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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

Pushing Ice: Stand-alone hard SF from Reynolds

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Pushing Ice by Alastair Reynolds

Pushing Ice (2005) is a standalone novel. It is not set in Alastair Reynolds’ REVELATION SPACE universe and as far as I can tell it is not related to any of his other works either. On his website, Reynolds mentions that there may one day be a sequel though. Pushing Ice is space opera on an intimidating scale but, unfortunately, I don't think it gets close to the best the REVELATION SPACE universe has to offer.

The year is 2057 and humanity has escaped the Earth's gravity well. The outer planets and asteroid belt are frequently visited by mining ships, of which the Rockhopper is one. When Saturn's moon Janus inexplicably leaves orbit and heads out of the solar system in the direction of Spica, a star in the cons... Read More

A Fire Upon the Deep: Big-canvas space opera with uninspired plot

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A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge

A Fire Upon the Deep (1992) was the big breakout novel from Vernor Vinge, winner of the 1993 Hugo Award and nominated for the Nebula. It features a unique premise I haven’t encountered before: the universe has been separated into four separate Zones of Thought: the Unthinking Depths, Slow Zone, Beyond, and Transcend. Starting from the galactic core, the Zones demarcate differing levels of technological and biological advancement — but this doesn’t simply mean different stages of development. Instead, more advanced technologies cease to function when taken into slower zones, since the laws of physics themselves are different.

This include faster-than-light travel, so FTL ships that travel into slower zones need to also have ramjet drives to avoi... Read More

Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet: A bittersweet tale of magic and life

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Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet by Charlie N. Holmberg

Maire, a baker in the small village of Carmine, is notable for two unusual characteristics. First, other than her name, she has complete amnesia about everything in her life up to the time she appeared near the village four and a half years ago. And secondly, Maire has the magical gift of infusing her baked goods with feelings and abilities that will be absorbed by the person who eats her food: strength, love, mercy, patience ... even, it seems, some magical abilities.

One day a pale, translucent man, with strange wings that look more like sunlit water than feathers, appears and talks to Maire briefly. He orders her to run for her life, but it's too late: marauders on horseback are storming the village and killing or capturing everyone in sight. Maire is taken and soon sold as a slave to a very odd and sinister man, Allemas, who finds out ... Read More

It Happened One Doomsday: This urban fantasy goes vroom-vroom

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It Happened One Doomsday by Laurence MacNaughton

It Happened One Doomsday is the first book I’ve read by Laurence MacNaughton. It looks like most of his other work would be classified as supernatural thrillers, although Conspiracy of Angels has a definite urban fantasy vibe. It Happened One Doomsday lands on the border of urban fantasy and paranormal romance, with a brisk plot and characters who are, for the most part, likeable. The story relies on the old biblical story of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and by far my favorite thing in this book are the steeds of the horsemen; instead of riding dragons or generic monsters (or even motorcycles), the four horsemen drive muscle cars.
“A 1969 Dodge Daytona,” he said. When she didn’t reply right away he seemed to mistake her silence for encour... Read More

Fragment: Monster Mayhem

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Fragment by Warren Fahy

I've read a number of reviews and comments that compare Warren Fahy's Fragment (2009) with Michael Crichton and Jurassic Park. Fragment and Jurassic Park have similar themes and bare bones basic concepts. Both stories involve humans battling supernatural, prehistoric monsters and self-centered murderous villains on the remotest of islands. Let's be clear: stop there and consider the comparisons complete. Don't get me wrong. I really enjoyed Fahy's debut novel. It's the perfect summertime beach or pool-side read, and its 500 pages fly by faster than the Hender's Island Spigers rip apart defenseless characters in Fahy's book.

Sequel


... Read More

A Slip of the Keyboard: Too comprehensive, or not comprehensive enough

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A Slip of the Keyboard by Terry Pratchett

A Slip of the Keyboard collects much of Terry Pratchett’s non-fiction. In speeches, articles, and letters, Pratchett holds forth on a variety of subjects, ranging from book tours to hats to policies relating to Alzheimer’s and assisted dying. He also discusses Australia, conventions, and his development as a writer.

The book is divided into three sections, and I found the third section, entitled “Days of Rage,” the most powerful. Most of these texts touch on either Alzheimer’s or assisted dying. Eager to move past any taboo related to his disease, Pratchett concisely and generously shares what he experiences before urging his audience to take action. Though many lines stand out in this section, here is one that struck... Read More

The Heart Goes Last: Has its moments

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The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood

I consider Margaret Atwood to be a literary treasure. The Handmaid’s Tale. Alias Grace. The Blind Assassin. The MADDADDAM trilogy. Any author would be thrilled to have written a single work evincing such craft and depth. Atwood churns them out on a regular basis. That context is important here, because her most recent work, The Heart Goes Last, is in my mind definitely a “lesser” Atwood and is in several ways a disappointing work. But th... Read More

