The Initiation: Classic YA paranormal romance

The Initiation by L.J. Smith

Cassie Blake is distraught when her mother decides to uproot to the small town of New Salem in order to take care of a grandmother who Cassie had never even met before. But that is only the start of her problems. Starting a new school, trying to make new friends — and discovering that some of the people she would most like to befriend are all part of some secret Club that Cassie is not permitted to join. Then a girl dies and Cassie is finally initiated into the Secret Circle, learning that magic is more than just a folktale.

These days the YA market is flooded with paranormal activity — witches amongst them. But in 1992 when LJ Smith first wrote The Secret Circle trilogy it was something fresh and new — and should be reviewed with that in mind. LJ Smith was producing well-written compulsive novels about teenagers in love LONG before... Read More

A Fire Upon the Deep: Big-canvas space opera with uninspired plot

A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge

A Fire Upon the Deep (1992) was the big breakout novel from Vernor Vinge, winner of the 1993 Hugo Award and nominated for the Nebula. It features a unique premise I haven’t encountered before: the universe has been separated into four separate Zones of Thought: the Unthinking Depths, Slow Zone, Beyond, and Transcend. Starting from the galactic core, the Zones demarcate differing levels of technological and biological advancement — but this doesn’t simply mean different stages of development. Instead, more advanced technologies cease to function when taken into slower zones, since the laws of physics themselves are different.

This include faster-than-light travel, so FTL ships that travel into slower zones need to also have ramjet drives to avoid losing power. Artificial intelligence also do... Read More

Red Mars: This is where we start again

Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson

When the First Hundred arrive on Mars, they find a beautiful red planet that’s all but untouched by humanity. What should they paint on this amazing canvas?

The question turns out to be very political, and the discussion of politics in Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars perhaps begins with ecology. The relationship between people and their environment is introduced when the Martian settlers consider whether they should change the red planet to suit human needs. Ann Clayborne maintains that they should change Mars as little as possible. After all, science is about observation. Sax Russell, on the other hand, argues that “science is creation” and that they should begin terraforming Mars as rapidly as possible because it “adds life, the most beautiful system of all.” Sax’s arguments... Read More

Sin City (Volume One): The Hard Goodbye by Frank Miller

Sin City (Volume One): The Hard Goodbye by Frank Miller

Frank Miller’s SIN CITY hit the comic scene back in the early 1990s like multiple shots to the head and body. Readers were blown away with this hard-boiled story and its stark, iconic black-and-white artwork. In fact, Miller does all the writing, artwork and lettering for SIN CITY, which is pretty damn impressive. The stories tapped into that rich vein of crime noir pioneered by writers like Dashiell Hamett, Raymond Chandler, James M. Cain, Cornell Woolrich, Jim Thompson, etc, filled with down-on-their luck gumshoes, seductive dames with dark secrets, vicious hoodlums, corrupt politicians and cops, and powerful criminal masterminds lurking in the shadows. The archetypes are so ingrained in our consciousness that we don’t even think about them when we watch a dark crime drama or detective procedural. The lone private eye sitting in his e... Read More

Jaran: A truly charming tale

Jaran by Kate Elliott

Kate Elliott is best known as an epic fantasy writer. Her books are powerful and sprawling. Her characters are well developed and emotionally intense. Her writing pulls it all together so perfectly. She’s an author that, no matter what flaws I might find with her books, I always tend to enjoy. Jaran is no different. It’s not a perfect novel, but it’s mighty enjoyable, despite that.

Jaran is billed as a SciFi, but it’s really an epic fantasy book with hints of SciFi thrown in to make things interesting. Jaran starts with Tess in a futuristic galaxy and she ends up on a very behind-the-technological-times planet. She’s highly placed in the governmental order of things, as her brother is an important Duke who has been fighting for human rights against the alien Chapalii. Tess stands to inherit all of that, but her discomfort with the position and her ... Read More

A Taste of Blood Wine: Read it because it’s Freda Warrington

A Taste of Blood Wine by Freda Warrington

I’m pretty done with vampire novels. D-O-N-E. Done. It’s over. I never really liked them, but the whole genre is overblown and I’m finished with it. So why, might you be asking, did I read A Taste of Blood Wine by Freda Warrington? Because it’s Freda Freaking Warrington! I love her writing, and I couldn’t wait to experience it again, vampires or not.

A Taste of Blood Wine was first published in 1992, and is just now being re-released to the masses because we’ve finally discovered the absolute beauty of Warrington’s writing. The interesting bit of this is, Warrington wrote about vampires before they were cool. Anne Rice really broke open the vampire egg, but Warrington tapped into a vein that really hadn’t been tapped into much before then. Before her, vampires weren’t these sexy hunks that make you fall in love and swoo... Read More

Jumper: Lots of fun… and that’s about it

Jumper by Steven Gould

The first time Davy jumped was when his dad was beating him. The second time was when a trucker tried to rape him. Both times Davy ended up in his favorite place — the local public library. Soon Davy learned that he could control his teleportation, so he left home and started a new life in New York City. His new skill, the ability to instantly transport himself to any place he’s ever visited, helped him achieve the freedom he always desired. At first Davy lives for himself, happy to be away from school and his father, but when a terrorist attack affects him personally, he decides to use his talent to get revenge.

