Sarah Chorn (GUEST)

SARAH CHORN, one of our regular guest reviewers, has been a compulsive reader her whole life, and early on found her reading niche in the fantastic genre of Speculative Fiction. She blames her active imagination for the hobbies that threaten to consume her life. She is a published photographer, world traveler and recent college graduate and mother. Sarah keeps a blog at Bookworm Blues.

The Coldest War: An alternate look at the Cold War

The Coldest War by Ian Tregillis

I loved Bitter Seeds, the first volume of THE MILKWEED TRIPTYCH. Ian Tregillis is executing a brilliant spin on twentieth-century world history with this series. The Coldest War begins roughly twenty years after the events of Bitter Seeds, and the name is fitting. Not only is this the Cold War, but it’s also a very cold part of the lives of the protagonists. In fact, the first half of the book is downright depressing as characters realize what an unfortunate life March lives, and while Will seems very lucky, his life takes a negative spin as well. Then, you insert Gretel (who makes my skin crawl) and her brother Klaus, and you have a simmering pot of dark tension just waiting to boil over.

Gretel is, perhaps, on... Read More

The Barsoom Project: Fun even for non-gamers

The Barsoom Project by Larry Niven & Steven Barnes

I’ve never read anything by Larry Niven or Steven Barnes before, and after reading The Barsoom Project, I’m wondering why. While there were parts that didn’t completely connect with me, the writing was great and the story was interesting enough to hook me almost right away. Though I haven’t read Dream Park, the first book in the DREAM PARK series, I did not feel that my interest and understanding of this, the second book in the series, suffered at all. There is a nice synopsis of Dream Park on the back of the book which caught me up to speed on the main conflict the protagonist, Eviane, faced. Also, there is a prologue which was (I’m assuming) straight out of Dream Park... Read More

Stone Cold: A duology ends with a bang

Stone Cold by Devon Monk

Stone Cold is the second book in a spinoff series by Monk (from her ALLIE BECKSTROM series/world). I have to admit, the first book in this BROKEN MAGIC series, Hell Bent, actually hooked me so hard it made me give the ALLIE BECKSTROM books a try, which I also enjoyed so much I am having a hard time making myself finish the series (which is the best compliment this bookworm can ever give any series).

BROKEN MAGIC is a two part spinoff series, and Stone Cold ends impressively. This is important for readers because it gives a nice, round conclusion for both Shame, and Allie, in her own way. It’s nice to have a definitive ending to things, and what an ending this is. That being said, the... Read More

Hell Bent: Realistic struggles with powerful magic

Hell Bent by Devon Monk

This is the first Devon Monk book I’ve ever read. After some digging, I discovered that the main characters in the BROKEN MAGIC series, Shame and Terric, were introduced as backburner characters in another book/series that Monk wrote, the Allie Beckstrom series. Never fear, you obviously don’t have to have read those other books to enjoy Hell Bent. I didn’t have a clue who the author or her characters were, and I still had a lot of fun. That being said, I’m sure if I’d read other books by this author (as they are set in the same world) I would probably understand some of the nuances more clearly. For example, I never really did figure out the ins and outs of the magic system, or why some people are able to “break” magic and make it more powerful, but most can... Read More

Hollow World: Exploring humanity with an Everyman

Hollow World by Michael J. Sullivan

As soon as I heard about Hollow World I jumped on the bandwagon. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I love it when authors take a left turn and tries something absolutely new and different. Michael J. Sullivan is known for his epic fantasy, so a time travel/futuristic sci-fi is absolutely different than his usual work. He had my attention.

The thing is, despite the fact that this is an absolutely different genre than Sullivan fans will expect, there are still some qualities here that are owned by the author. For example, Sullivan excels at telling an action-packed story set in a huge world that is slowly expanded upon in the periphery of the story. Also, he does a great job at developing characters you can really cling to. And all of that is evident in Read More

Jack of Ravens: Lovers separated by millennia

Jack of Ravens by Mark Chadbourn

I’m one of those people who is a diehard fan of anything Celtic. All you really have to do is say, “Hey, Sarah, this book is obviously inspired by Celtic lore/legend/traditions/etc” and I’m there. So when Pyr emailed me about Mark Chadbourn’s Jack of Ravens, and I saw “Celtic” in the description, I knew I had to read it. Seriously, that’s all it took. Yeah, I’m discerning like that.