Cosmic Engineers: Simak’s first novel

Cosmic Engineers by Clifford D. Simak

Every great novelist has to begin somewhere, and for future sci-fi Grand Master Clifford D. Simak, that beginning was his first novel, Cosmic Engineers. This is not to say, of course, that this novel was the first attempt at writing that Simak had ever made. Far from it, as a matter of fact. Cosmic Engineers originally appeared as a three-part serial in the February - April 1939 issues of John W. Campbell’s highly influential Astounding Science-Fiction magazine, and in a slightly expanded book form 11 years later. But before 1939, Simak had placed no fewer than 10 short stories in the pages of ASF and Thrilling Wonder Stories, while at the same time working as a... Read More

Last Song Before Night: Interesting world, lovely prose, weak plot

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Last Song Before Night by Ilana C. Myer

Last Song Before Night 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. Academy-sanctioned poets are restricted by law to only sing certain songs, upo... Read More

The Reality Dysfunction: A long rambling science fiction epic

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The Reality Dysfunction by Peter F. Hamilton

The Reality Dysfunction, first published in 1996 but just recently released in audiobook format by Tantor Audio, is the first book in Peter F. Hamilton’s NIGHT’S DAWN trilogy which is set in the 27th century in his Confederation universe. Technological and scientific advances have allowed humans to spread throughout the galaxy, colonizing and taming planets, and setting up thriving communities. People are healthy, long-lived, and happy.

For the most part they are at peace, though there are still religious and cultural differences that cause dissension and, of course, there are still people who prey on others. The major cultural divide is between the Adamists and the Edenists. The Adamists are regular ol... Read More

The Tale of Tales: Italian fairytales come to life in recent translation

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The Tale of Tales by Giambattisto Basile (translated by Nancy L. Canepa)

The Tale of Tales is a book of fifty Italian fairy-tales collected by Giambattista Basile in the 17th century. Like the famous Middle-Eastern tale collection 1001 Nights, which is told by the queen Scheherezade, these stories are all connected by a larger frame story, in this case that of the melancholy princess Zoza. Zoza cannot laugh, so her father concocts a trick to amuse her. However, when she does laugh at an old woman, the woman curses her, saying that she can only marry a certain prince by performing a specific task. When Zoza has almost completed her mission and won her love, a Moorish girl steals the prince from her and marries him herself. Zoza then crafts a story-telling competition that lasts five days, with ten different storytellers recou... Read More

Lone Star Planet: The Wild West in space

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Lone Star Planet by H. Beam Piper

Lone Star Planet (1957) is a fun science fiction murder mystery novella by H. Beam Piper. The murder occurs on a planet colonized in the future by the citizens of Texas who wanted to escape the intrusive United States government on Earth. They set up a system where there’s not much centralized government and it doesn’t have much authority, for they all agree on this tenet:

Keep a government poor and weak and it’s your servant; let it get rich and powerful and it’s your master. We don’t want any masters here on New Texas.

Thus, New Texas looks a lot like the Wild West. Men wear Levis and cowboy hats and carry pistols on each hip. Everything is super-sized and even the cattle whose beef they export (which they... Read More

Dead Ringers: Mirror, mirror

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Dead Ringers by Christopher Golden

During my final college years, I was frequently greeted with warmth by complete strangers who thought they knew me. It was disconcerting to be hailed across the quad only to have these folks say, “Oh, you’re not her,” when they got a bit closer to me. Apparently I had a doppelganger! It happened again a few years later, when my college boyfriend (with whom I had broken up) got a new girlfriend who looked enough like me to be my mirror image. That was creepy.

So I could easily sympathize with Frank Lindbergh, one of a group of protagonists in Dead Ringers, when a man enters his home late one night who looks exactly like him — “His own eyes. His own smile. His own face.” The man beats him to a pulp and makes himself at home. As far as anyone can tell, Frank continues to go about his business, but in fact the ... Read More

Burn: This Nebula winner was inspired by Walden

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Burn by James Patrick Kelly

James Patrick Kelly’s Burn (2005) was a finalist for the Hugo Award and won the Nebula Award for Best Novella in 2007. As Kelly explains in the afterword, the story was inspired by his dislike of Henry Thoreau’s Walden which depicts a pastoral utopian society where simplicity is valued and technology is shunned.

In Kelly’s version of Walden, an entire small planet has been purchased and terraformed into a forested utopia in keeping with Thoreau’s vision. Those who move there from Earth adopt a simplistic agricultural lifestyle, rejecting technology and all influence from the humans who make up all the other planets in space (the “Upside”). The only problem is that Walden was n... Read More

Gentlemen of the Road: Swashbuckling historical fiction

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Gentlemen of the Road by Michael Chabon

Michael Chabon’s Gentlemen of the Road (2007) is a swashbuckling historical fiction about a pair of Jewish vagabonds in 10th century Khazaria. Amran is a large Abyssinian, while Zelikman is a somber doctor who explains that he does not save the lives of his patients — he only “prolongs their futility.” We meet our heroes in the midst of a con game and the two rogues soon find themselves in the middle of a royal plot.

Though Gentlemen of the Road is a pretty straightforward historical fiction — there are no sorcerers — there is still plenty here for fantasy fans to enjoy. Chabon’s heroes, for example, strongly recall Frit... Read More