Book Review Archives

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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BOOK REVIEW: The Martian by Andy Weir

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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BOOK REVIEW: Fortune’s Pawn by Rachel Bach

REVIEW SUMMARY: Thrilling new science fiction series which lays waste to tired old sci-fi tropes and stereotypes.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Devi Morris is a mercenary with the ultimate goal of becoming an elite guard in her planet’s military. When she learns of a position on a ship that could fast track that dream she signs up despite all the rumors about the ship being cursed. Things swiftly go downhill from there.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Fast-paced, intense action; excellently written characters; outstanding, believable romance; completely original take on worn, old military science fiction tropes.
CONS: A touch slow going at the beginning but a packed thrill ride once things start rolling.
BOTTOM LINE: A spectacular action-packed story that even people who don’t like sci-fi will adore.

Devi Morris has a plan. She wants to become a Devastator, the highest military order on Paradox. She’s done her time as an elite mercenary and an army grunt and now she has her sights set on the impossible. Unfortunately, the Devastator’s won’t look at anyone who doesn’t have a certain amount of experience. Devi can’t stand the idea of doing merch work for another five years so she signs up to be security on a ship called the Glorious Fool. One year on the Fool is worth five years experience to the Devastators. Despite rumors that the ship is cursed and has a very high mortality rate for the crew, Devi is overjoyed at the opportunity to reach her goal faster. Things start out quiet on the Fool but everything quickly goes to hell when she starts to learn the real secrets of the ship and its odd crew.
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BOOK REVIEW: Runner by Patrick Lee

REVIEW SUMMARY: This is how page-turning books are written.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: The chase is on from the very first pages when an ex-military operative stumbles across a young girl and the plot orchestrated by some very powerful people to capture her.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Fast-paced action; builds genuine moments of suspense; it’s an engrossing page-turner.
CONS: Some the thriller aspects were a little harder to swallow than the science fictional aspects.
BOTTOM LINE: A worthwhile thrill ride with promise for even better things to come.

One of the things I love about speculative fiction is its versatility. Science fiction stories aren’t always about spaceships and fantasy stories aren’t always about dragons. Oftentimes, stories are written from a different angle entirely even though they include speculative elements layered on top of them. Or at least, that’s how they are marketed.
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BOOK REVIEW: Sad Robot Stories by Mason Johnson

REVIEW SUMMARY: Compelling and insightful post-apocalyptic tale told from a unique perspective. Clever storytelling, tight prose, and a solid noir tone make for an enjoyable read.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Robot is sad because everyone is dead, including Mike and Sally and their kids, Mike, Jr. and his kid sister, Marie. Robot tells stories about Mike and his family, how they loved him and how he loved them. Someday, if he’s lucky, Robot might have a family again.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Sad Robot Stories is a brilliant retelling of the classic post-apocalyptic tale. A lone hero and a small band of survivors must traverse the wastes in search of salvation. They just happen to be robots. Mason Johnson explores his mechanical creations’ existential doubt and uncertainty and through their trials and ordeals, the reader is treated to clever examinations of human nature, belief, faith, will, and love. The book begins with an extended flashback to set the stage, and not one drop of ink goes to waste. Johnson builds his world for us through scenes showing Robot’s interactions with his workmates, employers, and surrogate family (Mike, Sally, and children). The prose is focused and spare of ornament that might otherwise distract from the pervading sense of gloom. But this isn’t a gloom that drags the reader down with it. Johnson has succeeded in writing a truly heart-breaking story, and has done so in such a way that you can’t help but crack a grin with every page you turn.
CONS: The one quibbling point I have with Sad Robot Stories is the occasional use of profanity. I’m not averse to it by any measure. Neither does it show up in any great amount. Yet, when four-letter words do appear, they seem to interrupt the narrator’s voice. There’s such a strong sense of sadness throughout the book. The few times that emotionally charged language does show up felt out of place.
BOTTOM LINE: Sad Robot Stories is a must read for fans of post-apocalyptic fiction. I’d also suggest it for anyone with an eye for clever storytelling and non-canonical characterization. The story excels in style, invention, and pacing. Johnson deserves praise for sheer originality and also for how far he goes in examining humanity through the eyes of our would-be successors.

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Short Fiction Friday: The Anderson Project

REVIEW SUMMARY: The Anderson Project is a Tor.com original ebook presenting three science fiction novelettes inspired by a preexisting work of art.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SUMMARY: Three science fictional stories written by authors Ken Liu, Kathleen Ann Goonan and Judith Moffett, inspired by a painting by Richard Anderson. The painting is featured as the cover illustration.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Meaningful use of the elements of Anderson’s painting; nice variety between all three stories; solid narrative voice; significant word count allows room for the stories to develop.
CONS: Two of the stories have weak endings when compared to the overall story arc.
BOTTOM LINE: Editor David G. Hartwell points out in his introduction that there is a long tradition in the SF field of stories being written to accompany existing art work, a tradition that has fallen by the wayside in recent years. Hartwell teamed with Tor.com to reinvigorate the idea with The Palencar Project, based on an image by artist John Jude Palencar. Hartwell and Tor.com return to the idea with The Anderson Project. This is a fantastic science fiction image that compels you to wonder what is happening with these people apparently tethered to some sort of space craft. Each of these authors does an admirable job in interpreting the painting through story and this experiment has produced three solid stories that are well worth reading.

