Joust: Quite entertaining despite the problems

Joust by Mercedes Lackey

Vetch’s family used to own land in Alta, but when they were invaded and occupied by Tia, Vetch’s father was killed and the rest of his family became serfs. Vetch, who was taken away from his mother and sisters, is now the servant of a horrible fat and lazy man who’s pretty much the worst master you can imagine. (All of Mercedes Lackey’s bad guys are really really bad!)

When a Tian dragon jouster named Ari notices Vetch’s plight, he rescues him and takes him as his own servant. Now Vetch is a dragon boy, feeding and cleaning up after his new master’s dragon. In the process, he learns everything there is to know about caring for dragons and his new circumstances are comfortable and far superior to his previous enslavement. However, Vetch is treated like a serf by the other dragon boys and, worse, he feels ... Read More

Dragon and Thief: The boy with the (living) dragon tattoo

Dragon and Thief by Timothy Zahn

Dragon and Thief (2003, issued in trade paperback in 2016) blends dragons and space opera in an exciting middle grade science fictional adventure. The dragon in the title is Draycos, a warrior-poet of an alien species called the K’da, who are able to shift from a three-dimensional being to a two-dimensional tattoo that attaches to your skin, moving around your body at will. The K’da are also a symbiont species, requiring a host to attach themselves to at least every six hours, or they fade away and die. In return, they offer their host protection and companionship.

The K’da have been linked with the humanoid Shontine people for years, but recently both have been under attack from a vicious people called the Valahgua, who are doing their best to exterminate the K’da and the Shontine and gain control over their part of space. Fleeing the Valahgua and their powerful w... Read More

The Weavers of Saramyr: Creepy, rich, layered, and ultimately satisfying

The Weavers of Saramyr by Chris Wooding

Chris Wooding has once again branched out and attacked another flavour of fantasy. This time the story brings the reader a sophisticated beginning to what promises to be a mysterious, cutthroat, and complex trilogy: THE BRAIDED PATH. Both the physical and social settings are richly described and beautifully rendered throughout. The Weavers of Saramyr introduces us to a nation torn apart by sickness, an empress who is all out of options, survival against the odds, and unlikely freedom fighters. The Weavers of Saramyr is no less than gripping from the first page through to the last.

There is a sickness in the lands of Saramyr. It manifests in deformed animal and plant life across the nation. Farmers call the soil evil, wildlife is slowly... Read More

Oryx and Crake: A scathing condemnation of the world we are creating

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

In Oryx and Crake, Margaret Atwood details an apocalyptic plague, introduces a new species of creatures that have been genetically designed to replace humanity, and the villain is a mad scientist in love. What could be more “SFF” than Oryx and Crake?

Quite a lot, according to Margaret Atwood, who prefers to describe her novel as “speculative fiction” rather than “science fiction.” In interviews promoting Oryx and Crake, Atwood explained that everything that takes place in Oryx and Crake is based on trends that we can see today, as opposed to distant planets that have an allegorical connection to our lives. Atwood is “speculating” about where our society is headed. It’s a distinction that some readers may choose to reject, but it’s an approach that ... Read More

Time’s Eye: Action, science and… Alexander the Great vs. Genghis Khan?

Time’s Eye by Arthur C. Clarke & Stephen Baxter

Action, you say? Science!? Characters in 3D!?? But wait… there’s more! How about an ancient battle-royale between Alexander the Great and his army vs. Genghis Khan and his Mongolian horde?

Oh yes, sci-fi power couple Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter have all that and more in the 2003 opening to their A TIME ODYSSEY series, which, in theory, takes place in the same universe as Clarke's SPACE ODYSSEY stories.

Inexplicably, at least initially, Earth is sliced up and stitched back together creating a mish-mash of timeframes. This scenario creates the opportunity for Baxter and Clarke to position a Genghis-Alexander battle for control over the new Earth (dubbed "Mir" by the remnant individuals from the 21st century). ... Read More

Supreme Power: Contact by J. Michael Straczynski

Supreme Power (Vol. 1): Contact by J. Michael Straczynski

I guess you could consider J. Michael Straczynski’s Supreme Power the bastard child (or perhaps grandchild) of books like Alan Moore’s Watchmen and Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns in which the four-colour superheroes of old get a more ‘realistic’ make-over and are shown for the dangerous psychopaths they would all-too-likely be in our world. In this case we have Marvel’s Squadron Supreme coming under the deconstructive microscope. The Squadron is an interesting case even without the post-80's Dark Age of comics lens being applied: back in the day they were Marvel... Read More

The City of Ember: Powered by a rich setting

The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau

Long ago, the Builders created Ember, an underground city. The Builders only intended for the people of Ember to stay underground for two hundred years, but, due to a slight wrinkle in the Builders’ plans, the people of Ember have stayed underground far longer than two hundred years. Now, supplies are running out. In fact, there soon won’t even be light bulbs left, and the people will be left in darkness.

