Book Review Archives

BOOK REVIEW: Coldbrook by Tim Lebbon

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: In an underground facility among the Appalachians, a door has been opened into another world, but now something has come through that threatens the very existence of our world.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Interesting characters, solid story, lots of zombie action with a big twist.
CONS: Quite a few dream/vision sequences that pulled me out of the narrative a bit.
BOTTOM LINE: This is not your momma’s zombie book. Coldbrook is an intelligent thriller that offers much more than flesh eaters on the prowl.
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BOOK REVIEW: Steles of the Sky by Elizabeth Bear

REVIEW SUMMARY: Jam-packed with the best fantasy elements, Steles of the Sky‘s diverse characters and beautiful prose beautifully closes out the Eternal Sky trilogy.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS:: Re Temur, Samarkar, Edene and their companions stand against much more than just an usurping Uncle, with the fate of much more than the Eternal Sky of the Steppe in the balance.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Deep worldbuilding; rich characters; beautiful prose and dialogue that sings.
CONS: The ending brings tears; one secondary character still feels a little underdone.
BOTTOM LINE: Sticking the landing, Steles of the Sky magnificently ends the Eternal Sky trilogy

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BOOK REVIEW: Honor’s Knight by Rachel Bach

REVIEW SUMMARY: The second volume in Bach’s sci-fi series raises the stakes to insanely high levels.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Devi Morris has some massive new problems: her memory has been tampered with, she’s starting to hallucinate little glowing bugs and a lot of people want her dead. She has to sort through the mess in her head and figure out who the bad guys are before it’s too late. The fate of the universe rests on her mech shoulders.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: A satisfying middle book in the trilogy; adds more details about the universe and the shady agencies that run things behind the scene; moments of intense action with awesome fight scenes and more of Devi’s brand of sarcasm.
CONS: Suffers a little from second-book syndrome; tons of enemies thrown in at once and who is good or bad changes frequently; Devi makes some choices that left me scratching my head.
BOTTOM LINE: Another great book in the Paradox trilogy that leaves you desperate to learn all the answers.

Devi Morris has problems. She’s missing huge chunks of her memory, she’s beginning to see things and everyone seems to want her dead. Just another day in the life of the universe’s best mercenary.
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BOOK REVIEW: The Barrow by Mark Smylie

REVIEW SUMMARY: The creator of the comic Artesia manages to convincingly jump from comics to novel in this full text debut.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS:: A mercenary cartographer and a motley set of mutually distrustful companions set off to obtain a legendary sword in a poisoned and dangerous realm outside civilized lands.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Deep worldbuilding, richly invoking the Known World; diverse set of characters with agency; evocative description of places and violence alike.
CONS: Highly charged sexual content may turn off some readers; prologue is tonally very different from rest of the novel.
BOTTOM LINE: A bloody, violent, sexy and evocative novel debut that captures the spirit and feel of the author’s graphic novel efforts.
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BOOK REVIEW: The Abominable by Dan Simmons

REVIEW SUMMARY: Based on the title and Simmons other works (The Terror), I was looking for the Yeti; I was looking for lots of Yetis! What I found was an excellent alternate history between the Great War and World War II on the slopes of Everest, slow to rev, but a fast and furious ending.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Three world-class climbers, Jake (a young American), Jean Claude (a French Chamoix guide) and the Deacon (a British veteran of the Great War) volunteer for a trip to find the body or whereabouts of Lord Percival Bromley, who either died climbing the mountain or met with an “Abominable” fate.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Set in a time when Everest has yet to be summited, that complicated point in history between World War I and World War II; in-depth descriptions of climbing in the cold; like The Terror, vivid descriptions about what it feels like to be very cold; have I mentioned the cold?
CONS: NEED MORE YETI! A few side trips to climb mountains for character-building; not sure the “I got this manuscript from a guy I met named Jake” handed-off memoir strategy is required.
BOTTOM LINE: It’s Dan Simmons. Read it.
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Kathryn Ryan is a blogger and infrequent reviewer. She can be found posting on her blog, The Forged Forest, as well as on Twitter as @Loerwyn

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Drothe, a thief, finds himself navigating a conflict which threatens his personal and professional lives, one which has the all-too-real potential to destroy much more than just the criminal underworld of the city of Ildrecca.

