Kirinya by Ian McDonald
After recently enjoying Ian McDonald’s Evolution’s Shore, the first book in his CHAGA series, I was eager to proceed with book two, Kirinya. I wanted to know where McDonald was going with the fascinating ideas he presented in that first novel. What is the goal of the Chaga, the alien evolution machine that has landed on Earth in the form of a ground-covering jungle that changes the landscape and its human inhabitants as it slowly progresses across equatorial regions? What is in the BDO (Big Dumb Object) that came from Saturn and hovers in Earth’s orbit? How will our world’s societies and cultures be affected by these otherworldly intrusions?
As Kirinya begins we learn that Gaby, the famous feisty Irish journalist, has had Shepherd’s baby. Because their daughter Serena was affected by the Chaga, Gaby and ... Read More
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Kirinya by Ian McDonald
A Fall of Princes by Judith Tarr
In this third novel of Judith Tarr’s AVARYAN RISING trilogy (which probably could stand alone), it’s been 15 years since the events of the previous book, The Lady of Han-Gilen. Mirain and Elian now have a teenage son named Saraven who is heir to the throne of his country. One day Saraven saves the life of Hirel, the son of the king of a neighboring kingdom. At first they have nothing in common and even despise each other, but after enduring a series of accidental adventures which include being captured and escaping a few times, the boys eventually overcome their prejudices and become friends. When they make several unsuccessful attempts to stop their fathers from destroying each others’ kingdoms, they end up resorting to a bizarre solution that shocks everybody (including me). As young leaders, they make a sacrifice to save their people, but the path they choose tu... Read More
The Lady of Han-Gilen by Judith Tarr
The Lady of Han-Gilen is the second novel in Judith Tarr’s AVARYAN saga. In the first book, The Hall of the Mountain King, we met Mirain, supposedly the son of the sun god Avaryan and a human princess. Mirain appeared in Ianon, where his grandfather rules, became his heir, and fought for control of the kingdom. The story wasn’t particularly original, but I enjoyed Tarr’s style and Jonathan Davis’s audio performance.
This second installment, which can stand alone fairly well, takes place several years later and focuses on a new character: Princess Elian of Han-Gilen, foster sister of Mirain. Red-haired and independently-minded, Elian has left a trail of spurned suitors in her wake, but now she’s getting older and feeling the pressure to marry. When she finally meets a man who is good enough to match her in wits and ... Read More
Evolution’s Shore by Ian McDonald
In several equatorial regions of the earth, an alien plant has been growing. The “Chaga,” as it is called, came from outer space and destroys anything manmade that comes near it. Scientists are worried about what it might do to humans. They have not been able to kill it and it is advancing slowly but steadily each day, changing the landscape and covering villages and cities as it progresses. Not only are people’s lives being disrupted as they have to flee their homes and become refugees, but they’re also worried about what the Chaga is doing here in the first place. Is it benign? Is there an intelligence behind it? Is it a precursor to an alien invasion? Nobody knows.
The mystery of the Chaga and its effect on humanity have inspired Gaby McAslin, a feisty red-headed green-eyed Irish woman, to become a journalist so she can go to Nairobi and try to figure out what the Chaga is doing as it... Read More
Warlord by Jennifer Fallon
Warlord is the last book in Jennifer Fallon’s WOLFBLADE trilogy which is a prequel to her DEMON CHILD trilogy and part of her HYTHRUN CHRONICLES. Like its predecessors, Wolfblade and Warrior, it’s a huge sprawling epic (26 hours on audio). The story starts immediately after the tragic events of Warrior (which you really must read first). Marla is still the wealthiest and most powerful woman in the country, but she has taken a major hit and, in some ways, feels alone, despite her large family.