Jeanne DuPrau’s City of Ember is a children's post-apocalyptic novel that follows the adventures of Lina and Doon. Lina and Doon, at twelve years old, have finished their schooling. Lina, who loves running, manages to become a Messenger, while Doon, who wants to find a way to fix Ember’s flagging generator, draws work in the Pipeworks. Lina is an outgoing and cheerful girl, while Doon is more introspective and given to temperamental outbursts. However, they are... Read More

Legacies: A pleasant but not brilliant epic fantasy, now on audio

Legacies by L.E. Modesitt Jr

Alucius lives in the land of Corus which used to be ruled by a great civilization until some sort of cataclysm occurred. Now the continent is divided into several countries that are on the verge of war. Alucius, who we see grow from a young boy to a young man, just wants to get married to a nice girl and live as a peaceful herder on his family’s stead. But war comes and Alucius is drafted into the army where he rises rapidly in the ranks.

As a herder, Alucius has inherited the “Talent” which allows him to sense the presence of others and underlies some of his uncanny battle skills. But he must hide the Talent and try to make his successes seem natural because most people who aren’t herders either fear or would like to exploit him. This becomes especially true when he gets captured by the army of the Matrial, an evil woman who rules over an empire that enslaves men. Alucius knows he must escape ... Read More

Runaways, vol 1: Pride & Joy

Runaways: Pride & Joy by Brian K. Vaughan (writer) and Adrian Alphona (pencils)

What do you do when you find out your parents aren’t who you thought they were? Brian K. Vaughan deals with ages-old drama of teenagers confronting the fallibility of their parents in an interesting and exciting way. Though most of us have never discovered that our parents are part of a super-villain syndicate that includes a couple of crime lords who put Kingpin to shame — as well as mutants, aliens, time travelers, sorcerers, and mad scientists — most people can remember the day they realized that their parents are human and fallible, and maybe just a bit hypocritical. While most teenagers feel at some point that their parents are evil, Vaughan’s fantastic teenage heroes know their parents are EVIL. We follow them in this first volume of RUNAWAYS as they struggle to figure out how to use their newly discovered powers not only to rebel aga... Read More

Fast Times at Fairmont High: The future of middle school?

Fast Times at Fairmont High by Vernor Vinge

Juan is an eighth grader in a near-future San Diego. Final exams have arrived and Juan and his friends are under a lot of pressure to perform well because those who don’t keep up in this fast-moving information-driven virtual-reality society are left behind. That’s what happened to Juan’s father. Juan is determined to succeed, so much so that he’s experimenting with cognition-enhancing drugs.

For one of their exams, students must work with a partner on a project of their choosing without outside assistance. That means that Juan and his partner Miriam can’t access any information or help that’s not already been downloaded into their wearable computers and networked brains. If they’re caught communicating with anyone from outside, even remote students, they’ll fail. While Juan and Miriam are working on their project in the Read More

Trading in Danger: Appealing space opera

Trading in Danger by Elizabeth Moon

“Of course we didn’t do autopsies. We know exactly what killed them — I killed them!”

Kylara Vatta, daughter of the head of the most prestigious shipping empire in the universe, didn’t want to follow in her family’s footsteps — trading is boring and Ky wants adventure and her own life outside of her family’s control. So she opted for a military career. But with only a few months left in the officer’s academy, she was set-up, betrayed, kicked out, and publicly shamed. When she returns home in disgrace, Vatta Transport is happy to have her back in the fold. Her first assignment is to captain a derelict spaceship straight to the junkyard, but Ky has Vatta blood in her veins and can’t pass up an advantageous business opportunity that arises unexpectedly. When this leads her into various forms of danger, and when scammers and mutineers think they can take advantage of the young and inexperien... Read More

There Will be Dragons: Standard

There will be Dragons by John Ringo

The premise of There Will Be Dragons is interesting, the kind of premise that made me want to read the book just to see where John Ringo would go with it. Ringo paints a unique, utopian world with a nearly perfect society. Then, in this perfect world, an apocalypse happens and forces these individuals to live in pre-industrial style. I would consider There Will Be Dragons a science fiction/fantasy hybrid.

This is a broad undertaking for any author, and Ringo does it with gusto. His writing is simple to follow and easy to understand. He is descriptive as he paints his picture for the reader. It is easy to understand the world he is setting up.

