Category Archives: Book Review

BOOK REVIEW: Harry Harrison, Harry Harrison: A Memoir

REVIEW SUMMARY: Whether you are a Harrison fanatic, a reader of one of his series or just someone who likes history, Harrison’s memoir provides not only insight into his own life, but context of the world that influenced him.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Harry Harrison grows up in the depression, gets drafted for World War II, forms a dislike of the military, learns Esperanto, relocates from NYC to Mexico,  and in his thirties starts writing Science Fiction. From Italy to England to Denmark and several places in between, Harrison’s memoir follows a man bent on writing, unafraid to move to (at the time) far off places to seek a better life for his family. Subtitled “It seemed like a good idea at the time”, the memoir includes several excellent essays in Part II that could not be integrated into the memoir before the writer’s passing.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: History and environment puts writing in context, and Harrison’s memoir provides great context; the essays in Part II are worthy of publication on their own.
CONS: Part I becomes a bit incoherent at the end.
BOTTOM LINE: Though incomplete, this book details the unique life story of one of science fiction’s grand masters, told partially as memoir and partially through targeted essays.

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BOOK REVIEW: Coming Home by Jack McDevitt

REVIEW SUMMARY: McDevitt encourages hope for humanity’s future in this far-future adventure.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: When an ancient FTL transmitter is unearthed, Alex Benedict and Chase Kolpath go hot in pursuit of the missing Apollo artifacts buried in the mists of nine thousand years of history. Meanwhile, the once-lost ship Capella will soon return from a space/time warp with Alex’s uncle and mentor aboard.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Relatable characters; easygoing storyline; breezy read; interesting concepts; Apollo!
CONS: The Capella subplot may require having read Firebird.
BOTTOM LINE: Reading Coming Home revitalizes proper pride in humanity – what it has accomplished today and what it will design, do, and discover tomorrow.

Nine thousand years into the future, Alex Benedict operates a successful antiquarian firm. Acting as a broker, Alex and his assistant Chase Kolpath seek out new artifacts for clients. Their for-profit motive often angers traditional archaeologists but their love of history and the thrill of discovery always spurs their pursuit of new and alluring artifacts.
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BOOK REVIEW: Frostborn by Lou Anders

REVIEW SUMMARY: Lou Anders’s debut novel for young readers is an engaging and fun fantasy adventure. Younger readers will enjoy the novel and find identifiable characters while older readers will enjoy the rich world.

MY RATING:

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Fluid storytelling, engaging characters and spectacular worldbuilding.
CONS: Some dialogue felt forced, some characters a little telegraphed (though that may be because of my age).
BOTTOM LINE: Were I the target age for Frostborn, I would have gobbled up this book. At my current age I enjoyed and want more Thrones and Bones.

Thrones and Bones is not just the series title for Lou Anders’s debut novel Frostborn, it is also the game with which Karn, one of the novel’s young protagonists, is obsessed. Our other protagonist, the young half-giant Thianna, is an outsider in her land because of her dual heritage. Of course their paths intertwine in Anders’ Norse-inspired fantasy, set in the land of Norrøngard, with undead kings, Afterwalkers (undead warriors), magic horns, wyverns, dragons and dead cities.
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BOOK REVIEW: Tainted Blood by M.L. Brennan

REVIEW SUMMARY: Another great entry in the American Vampire series.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Fortitude Scott must investigate the death of a werebear while the supernatural community prepares for a change in leadership.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Great characters; believable and compelling relationships; original vampire mythos; sets up for one hell of a sequel.
CONS: Murder mystery could use more immediacy; lack of werebear mythos.
BOTTOM LINE: Another solid American Vampire novel that builds on its predecessors and sets up a big change in the series.

