Book Review Archives

BOOK REVIEW: A Taste of Blood Wine by Freda Warrington

REVIEW SUMMARY: An intelligent vampire/human romance set in post-WWI England.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Socially anxious and bored with high society life, Charlotte finds herself drawn to the vampire Karl, her father’s new research assistant. As their relationship grows, they find themselves under growing threat from Karl’s old master, the obsessive and twistedly-religious Kristian.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Intelligent social commentary; uncommon time period for such a novel; beautifully poetic writing.
CONS: Somewhat predictable plot; heavy use of what are now common vampire tropes.
BOTTOM LINE: It won’t revitalize the genre, but it’s a welcome addition to bookshelves that are filled with trite immortal romances — enough of a change from convention and with enough social and scientific commentary that it will keep readers engaged and entertained.

A classic vampire-human historical romance, set in England after World War I, is what Warrington sets up in A Taste of Blood Wine. Not an idea that hasn’t been done in a dozen and one forms over time, to the point where most offerings of this type are fairly derivative and don’t bring anything new or interesting to the genre. So right off the bat Warrington’s work faces some stiff competition in that it’s another vampire romance in a saturated genre, and thus, sadly, is likely to be overlooked and passed over.

Which would be a big mistake.
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REVIEW SUMMARY: Getting introduced to a book discovered by my now-adult son turns the tables, as he matches my enjoyment of military history, historical figures and strategy with a series that lays out all of these factors in a future 100-year war between the Alliance and the Syndics.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Captain John “Black Jack” Geary, awakened after 100-years spent in an escape pod, finds himself in mid-battle and in charge of the Fleet, fighting the same opponent as he was 100-years ago, but with a chance to turn the tide and end the long war.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Builds believable rules of warfare and technology; explains the thought process of the strategies without bogging down the pacing of the story; flawed characters, even the legendary Geary.
CONS: A series, that might not end? Never explains why the 100-year war began (perhaps later in the series?).
BOTTOM LINE: Mixing a believable set of technological rules with complex characters, The Lost Fleet: Dauntless is fast-paced military SF that my son calls “believable.”

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Short Fiction Friday: New Fiction from Tor.com

REVIEW SUMMARY: Two short tales from Tor.com touched with a seasonal chill.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SUMMARY: A deeper imagining of a familiar heroic tale and a glimpse of psychological interrogation in an alternate, magical-filled Europe make up the latest free fiction offerings on the Tor.com website.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Lyrical prose; storytelling that evokes the mood of Autumn-Winter transition; tight narrative structure.
CONS: I tried folks, I really did…nothing leaps to mind.
BOTTOM LINE: Fantasy with a hint of folklore, when done well, can create a rich sense of history, a texture that makes a story more than the sum of its parts.  Both of the recent selections from Tor.com showcase talented writers mining familiar territory to craft memorable stories.

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BOOK REVIEW: Wrath-Bearing Tree by James Enge

REVIEW SUMMARY: The second volume of Wrath-Bearing Tree continues to expand the scope of Morlock’s life and world.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Following the events of the Dragon-Dwarf War, the religious nation of Kaen is the battleground in the continued conflict between the Ambrosii and the Gods of Fate and Chaos.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Strong fusion of sword & sorcery and epic fantasy.
CONS: Some parts do not mesh well together, leading to a less smooth reading experience
BOTTOM LINE: New characters and new conflicts deepen and to flesh out the origin story of Morlock.

Wrath-Bearing Tree is second in James Enge’s series A Tournament of Shadows, following A Guile of Dragons. The series serves as an origin story for his character Morlock Ambrosius (previously seen in A Blood of Ambrose, This Crooked Way and The Wolf Age)

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BOOK REVIEW: Lost Covenant by Ari Marmell

REVIEW SUMMARY: Marmell continues to explore the growing up of a teenage thief with a God in her head as she is on the run outside her home city.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: On the run from her deeds in her hometown, a young thief finds that aiding a branch of her old patron’s family is far trickier than she thinks.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Excellent voice and interaction between Widdershins and Olgun; fun, relatively light action not afraid to go darker at key moments; good development of the character’s long term arc; Offers expanded look at the world; excellent cover art.
CONS: Plotline taking place back in Davillion does not feel as well integrated as it might be.
BOTTOM LINE: Another solid entry in the continuing story of Widdershins from Marmell

