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The Vampire Diaries 1: The Awakening & The Struggle

The Vampire Diaries 1: The Awakening & The Struggle by L.J. Smith

Elena is the ice-blonde queen of the school, admired by girls and boys alike. With her friends, Bonnie and Meredith, she enjoys her status and uses it to snag the most eligible boys. However, Elena always feels as though something is missing. When new boy Stefan starts at the school, she suspects she has found what she is looking for, but Stefan manages to resist her charms. Elena makes a vow with Bonnie and Meredith that she will have Stefan no matter what — little suspecting that he hides a deadly secret. When Stefan's brother Damon arrives on the scene, Elena may be in more trouble than she realizes.

I am a big fan of L.J. Smith's writing, and have enjoyed a number of her books. I did enjoy both The Awakening and The Struggle, but felt that they suffered due to an unlikable main character.... Read More

Outlander: Verra, verra dull

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

When a novel has as much buzz surrounding it as Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander (New York Times #1 Bestseller! Published in 40 countries!) it’s impossible not to approach it without certain expectations. What’s more, a new TV show based on the book has recently been developed, and is touted to be the next Game of Thrones. All of which had me asking the question: are we talking about the same book here?

Outlander opens in Inverness, 1946, just after World War II. Claire Randall is a British Army nurse and is currently on a second honeymoon in Scotland with her husband Frank. On a walk to collect plants (she’s particularly interested in their medicinal properties) she encounters a circle of huge standing stones – think Stonehenge, but in the Scottish Highlands. The stone circle, it turns out, is some kind ... Read More

Beggars in Spain: Liked the ideas, didn’t love the characterizations

Beggars in Spain by Nancy Kress

Nancy Kress won a Nebula and a Hugo in 1991 for her novella “Beggars in Spain,” about genetically altered humans who don’t need to sleep. In 1993 she expanded the novella into a novel and ultimately into a series.

The first quarter of Beggars in Spain is basically the original novella, in which the reader meets Leisha Camden, the genetically altered child of multi-billionaire Roger Camden. Lithe, golden-haired, blue-eyed and beautiful, Leisha is also extraordinarily intelligent and sleepless. How do people feel about Leisha and the others like her, dubbed The Sleepless? The question is more pointed in Leisha’s case — and more personal — because she has a fraternal twin, Alice, who is a Sleeper.

This book is an “idea” book, less about the character and more about how humans, on the individual level, in the aggregate and in the political aggregate, react to cha... Read More

The Forever King: Poor characterization, clichéd writing

The Forever King by Molly Cochran & Warren Murphy

The Forever King, by Molly Cochran and Warren Murphy, is almost two books blended together. One is an unusual take on the Grail legend, with some familiar characters like Merlin and Nimue. The other is a contemporary fantasy thriller about the reincarnation of King Arthur and a drunken ex-FBI agent who must help him. The Grail retelling has the most chance of being successful but ultimately both stories fail because of poor characterization and clichéd writing. The book, published in 1992, is the first of three in a series.

Hal Wozniak is a top-grade FBI agent who, in one case, fails to save a child’s life. He leaves the FBI and becomes a drunk. In the meantime, an enigmatic serial killer escapes from an asylum in England; and two crack addicts break into a vault in a Chicago bank (yes, that’s right, two crack add... Read More

The Initiate Brother: Eastern-flavored fantasy full of political intrigue

The Initiate Brother by Sean Russell

War and plague have recently swept across the kingdom of Wa, leaving a new emperor feeling insecure on his throne. He feels threatened by the ancient houses of Wa, and most especially by the revered Lord Shonto, an intelligent and highly competent man. When the emperor appoints Shonto as governor of the northern province of Seh, Shonto isn’t sure if this is an honor, or a trap.

Both men have some excellent allies. Shonto has adopted the lovely and gifted Lady Nishima, the last heir of the former empire, and has recently secured as his spiritual advisor the Botahist monk Shuyun who is recognized by his brothers as the most promising monk in ages. He has also befriended a minor lord from the North who has little influence in that region, but seems to see things more clearly than his elders do. The emperor’s staff includes handsome and clever General Jaku Katta, the famous kickboxer, and Jaku... Read More

Elvenbane: Norton vs. Lackey, Round 1

Elvenbane by Andre Norton & Mercedes Lackey

In the world of Elvenbane, elves have subjugated humanity because… well, they’re elves, frankly: magical and long-lived and perfectly capable of taking what they want. Apparently having served as the unselfish goodie-goodies one too many times, elves have instead been refreshingly cast as the fantasy version of the Roman Empire in this text, conquering and enslaving other races out of a sense of entitlement and a desire to expand their power. Humans are used for menial labor and sexual gratification, but any human/elf hybrid must by law be killed, as apparently these half-breeds can become very magically powerful and might do something crazy like pitying the wrong bough of the family tree. With a set-up like this, it’s really no surprise that our heroine is just such a hybrid, born of a pregnant human concubine fleeing into the desert. The young girl, called Shana, i... Read More

The Magic of Recluce: Still great after all these years

The Magic of Recluce (Special 20th Anniversary Edition) by L.E. Modesitt Jr.