Jack of Ravens is a slow burn, and while that might aggravate some, it’s well worth it. Chadbourn doesn’t waste any of his words. In fact, his lyrical prose and descriptions are instrumental in whisking the reader away to other times and places. What is, perhaps, more amazing than anything else is that all his times and places seems to shine and are craft... Read More

Sparrow Hill Road: A thrilling and ghostly road trip

Sparrow Hill Road by Seanan McGuire

One of the things that sets Sparrow Hill Road apart from typical ghost stories is the fact that this is told from the ghost’s (Rose) point of view. You’d think that after her tragic death, and after years of being stuck as a teenager wandering the ghost roads, she’d be bitter and angry, but she’s not. Instead, she’s used her (after) life as a sort of second chance. She goes where the wind takes her, eats the food given to her, and borrows the coats people loan her. She helps where she can, and learns and grows with each experience. I fell in love with Rose instantly.

Sparrow Hill Road is told in a rather unique fashion: interlocking ghost stories that make up the whole novel. Some readers might get exhausted with the individual feel to each piece, but it really was a smart move for McGuire to make when she told Rose’s tale. Each sec... Read More

Happy Hour in Hell: Rip-roaring fun containing a deeper message

Happy Hour in Hell by Tad Williams

Happy Hour in Hell is the second novel in Tad WilliamsBobby Dollar series. While readers might enjoy and appreciate the book more if they read The Dirty Streets of Heaven first, its sequel is one of those books that can be understood and enjoyed on its own merit, too. Happy Hour in Hell is darker than its predecessor, the world expands, Bobby Dollar is a more complex character (while never losing his humorous or cynical edge), and there’s strong emotional appeal. The book as a whole benefits from this immensely.

Happy Hour in Hell starts on a rather dark, lonely note with Bobby Dollar crossing the bridge to enter Hell. This sets the tone for the whole novel, which explores the afterlife and death i... Read More

The Dirty Streets of Heaven: Entertaining and unexpected

The Dirty Streets of Heaven by Tad Williams

Tad Williams and I go way back. (Not literally, of course: If I walked up to him on the street, he wouldn’t know who I was.) He was one of the first epic fantasy authors I read and fully enjoyed. I have been an avid Tad Williams fan for years due to the high quality of his work. Understandably, I was champing at the bit to read The Dirty Streets of Heaven, an adult urban fantasy which is completely out of Williams’ epic fantasy zone. I was excited to see how he’d handle the change.

I’ve recently read a number of books which have proven to me that religiously-themed fantasy novels don’t have to contain a sermon. Even though the discussion of God, Heaven, sin, and angels are quite common in The Dirty Streets of Heaven, the title alone should tell... Read More

A Different Kingdom: Rich with details and surprising maturity

A Different Kingdom by Paul Kearney

A Different Kingdom is a reprint of one of Paul Kearney’s first novels, first published in 1993. The good news is that this doesn’t read like an early novel in an illustrious career: it actually reads like something a well-practiced author would produce after a lot of hard work.

A Different Kingdom is set in the picturesque countryside of Ireland and the farm where Michael lives. Alongside this, perhaps on top of it or layered throughout it, is a fantasy world where other creatures live, creatures that seem to spring out of our own myths and legends. The fact that this other world is set in a landscape that has thrilled many (myself included) with beautiful myths and legends is just perfect. This is a book for dreamers.
When the wolves follow him from the Other Place to his family’s doorstep, Michael must choose between locking the... Read More

London Eye: Too short to meet its potential

London Eye by Tim Lebbon

The young adult genre seems to be moving beyond vampires. They’ve toyed with werewolves for a while, but I think those creatures are being left in the past like their fanged cousins. Now it seems like anyone who really wants to write young adult is going dystopian (thank you, Hunger Games). To be honest with you, I don’t get the thrill with dystopian or after-the-big-catastrophe plots, but whatever. It’s what the public wants, and the authors are delivering. Now, I’m not saying that to gripe, I’m saying it because I think people should know my general disposition toward this stuff before they read my review of Tim Lebbon’s London Eye.

London Eye will appeal to many readers because of the after-the-catastrophe aspect of the plot that so many are ... Read More

The Straits of Galahesh: A strong second book

The Straits of Galahesh by Bradley Beaulieu

When I picked up Bradley Beaulieu’s The Straits of Galahesh, the second book in his THE LAYS OF ANUSKAYA series, it had been a while since I’d read the first book, The Winds of Khalakovo, so I was worried that I had forgotten many of the story details. But Beaulieu, in his infinite wisdom, put a summary of the first book where a prologue would be. Not only did this refresh my forgetful brain, but it kept Beaulieu from having to drop in constant “reminders” throughout the book. There were no refresher paragraphs sprinkled throughout the prose, which was absolutely wonderful. If you just came from reading The Winds of Khalakovo, you could skip that section. If it’s been a while, reading the first section will bring you up to speed and help you remember everything you might have forgotten.
Read More

The Mist-Torn Witches: Fun but forgettable

The Mist-Torn Witches by Barb Hendee

The Mist-Torn Witches is a book that kind of leaves me torn. In some aspects, it’s a really great fantasy book and in others it just lacks… something. The Mist-Torn Witches is a rather short, fun little murder mystery with some magic thrown in for good measure. It’s the kind of fantasy that is a lot of fun to read, but ends up being not quite so memorable.