Ari Marmell’s Lost Covenant, the book that follows Thief’s Covenant and False Covenant, picks up with Widdershins on the road. Not content to lie completely low, her information gathering and fortune lead her to the distant city of Lourveaux, where she discovers that the last branch of the Delacroix family is under threat from a rival House. Widdershins’ sense of obligation to her old mentor and adoptive parent leads her on to seek to help of the last of that House, to deal with the threat against them. Since the aristocratic Delacroix knows nothing of who or what Widdershins is besides an obviously common-born girl of no merit whatsoever, this is not going to be easy at all for Widdershins to manage.

(Note: From this point on, spoilers for Thief’s Covenant and False Covenant are inevitable.)
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BOOK REVIEW: Reanimators by Pete Rawlik

REVIEW SUMMARY: This homage to H.P. Lovecraft’s “Herbert West – Reanimator” breathes life into minor Lovecraft characters. A slower pace and certain characterization stylings will get the reader into the mood of the source material.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: While getting his revenge on Dr. Herbert West, Dr. Stuart Hartwell romps through the author’s favorite Lovecraft stories.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: A great way to pay a visit to the fictional world of H.P. Lovecraft; compelling cover art.
CONS: Pacing is incredibly slow especially at the beginning; episodic action often felt forced; I never connected with the protagonist
BOTTOM LINE: Readers well versed in Lovecraft lore will find a lot to love, but readers new to the fiction of H.P. Lovecraft may have a tough time getting their bearings.

Odd things are afoot in the sleepy new England town of Arkham. Strange creatures stalk the night, and even stranger research is happening at and around Miskatonic University. Dr. Stuart Hartwell is determined to get his revenge on Dr. Herbert West, the twisted man whose reanimation experiments were responsible for the deaths of Hartwell’s parents. Fans of H.P. Lovecraft (and certain fans of some early 80s cheesy horror flicks) may recognize the title of the book and the name Herbert West.
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BOOK REVIEW: Dying Is My Business by Nicholas Kaufmann

REVIEW SUMMARY: Explosive first book in a brand new urban fantasy series about an amnesiac hitman who can’t die.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Dying Is My Business is the story of Trent, underling to a Brooklyn crime boss, who just can’t stay dead. His invulnerability to death makes him an asset in the New York underworld until a job gone wrong lands him in the middle of a secret, magical war.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Fast paced story; solid world building; interesting utilization of underused magical creatures; an atmospheric, violent and all-out-fun time.
CONS: Felt a touch too short and ended without resolution to some plot points.
BOTTOM LINE: A frenetic, breakneck paced novel that’s half hardboiled New York City crime story and half spectacularly realized fantasy novel. Both sides mix well together, resulting in a very satisfying story with enough twists and turns to keep even the most jaded of urban fantasy readers on the edge of their seat.

What would you do if you couldn’t die and your memory only went back a year? If your answer is grab a gun and work for a Brooklyn crime boss named Underwood, then you’re most likely Trent, the anti-hero in Dying Is My Business. Blessed (or cursed, depending on how you look at it) with the inability to die, Trent uses his odd ability to do small jobs and petty theft for his boss. He’s kept on a short leash with the promise that Underwood is searching for answers into Trent’s past. Everything comes tumbling down when he accidentally gets himself caught up in the middle of an ancient battle between good and evil.
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BOOK REVIEW: Beyond the Rift by Peter Watts

REVIEW SUMMARY: A strong collection of short fiction that shows the author’s versatility and range at shorter lengths. (”The Things“ opens a strong selection of the best of an underrated writer.)

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A collection of fourteen stories written by Peter Watts.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Excellent stories that highlight the author’s versatility and strengths in writing science fiction.
CONS: Story order might have been rejiggered to better impact.
BOTTOM LINE: A chance to delve into Watts’ work and find out what the fuss is all about.