I did not expect to receive an ARC of M.L. Brennan’s third Fortitude Scott book so soon. I reviewed Generation V and Iron Night (American Vampire Books 1 and 2) and absolutely adored them, so it was a pleasant surprise when I opened my mailbox to find Tainted Blood. Brennan’s American Vampire series is a bit of an anomaly, I must admit. In recent years I’ve become far more accepting of the urban fantasy genre but I’m still not keen on the usual suspects: vampires, werewolves, and the like. Yet Brennan has me waving the Team Fortitude flag.
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Skullkickers Treasure Trove V1

Over on the Kirkus blog this week, I take a look at Skullkickers Treasure Trove: Volume 1.  From the post:

I’m gonna be honest. I picked up SkullKickers Treasure Trove: Volume 1 before Pathfinder: Dark Waters Rising. But I read and reviewed the Pathfinder book first. I bring this up because the two books share a writer – Jim Zub. SkullKickers is almost a resume for Zub to be able to write the Pathfinder comic. As a stand alone, SkullKickers is a fun homage to that dark corner of genre where sword and sorcery meets fantasy and gaming to become something irreverent and well worth your time, and mine. In fact, once I started reading it, I couldn’t put it down.  The book follows the adventures of two mercenaries. As near as I can tell, we never know their real names. We have a Dwarf (Shorty?) and a Human (Baldy?) working for hire. The story begins in the town of Mudwich where our heroes are dealing with an overweight werewolf and his cult of followers.

Click over to the Kirkus Blog to read the rest of the review.

BOOK REVIEW: The Free by Brian Ruckley

REVIEW SUMMARY: Stock characters but great action and even greater magic.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: With war drawing to a close Yulan and his mercenary company accept one final commission — to hunt down an old foe and bring him to justice before he can kill more innocents.

MY REVIEW
PROS: Intriguing setup and setting; better-than-usual revenge motivation; husband/wife dynamic; dynamic action; memorable scenes; stunning magic; Permanences!
CONS: Stock characters.
BOTTOM LINE: Brian Ruckley crafts a fun and satisfying revenge story.

It seems my choice in video games has influenced my reading habits of late. Playing Bungie’s Destiny reignited my desire for military science fiction and so I read Henry V. Neil’s Glory Main and was not disappointed. Last week I started playing Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor and just had to get my hands on some quality fantasy. Fortunately Brian Ruckley’s The Free showed up around this time. This being the first time I’ve read Ruckley’s work, a nice thick standalone seemed a good place to start. I love the current state of the fantasy genre but there are so many different series that a standalone story has a special sort of appeal to it…or at least it did until I finished The Free and immediately wished I could read more about the world Ruckley has created.
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BOOK REVIEW: Pennsylvania by Michael Bunker

REVIEW SUMMARY: A refreshing new voice in science fiction.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A young Amish man leaves home to help colonize a distant planet, finds love and war and a slew of mysteries.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Uses Amish perspective of colonialism, survival and peacefulness as a nice twist on exploring a new world set in tyranny and war; solid use of the serial formula and mystery reveals to drive the reader along; SciFi elements and technologies add excitement and wonder.
CONS: The main character felt passive at times; the romance element did not deliver as strongly as I would have liked; a few times the story slowed down as the main character reflected on Amish philosophy in relation to new world around him; ending was more of a stay-tuned-for-the-next-book finale than a strong climax.
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BOOK REVIEW: Martha Wells’ STORIES OF THE RAKSURA: VOLUME ONE – The Falling World & The Tale of Indigo and Cloud

REVIEW SUMMARY: A strong set of stories that joyfully show new and extended aspects of a fascinating fantasy world.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS:: Explores the present and past of the Indigo Cloud Court with stories that look into the past history of characters.

MY REVIEW:
PROS:: Detailed and vivid worldbuilding; intriguing non-human politics and character interactions; welcome return of favorite characters.
CONS: Worldbuilding and explanation inserted to allow new readers to catch up sometimes drags a bit on story flow.
BOTTOM LINE: A set of novellas that introduce and extend the Three Worlds to new and returning readers.