I first read The Magic of Recluce over 15 years ago, and I still have my original paperback copy. This year two special editions are being released by Tor and Subterranean Press. Rereading this story again, after having covered so much ground in epic fantasy, was both interesting and very comforting — comforting because it was nice to realize that a good story is still a good story even after all these years.

The Magic of Recluce chronicles the life of Lerris, a young man growing up on the island of Recluce. Recluce is a very normal, almost boring, place to grow up, and things are super orderly and clean. In my mind I imagine some of the extremely well-maintained villages that I have been through in Germany: so well organized, and it feels like there is a place for everything and everything is in its p... Read More

Black Sun Rising: Tarrant is the ultimate anti-hero

Black Sun Rising by C.S. Friedman

Refugees from Earth colonized the planet Erna some 1200 years ago. Excepting its extremely high seismic activity, Erna seemed a hospitable planet for mankind to call home. However, soon after our arrival a terrible threat was discovered. A natural force of energy called the fae animated the thoughts and emotions of all living things, so that our very nightmares could be brought to life. This almost destroyed us. Then, some humans figured out how to manipulate the fae to become sorcerers. A religion was created, too, based on the hope that faith would one day make mankind immune to fae manipulations. These two events kept the struggle against the fae at an uneasy stalemate for close to a millennium. But as human civilization has been developing, a dark force fed by the sorcerous uses of the fae has secretly grown in power to become a new and powerful threat.

Friedman’s plot is or... Read More

Blood Price: I like the characters

Blood Price by Tanya Huff

Blood Price, the first of Tanya Huff's Blood Books, is about Vicki Nelson, a private investigator, and Henry Fitzroy, a five hundred year old vampire and illegitimate son of Henry VIII. Clichéd urban romance story, right? Well, there are a few things about this novel that piqued my interest and guaranteed I'll be reading the rest of The Blood Books.

In a genre that is crowded with books about vampires linked with strong female characters, a novel would need something extra to make it stand out. Huff provides that in the form of Vicki —  a woman who leaves the police force when she is diagnosed with a degenerative eye condition that will possibly render her blind. Vicki is strong, obstinate, and bitter in turn. Her self-pity at times becomes a littl... Read More

The Song of Albion: A Pleasant Surprise!

THE SONG OF ALBION  by Stephen Lawhead

My husband bought me the The Song of Albion trilogy because Lawhead is a Christian and he thought I should try some "Christian" fantasy. I'm a Christian, but I was reluctant. I tend to avoid Christian fantasy and, until recently, Christian music. If Christians are going to contribute to the arts (or science, or anything else), we need to make sure that our contributions are excellent. We can't sacrifice the quality of the work just to promote a message. Christian music used to be just awful, but now there is plenty of good stuff out there! (Although I admit that I still prefer Nine Inch Nails.)

But, the books were a loving gift, so I read them, and I was very pleasantly surprised! This is one of those time/place-traveling fantasies — a couple of Oxford grad students stumble upon a door into a time and place that is steeped in Celtic m... Read More

The Saga of Recluce: Repetitive but appreciated theme

THE SAGA OF RECLUCE by L.E. Modesitt

The underlying repetitive theme of the Modesitt works is personal accountability and the triumph of an enlightened, empowered individual over the self-serving machinations of the opposition. That may be simplifying things to a great degree, but that is what I get out of it. My personal experience with Modesitt began with The Magic of Recluce many years ago. At the time I was just beginning to refine my taste for fantasy and Modesitt was something different.

In the Saga of Recluce, the basic pattern of each installment is that the story follows a main character who is out of place in his/her society and who is gifted to a greater or lesser degree to manipulate the energies of the world he/she lives in. What the hero can do with those energies also rests in large par... Read More

The Phoenix Guards: Very nice change of pace

The Phoenix Guards by Steven Brust

The brief review: I had a slight smile on my face the entire time I read The Phoenix Guards. It is, as a reviewer of The Three Musketeers might have once said, "charming."

To elaborate: Steven Brust is very well (some might say "over") educated and knows how to turn a phrase. The plot moves along briskly; the characters, while not fleshed out too thoroughly, do have distinct and effective personalities. I was, at first, a bit lost about the world's/realm's infrastructure of Houses and about the characteristics of each (and what animals the fantasy names correlate to). However, I've not read the Vlad Taltos series, which apparently sheds some light on those matters.

This is not a book to be read at breakneck speed, as the dialogue must be savored and... Read More