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AUDIOBOOK REVIEW: A Discourse in Steel by Paul S. Kemp

REVIEW SUMMARY: The second novel in the tales of Egil and Nix significantly ups the stakes and showcases Kemp’s skills in writing Sword and Sorcery.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Adventurers Egil and Nix novel face off against a mobilized Thieves Guild with a deadly agenda.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: High quality action scenes; excellent chemistry between the main characters; real choices with real consequences; immensely entertaining; excellent audiobook narration.
CONS: Some more specifics on one of the main characters would help drive the themes of the novel even more strongly.
BOTTOM LINE: This second Egil and Nix novel improves upon the first.

Thieves Guilds are nothing but trouble. Even when they aren’t sucking the lifeblood of a city like Dur Follin, they are scheming amongst themselves for status. When a coup against the head of the Thieves Guild leaves their friend a eyewitness to be eliminated, adventurers Egil and Nix find themselves wrapped up yet again in matters way above their heads. Taking on an entire Thieves Guild? That’s going to be the easy part. The soul-sucking magical alleyway in Dur Follin and the deadly swamp down river? Now those are going to be the real problems for the duo.
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BOOK REVIEW: Cyberstorm by Matthew Mather

REVIEW SUMMARY: Contemporary era thriller with a preference for over-dramatized responses to tense and dire situations. Good for a quick read if you like that sort of thing, but not for readers looking for characters to sympathize with or prose to remember.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Mike Mitchell has a problem. His wife is struggling to fit her old-money roots alongside Mike’s blue-collar foundations, and his career plan isn’t shaping up to help matters much. Also, the power is out, the water is off, it’s New York’s worst blizzard since the Ice Age, and the entire city is about to find itself up the Hudson River without so much as a folded paper sailboat.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Cyberstorm is rich with tension and peril; there’s no trouble sympathizing with New Yorkers trying to survive in the midst of a massive systems failure during one of the worst snowstorms on record; national and international response to the crisis feels authentic and believable; pacing is spot-on with breaks in the action and detours into subplots blended seamlessly with the main narrative.
CONS: The characters in Cyberstorm were dull and half-formed, serving only to be placeholders; other than Mike, everyone else seemed to wait in the wings for their moment and otherwise lingered around so Mike had someone to talk to or look at; women, in particular, got very short shrift in this story; Mather overdoes the gore and amplifies people’s responses to desperation; the conclusion was also a complete let-down.
BOTTOM LINE: As a thriller-adventure story, Cyberstorm will appeal to readers of mainstream contemporary thrillers. With warnings aplenty about what might happen if we’re not careful, Cyberstorm has the pacing, action, technical details, and political intrigue to satisfy readers looking for a story that hints at dangers in our modern computer- and information-dependent landscape. If you’re looking for a speculative fiction escape into the realms of possibility with memorable characters and exciting prose, look elsewhere.

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BOOK REVIEW: The Diamond Deep by Brenda Cooper

REVIEW SUMMARY: The second half of the Ruby’s Song duology continues the weighty themes of the first novel and continues the focus on character drama.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: The Creative Fire, generation ship and home to Ruby and her fellow crew, returns back to its home solar system and finds itself embroiled in power struggles on the eponymous space station.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Continues the strong character-based fiction and evocation of themes of the previous novel; stands well on its own despite being the second part of a duology.
CONS: Some world building elements feel underdone.
BOTTOM LINE: A fitting end to Ruby’s Song.
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Short Fiction Friday: Lightspeed Issue 42, November 2013

REVIEW SUMMARY: This week’s Short Fiction Friday looks at the Original Short Science Fiction and Fantasy offerings in the latest issue of Lightspeed. The November issue has additional reprint short stories as well as nonfiction and exclusive extras in the ebook addition.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SUMMARY: Four nicely-paced original works of short genre fiction that offer ideas sure to stir the imagination.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Strong science fictional aspects, even in the original fantasy selections; wide variety in style and subject matter; solid nod to two classic science fiction authors; offerings demonstrate that short story writers haven’t forgotten that stories can be fun.
CONS: Purists might feel the two original works of fantasy contain too many science fictional leanings.
BOTTOM LINE: The original fiction presented in the November issue of Lightspeed showcases the variety in subject matter and style that makes engaging in short fiction so pleasurable.  Not every story will work for every reader but the stories chosen demonstrate a proficiency with the medium that allows the ideas, and in some cases the characters, to shine through.