Hablet, the Fardohnian king, is planning to take advantage of Hythria’s weakness while the country is recovering from a plague and while their high prince, Lernen, a useless wastrel, is still ruling. Hablet is massing his army for an invasion and hoping that... Read More
Warrior by Jennifer Fallon
Warrior is the second installment in Jennifer Fallon’s WOLFBLADE trilogy, a prequel to her DEMON CHILD trilogy. Both trilogies make up the HYTHRUN CHRONICLES. In the first book, Wolfblade, which you’ll definitely want to read before picking up Warrior, we were introduced to Marla Wolfblade, sister to Lernen Wolfblade, the High Prince of Hythria. When we first met Marla, she was a bubble-headed blonde teenager dreaming of marrying a handsome warlord. At the end of the very long (600 pages, 25 hours in audio format) story, Marla had become a cynical and savvy politician and the most powerful woman in Hythria, thanks to her dwarf slave and a series of unfortunate politically-motivated disasters including adultery, betrayals, kidnappings, and assassinations.
Warrior... Read More
Monster Hunter Nemesis by Larry Correia
There is no way that any review I write about Monster Hunter Nemesis is going to have any sort of effect on anybody’s decision to read it. If you’re a fan of the extremely popular MONSTER HUNTER series, then you’re going to read Monster Hunter Nemesis, the fifth book. If you’re not, you won’t. And if you’re not in one of those two camps, you have no reason to be reading this review. But still I have to write it, because that’s my job.
So, for those of you who ARE fans, what you can expect here is exactly what Correia has given us so far: great characters, a fascinating story, witty dialogue, and brutal violence. This particular installment features my favorite character: AGENT FRANKS! He’s a huge indestructible man(?) who works for the U.S. Monster Control Bureau, a government agency that fights monsters and... Read More
Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link
Kelly Link's short story collection, Magic for Beginners, is a great piece of work. In a bit of a departure from her earlier collection Stranger Things Happen, the stories in it don't follow normative narrative structures; they draw from sources as various as fairy tales, kitchen sink realism, heist stories, TV fandom, and Link's own surrealist vision. These nine stories don't share overt connections, but they do provide a window into modern American life, complete with bland marriages, mortgages, and random zombie sightings. I listened to Random House Audio's version of this book which is almost 11 hours long and is read by various actors such as Cassandra Campbell, Lorna Raver, Marc Bramhall, and others.
The first story, "The Faery Handbag," was my favorite. It was the most straightforward, which probably indicates that I'm a lazy reader and ... Read More
Necronomicon: The Best Weird Tales of H.P. Lovecraft by H.P. Lovecraft
There are sacraments of evil as well as of good about us, and we live and move to my belief in an unknown world, a place where there are caves and shadows and dwellers in twilight. It is possible that man may sometimes return on the track of evolution, and it is my belief that an awful lore is not yet dead.
—Arthur Machen (quoted as an introduction to “The Horror at Red Hook”)
Everyone must read a little Lovecraft and Blackstone Audio’s recently published edition of Necronomicon: The Best Weird Tales of H.P. Lovecraft is, in my opinion, the perfect way to do that. Like re-animated corpses, Lovecraft’s most popular stories from the 1920s and 1930s pulp magazines are brought back to life by some of the best readers in the business: Paul Michael Garcia, Bronson Pinchot, Stephen R. Thorne, Keith Szarabajka, Adam W... Read More
Marina by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
"Marina once told me that we only remember what never really happened. It would take me a lifetime to understand what those words meant. But I suppose I'd better start at the beginning, which in this case is the end."
Oscar Drai is an apathetic student at a boarding school in Barcelona in 1980. While he isn’t too excited about his studies, he is enamored with the old quarter of Barcelona where his school resides, and he escapes to explore the city every chance that he gets. When we first meet Oscar, he has just been picked up by the police because he’s been missing from school for a week. They find him confused and walking dazedly around the city. He is quickly processed at the police station and sent back to school. Then he tells us the story of the strange and tragic events that have just happened to him.