Martha Wells’ The Cloud Roads introduced a new fantasy universe to her readers. Set in the “Three Worlds”, The Cloud Roads started the story of Moon, an orphaned humanoid with a secret (and terrifying) ability to shapechange into a monstrous flying form. Discovered by a tribe of creatures similar to himself, Moon learned who and what he really is, even as the court of Raksura was under threat by their mortal enemies, the Fell. The subsequent novels (The Serpent Sea and The Siren Depths) continued the story of Moon and Indigo Cloud as they return to their ancestral homeland, only to be immersed into adventure and old rivalries with other Raksura as they seek to reestablish themselves in the Reaches.
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BOOK REVIEW: The Mammoth Book of Steampunk Adventures edited by Sean Wallace

REVIEW SUMMARY: A diverse, eclectic, and fascinating collection of steampunk stories.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Editor Sean Wallace has brought together stories from such writers as Cherie Priest, Ken Liu, Gord Sellar, and others, that push the boundaries of the steampunk genre in new and exciting ways.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: A broad range of steampunk tales that range from fantasy to hard scifi, and folk-tale to alternate-history.
CONS: Grouping the stories into themed sections would have made the similarities and differences among the approaches more apparent.
BOTTOM LINE: A fascinating romp through the steampunk imagination. (And there are pterodactyls. Just sayin’.)

The twenty-five steampunk stories in Sean Wallace’s The Mammoth Book of Steampunk Adventures reveal just how rich and varied the genre can be. From fantasy to hard scifi, historical fiction to diary entries, they show us a whole range of ways to conceptualize and understand our world and many of its alternatives. Included are stories about circuses and mechanical birds, shape-shifters and pterodactyls, “mechanika” uprisings and political intrigue. Oh, and lobsters and golems. You get the picture.
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BOOK REVIEW: Dust by Hugh Howey

REVIEW SUMMARY: Satisfying conclusion to a remarkable science fiction series

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: The end to a post-apocalyptic epic where people have survived underground in silos but are finally going to find out whether they can survive in the wasteland above.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Has the feel of a science fiction series we’ll tell our grandchildren about; shows improvement in pacing from previous books in series; surprise ending.
CONS: Lacked enough surviving characters to keep us as engaged as we were in earlier books of the series; subplot about the endangered child was not rewarding enough.
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Brent Weeks’ THE WAY OF SHADOWS Graphic Novel

Over on the Kirkus Reviews Blog, I’m taking a look at a new graphic novel adaptation of Brent Weeks’ The Way of Shadows.

From the post:

The Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks is the first book in The Night Angel Trilogy. Yen Press, an imprint of Hachette Book Group has just released a graphic novel adaptation by Ivan Brandon and Andy MacDonald. I first learned about the graphic novel when Weeks visited Denver as part of his book tour for The Broken Eye, book three in his Lightbringer series. Having enjoyed the Yen Pres adaptations of Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate books, I was excited to see how Shadows transferred to the comics medium. For the most part, I wasn’t disappointed.

Click over to the Kirkus Reviews Blog to read the rest of the review.

BOOK REVIEW: Glory Main by Henry V. O’Neil

REVIEW SUMMARY: A strong military science fiction debut.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Lieutenant Jander Mortas and three other shuttle crash survivors seek escape from a harsh alien planet that may be even more dangerous than they first assume.

MY REVIEW
PROS: Satisfying character arc; interesting and original aliens; gripping fight for survival; lots of potential for future entries in series; a killer ending.
CONS: The story would benefit from stronger characterization.
BOTTOM LINE: Henry V. O’Neil’s Glory Main is an unexpected, yet satisfying, military sf novel.

Though the majority of my reading these days consists of fantasy and urban fantasy titles, military science fiction will always be my favorite sub-genre of fiction. It’s been a while since I read any military science fiction but I’ve been playing a good amount of the video game Destiny lately and it rekindled my interest in good ol’ fashion space war. Fortunately I stumbled upon Henry V. O’Neil’s novel Glory Main: The Sim War Book One, one of the winners of the Harper Voyage digital submission contest. If Glory Main is to serve as any indication, Harper Voyager Impulse is publishing some quality novels and well worth keeping an eye on.
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BOOK REVIEW: A Better World by Marcus Sakey