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BOOK REVIEW: Generation V by M.L. Brennan

REVIEW SUMMARY: An entertaining and thoughtful urban fantasy thriller.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Vampire and college graduate Fortitude Scott must embrace the supernatural world he has so long avoided in order to stop a vicious monster.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Great characters, great dialogue, great themes.
CONS: Forgettable villain, lead character is occasionally eclipsed by support.
BOTTOM LINE: This is a strong debut with a lot of heart, with an interesting take on the vampire mythos.

I haven’t had a whole lot of time for reading lately (blasphemy, I know) but I was recently able to finish M.L. Brennan’s Generation V and boy-howdy was it a fun novel! I’m not big on vampires. I don’t find them as boring as zombies but they’ve never appealed to me like other monsters. I do love the movie 30 Days of Night for making vampires frightening (perhaps I should check out the comic) and Jonathan Maberry’s portrayal of blood suckers in Assassin’s Code is insanely awesome. Brennan’s vampires are extremely interesting in a completely different way.
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REVIEW SUMMARY: 7 standout stories + 18 good stories – 4 stories mediocre or worse = a good collection on par with previous editions.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Editor Gardner Dozois’ picks for the twenty-nine best science fiction stories of 2012.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: 25 stories worth reading, 7 of which were outstanding; exposure to new writers and writing styles; the multitude of ideas.
CONS: A small handful of stories just didn’t do it for me.
BOTTOM LINE: A worthwhile anthology providing a good snapshot of the year in science fiction for 2012.

The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirtieth Annual Collection is the 2013 edition showcasing editor Gardner Dozois’ picks for the twenty-nine best sf stories of 2012. The newest edition — See also my reviews of previous editions: #19, #20, #21, #22, #23, #24, #25, #26, #27, #28, and #29 — is just as enjoyable as past volumes, which is to say that some stories will be enjoyed more than others. But as I’ve stated before, the benefit of short fiction is more than just enjoying the story, it’s sampling new writers and being exposed to new ideas and writing styles — and this volume scores big on that front.

That said, some stories did work better for me. The best in this anthology were:
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BOOK REVIEW: The Prince of Lies by Anne Lyle

REVIEW SUMMARY: The ending to the Alchemist of Souls trilogy decisively builds on the foundation of its predecessors.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: The story of Mal, Coby, Ned and Gabriel leads to final confrontations over the future of England, and themselves.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Evolving and complicated relationships between the protagonists; convincingly complicated landscape of characters; memorable action scenes.
CONS: Focus and subject matter slightly unexpected; long time frame of novel, while realistic, dilutes story impact.
BOTTOM LINE: A good ending to what will hopefully be the first of many trilogies from the author.

Guisers, why did it have to be guisers?

The Alchemist of Souls, the debut novel from Anne Lyle, reads like an urban fantasy set in a alternate historical London. The Merchant of Dreams, its sequel, reads like an epic fantasy set in a range of locations from London to Venice, expanding the story and world of The Alchemist of Souls. Now, The Prince of Lies finishes Lyle’s trilogy.

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Short Fiction Friday: Recent Selections from Tor.com

REVIEW SUMMARY: To welcome November, Short Fiction Friday focuses on two of the latest free fiction selections from Tor.com.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SUMMARY: The two stories reviewed this week focus on two different stages in the lives of young girls, one that examines disappointment and regret over birthday wishes not granted and the other looks at an adolescent girl whose coming-of-age changes are reflected in a series of strange and unsettling events at her house by the sea.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Tight, solid prose; well-written female protagonists; seasonal sentiments are present in both stories with one having a nicely wicked thread of humor.
CONS: None for me folks, I liked these both very much.
BOTTOM LINE: These two October 2013 offerings from Tor.com provide two different emotional experiences for the reader: one is mysterious and creepy and has some nice depth to sink one’s teeth into in regards to discussion points, the other is wry and a bit twisted but also very sweet without resorting to saccharine sentiment.  The characters are easy to relate to and the prose is skillfully wrought.  Don’t miss these.

