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Fridays with the Wizards: Wizard-hunting in the castle

Fridays with the Wizards by Jessica Day George

Fridays with the Wizards is the fourth and most recent book in Jessica Day George’s CASTLE GLOWER series about twelve year old Princess Celie and the magical, semi-sentient castle where she lives. Celie and her brother and sister and friends have just returned from an unexpected adventure in another land, as related in the previous two books in the series, Wednesdays in the Tower and Thursdays with the Crown, where they tangled with the local wizards, befriended the king and queen of the griffins, and searched for the m... Read More

The Rithian Terror: A pleasing blend of hard SF and hard-boiled espionage

The Rithian Terror by Damon Knight

A pleasing blend of futuristic science fiction and hard-boiled espionage caper, The Rithian Terror, by Damon Knight, first saw the light of day in the January 1953 issue of Startling Stories, under the title Double Meaning. For 25 cents, readers also got, in that same issue, a Murray Leinster novelette entitled “Overdrive,” as well as five short stories, including Isaac Asimov’s “Button, Button” and Jack Vance’s “Three-Legged Joe;” that’s what I call value for money! Anyway, the Knight novel later appeared in one of those cute little “Ace doubles,” and, later still, in a 1965 paperback... Read More

Rage of the Fallen: Tom et al go to Ireland

Rage of the Fallen by Joseph Delaney

In Rage of the Fallen, the eighth book in Joseph Delaney’s LAST APPRENTICE / WARDSTONE CHRONICLES horror series for children, Tom flees with Alice and the Spook to Ireland to avoid the war that has engulfed their county. The evil creatures who live in Ireland are different from those they’re used to, so Tom gets to learn about, and attempt to defeat, these new threats to the world. Basically it’s the same sort of trouble he’s always been dealing with, just more Celtic-inspired. There are Irish gods, Irish witches, Irish mages, Irish ghosts, Irish blood-suckers, etc.

In addition to these new challenges, the old ones remain. The Fiend continues to dog him as we wait for their final confrontation. Witches are trying to get revenge on Tom.... Read More

Down and Dirty: Lacks cohesion, but still entertaining

Down and Dirty edited by George R.R. Martin

Jube: Hear who won the Miss Jokertown Beauty Pageant last week?
Croyd: Who?
Jube: Nobody.


I continue to listen to the new audiobook version of the WILD CARDS books as they are released by Random House Audio. Down and Dirty, the fifth volume, was published a few weeks ago. If you haven’t read the previous volumes (Wild CardsAces High, Jokers Wild, Aces Abroad), you should do so before reading this review. I’ll assume you’re familiar with the format of these anthologies / mosaic novels, and the story so far.

Down and Dirty (originally published in 1988) has a strange structure which, as George R.R. Martin admits in the boo... Read More

The Silkworm: Writing about writing

The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling)

The second novel in Robert Galbraith’s crime series is, in large part, a musing on the nature of writing itself. This is all the more poignant when you consider the Galbraith is none other than the (far less obscure) J.K. Rowling herself. The eponymous silkworm was said to be boiled alive to extract its precious silk threads in tact; a metaphor for the writer, it seems, who has to “go through the agonies to get at the good stuff.” Sound gruesome? That’s not even the half of it.

The Silkworm sees the return of Detective Cormoran Strike and his secretary-cum-sidekick, Robin Ellacot. They are investigating the disappearance of author Owen Quine, a once-successful novelist whose most recent manuscript, Bombyx Mori (Latin for silkworm) has a... Read More

The Emperor’s Railroad: Doesn’t quite fulfill its potential

The Emperor’s Railroad by Guy Haley

Novellas, as their name attests, are a betwixt and between sort of narrative form. At their most effective, they find the perfect balance between not sacrificing too much in character development or (especially in fantasy/sci-fi) worldbuilding by stopping short of a novel’s typical length and not overly attenuating the impact of a short story by writing past their ending or diluting it with too much physical detail. It’s a fine line to walk, and unfortunately, I can’t say that Guy Haley toes it with any consistent success in The Emperor’s Railroad, leading to a work that has intriguing moments but as a whole falls frustratingly short.

The setting is a bleakly devastated future section of the United States (roughly the Ohio River valley), with most of humanity’s great works and technologies either already disappeared or badly rusting/rotting ... Read More

The Diamond Thief: Popcorn-fun YA steampunk

The Diamond Thief by Sharon Gosling

The Diamond Thief is the first book in the trilogy of the same name by Sharon Gosling; it’s a YA steampunk series set in Victorian England featuring Rémy Brunel, a circus acrobat by day and a jewel thief by night. Rémy seems to have some sort of metaphysical or psychic connection with jewels, and can determine just by holding a gem whether it is valuable or a piece of fancy glass.