Marcus Sakey’s latest book is the second in his Brilliance saga. A quarter of a century ago, a small percentage of the population was born with special abilities: pattern recognition, heightened senses, and others that set them apart from the rest of the population. The result was a society that has begun to take advantage of their gifts: the United States is in the midst of a technological boom, while tensions have begun to emerge between abnorms and normal, not unlike we’ve seen before in comics such as The Uncanny X-Men. A Better World picks up shortly after Brilliance leaves off, where agent Nick Cooper toppled a president while working under the Department of Analytics and Response (DAR). The first novel in this cycle was an excellent look at the response to differences: fear, restrictions, monitoring, and more. It’s an interesting look at a move from a far freer society to a militarized police state.
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BOOK REVIEW: The Clockwork Dagger by Beth Cato

REVIEW SUMMARY: A fast-paced, addictive steampunk fantasy adventure.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Octavia Leander is sent to the war-torn frontier to cure its dying inhabitants with her healing powers. However, the enemies of Caskentia want her for themselves, and Octavia’s queen would rather see her dead than in their hands.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Well-drawn main characters; fast-paced, exciting narrative.
CONS: Secondary characters and much of the back-story could have been developed further to enhance the primary tale.
BOTTOM LINE: The Clockwork Dagger is a skilfully-woven tale, complete with a love-story, an elaborate conspiracy, and a fascinating magico-spiritual healing system.

Apparently, I’ve been a fan of all things “steampunk” for years, but I never knew it. At least, not until a year ago, when it all came together that my love of old technology, dirigibles, funky corsets, and the words “engine” and “gears” landed me squarely in the steampunk camp.

I set out to learn all I could about the various incarnations of steampunk aesthetics, and paid special attention to its development in contemporary fiction. That’s when I came across Beth Cato’s debut steampunk novel The Clockwork Dagger, and jumped on board that airship without so much as a “toodle-loo.”
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BOOK REVIEW: Endgame: The Calling by James Frey and Nils Johnson-Shelton

REVIEW SUMMARY: Lukewarm plot is window dressing for real life puzzles and games that have been created around this new series.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Hunger Games meets alien invasion story pits twelve teenagers against each other in a fight to the death that will save their own civilizations.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Globe spanning plot; easy to read; fun and very challenging puzzles are embedded into the text.
CONS: Will require more suspension of disbelief that many readers will be willing to give; I was turned off by the teen-against-teen ultraviolence; very light characterization.
BOTTOM LINE: Preteens and teens will probably find this to be an edgy action story, adults will enjoy decrypting the puzzles.

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BOOK REVIEW: Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie

Last year I reviewed Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice before it swept the major SF awards–including the Hugo, the Nebula, the Golden Tentacle, the Arthur C. Clarke, BSFA, and the Locus Award, as well as nominations for Phillip K. Dick award, Tiptree Award, and Compton Crook Award. Today marks the release of the second book in the three-part series, this one titled Ancillary Sword. If you haven’t read Ancillary Justice yet, and you don’t want spoilers for that book go read that review and that book instead. I highly recommend. (Also, Carl Slaughter recently interviewed Ann Leckie on Diabolical Plots, go check that out too.)

Still here? For a high level summary of Ancillary Justice, go read the review. At the end of Ancillary Justice, Breq succeeds in bringing out the internal conflict of the many-bodied emperor of the Radchaai empire and starting out-and-out interstellar war, taken into the confidence by one side of Anaander Miaanai while the other one sabotages the interstellar gates to try to keep the news from spreading.

The second book starts with Breq taking the only assignment from Anaander that she would accept–to visit Athoek Station, an important station where Lieutenant Awn’s sister Bosnaaid lives. Although she is only given one ship, Mercy of Kalr, Breq is promoted to the position of Fleet Captain to ensure she has authority over other captains she crosses. Her friend Seivarden is one of her lieutenants on the ship. Breq wishes to go to have the opportunity to make amends to Bosnaaid for the role she played in Awn’s death. Anaander wants Breq to go to make sure that Athoek Station is ready to defend against attack from the other Anaander. But nothing with 3000-year-old Anaander Miaanai is ever simple–Anaander has already shown herself very capable of great trickery, able as she is to bypass security systems and AIs with powerful access codes. Breq knows that Anaander wouldn’t let a powerful person like Breq go without some kind of insurance, but what form will that insurance take?