The two main protagonists in The Mist-Torn Witches are sisters, Celine and Amelie. Celine earns their money by pretending to be a seer and her sister Amelie is the tom-boy, protector of the two. She can kick ass and take names. The plot really starts running when it becomes apparent that two princes are vying for power over their area. One of them is shadowy and presented as being almost unbelievably evil. The other is a haunted ghost of a man who, in contrast... Read More

Arcanum: Interesting historical fantasy

Arcanum by Simon Morden

Alternative history stories usually either thrive or fail for me depending on plausibility. The writer can’t just tell me a good yarn, (s)he also needs to be able to fit this yarn into a world I recognize, and make me buy the history. That’s not an easy thing to do. When you take a well-known, often romanticized period of time, and infuse it with magic, that task is even harder.

Thankfully, that’s not a problem that Morden has. I often face the issue of the Middle Ages being a bit too romanticized. There is no mention in many books of people with no teeth, dead teeth, dying teeth (sorry for my tooth obsession), body odor (seriously, can you imagine how bad people must have smelled back then?), horrible illnesses, and limbs being cut off from infection. These are details that many authors leave out. The brutal truth is, this period of time is dirty, dusty, infected and disgusting. People lived short li... Read More

The Doctor and the Kid: A fun-filled romp through the Wild West

The Doctor and the Kid by Mike Resnick

The Doctor and the Kid is the second novel in Mike Resnick’s WEIRD WEST TALES. I haven’t read the first book, The Buntline Special, but I could follow the events and characters just fine. The Doctor and the Kid works well as a stand-alone, though I probably would have had more attachment to the characters and the events if I had read The Buntline Special first. The only place where my lack of background was evident was with descriptions of the Buntline itself. I could never quite picture what exactly it was and I’m sure I wouldn’t have had that problem if I’d read The Buntline Special first.

The Doctor and the Kid is filled with characte... Read More

The Grendel Affair: Popcorn isn’t a bad thing

The Grendel Affair by Lisa Shearin

The Grendel Affair is a sort of hybrid police procedural/governmental sort of book with a quirky main character who is easy to laugh with (and at), but also easy to sympathize with. Makenna is one of those characters that will probably seem rather cookie-cutter, and she is in many ways, but she’s endearing despite that. She has a quip for just about everything. She seems to have a knack for getting herself into ridiculous and unpredictable situations, and she’s also very pretty. It’s all the things that most authors write into their urban fantasy characters, but despite all of that, she’s a lot of fun, and most importantly, she makes mistakes, and those mistakes often propel the plot.

Supernatural Protection & Investigation is one of those super-secret agencies that is out to police all of the nasties that the humans can’t know about. Again, that is fairly... Read More

Child of a Hidden Sea: Satisfying

Child of a Hidden Sea by A.M. Dellamonica

Child of a Hidden Sea is the kind of fantasy book that usually leaves me very aggravated, not because it’s bad, but because parallel world/portal fantasy (whatever you want to call it) usually doesn’t work for me. There are too many leaps of logic that I never really buy into. Things feel clunky, and a good plot seems to be messed up by the complexity that a secondary world alongside our world creates. Therefore I approached Child of a Hidden Sea with a huge amount of skepticism, but I decided to give it a chance anyway because the strong female protagonist really interested me. I’m glad I gave it that shot, because Dellamonica nicely sidesteps most of the speed bumps that so many other authors get slowed down by.

Firstly, Sophie, our protagonist, is far from perfect. She’s a fairly flawed person, in most senses of the word. She... Read More

Replica: A novel that can’t decide what it is

Replica by Jenna Black

Jenna Black’s Replica is a young adult science fiction novel which I read in only one day. Readers who follow my blog might know that when I read a book in a day it means I either loved it or hated it. Well, Replica tries hard, but in the end, it just wasn’t for me.