Thaddeus Rec is an orphaned teenaged detective who is determined to rise through the ranks of Scotland Yard and prove, with the help of an eccentric and elderly mentor, that he is more than the son of common thieves. That mentor, The Professor, functions as the Doc Brown to Thaddeus’ Marty McFly, providing him with a surrogate parent’s guidance as well as all sorts of nifty toys which aid Thaddeus in his investigations. When a valuable diamond goes missing and both Ré... Read More

Against the Fall of Night: Historically interesting, difficult to read

Against the Fall of Night by Arthur C. Clarke

Against the Fall of Night, by Arthur C. Clarke, originally appeared as a novella in 1948, in Startling Stories. Clarke expanded the story and published it as a novel with Gnome Press in 1953. Still later he wrote The City and the Stars which expands some of the themes posited in Against the Fall of Night.

Against the Fall of Night would be considered a novella by today’s standards; it’s probably about 40,000 words in length. Other aspects of the work contribute to a “novella” feel; the story is not fleshed out and large sections are told to us via indirect narrative. The things that are shown, though, are imaginative and gorgeous.

Alvin lives in the city of Di... Read More

Parable of the Sower: A new religion born from societal collapse

Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler

Parable of the Sower (1993) is the first book in Octavia Butler’s PARABLE (EARTHSEED) series. It is one of her most well-regarded novels, along with Kindred (1979) and Wild Seed (1980), and depicts a near-future United States that has collapsed due to environmental catastrophe into roving bands of thieves, drug addicts, rapists, murderers, scavengers, corporate towns that impose wage slavery, and gated communities protected by armed guards that strive to survive amidst the chaos.

It is an unforgiving world in which the strong, violent, and ruthless dominate the weak and powerless. The story centers around Lauren Olamina, a 17-year old girl born to a Black Baptist preacher and Hispanic mother. Due to drugs... Read More

Aces Abroad: Aces and Jokers tour the world

Aces Abroad edited by George R.R. Martin

Aces Abroad is the fourth WILD CARDS anthology edited by George R.R. Martin. It was originally published in 1988, released in a new print edition by Tor in 2015, and released in audio format by Random House Audio in March 2016. It would be best to read the previous volumes (Wild Cards, Aces High, Jokers Wild) first, not only because they introduce the most important characters and provide a lot of background information that you’ll need to fully appreciate Aces Abroad, but also because those first three books are more entertaining than this one is and represent the series better, I think.

WILD CARDS is a shared universe written by sev... Read More

Rise of the Huntress: Bony Lizzy escapes

Rise of the Huntress by Joseph Delaney

Rise of the Huntress is the seventh of Joseph Delaney’s LAST APPRENTICE / WARDSTONE CHRONICLES popular horror series for children. The series deservedly has legions of young fans and it’s likely that nothing I, a jaded adult, has to say about a seventh book will mean anything to anybody, so I’ll make this short.

Rise of the Huntress delivers exactly what we expect. The formula has become clear by now. Each book is a scary little adventure which gives Tom and his friends an evil foe to fight while advancing the overall plot slightly. This time Tom, the Spook, and Alice flee the Spook’s house because it has been overrun by soldiers involved in the war we keep hearing about. Bony Lizzy, the evil witch that th... Read More

Life, the Universe, and Everything: Still funny, but losing coherence

Life, the Universe, and Everything by Douglas Adams

I loved THE HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY series when I read it back in 5th grade. It was one of the first science fiction series I read, shortly after THE LORD OF THE RINGS and THE CHRONICLES OF PRYDAIN. I was just forming my taste in fantastic fiction, and this was the first series I read that was truly funny, featuring dry, ironic British humor no less. It was completely new to a kid growing up in sunny Hawaii, pretty much as far from rainy, overcast England as you can get. In many cases I knew it was clever dialogue, but had no idea what Adams meant.

Listening to the audiobook read by Martin Freeman more than 20 years later, working with several very British co-workers who love to debate about the Tory & Labor parties, cricket (especially The Ashes), how rubbish Man U is this year, and whether Diego Costa is... Read More

The Lucky Strike: A useful primer to Robinson’s style and themes

The Lucky Strike by Kim Stanley Robinson

The Lucky Strike collects a short story and an essay about alternate history by Kim Stanley Robinson. At the end, readers are treated to an interview with the author. It is part of a larger series of publications that highlight “outspoken authors.”

