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The City of Ember: Powered by a rich setting

The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau

Long ago, the Builders created Ember, an underground city. The Builders only intended for the people of Ember to stay underground for two hundred years, but, due to a slight wrinkle in the Builders’ plans, the people of Ember have stayed underground far longer than two hundred years. Now, supplies are running out. In fact, there soon won’t even be light bulbs left, and the people will be left in darkness.

Jeanne DuPrau’s City of Ember is a children's post-apocalyptic novel that follows the adventures of Lina and Doon. Lina and Doon, at twelve years old, have finished their schooling. Lina, who loves running, manages to become a Messenger, while Doon, who wants to find a way to fix Ember’s flagging generator, draws work in the Pipeworks. Lina is an outgoing and cheerful girl, while Doon is more introspective and given to temperamental outbursts. However, they are... Read More

Spider’s Revenge: Somebody, just shoot Mab now!

Spider’s Revenge by Jennifer Estep

Spider’s Revenge is the fifth book in Jennifer Estep’s ELEMENTAL ASSASSIN series. You probably shouldn’t be coming to this book without reading the previous four books, so I’ll assume you’ve done that already if you’re reading my review. If not, beware of spoilers for the previous books.

In Spider’s Revenge, Gin Blanco finally decides it’s time to kill Mab Monroe, the evil Fire Elemental who destroyed Gin’s family decades ago and is now the crime boss of Ashland Tennessee. I’ve been complaining for a while now that Estep is dragging the plot out by making Gin have to deal with one of Mab’s cronies or minions in each book rather than just taking the shortcut of going after Mab herself. It seems to me that there have been two main plots going on: the first (ostensibly) is Gin’s desire to get reve... Read More

David Falkayn: Star Trader: The merchant adventures continue

David Falkayn: Star Trader by Poul Anderson

David Falkayn: Star Trader is the second in a series of seven books collecting the writings of Anderson in his Technic Civilization universe. Publisher Bean decided to publish them in order of internal chronology, which is not the order in which they were written. In the first instalment, The van Rijn Method, we see humanity's first exploration of the universe, the origins of the Technic Civilization and the formation of the Polesotechnic League, a mercantile organisation that soon acquires vast fortunes and political influence beyond that of a mere government. In this book the Polesotechnic League is at the height of its power. The seven works collected in this volume mostly deal with the exploits of members of the league. Most notably Nicholas van Rijn and David Falkyan.

“Territory” (1961), the opening story of the collection, set... Read More

The Slow Regard of Silent Things: Suggests rather than reveals

The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss

After I read Patrick Rothfuss's novella, The Slow Regard of Silent Things, I spent some time leisurely cleaning my house, enjoying putting things "just so." Reading it put me in a meditative mood, the mood to organize my life and, in doing so, organize my mind.

This KINGKILLER CHRONICLES story follows Auri, the blonde urchin who befriends Kvothe in The Name of the Wind. Readers get to experience a week of Auri's life in the Underthing, the maze of tunnels and ruins that run under the University. During this time, she forages for food, uncovers hidden objects, and prepares for the arrival, in seven days' time, of a guest — unnamed, but suggested to be Kvothe.

In addition to reading the manuscript, I listened to Rothfuss’s narration. It was lovely to hear this in his own voice; I have spent so... Read More

Falling Sky: Good familiar fun

Falling Sky by Rajan Khanna

Falling Sky, Rajan Khanna’s first published novel, is good if familiar post-apocalyptic fun, with plenty of adventure. At 250 pages it’s a good way to spend a couple of evenings or a weekend. Khanna doesn’t explore any new ground here (pun intended) but he has good action sequences and likeable characters.