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BOOK REVIEW: Final Days by Gary Gibson

REVIEW SUMMARY: Complex and convoluted, but also fast and fun.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A dangerous artifact from a long-lost alien race threatens to destroy the earth.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Lots if interesting story ideas; fast-paced narrative; cool tech; it never gets boring.
CONS: Not as cohesive as it could be; characters that sometimes blend together.
BOTTOM LINE: A very good story with lots of sense of wonder and action — enough that I’m looking forward to the just-released sequel (The Thousand Emperors).
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[GUEST REVIEW] Rachel S. Cordasco on THE SOUTHERN REACH TRILOGY by Jeff VanderMeer

You can follow Rachel S. Cordasco on her bookish adventures at Bookishlywitty.blogspot.com and Bookriot.com.

Haunting, mesmerizing, moving: these are just some of the words that come to mind when I think about Annihilation, Authority, and Acceptance. Each novel is under 400 pages, and each packs into it so much psychological, emotional, philosophical, and ecological inquiry that you start to think that they must be huge, hulking volumes that should make your bookshelves cave in.

Now, you’ve probably seen a million reviews of this trilogy, and rightly so, for it deserves recognition and invites fascinating discussions. Therefore, instead of recapping the story or outlining the plot, I’m going to focus on three major mysteries/questions/problems in these novels and why they’re so compelling.

Oh, and by the way, there may be spoilers here. I’m not guaranteeing anything.
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BOOK REVIEW: The Year’s Best Science Fiction #31 edited by Gardner Dozois

REVIEW SUMMARY: 7 standout stories + 18 good stories – 4 stories mediocre or worse = a very good collection.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Editor Gardner Dozois’ picks for the thirty-two best science fiction stories of 2013.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: 27 of the stories are worth reading and 9 of those were outstanding; a huge short fiction anthology like this provides readers with diverse concepts and writing styles.
CONS: A small handful of stories just didn’t work for me.
BOTTOM LINE: A very good anthology and a wonderful snapshot of the 2013 short science fiction scene.

Here’s a pretty impressive fact: Garder Dozois’ annual Year’s Best Science Fiction anthology has been running for thirty one years. I’ve been following this series for years and I have to say, the series is an annual treat I always anticipate with eagerness. It has continually proven itself to be an excellent source of good science fiction. Sure, there are the occasional stories that miss the mark for me personally, but the stories are overwhelmingly enjoyable.

The same holds true for this year’s volume. The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirty-First Annual Collection boasts seven hundred pages and thirty-two pieces of fiction first published in 2013 — that includes short stories, novelettes and novellas. In comparison with the last twelve volumes, it seems as if there were even more outstanding stories this year than in previous years, either a sign that fiction is getting better, or that this year’s selection better matches my own personal taste. In either case, an anthology like this offers something for everyone. At the risk of repeating myself, I’ll say that the value of such an anthology is more than the sum of its parts; it broadens your reading horizons, allowing you to experience a diverse set of writers and writing styles, and most all, a variety of the mind-expanding ideas that are the hallmark of science fiction. This anthology has all that in spades. Add to that Dozois’ extensive recap of the science fiction year as well as an addendum of fiction honorable mentions, and any science fiction will have hours of excellent reading ahead of them.

The standout stories in this anthology are:
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BOOK REVIEW: War Stories Edited by Jaym Gates and Andrew Liptak

REVIEW SUMMARY: A diverse and well-balanced anthology that delivers on its promises.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: An anthology of 24 military science fiction stories.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Excellent stories with highlights by Karin Lowachee, Linda Nagata, and Yoon Ha lee; beautiful Galen Dara Cover art.
CONS: As always with an anthology, some stories stronger than others; story order imperfect.
BOTTOM LINE: An essential set of stories for readers interested in military science fiction.

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