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BOOK REVIEW: 11/22/63 by Stephen King

REVIEW SUMMARY: King blends a mostly accurate portrayal of the Kennedy Assassination with time travel and a man set on doing the right thing by changing history, and turns it into a doorstop-sized page-turner that kept me reading through the night and almost made me miss work.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Given a way to go back in time and change history, Jake is persuaded that the world would be a better place by stopping Lee Harvey Oswald from assassinating president Kennedy. After experimenting with changing history, he starts in 1958 and works his way toward that “watershed moment in history”. But along the way he tries to save more than just the world, and must balance honor and duty against love and comfort.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Stalking Oswald around the streets of Fort Worth and Dallas; portrayal of “evil” cities, small-town Texas, and the music of the 50s and 60s.
CONS: It’s a long doorstop.
BOTTOM LINE: King’s time travel novel focuses on the characters and events, a page-turner that makes the reader not only eager to see how events of history may be replayed but how the lives of the non-historical characters will turn out.
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REVIEW SUMMARY: The followup to Martinez’s debut novel The Daedalus Incident builds on the strengths of the first novel and shores up its weaknesses.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS:: The two worlds, alchemical and corporate future, meet again, as an ancient Martian plot draws them both to Saturn…and Siwa, Egypt, for an attempt to reopen the doorway between them, and beyond.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: High Concept remains interesting. More character focus given a deemphasis on the fast and furious worldbuilding of the first.
CONS: The splitting of the parties in both worlds is only partially effective, some plotlines are frankly more interesting than others, the two halves feel less connected.
BOTTOM LINE: A followup that manages to improve on the first in significant ways but doesn’t quite leap to the next quantum level.
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BOOK REVIEW: Snowpiercer, Volume 1 by Jacques Lob

REVIEW SUMMARY: The first volume of Snowpiercer, The Escape, is a grim and gritty post-apocalyptic dystopian allegory that carries on the best traditions of the genre. The story’s only weak point is a cliffhanger ending that serves as a lead-in to volume two.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: The apocalypse has come in the form of a global ice age. The last remnants of humanity eek out a tenuous existence within the claustrophobic confines of a thousand-car train that never stops. A single passenger has escaped from the tail-section of the train, where starvation and disease runs rampant, in an attempt to find a better life for himself. As he is escorted to the front cars to be judged by those in power, he witnesses the corruption and indolence that has warped the train’s social hierarchy, threatening the continued survival of everyone on board.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: A nostalgic window on a favorite genre of the eighties; action-packed; great tension; vivid imagery; cutting social commentary; absorbing storyline.
CONS: One-dimensional characters; lack of development of the protagonist; the cliffhanger ending.
BOTTOM LINE: If you grew up on the post-apocalyptic films of the eighties, whether it was The Handmaid’s Tale, Mad Max, Night of the Comet, The Quiet Earth, or Terminator, you’re going to love this comic. Written in 1982, this comic embraces all of the genre’s best conventions.
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AUDIOBOOK REVIEW: Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone

REVIEW SUMMARY: A debut that underpins a strong new voice in fantasy.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: In Alt Coulumb, the death of the God of Fire and the disposition of his contracts and bargains brings together magicians, priests, servants of a lost goddess, intrigue and high action and adventure.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Strong multiple female characters (and primary protagonist); exciting, wild and innovative worldbuilding.
CONS: Breakneck pace can work against the novel; perhaps one too many complications and small details are made relevant.
BOTTOM LINE: A debut novel that confirms the author’s nomination for a Campbell Award and points to great things in his future.

The Gods of the Craftverse are very different than most fantasy universes. Sure they are embodiments of magic, of cosmic forces, and all that, but that’s just a surface detail. To get things done, like in the Exalted RPG universe, Gods have to make bargains, deals, and contracts with other gods, Magicians, and countries. These deals and contracts are binding and can make or break a God; they hold legal force, even if the unthinkable should occur. A contract unfulfilled can lead to fires going out, steam trains not working, and worse.

So, when a God in the Craftverse dies, death, as they say, is only the beginning.
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Short Fiction Friday: EMBER by James K. Decker

REVIEW SUMMARY:Ember” is a novella prequel to James K. Decker’s novel, The Burn Zone, and the recently released sequel, Fallout.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SUMMARY: Dragan Shao had been an exemplary soldier, defending his nation’s resources by guarding the borders and dealing with the hunger-driven people who see the alien haan not as our saviors, but as parasites that need to be destroyed. Shao has his reasons for turning in his resignation and returning to civilian life, and he will find himself examining those reasons as his former skill set brings him into confrontation with the reality of what humans will do in order to survive.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Tightly wound prose; novella does everything it should to hook readers into the world fleshed out in Decker’s novels; inventive look at how an advanced alien race might interact with humanity; just the right level of gripping action with nods given to character development.
CONS: For some, the quantity of story present may not justify the $2.99 ebook price; revelations regarding the alien presence are few in number.
BOTTOM LINE: This series by author James K. Decker promises much with its imaginative future technology, look at the coexistence of an alien race with humanity, and acknowledgment of the economic and environmental issues our world is sure to face in the decades/centuries to come, coupled with a solid, action-packed story.  Decker gets things right straight out of the gate with this novella which introduces readers to a few pivotal characters and lays a bit of groundwork for the world-building, all while providing an exciting story.  If the goal of “Ember” is to get you to want more, it succeeds brilliantly.

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