One of my issues right off the bat is that for a science fiction world, there really isn’t much SciFi in Replica and  Black never gives the reader a timeline to reference. Different aspects of the world suggest different time periods. The story takes place in the Corporate States, a future dystopian version of our own world, and Nathan has a Replica, so we know it’s the future, but many the social structures make me think of the 1800s. Women wear long dresses in public and wor... Read More

Jaran: A truly charming tale

Jaran by Kate Elliott

Kate Elliott is best known as an epic fantasy writer. Her books are powerful and sprawling. Her characters are well developed and emotionally intense. Her writing pulls it all together so perfectly. She’s an author that, no matter what flaws I might find with her books, I always tend to enjoy. Jaran is no different. It’s not a perfect novel, but it’s mighty enjoyable, despite that.

Jaran is billed as a SciFi, but it’s really an epic fantasy book with hints of SciFi thrown in to make things interesting. Jaran starts with Tess in a futuristic galaxy and she ends up on a very behind-the-technological-times planet. She’s highly placed in the governmental order of things, as her brother is an important Duke who has been fighting for human rights against the alien Chapalii. Tess stands to inherit all of that, but her discomfort with the position and her ... Read More

Carrion Comfort: An early work 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

Blackdog: Stand-alone epic fantasy

Blackdog by K.V. Johansen

While religion is often found in epic fantasy, rarely is it the main focus of a novel, as it is in Blackdog. It’s even more rare to find an epic fantasy that is a stand-alone rather than part of a long series or trilogy. While the fact that Blackdog is a stand-alone might turn some epic fantasy fans off, it is rather refreshing to read a fantasy on an epic scale that is contained within one book and has a definite beginning, middle and ending.

K.V. Johansen’s world building reminds me a bit of Steven Erikson’s MALAZAN series. The world is large, intricate and sprawls into lands that are just hinted at. It has a rich history which will keep the reader interested and yearning to learn more. Furthermore, the gods are steeped in that rich history and add an int... Read More

Black Halo: Sam Sykes is a versatile author

Black Halo by Sam Sykes

In his first book, Tome of the Undergates, Sam Sykes proved he was a versatile author. He wrote some intense, realistic battles and mixed them with some of the most peaceful, beautiful passages I’ve seen in such a violent book. Interspersed with all of this was some fantastic humor that I’ve come to associate with Sykes.

In Black Halo, he takes everything he proved himself capable of in Tome of the Undergates and perfects it. The humor is more biting and the plot is paced perfectly. The reader will notice a lot of growth in the author between the first and second books of this series, and that’s really saying something, considering how impressive a debut Tome of the Undergates was.

Perhaps most impressively is how Sykes has so carefully decided to expand his world. Tome of... Read More

Dirty Magic: An entertaining set-up novel

Dirty Magic by Jaye Wells

Dirty Magic tells the story of Kate Prospero, a woman with plenty of baggage to lug around as she struggles through life taking care of her teenaged brother and barely making ends meet. Slowly Wells reveals the fictional (somewhat superheroish) city of Babylon, and as Kate is fleshed out, her history (much of which remains a mystery) is also deliciously divulged to readers. In fact, it’s probably the pacing in regards to world building and character development that really makes Dirty Magic shine. Things aren’t revealed all at once, or even all in this novel. Instead, the foundation is set and enough questions are answered that will satisfy readers, but readers will have to work for those answers, which makes them so much sweeter.

Dirty Magic is an interesting mix of police procedural and personal drama. Usually I sort of tu... Read More

Garrett for Hire: Collects three Garrett, P.I. adventures

Garrett for Hire by Glen Cook

Garrett for Hire is an omnibus edition of three books in Glen Cook’s popular GARRETT, P.I. series. These books are Deadly Quicksilver Lies, Petty Pewter Gods and Faded Steel Heat, books seven, eight and nine in the series, respectively. However, because each book fairly stands alone, I never felt that I was missing out on any important details by joining the series at the halfway point. Nor did I feel like I could have used a bit more background to fully appreciate the characters, events or location. Therefore, don’t let the fact that this omnibus isn’t comprised of books one, two and three keep you from reading it.

Garrett for Hire reads like a noir novel with a little bit of a Read More

The Merchant Emperor: Revisiting a series I fell in love with long ago

The Merchant Emperor by Elizabeth Haydon

The Merchant Emperor is the seventh book in the SYMPHONY OF AGES series by Elizabeth Haydon. This series happens to be one of the first epic fantasy series I ever read, but that was years ago. I was excited about this book, but also reluctant. It’s been a long time since I’ve visited this world, and my memory isn’t what it used to be due to numerous cancer treatments.

According to the publisher, The Merchant Emperor is a good entry point to the series for new readers. Knowing how fantastic my memory was, I decided to give The Merchant Emperor a shot without revisiting the previous books to refresh my memory first.

The good thing is that Haydon really infuses this book with plenty of backstory and character building. New readers will appreciate that. Readers l... Read More

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