It's obvious that Ringo did his homework when writing this novel. The writing is meticulously detailed regarding war and period life, at times making the novel seem more like a textbook or an instruction manual than a novel. ... Read More

Fall of a Kingdom: Nice change of pace

Fall of a Kingdom by Hilari Bell
Let the two of us end this war...

Fall of a Kingdomis the first book in the FARSALA trilogy, followed by Rise of a Hero and Forging the Sword, all set in a pseudo-Arabian land called Farsala which is attempting to resist the invasion of an ever-growing empire that bears more than a few similarities to the Roman Empire. Known as the Hrum, these invaders are committed to fighting any conquerable land for a year before negotiating for peace; knowing this, the armies of Farsala are determined to hold them off for the appointed amount of time and thus retain their independence.

The ensuing conflict is explored through the eyes of three very different protagonists, all of whom have opposing attitudes concerning the idea of the Hrum making Farsala a part of their empire. The first is Jiaan, the ... Read More

Prince of Ayodhya: Fails to satisfy

Prince of Ayodhya  by Ashok K. Banker

I don’t know exactly why Prince of Ayodhya failed to satisfy me. Ashok K. Banker has achieved a modern retelling of the Hindu mythic cycle, the Ramayana. I’m a sucker for mythology. Banker is a competent writer and some of his descriptions are beautiful. He clearly knows his source material and wants to share it with a wider audience.

The Ramayana follows the adventures of Prince Rama Chandra, his wife Sita, brother Lakshman and Hanuman the Monkey King as they battle against the powerful arch-demon Ravana. In the original, the Maharaja Dasaratha is set to declare Rama, his oldest son, the crown prince, when instead he sends Rama on a quest. Ravana manages to abduct Sita, and Rama and Hanuman must attack the demon fortress to free her. In the meantime, the Maharaja makes Bharat, Rama’s younger half-brother, hei... Read More

The Dragon of Doom: An hour’s worth of delightful entertainment

The Dragon of Doom by Bruce Coville

When Moongobble the magician moves to town, Edward is eager to become his new apprentice. It turns out, though, that Moongobble isn’t much of a magician after all — every time he tries a spell, he ends up turning something into cheese. In fact, he’s about to lose his authority to practice magic if he can’t prove himself proficient by completing three difficult tasks. The first task is to steal some special acorns from the Dragon of Doom, so Moongobble and Edward set off with Urk, the pessimistic talking toad, and the Rusty Knight, who’s nearly deaf, to find the dragon’s cave.

This short children’s novel provided my girls and me with an hour’s worth of delightful entertainment. We listened to the charming version produced by Full Cast Audio. (It was available for free download from our library’... Read More

Holder of Lightning: Solid Celtic fantasy

Holder of Lightning by S.L. Farrell

Holder of Lightning is the first book of S.L. Farrell’s Cloudmages trilogy. The story takes place in a well-imagined Celtic world and there is plenty of action, particularly in the last third, where Farrell is putting things in place for a multi-generational saga.

Jenna Aoire is a simple village girl, daughter of the widow Maeve, content to herd the sheep and listen to music at Tara’s tavern. One night, when she is late getting the sheep down from Knobtop, the sky comes alive in sheets of dancing colors, and Jenna finds a strange green pebble. She brings the stone home with her without thinking much about it, but her destiny and her world have just changed.

The stone is a Cloch Mor, a stone of power that comes to life when the lights, something like the aurora borealis, dance overhead. Jenna holds not just any Cloch Mor, but ... Read More

Warriors, Into the Wild: May win over reluctant readers

Warriors: Into the Wild by Erin Hunter

There have been some great animal stories written for children. Brian Jacques’s Redwall series invested woodland creatures with a valor and camaraderie straight out of Tolkien, and Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows charmed with its odd blend of comedy and bittersweet nostalgia. E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web and Robert C. O’Brien’s Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh are in many ways beautiful little stories of life and loss. Silverwing by Kenneth Oppel and Watership... Read More

A Great and Terrible Beauty: Neither great nor terrible

A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray

Gemma Doyle grew up in India, but after her mother commits suicide and her father becomes a laudanum addict, she’s sent to a finishing school in England. This is Victorian England, so at Spence Academy Gemma will be instilled with “grace, charm, and beauty” as she learns how to be a proper wife, mother, and hostess. Virtue, virginity, and the avoidance of scandal are of the utmost importance so that the ladies of Spence Academy will, upon graduation, reach their highest potential: to make a good marriage.