It is two generations after a virus — the Bug — turned any human infected into an aggressive, bestial killing machine the survivors call the Feral. Ferals breed and care for their young, but they do not demonstrate higher brain function like reason or speech. They exist to kill and eat, and their bodily fluids transmit the disease almost instantly. Most human survivors have taken to the air to avoid the Feral and the threat of infection. Ben Gold inherited his father’s airship, Cherub, and he uses it to guard a group of scientists who are... Read More

Moving Pictures: One of the most pleasant stops on the Discworld tour

Moving Pictures by Terry Pratchett

Citizen Kane is considered by many connoisseurs to be the greatest film of all time. Channeling the idea of empire through the life of a mysterious magnate, it is a drama telling the bittersweet story of the glory days of wealth, the inevitable fall, and how its biggest dreams are left unfulfilled. Half a century later, with numerous new forms of media having been adopted into mainstream culture, comes Terry Pratchett. Practically creating a new form of media of his own, he decided to overlay Hollywood onto the template of Citizen Kane. The weight of elephants behind it, 1990’s Moving Pictures is the same bittersweet result.

Capturing the magic and innocence of the burgeoning film industry in Ankh-Morpork, at the outset of Moving Pictures the Guild of Alchemists discover the secret to capturing pictures on film. Studio... Read More

Wisp of a Thing: A lovely haunting fairy tale

Wisp of a Thing by Alex Bledsoe

Wisp of a Thing is Alex Bledsoe’s second stand-alone novel about the Tufa, an ancient race of magically gifted swarthy rural folk who live in the Smoky Mountains of Cloud County, Tennessee and may have descended from the Tuatha Dé Danann. You don’t need to read the first book, The Hum and the Shiver, though it’s worth your while and you’ll get a little more out of Wisp of a Thing if you recognize a couple of characters who make cameo appearances in this second book.

This story focuses on Rob Quillen, a musician who became popular after the country watched him experience a personal tragedy on a national TV reality show. Rob has come to Cloud County because a mysterious man told him that’s where he can find a song of healing. He knows it’s a long-shot, but Rob has nothing else to do and nowhere else to go.
... Read More

Monstrous Affections: Chock full of horror and hormones

Monstrous Affections by Kelly Link & Gavin Grant 

Monstrous Affections: An Anthology of Beastly Tales, a new anthology by Kelly Link and Gavin Grant, was an interesting and surprising read. Interesting because, duh, anything the duo behind Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet puts together has to be great. And surprising because nothing on the cover prepared me for its YA-focus.

And let’s talk about the cover for a second, because it is incredible. Red thistles explode out of line-drawn stems. Blood drips from the maw of a fully-colored toothy black beast as it crouches over a prone, line-drawn man... his prey, we assume. Out of the beast’s back arise feathered wings, again line-drawn. I love the contras... Read More

The Godless: Starts a promising new fantasy epic

The Godless by Ben Peek

The Godless is not Ben Peek’s first published work but, as his fantasy debut, it is a new step in the Australian author’s career. The Godless is set in a fantasy world where a calamitous war between the gods has left them for dead, or dying. In the aftermath of that world-changing event, the gods’ bodies have begun leaking remnants of their powers into the world, creating new Immortals — humans with powers, feared by many.

It is on the literal back of one of these gods that the city of Mireaa, a huge trade city, was built. Much like a cairn, Mireea finds itself in the midst of a siege by a warring neighboring nation which the city may not be able to stop. It is in this setup that The Godless introduces us to its three main characters. Ayae, a cartographer’s apprentice, discovers early on in the book that she cannot be hu... Read More

The Book of Strange New Things: A marvelous exploration of human faith and faithfulness

The Book of Strange New Things by Michael Faber

Since Bill and I both read Michael Faber’s newest novel, The Book of Strange New Things, at the same time, we’ve decided to share this review.

The Book of Strange New Things is a marvelous exploration of human faith and faithfulness in the most trying of circumstances. It follows Peter, a British evangelical minister, as he undertakes a missionary venture on Oasis, a recently colonized planet. Behind him he leaves his wife and partner in faith, Beatrice, to continue their ministry on Earth. However, life on Earth gets increasingly difficult and dangerous after Peter leaves, and his relationship with Bea — continued solely via e-mail — begins to fracture as their experiences of God diverge.

