHING SCHOOL series, but I’m not a big fan of her related series (THE PARASOL PROTECTORATE and THE CUSTARD PROTOCOL). They’re just too silly for me, with their focus on fashion and frivolity. I can see why others like them, though. They are unique, creative, and well written with some great characters. They’re just not my thing.

However, I did want to read the final CUSTARD PROTOCOL book, Reticence, because it stars Percy, one of my favorite Carriger characters. Percy is the bookish navigator of the airship The Spotted Custard, which is captained by Prudence, whose sexual awakening we witne... Read More

The Porcelain Dove: A gothic fairy tale

The Porcelain Dove by Delia Sherman

Years ago, I got into “fantasies of manners” at about the same time as I was going through a big Revolutionary France phase. When I heard about Delia Sherman’s The Porcelain Dove (1993) — a fantasy set in that time period, and which won the Mythopoeic Award for 1994 — it sounded like the perfect book for me. I could never find it in the used bookstores, though. (I did, before I successfully committed the title to memory, buy two different other books thinking they might be it.) The rise of e-books has fortunately made it possible for us to track down some of our elusive great white whales, or in this case, our porcelain doves.

I don’t know what gave me the idea The Porcelain Dove would be a light, frothy novel. It is not. It is also... Read More

Shadowblade: A pleasant entertainment

Shadowblade by Anna Kashina

Anna Kashina’s 2019 second-world fantasy novel Shadowblade is pleasant entertainment: a mix of swordplay, political double-crossing, lost heirs and imposters all sweetened with a dollop of romance. It’s not my usual thing, but it was the right book for a drowsy, hot late-summer day with a big, sweating glass of iced tea close by.

Dal Gassan is present for the betrayal and slaughter of the Queen of Challmar and her entire court, ambushed by the Emperor Shabaddin just as she is signing a peace treaty with him. A newborn baby girl survives the mass killing, spirited off by one of the Queen’s loyal women. Because he is a member of the Daljeer Circle, Gassan is spared by the Emperor’s assassins, but Gassan begins to hatch a plan to be rid of rule of the Emperor.

Seventeen years later, Gassan visits the training grounds of the Jaihar Blademaste... Read More

The Archived: Hard to believe in, but still a pleasant read

The Archived by Victoria Schwab

Mackenzie (Mac) Bishop, a high-school student, has just moved to a new town with her mom and dad. They’re living in an apartment in a renovated old hotel. Her mom is excited about restoring and reopening a once-popular coffee shop in the hotel, but Mac knows that her mom is really just trying to stay focused and busy after the recent death of Mac’s younger brother.

What Mackenzie’s parents don’t know is that Mac is a Keeper, a job she inherited from her now-deceased grandfather. Keepers are responsible for tracking down the confused embodied souls of dead people (usually children) who wander away from the Archive, where a copy of everybody’s history goes after death. They may look like zombies, but these “Histories” are simply recordings of a person’s life and they must be returned to their vaults if they wander away. Since the public doesn’t know about the Arch... Read More

The Raven King: The fourth and final in THE RAVEN CYCLE

The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater

Here it is, The Raven King (2016), the fourth and final book in Maggie Stiefvater's THE RAVEN CYCLE, which began with The Raven Boys and continued with The Dream Thieves and Blue Lily, Lily Blue. And ... it's hard to know what to say. I've had mixed feelings throughout all four of the books, liking certain ideas and characters, but often getting a little fed up with the prose and dialogue, which sometimes felt too witty and/or flourished for its own good.

In the small Virginian town of Henrietta, a young private school boy called Richard Gansey has been searching for the lost burial place of Owen Glendower, a Welsh king, in the hopes that he might be granted a life-changing wish. O... Read More

Blue Lily, Lily Blue: Events complicate themselves in the third instalment

Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater

I'll admit that the last book in this four-part series, The Dream Thieves, was difficult for me to get through — it wasn't that I disliked the characters or the storyline, but the pacing was glacially slow and Maggie Stiefvater's prose is definitely an acquired taste. However, Blue Lily, Lily Blue (2014) was an improvement; I could tell because after each reading session I was surprised by just how many chapters I'd churned through.

Here's the gist of THE RAVEN CYCLE: Blue Sargent is a psychic’s daughter who has no gift of her own except the ability to amplify the gifts of others. Her whole life, she's lived under the shadow of a prediction that states she'll kill her own true love, one that she's managed to avoid... Read More

The Dream Thieves: Second book delves deeper into plot and character

The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater

The second in Maggie Stiefvater's THE RAVEN CYCLE, and a direct sequel to The Raven Boys, The Dream Thieves (2013) focuses on the character of Ronan Lynch, a teenage boy who — in the last sentence of the previous book's final chapter — reveals to his friends that he can pull real objects out of his dreams.

But that's getting ahead of myself. The gist of this four-part series is that four students of the prestigious Aglionby Academy are on a quest to find the resting place of Welsh king Owen Glendower. Their de-facto leader Gansey believes that he's buried somewhere in the small town of Henrietta, Virginia, built on one of the powerful ley-lines that criss-cross the countryside. Gansey has devoted much of his young life to fin... Read More

The Silver Gryphon: A second-generation survival story

The Silver Gryphon by Mercedes Lackey & Larry Dixon

The third and final book in Mercedes Lackey & Larry Dixon’s MAGE WARS trilogy is The Silver Gryphon (1996). Like its predecessor, The White Gryphon, it jumps ahead about ten years. By this time, our heroes Skandranon and Amberdrake have teenage children who are preparing to receive the torch from the previous generation.