It all started when Oscar heard beautiful music coming from what he ... Read More
Frostborn by Lou Anders
Editor, publisher, and essayist Lou Anders’ debut novel is a sweet Middle Grade story inspired by Norse legends. Frostborn, the first in a series, has two likeable heroines. The first is Karn, the son of a prosperous farmer who’s head of their clan. Karn is his father’s heir, which secretly infuriates Karn’s uncle, a twin who is only a few seconds younger than Karn’s father. However, Karn isn’t interested in running the family farm and being clan chief. He spends his time playing a strategy board game called Thrones & Bones and he’d like to have some adventures before settling down. Karn’s uncle would be thrilled if Karn would leave home, but his father is determined to make Karn a worthy successor. When the uncle tries to take Karn out of the picture, Karn is forced to flee.
Our second hero is Thianna, the daughter of a frost giant and a human woman. Because of... Read More
The Naked Sun by Isaac Asimov
The Naked Sun is the second of Isaac Asimov’s books about police detective Elijah Baley and the humanoid robot R. Daneel Olivaw. Asimov wrote the first book, Caves of Steel (reviewed by Steven), as the answer to John W. Campbell’s challenge to create a science fiction murder mystery. Asimov succeeded, of course, and chose to give us another installment. You don’t absolutely need to read Caves of Steel before reading The Naked Sun, but it’d probably be a little easier if you did. The Naked Sun takes place a couple of years after the events of Caves of Steel, in some far-future Earth after humans have created and evolved separate cultures by settling other planets.
Eli... Read More
A Vision in Velvet by Juliet Blackwell
Juliet Blackwell’s WITCHCRAFT MYSTERIES hasn’t let me down. This is a solid series with a fun setting and great characters. Tantor Audio’s versions read by Xe Sands are terrific and I’m certain that her narration adds a lot to my enjoyment. Honestly, I’ve got a bit of a voice crush on her. I wouldn’t think of reading these books any other way.
In A Vision in Velvet, the sixth installment, Lily’s vintage clothing store is thriving, she has made friends with her neighbors on Haight Street, and she’s got a steady romance going. Life is pretty good. But, of course, soon enough Lily manages to get wrapped up in another murder mystery. This one involves a trunk full of old clothes, a velvet cape, a dying tree in Golden Gate Park, some scientists, psychedelic frogs, The Crucible, and an ancient curse. The mystery ge... Read More
In Winter’s Shadow by Gillian Bradshaw
In Winter’s Shadow is the final book in Gillian Bradshaw’s DOWN THE LONG WIND trilogy, an elegantly written historical fantasy about King Arthur that’s inspired by the Welsh legends. While the first two books, Hawk of May and Kingdom of Summer, have focused on Gwalchmai (Sir Gawain), this last novel is written from Gwynhwyfar’s perspective. You certainly don’t need to read the previous books to fully appreciate In Winter’s Shadow, but if you’re a fan of the time period or the legends, you’ll probably want to read Hawk of May and Kingdom of Summer at some point. They are lovely historical stories.
In In Winter’s Shadow, Gwynhwyfar gives us some of the history of the Roman Empire... Read More
Scissors Cut Paper Wrap Stone by Ian McDonald
Scissors Cut Paper Wrap Stone is a fascinating short novel by Ian McDonald. At the beginning of the story we meet Ethan Ring, who’s feeling conspicuously tall and red-headed as he chants in a Buddhist temple. Ethan and his friend, a famous Japanese manga artist, are on a bicycle pilgrimage in Japan. Neither of them knows what kind of demons the other is struggling with, and neither does the reader at first, but as they journey on, their stories come out and even though each man’s tale is different, they realize that both of them are searching for redemption and peace.