One of the major strengths of The Book of Strange New Things is its portrayal of the relationsh... Read More

Tangled Threads: Big changes in Gin’s personal life

Tangled Threads by Jennifer Estep

In Tangled Threads, the fourth volume of Jennifer Estep’s ELEMENTAL ASSASSIN series, the plot advances satisfactorily. Since you’re reading this review, I’ll assume you’ve read the first three books, Spider’s Bite, Web of Lies, and Venom. I’ll also assume you still like the series if you’re interested in a review of book four.

So, as I said, the plot advances, mostly with Gin’s relationships with both her new boyfriend, Owen Grayson, and her sister Bria Coolidge, the new top cop in town who doesn’t realize that Gin is her sister or that she’s Ashland’s vigilante assassin with stone and ice magic. Of course, fans of the series can’t wait to find out how Bria will react when she eventually discovers the truth. To avoid spoilers, I won’t tell you ... Read More

The Haunting: The beginning of Mahy’s illustrious career

The Haunting by Margaret Mahy

I first read The Haunting when I was about ten or eleven years old, and now — almost twenty years later — I was stunned by how much I remembered it. Usually good books leave an imprint of enjoyment on your memory, but such is the potency of Margaret Mahy's writing that I recalled almost every beat of her story. At the same time, there were parts of The Haunting that I could appreciate much more as an adult than as a child.

Barney Palmer is a sensitive but ordinary little boy, who is on his way from school one day when "the world tilted and ran downhill in all directions, and he knew he was about to be haunted again." Sure enough, the blurry vision of a ghost appears before him, a curly-haired boy wearing an old-fashioned velvet suit and lace collar, who cries: "Barnaby's dead! Barnaby's dead! And I'm going to be very lonely." Read More

Last Plane to Heaven: The Final Collection: Indispensable

Last Plane to Heaven: The Final Collection by Jay Lake

Jay Lake died in June of 2014. It was a tragic loss but not a surprise, since Lake had made his experiences with cancer public. Last Plane to Heaven, edited by Lake himself, is a reminder of just how much the speculative fiction world lost.

I have always loved Lake’s prose, but I had trouble with his novels. This collection of thirty-two stories shows him, mostly, at his best and strongest. As with his novels, even when a story is, by my lights, less than successful, it is still a fascinating read. Lake put a brief introduction to each story. In several cases these often humorous introductions are as interesting as the story. Fair warning, though; several of these introductions discuss the effect of his cancer and the treatments on his writing; be prepared.

Because there are thirty-two stories, I am not going to comment on all of them... Read More

Venom: Fun plot if you don’t think about it too much

Venom by Jennifer Estep

Venom is the third book in Jennifer Estep’s ELEMENTAL ASSASSIN series about Gin Blanco, an assassin who runs The Pork Pit, a barbecue restaurant in Ashland, Tennessee. My review will contain spoilers for the previous books, so you might not want to read it if you haven’t yet read Spider’s Bite and Web of Lies.

Gin has been trying to retire from her assassin’s trade, but as long as the Fire Elemental Mab Monroe runs Ashland as if she’s a crime boss, there will always be people in distress who need Gin’s help. Gin is all too happy to help them because her eventual goal is to take Mab down because Mab killed Gin’s mother and big sister about 15 years ago.

This time the damsel in distress is a vampire named Roslyn who is being stalked by Elliot Slater, the giant who’s Mab’s to... Read More

Horrible Monday: Carrion Comfort by Dan Simmons

Carrion Comfort by Dan Simmons

Carrion Comfort is one of Dan Simmons’s earlier works, first published in 1989. It is about psychic vampires who feed off of other people, manipulating their thoughts and thereby controlling their actions.

The notion of a psychic vampire is what made me want to read this book — it’s an idea far too interesting to pass up. Simmons’s vampires are unique, and they do live up to the hype in some ways. Ultimately, though, they often tiptoed right up to being absurd and ridiculous. The lack of believability at certain parts of the book diminshed my enjoyment of the novel. If there had been fewer completely unbelievable scenes — unbelievable even in the context of horror fiction — Carrion Comfort would be far more haunting than it is.
... Read More

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