MY RATING:

MY REVIEW
PROS: A persistent sense of humour; a great range of male and female characters; an interesting plot that doesn’t overwhelm.
CONS: Easy to overlook in the grand scheme of things; a potentially immemorable, safe plot; too many events crammed into too short a time frame.
BOTTOM LINE: A fun, engaging read that pulls you along but likely won’t leave a lasting impression.
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BOOK REVIEW: Age of Shiva by James Lovegrove

REVIEW SUMMARY: Possibly Lovegrove’s best yet.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A team of godlike super-powered beings based on the ten avatars of Vishnu from Hindu mythology is assembled, but are they in fact a harbinger of apocalypse?

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Original take on superheroes, exploration of a vivid and colorful religion, sympathetic protagonist, deft plotting, great action.
CONS: Not enough development of the Avatars.
BOTTOM LINE: A combination of science fiction and mythology, superheroes and deities, further solidifying Lovegrove’s title as Godpunk King.

I’ve been a devoted fan of James Lovegrove since I first read The Age of Zeus, his second Pantheon novel. Each year I anticipate the release of the next Pantheon novel. As far as running series go, this is one of my favorite. Six novels and three novellas (collected in one omnibus) in and Lovegrove continues to thrill. There’s no over-arcing plot and no recurring characters. It’s a series united in theme rather than narrative, a technique that results in a cohesive whole while continually managing to change up the dynamic that makes the Pantheon novels so compelling. With Lovegrove novels you always know what to expect and yet he still manages to subvert these expectations. You’re always going to get solid prose, dry English humor, a gripping mix of science fiction and mythology, and ultimately a clever plot. Age of Shiva is tied for my favorite novel in the series. Here’s why…
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BOOK REVIEW: Lockstep by Karl Schroeder

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS:: Toby McGonigal, after being frozen in space for millenia, is awoken into a world where his family holds power by means of a time-spanning government.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Amazing and well-thought out world building and premise; tight, focused story keeps a large world and its facets manageable.
CONS: Some parts are almost too breezy; novel feels more like action/adventure rather than YA.
BOTTOM LINE: A wide-canvas universe ultimately defined and delineated by the compelling story of a young man far from home in time and space.

“The Sleeper Awakes” is a trope in fantasy and science fiction at least as old as Rip Van Winkle, and legends of time running out of alignment with the outside world predates that story to at least the Mabinogion. It’s a form of one-way time travel that avoids paradoxes and still allows the man-out-of-time trope to play out.
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BOOK REVIEW: Code Zero by Jonathan Maberry

REVIEW SUMMARY: Code Zero? More like Code Awesome!

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A new foe has resurrected old threats. With DMS already spread thin, can Joe Ledger and Echo Team end a wave of bio-terrorism that is sweeping the nation?

MY REVIEW
PROS: Best villain in the series to date, nice buildup, Joe Ledger’s trademark wit, phenomenal finale, big potential changes in store for the future.
CONS: Pacing issues due to interludes.
BOTTOM LINE: The series is still going strong and Code Zero is one of the best entries yet.

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MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Rachel Morgan must deal with magical mayhem in Cincy while also juggling her forbidden feelings for Trent Kalimack in the penultimate book in the Hollows series.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Attention to detail is flawless in a fully realized magic-rich Cincinnati, and longtime fans will be very satisfied.
CONS: While fans will be satisfied, this one is not for the uninitiated. Make sure you’re caught up before diving into this one. Also, it gets off to a pretty slow (but steady) start. I personally like this, but it may try the patience of some readers.
BOTTOM LINE: With intricate characterization, plotting, and a story line that stays very true to firmly established back stories, Harrison more than delivers in one of the best urban fantasy series going.

[Note: There are no spoilers for this book, although there may be for prior books. This review assumes you're caught up with the series.]
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REVIEW SUMMARY: A good anthology that manages to show the possibilities of the sub-sub-genre.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS:: A collection of 25 stories revolving around the idea of Kaiju — Giant Monsters in the tradition of Godzilla and Pacific Rim.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Some very strong stories that transcend the limitations of the subject matter; a good editorial hand in story choice based on perspective and point of view; well done illustrations add to the impact of the stories.
CONS: Story quality varies somewhat wildly.
BOTTOM LINE: SF readers interested in pursuing their Kaiju cravings from movies over to the written word should look no further.