Many stories deal with a hero’s search for redemption, but Scissors Cut Paper Wrap Stone is unique. The setting is a neo-feudal Japan where tech corporations are the fiefdoms and gangs of armed vigilantes threaten citizens’ peace and security. This is jarringly j... Read More
Sacrifice of Fools by Ian McDonald
Ian McDonald grew up in Belfast, a city known for the turmoil and unrest it has endured because of the conflict between Catholics and Protestants. Some of McDonald’s novels allegorically explore the causes and results of a divided city. In Sacrifice of Fools, McDonald presents a vivid and lively conflicted Belfast, and then he throws a third element into the mix: aliens.
The Shian are a peaceful alien species who, upon arrival on Earth, are allowed to settle in Belfast in exchange for sharing the secrets of their technological superiority. The Shian are humanoid in appearance, but have enough biological differences that they cannot successfully mate with humans. They also have very different languages, laws, culture, and customs. While their similarities make them attractive to many humans (and weird fetishes evolve), the differences cause misunderstandings and culture... Read More
Scourge of the Betrayer by Jeff Salyards
Arkamondos the scribe has just been given a new and unusual commission. He’s been hired by a notorious band of Syldoon soldiers to travel with them and observe and transcribe their adventures. The leader of this motley crew is Captain Killcoin, a brooding authoritarian figure whose weapon of choice is a frightening looking flail that has magical properties. Killcoin is accompanied by a few loyal companions who are just as scary and tough as he is. Arkamondos is intimidated by all of them, and he wonders if he’s made a big mistake, but Killcoin’s insistence that important events are about to occur makes Arkamondos decide that it will be best for his career if he stays... Plus, they’ll probably kill him if he leaves.
So off he goes with Killcoin’s band. They are coarse and vulgar but their dialog is frequently sharp and witty. There is much drinking, cursing, barfing, bleeding, piss... Read More
Hamlet, Prince of Denmark by A.J. Hartley
Hamlet, Prince of Denmark: A Novel, a retelling of Shakespeare’s Hamlet by David Hewson and A.J. Hartley, is fairly straightforward. It doesn't depart from the basic plot events or thematic issues as we are familiar with them in Shakespeare, nor is it particularly inventive in language or structure. This surprised me at first, as I expected a meta or avant garde treatment of this most classic of texts. (Thinking about it, I was probably unconsciously expecting a more Stoppard-esque adaptation.)
What this book does do is deepen the characterization of each of the major characters. In Hewson and Hartley's version, we understand the myriad reasons for Old Hamlet's murder, for Fortinbras' invasion of Denmark, for young Hamlet's halting confusion. We get a lot of backstory, as well -... Read More
The Unfairest of Them All by Shannon Hale
The Unfairest of Them All is the second book in Shannon Hale’s EVER AFTER HIGH series for children. These are tie-in novels for Matel’s line of EVER AFTER HIGH dolls, clothing, diaries, and sundry accessories. I feel like a real chump for obliviously falling into Matel’s greedy little trap, but I love Shannon Hale’s children’s books, so.... so THERE.
The first book in the series (The Storybook of Legends) was sweet and charming, so I went in to this one knowing exactly what I was doing and I found it just as original and adorable as the first one. In The Unfairest of Them All, Raven Queen, daughter of the evil queen, refuses to sign The Storybook of Legends, a contract that would require her to carry on in her mother’s evil role. Raven doesn’t want to be evil, but b... Read More
The Oversight by Charlie Fletcher
Charlie Fletcher, previously best known for his Middle Grade STONEHEART trilogy, makes his adult debut with The Oversight, the first book in his OVERSIGHT trilogy. I listened to Hachette Audio’s version read by the illustrious Simon Prebble, an Audie-winning narrator who always brings out the best in the books he reads.
The story is set in a supernatural Victorian London where five gifted people who call themselves The Oversight attempt to protect the world from the paranormal baddies that live in another dimension and are trying to break through. The Oversight used to be a much larger group, but sometime in the past they were decimated by an event that is related to us bit by bit throughout the story. As long as there are at least five people (a “hand”) left, the border between worlds will stand, but the group is now so... Read More