“The Lucky Strike,” the short story, is an alternate history about the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In this world, however, Frank January chooses to drop the bomb early so as to minimize human casualties. He hopes that the Japanese will surrender when they realize the destructive power of atomic bombs.

It is difficult to discuss the text without spoilers, so what follows is full of them:

Begin highlighting here to read the spoiler:  When Frank... Read More

Sin City (Vol. 2): A Dame To Kill For by Frank Miller

Sin City (Vol. 2): A Dame To Kill For by Frank Miller

Frank Miller’s SIN CITY series is famous for its hard-boiled crime noir stories, characters and black-and-white artwork. In the second volume, A Dame To Kill For, Miller gleefully tackles that most classic of noir tropes, the seductive and deadly femme fatale. Ava is her name, and when she beckons, men cannot resist. Our lead this time is Dwight McCarthy, a photographer who is trying to live a clean, modest life in that cesspool of vice, crime, and violence known as Sin City. But four years ago he was involved with Ava, a dame with a perfect body and hypnotic eyes who can make men do her bidding with ease. Bu... Read More

Clash of the Demons: Tom and Alice go to Greece

Clash of the Demons by Joseph Delaney

In Clash of the Demons, the sixth book in Joseph Delaney’s LAST APPRENTICE series, expect more of the same: scary creatures, dark magic, dangerous quests, captures and rescues, Tom’s insecurities, questions about whether Alice is good or evil, the Spook’s insistence that they can’t compromise with the dark, foreshadowing of war, etc.

This time, the quest is to accompany Tom’s mother to Greece where they must fight an ancient witch called Ordeen who threatens a group of monks who for years have held her at bay and protected the world from her evil. The monks are growing weak, though, and they need some powerful help. They may be able to destroy Ordeen once and for all if Tom’s mother can unite the witches and spooks against her.

This... Read More

Glass Sword: A disappointing follow-up to Red Queen

Glass Sword by Victoria Aveyard

Warning: Will contain spoilers for the previous book, Red Queen.

After escaping from Maven and Queen Elara’s clutches, Mare soon finds herself on a new mission for the rebel cause. While she quietly processes Maven’s betrayal, Mare must race against the clock to rescue other “newbloods” like herself and recruit them to the rebels’ side. All the while, Maven and his army are pursuing her, and they are willing to take down anyone who gets in their way.

I hate to say it, but I'm disappointed by Glass Sword. I loved Red Queen because it was fast-paced and engaging. Unfortunately, the majority of Victoria Ave... Read More

1632: The tale is dated but I loved its exuberance

1632 by Eric Flint

There’s something to be said for sheer audacity. 1632, the first book in Eric Flint’s RING OF FIRE series, published in February, 2000, has got audacity in container-ship-sized loads.

In the year 2000, a section of West Virginia disappears from our world during an event called the Ring of Fire. It reappears in Thuringia (northern Germany), in the year 1631. The residents of Grantsville, the biggest town in the affected area, led by the steely-eyed protagonist Mike Stearns, promptly decide that they’re stuck there, so they’ll re-create the United State of America on another continent one hundred-forty-years sooner than usual.

That’s a noble experiment and it faces a couple of obstacles. Well, only one obstacle, actually. Europe is in the middle of the Thirty Years’ War, and various armies are rampaging through Thuringia, suppor... Read More

Black City Saint: Magic and gangsters make this a nice start to a new series

Black City Saint by Richard A. Knaak

Richard A. Knaak’s Black City Saint combines 1920’s Chicago crime gangs with pre-Christian and early Christian mythology, serving up an exciting start to a new urban fantasy series. The setting is good and the hero is memorable.

Nick Medea is functionally an immortal. Under a different name, he became the guardian of the portal between the realms of the mundane world and that of Faerie. He is a man with many secrets, and the most deadly is the one he carries inside him, for he shares head-space with a creature he considers a monster.

As a “parapsychologist” Nick makes a living, and maintains the portal, by investigating reports of hauntings. Most so-called hauntings are creatures of faerie who have either slipped through in some way, or have lingered from a major battle fifty years earlier, when Oberon, King of Faerie, tried to t... Read More

Humans: A love polygon

Humans by Robert J. Sawyer

Ponter, the Neanderthal from another dimension, is back on Earth – our Earth.

This time, Ponter has brought nearly a dozen of the most celebrated scientists and intellectuals from his world. Though we humans are a difficult bunch to deal with, the Neanderthals seem determined to make contact work. Thank goodness, since a lone gunman on our side shoots a member of their delegation as soon as he gets the chance. Mary, meanwhile, is recruited into an American think tank that is determined to figure out how the Neanderthals and their technology work.