Ever since our ancestors were shrew-sized dwellers in the shadow of the dinosaurs, we’ve been fascinated by and terrified by giant monsters. When Godzilla destroyed Tokyo, we shivered in our seats and reached for more popcorn. T-Rex gobbling up a repulsive lawyer in Jurassic Park is a funny moment.

And yet, for the average watcher of a Godzilla movie on TV, or even most SF fans, these were merely giant monsters, some of them with names, but no single word to tie them together. The movie universe of Pacific Rim, a taxonomic name for Giant Monsters and always present within the subgenre, was adopted and spread from there to wider culture. That name for Giant Monsters is derived from the Japanese: Kaiju. Kaiju Rising is a kickstarted anthology edited by Nick Sharps and Tim Marquitz that brings the power, the pathos, and even the humor of Kaiju to print, in an anthology of 25 stories.

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BOOK REVIEW: Moth and Spark by Anne Leonard

REVIEW SUMMARY: A well-written epic fantasy debut with a strong foreground romance.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS:: In a fantasy kingdom chafing under the rule of a distant empire, a Prince and a commoner struggle to build a relationship even as war and Draconic meddling threatens their safety.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Believable, strong romance that defies the clichés of the trope; excellent view into the workings of a royal court; evocative prose; a beautiful artifact of a book; tells a complete story in one volume.
CONS: The world and worldbuilding outside of that court, from the dragons to the threat of war, is not written with the interest and strength of the world inside of it.
BOTTOM LINE: An epic fantasy recommended for readers far more interested in romance and character interactions than wide-screen worldbuilding and action.
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BOOK REVIEW: The Art of Titanfall

MY RATING:

I’ll admit it up front: I’m not much of a gamer. The extent of my gameplaying abilities are pretty much limited to games from the Halo franchise, which I really love because of it’s a great military SF story. In the past year, I’ve been pretty interested in a new game that’s been winning a ton of awards, Titanfall.
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BOOK REVIEW: Blood and Iron by Jon Sprunk

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS:: A captured would-be crusader, a gladiator-turned-slave, and a slave under deep cover struggle to survive in a fantasy city under threat from within and without.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: A welcome return to a new area of Sprunk’s world; raises of the stakes from previous novels; interesting magic systems; complex socio-political situation.
CONS: The jump up to epic fantasy not always successful in practice; slow start; some character missteps work against the dramatic build-up.
BOTTOM LINE: The first installment of a new new series that overcomes its slow start and ups the entertainment factor.

Crusades, slaves, heresies and a desperate ruler’s fight for power and survival are the meaty matter of Jon Sprunk’s Blood and Iron, first in his new Black Earth series. Set in the same world as the Shadow Saga (Shadow’s Son and its sequels), Blood and Iron represents a significant increase in scale and stakes.
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REVIEW SUMMARY: This week’s Short Fiction Friday looks at the three works of original fiction in the March 2014 issue of Clarkesworld.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Space travel, war, and the variable nature of ghosts are examined in the original shorts in the latest issue of Clarkesworld.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Fans of space-faring science fiction will find much to like in two of the featured short stories; intriguing look at humanity from the point of view of an advanced alien race; one story provides the opportunity for examining folklore/mythological aspects of the Japanese culture.
CONS: One story ends slightly more abruptly than it should have; restrictions of short story format inhibits the effectiveness of one offering.
BOTTOM LINE: One of the greatest things about a foray into current offerings in the short fiction worlds of science fiction and fantasy is that you truly have no idea what you are going to get. Forrest Gump’s “box of chocolates” reference is so apt here. Whether that chocolate contains a surprisingly delightful filling…or coconut (no offense to you coconut lovers out there)…you always get a little bit of chocolate in the mix. So it is with the original works in this issue of Clarkesworld. They may or may not turn out to be to your taste, but they all have something going for them that makes them worth reading. For those who lean towards science fiction, two of the three featured stories are far into the science fictional spectrum. The other story uses fantastical elements of the Japanese culture to examine the stress and pressure of growing up. Links are provided. Give them a taste.