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BOOK REVIEW: We Will Destroy Your Planet by David McIntee

REVIEW SUMMARY: The how-to guide for extra-terrestrials and time-travelers bent on conquering Earth.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Intended as a guide for extra-terrestrials and time-travellers who have an eye to taking over the Earth, this book provides a run-down on the planet’s military defenses, terrain, and place in the universe, and gives advice on how to annihilate us all.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Filled with fascinating facts and pieces of trivia about Earth and the solar system.
CONS: Inconsistent audience assumptions; often switched from talking to prospective conquerors to people who’ve watched a lot of sci-fi TV; over-reliance on a hard-sciences approach to the exclusion of much biological and psychological data.
BOTTOM LINE: An interesting approach to the trivia presented; educational, even if it was lacking and suffered from a bit of an identity crisis.

Intended as a manual for extraterrestrial forces to aid them in taking over Earth, We Will Destroy Your Planet takes a look at the astronomy of our solar system, Earth’s best military forces, our ways of resistance, and various other pieces of information that would be invaluable to an invading conquering force.
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REVIEW SUMMARY: This week’s Short Fiction Friday features two selections of science fiction with a sinister vibe, the opening story from Peter Watts’ forthcoming collection, Beyond the Rift, and a story from the recently released anthology In Space No One Can Hear You Scream.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SUMMARY: Parasitic extraterrestrials feature in both of this week’s stories; one visits Earth and finds it a hostile place while the other chooses a pet from among Earth’s population only to discover that a pre-teen girl may not have been the wisest choice.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: Strong prose in the Watts’ story; engaging young character in Daniel’s tale; fun takes on the alien-as-parasite trope.

CONS: Final line in one story is potentially offensive and may color what is an otherwise good story.

BOTTOM LINE: An alternate viewpoint of John Carpenter’s The Thing makes for a page-turning read and Tony Daniel’s story, chosen at random, provides a nice comparison as each story examines the idea of aliens assimilating mankind for their own reasons.  One story looks at things from the alien point of view while the other shows the tenacity of a young lady to remain fully human.  Both were enjoyable and worth checking out as further examples of science fiction with a frightful edge.

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MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS:: A collection of fantasy stories from voices familiar and unfamiliar that explores the titular theme in diverse ways.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Some relatively strong stories; an anthology theme that despite previous volume still has a lot of story potential; extremely character-focused fiction; a good collection of authors both familiar and unfamiliar.
CONS: A fair proportion of the stories did not work for me; the collection might be overlong.
BOTTOM LINE: A an overall good collection of fantasy short stories.

The epic battle to save the world has been won. The ancient evil has been defeated. The cursed artifact has been thrown into the elemental pole of fire. The enemy army has been vanquished. The opposing horde has been fought to a stalemate, and an status quo ante bellum has been reached. Or perhaps, for all of their heroism, the hero has failed and has to live with the personal and public consequences of that failure.

What happens now? Can a hero really go home again? With the transformative experience of their adventure, their heroism, their act of bravery or sacrifice, their success, draw or defeat, do they even fit at home anymore? And what happens when those worlds collide?
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BOOK REVIEW: The Scroll of Years by Chris Willrich

REVIEW SUMMARY: An entertaining and inventive sword and sorcery novel with memorable settings and characters.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Bone and Gaunt, a thief and a poet, journeying to a mysterious land to elude the implacable assassins behind them, find themselves in the coils of the politics and mythology tying into Bone’s unborn child.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Innovative structure; beautiful flowing writing; interesting premise.
CONS: Pregnant status of Bone sometimes sidelines her from the action as a character with agency too much; ending is problematic.
BOTTOM LINE: An entertaining entry into a sword and sorcery world and its characters.

Picaresque stories rise and fall on the strength of their protagonists and the settings in which they find themselves. If the roguish characters are not appealing or distinctive, the story loses its power to charm and the reader loses interest. Fortunately that is not the case in Chris Willrich’s first novel The Scroll of Years, which features Imago Bone (a thief who has not aged for 70 years) and Persimmon Gaunt (a magic-device-using poet) who go to interesting places like Qiangguo, a realm based on mythic, wuxia flavored China. Oh, and did I mention that they are a romantic couple, and most unusually for fantasy fiction, Gaunt is pregnant with their child? Furthermore, that child’s destiny has connections to the realm from which they have fled? They are being chased by the Night’s Auditors, implacable and possibly invulnerable mage-assassins. How’s that for distinctive?

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