Skan’s son Tadrith and Drake’s daughter Silverblade feel daunted by their illustrious fathers’ reputations and are hoping they will eventually measure up. Their fathers, however, are typically nervous parents who not only lack confidence in their childrens’ leadership abilities, but are also just plain scared of their kids getting hurt.

Tadrith and Silverblade belong to... Read More

The White Gryphon: Skandranon and Amberdrake become detectives

The White Gryphon by Mercedes Lackey & Larry Dixon

The White Gryphon (1995) is the second book in Mercedes Lackey & Larry Dixon’s MAGE WARS trilogy, a prequel trilogy in Lackey’s VALDEMAR universe. You’ll probably want to read The Black Gryphon before starting this book (and this review will contain some spoilers for it), but you don’t need to read any other VALDEMAR novels.

In The Black Gryphon we met the gryphon Skandranon and his friend, the healer/therapist Amberdrake. They were trying to help the good mage Urtho win a war against the evil mage Maar. At the end, both mages died, there was a huge blast of magic, and Skan barely escaped through an energy gate. When he did, his black feathers h... Read More

The Black Gryphon: Begins a VALDEMAR prequel trilogy

The Black Gryphon by Mercedes Lackey & Larry Dixon

There are dozens of novels and stories set in Mercedes Lackey’s VALDEMAR universe. Most of these are arranged into trilogies that can be read by themselves without familiarity of the other VALDEMAR trilogies, though there are some overlapping characters and a shared history. The MAGE WARS trilogy (The Black Gryphon, The White Gryphon, and The Silver Gryphon), though published later in the series, takes place before Valdemar and its Heralds and Companions even existed, making it a prequel trilogy.

In The Black Gryphon (1994) we meet a large and powerful Gryphon named Skandranon (Skan for short) who was created by a good mage named... Read More

Strange Toys: An odd, creepy novel

Strange Toys by Patricia Geary

Strange Toys is an odd, creepy novel. It won the Philip K. Dick Award in 1987, though apparently Patricia Geary hadn’t actually intended it as science fiction at all. I found it while exploring the labyrinthine basement of a local used bookstore, but it was reprinted in electronic form in 2018.

The heroine, nicknamed Pet, is the baby of her family. (We never learn her real name.) She is nine years old as the book begins, in the late 1950s. Her twelve-year-old sister, June, bullies her. Her sixteen-year-old sister, Deane, is worse. Deane is in some kind of unspecified trouble with the law (she’s into the occult, too), and the girls’ parents leave home abruptly with Pet and June because they fear retribution from Deane’s criminal friends.

What follo... Read More

Electric Forest: Interesting, but not one of Lee’s best

Electric Forest by Tanith Lee

Magdala Cled is an unattractive disabled woman living in a world where genetic engineering has ensured that everyone around her is beautiful and healthy. She’s a genetic misfit who has no family, friends, or social support of any type.

When a handsome rich man offers to make her beautiful, she goes along with his plan. What Magda doesn’t know is that her new body is the clone of a scientist/entrepreneur that her benefactor is competing with and for whom he has some evil plans.

I greatly admire Tanith Lee’s style, so I was pleased to have a chance to read Brilliance Audio’s new edition of Electric Forest (1979).

This stand-alone novel, however, is not one of her better titles. None of the characters are likeable and their focus on beauty, luxury, and ... Read More

Yarrow: Very early de Lint

Yarrow by Charles de Lint

I’d been meaning to read Yarrow (1986) for years. I loved Charles de Lint’s Memory and Dream, in which he tells the story of a painter touched by the Otherworld. And I’m a writer (or at least a wannabe one), not a visual artist, so I figured, “if I liked his artist book so much, how much more am I going to love his writer book?” Unfortunately, the answer is “not as much.” Yarrow is very early de Lint, and not my favorite book of his that I’ve read.

Yarrow is set in Ottawa and loosely follows Moonheart; the plots are standalone, but T... Read More

Awakened: Camera-ready SF horror adventure

Awakened by James S. Murray & Darren Wearmouth

Grady McGowan has been logging lots of overtime, running a tunnel-boring machine beneath the Hudson River for the massive Z Train subway line extension that will link New York City to New Jersey with an underground express train. They’re even building a state-of-the-art underwater Visitors’ Pavilion in the middle of the Upper Bay. It’s hard work for Grady, but everything is going well … until a huge hole opens up underneath Grady and his machine.

Three years later, the mayor of NYC, Tom Cafferty, is in the Pavilion, presiding over the opening ceremony and inaugural run of the Z Train. The President of the U.S. is a surprise guest (though not a welcome one from Cafferty’s point of view) and Cafferty’s wife Ellen is one of the honored guests on the Z Train heading to the Pavilion from Jersey City. There’s a delay. A shriek over the loudspeaker. And then the train slowl... Read More

A Sword Named Truth: A feast for Sartorias-deles fans

A Sword Named Truth by Sherwood Smith

Sherwood Smith has been writing fantasy novels and stories in her Sartorias-deles universe for over fifty years, since she was a child. The result is a literary edifice of incredible detail, scope and imagination, which has a large wiki (including several lengthy timelines) devoted to it. Sartorias-deles is a magical world in a different solar system, but there are gates between Sartorias-deles and our world that allow people (with the help of magic) to cross between the worlds. The prior novels are a mix of children’s, young adult and adult fiction.

A Sword Named Truth (2019) takes many... Read More