Jumper, by Steven Gould, is an action-packed exciting adventure about a likeable teenager who has an awesome superpower. Davy is mostly easy to believe in. He’s a little too urbane for his age and experience — he quickly transforms from high school dropout to fine-dining connoisseur, and I... Read More

The Meri: Readable but unspectacular

The Meri  by Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff

Meredydd is an orphan, and the only female student at the prestigious school Halig-liath. At Halig-liath, young men — and Meredydd — are trained to become Osraed, which are magician-priests something along the lines of Druids. Female magic is feared and distrusted in this world, and when Meredydd is falsely accused of witchcraft, the elders decide to send her on Pilgrimage to meet the Meri, a goddess-like figure who serves as a connection between humans and God. The Meri will be the final judge of whether Meredydd is fit to be an Osraed, and the elders are divided on whether they want her to succeed or fail.

What follows is a quest tale and a spiritual journey in which Meredydd treks toward the Sea to meet the Meri, encountering a series of tests along the way. These are the kinds of tests that aren’t what they appear on the surface; the obvious dilemma in each situation is almost never t... Read More

The Skystone: What if there was enough to make a sword?

The Skystone by Jack Whyte

You’ll be forgiven for overlooking that Jack Whyte’s The Skystone is an adaptation of Arthurian legend. Believe it or not, Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table are nowhere to be found. Instead, Whyte’s story is about Roman general Caius Britannicus’ dream for Britain.

The Skystone is set amidst the Roman withdrawal from Britain. Britannicus’ legion has faced hard fighting along Hadrian’s Wall. They have retreated to Londinium, and the Romans are about to leave permanently. The Romans may be retreating, and their Empire may be ending, but Britannicus elects to retire to his British estates. What’s more, Britannicus is determined to create a bastion of civilization that will survive the fall of Rome.

It’s a compelling premise and even the most modest history buff knows that things are about to get much ... Read More

Mageworlds: One of the best!

MAGEWORLDS: The Price of the Stars, Starpilot’s Grave, By Honor Betray’d by Debra Doyle and James D. MacDonald

Mageworlds is one of the best trilogies I’ve ever read. It’s categorized as Space Opera since there are spaceships and multiple planets involved, but trust me, this falls on the fantasy end of the spectrum. If you’ve never tried Space Opera, this is a wonderful place to get your feet wet. If you like Space Opera, jump on in! If you like great characters, intriguing plots and a fast-paced, action packed adventure, you’ll love this series.

I love the Mageworlds characters. They’re all well-drawn — even the minor characters who wander on and off stage. Both the men and women are strong and capable of acknowledging... Read More

Lady of the Forest: Mixed Emotions

Lady of the Forest by Jennifer Roberson

How to explain my feelings about Lady of the Forest? A romantic historical novel about Maid Marian and Robin Hood, it was an enjoyable escape and post-work-stress-reliever for a couple of weeks. I did enjoy it. Unfortunately, when I shut the back cover, I realized I had just read a six-hundred page book containing almost no surprises.

Marion Zimmer Bradley, author of the stellar Mists of Avalon, gushes about this book in the cover blurb, and so I was hoping for a novel that would make me rethink the Robin Hood legends, just as Mists made me look at the Arthurian corpus differently. Part of what made Mists fascinating was that it took an old tale and re-examined it, humanizing the "bad guys" and telling another ... Read More

Domes of Fire: Wasting my time

Domes of Fire by David Eddings

I could not bring myself to finish Domes of Fire. I stopped somewhere towards the end and thought "why am I wasting my time?" This book is another repeat of the Eddings "gather a group of characters and send them on a long journey" formula, and I just could not do it again.

I can't give a synopsis, because I didn't finish it, but I don't really need to. The plot is the same as everything else that Eddings had written up to the time that this series was done. The narrative is almost pure dialogue with no description at all, and the dialogue is repetitive beyond belief. I got the strong impression that Eddings really was milking his name for all it was worth, because there was nothing redeeming about Domes of Fire at all. Sparhawk even stopped being Sparhawk. The characters just started to run together in a gluey, non-distinctive ... Read More

Wild Magic: My favorite Pierce book

Wild Magic by Tamora Pierce

Wild Magic was the first book I ever read by fantasy teen writer Tamora Pierce, and continues to be my favourite. It may help slightly if you have read Pierce's previous Song of the Lioness quartet, but certainly not necessary — I didn't get round to reading it until several years later. Wild Magic is the first book of The Immortals quartet, and in my opinion, the best series of stories that Pierce has to offer, placing her immensely likeable heroine Daine amidst a backdrop of magical upheaval, the threat of war and Daine's own mysterious and tragic past. That Pierce manages to meld this huge range of subjects into a coherent whole is amazing — that it is set in a fantasy world that reads as a realistic place makes it even more remarka... Read More