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REVIEW SUMMARY: An excellent science fiction novel that approaches dire consequences with a refreshing optimism.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Astronaut Mark Watney is stranded on Mars after being left for dead by his crew.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Excellent premise; great characterization of Watney, who is smart, funny and immediately likable; engrossing; relies heavily on realistic science; optimism pervades the entire novel.
CONS: The science and math may put off some readers unaccustomed to sf.
BOTTOM LINE: A smart, thrilling and ultimately uplifting story grounded in realistic science.

As a science fiction reader, it’s easy to get used to the idea of wild, far-future science fictional concepts appearing in fiction. (I’m looking at you, FTL and post-humanism!) So much so that it’s just as easy to forget why you’re reading science fiction in the first place: because science is cool. That’s as true for the science of today as it is for the imagined science of the future.
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BOOK REVIEW: Emilie and the Sky World by Martha Wells

REVIEW SUMMARY: The second novel in Martha Wells newest series closely follows on the first novel, expanding the world and characters.

MY RATING:

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Deepening of protagonist’s character, cosmology and the world; consistently entertaining; a quick read; excellent Introductory fantasy, especially for readers looking for a female protagonists and role models.
CONS: The novel’s uncomplicated YA nature may turn off readers looking for more complex fare; the lack of space between the two volumes, time-wise, mandates reading the first volume first.
BOTTOM LINE: A sequel that provides an entertaining second visit to Wells’ world and strengthens some of the weaknesses of the first novel.
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MY RATING:

James Cambias’s debut novel, A Darkling Sea, is an exciting throwback to the Golden Age of science fiction. It’s a tale of first contact on a distant world between humanity and the aquatic Ilmatarans and the conflict that arises with a third race, the Sholen. The book is a quick, fun read that works to some classic SF strengths: sense of wonder, explorers boldly exploring new, interesting worlds, and what happens when a bunch of things go wrong.
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BOOK REVIEW: The Land Across by Gene Wolfe

REVIEW SUMMARY: Gene Wolfe returns with a fascinating  and multi-layered novel that keeps its own secrets.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: An American writer is arrested while visiting the country he is writing about, and is forced to navigate a culture he knows nothing about.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Enjoyable to read and accessible; fun characters; a good place to start if you’ve never read Gene Wolfe.
CONS: Little to no payoff and the end; dialog is easily misinterpreted; not Wolfe’s best work.
BOTTOM LINE: An enjoyable and entertaining novel you’ll find yourself wanting to read again due to the subtle tricks Wolfe plays on the reader.

An American travel writer, Grafton, decides to write his next travel book on a rarely visited eastern European country. Even entering this country is a challenge, as flights he books are cancelled, and drivers are advised to turn back from mountain roads. He finally gets a train to the capital, but gets accused of being a spy, and is arrested. His passport is taken, and thus the plot begins.

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BOOK REVIEW: Pandemic by Scott Sigler

REVIEW SUMMARY: Broad in appeal and grand in scope.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: The Orbital may be gone, but when its legacy resurfaces it’s up to Doctor Margaret Montoya to put an end to the alien nightmare forever.

MY REVIEW
PROS: Strong characters; large scope; intense action; intelligently written science fiction.
CONS: Slow start; lack of a shock-factor; weak ending.
BOTTOM LINE: A global biological disaster thriller that neatly wraps up a beloved series.

Pandemic is the third Scott Sigler book I’ve read. The first was Infected, the beginning of the trilogy that Pandemic closes out. The body horror and psychological thrills exhibited in Infected shocked me to say the least. It read like an Eli Roth adaptation of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Despite the protagonist’s compelling personal plight I found the overall plot to be lacking and the characters largely unsympathetic. The second Sigler novel I read was Nocturnal, the start of a different series. I wasn’t completely sold on Nocturnal but I could recognize Sigler’s improvement as an author. It was a much tighter story with better plotting. Unfortunately it seemed to suffer the same issues with unlikeable characters. I’m happy to say that Pandemic continues the trend of improvement, delivering a solid bio-horror thriller, large in scope and populated with sympathetic characters.
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