All of this sounds like a very standard science fiction story about complications related to alien contact. Robert J. Sawyer’s Humans, however, is not overly concerned with the complications between the two worlds. It instead focuses on the growing relationship between Ponter and Mary. They c... Read More

Snow in Summer: An Appalachian Snow White

Snow in Summer by Jane Yolen

Snow in Summer is Jane Yolen’s middle grade/young adult retelling of Snow White, set in the Appalachian hills of West Virginia in the 1940s. The main character is Snow in Summer, a girl named by her mother after the white Cerastium flowers that carpet their front yard. Her mother dies in childbirth when Summer is seven years old, and her father completely withdraws in his grief, neglecting Summer, who gets along with the help of her mother’s best friend Nancy. When Summer is eleven, her father is entranced by a sophisticated, cruel woman who married him to get her hands on the land he owns. Her father’s health begins to fail (helped along by Stepmama), but he barely hangs on, as does Summer. Her stepmother, who calls her “Snow,” treats her harshly and isolates her from Nancy and everyone else ... Read More

Path of Gods: Has its moments

Path of Gods by Snorri Kristjansson

Path of Gods is the third book in Snorri Kristjansson’s VALHALLA SAGA and it pretty much stays the path of what has come before, for good and ill. I rated the prior two books three-stars each, and that’s exactly where I’m placing Path of Gods. Fun dialogue, several engaging characters, and an excellent Norse setting are the strengths, while pace, fluidity, and characterization are the weaker elements.

Path of Gods picks up where Blood Will Follow ended, and it’s probably a good idea to reread the earlier books as there’s no recap and with so many characters and settings, it’s a rough go at the start unless you come with some relatively fresh prior knowledge. King Olav continues his attempt to ... Read More

Truthwitch: A decent series starter, but has its issues

Reposting to include Tadiana's new review:

Truthwitch by Susan Dennard

Truthwitch is a solidly engaging YA fantasy from Susan Dennard that, I’m guessing, will have a lot of fans (even if it isn’t quite my cup of tea) despite its sometimes nagging issues of craft. I’m assuming the first won’t matter because most of the book’s readers are probably far less weary of teen romance in their YA fantasy than I am, and the second reading obstacle — those craft issues — will most likely be outweighed by the fans’ positive response to Dennard’s depiction of the tight bond between the novel’s two strong female characters.

Those two young woman, Iseult and Safiya, are unregistered witches — Safiya is a Truthwitch able to discern lies from truth; Iseult is a Threadwitch, one who can see the emotional ties (“threads”) between people. While Threadwitches ... Read More

All the Birds in the Sky: A likeable fable about magic and science

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

All the Birds in the Sky, by Charlie Jane Anders, is a likeable book. The writing is fluent, filled with grace notes, witty observations and jokes that poke fun, but gently, at certain subcultures and stereotypes — mostly, the ones we all enjoy mocking from time to time.

Furthermore, in her Afterword, Anders says that if you don’t understand the story, she will come to your house and “act the whole thing out for you. Maybe with origami finger puppets.” So there’s that.

All the Birds in the Sky is one of small, newish category of fiction, one I don’t have a label for. It includes Robin Sloan’s Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore and The Word Exchange by Read More

Trouble with Lichen: Complications of eternal youth

Trouble with Lichen by John Wyndham

Published in 1960, John Wyndham’s Trouble with Lichen tells the story of Diana Brackley, a revolutionary, a feminist, and a scientist.

Diana is considered odd because although she is attractive, she does not want to marry. Instead, she is dedicated to her career in the lab, and it is there that she makes her amazing discovery: a type of lichen that slows the aging process. Diana decides to use the lichen to empower women, and she sets up a beauty clinic that caters to rich and influential women (more often, unfortunately, women who are married to rich and influential men). Her goal is to create a class of powerful women who will shield her project and her dreams against the public when it learns o... Read More

The Gold Coast: More interesting than exciting

The Gold Coast by Kim Stanley Robinson

Jim McPherson is unsatisfied with the future. Unable to find steady, well-paid work, Jim mostly spends his time partying and casually hooking up with random women. Jim’s family is of small comfort to him since he spends most family dinners enduring his father’s many complaints about how Jim does nothing useful. Jim does not know it, but his father, a defense contractor, is also deeply frustrated in his career, even if it does provide what appears to be a successful lifestyle to outsiders. Jim only begins to feel as though he is doing something of value when he starts protesting against militarism.

Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Gold Coast explores a dystopian future in which the American Dream has been reduced to consumerism and militarism. The Gold Coast Read More