But A Great and Terrible Beauty is a gothic novel, which means that there is less grace, charm, and beauty than one should expect at Spence Academy. Instead, there are hidden secrets, dark rumors, strange disappearances and deaths, fearful servants, and a creepy old East Wing that inexplicably burned down 20 years ago. And, most importantly, each of the gir... Read More

The Goose Girl: Sweet and irresistible

The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale

As the oldest child of the King and Queen, Crown Princess Anidori-Kiladra Talianna Isilee (Ani) is being groomed for the throne of Kildenree. Much to her mother’s disappointment, though, Ani doesn’t seem to be leadership material. She doesn’t have the ability to persuade and motivate people like her mother does and, oddly, she seems to communicate better with animals than people.

Nonetheless, Ani is shocked when her mother declares her little brother to be heir and sends Ani off as a bride to the prince of Bayern, an aggressive neighboring kingdom. She feels betrayed by her family and things only get worse when she encounters more deceit and betrayal on the way to Bayern. Because she has a difficult time standing up for herself, Princess Ani is soon usurped and tending geese instead of taking her rightful place beside the Prince of Bayern. But this goose girl is determined to get her name back.... Read More

The Book of Dead Days: Marvelously atmospheric

The Book of Dead Days by Marcus Sedgwick

The "Dead Days" are what author Marcus Sedgwick calls the time between Christmas and New Year's Day, on account of their quiet, mysterious atmosphere; an idea drawn from various mythologies that hold that certain days of the year mark the time when doors to the spirit world open to those of the living. The Book of Dead Days is set entirely within the five-day period between December 27th and December 31st in a sprawling turn-of-the-century city where experiments in electricity and magnetism are indistinguishable from magic and superstition for most of the populace.

A nameless Boy is apprenticed to the magician Valerian, assisting him in his stage illusions that are popular enough to keep food on the table for both of them. Boy has only a rudimentary understanding of how most of the tricks work, but is grateful for daily meals and a bed each night d... Read More

Perseus: A great way to introduce children to Greek myths

Perseus by Geraldine McCaughrean

There are probably much shorter retellings of this hero-story, and there are probably quite a few longer ones — but if you wish to avoid the simplicity of a picture book and the long-windedness of an epic, then I don't think you'd find any reason to complain about Geraldine McCaughrean's version of the Perseus myth. In fact, I would go so far as to say that its fidelity to the well-known myth and the lyrical prose in which it is told make it the quintessential retelling of the ancient story (perhaps a premature claim considering I'm far from having read them all, but this would surely be up there in the top five!).

King Acrisius foolishly asks the Epidauran Oracle how he will die, and gets a devastating answer: it will be at the hands of his own grandson. Inevitably, he takes pains to ensure that his daughter Danae will never beget a child, by locking her up in a specially-design... Read More

Pattern Recognition: A mature masterpiece

Pattern Recognition William Gibson

William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition was published in 2003 and it marks the first of what has come to be known as the Bigend trilogy, a series of three novels united by a background character, Hubertus Bigend.

Cayce (pronounced like ‘case’) Pollard is a marketing consultant who is highly sensitive to corporate logos. In fact, it’s almost as though she’s allergic to bad logos. She’s made her living working as a freelance consultant thanks to this sensitivity. Although she’s quite fashionable in her non-designer label clothing, Cayce has turned her attention to things other than fashion. Lately, her passion is the “footage,” a topic that she researches using online forums and networks.

The footage is a series of anonymous film clips that have captured the attention of a growing audience of people. But who is putting these c... Read More

Quicksilver: Information overload

Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson

[The audiobook contains Book 1 of the print edition of the Quicksilver omnibus. Book 2 is King of the Vagabonds. Book 3 is Odalisque.]

I’m a scientist by profession and I love history. Thus, I’m fascinated by the history of science, especially the era of Isaac Newton et al. So, Neal Stephenson’s Quicksilver should be just my thing and I was fully expecting to love this book (it’s been on my list for years), but I’m sad to say that I was disappointed in this first installment of The Baroque Cycle, though I still have high hopes for the remaining books.

Quicksilver is well-researched and well-written and chock full of plenty of stuff I love to read about: 17th and 18th century scholars and politicians exploring the way the world works. What ... Read More

The Capture: Enjoyable and suspenseful

The Capture by Kathryn Lasky

In anticipation of the upcoming movie based on Kathryn Lasky’s Guardians of Ga’Hoole series, Scholastic has re-released the first book in the series, The Capture. Being an owl fan, I of course had to give it a try! Lasky is clearly following in Richard Adams’ footsteps here, what with her invented owl words and the mixture of animal behavior and very human social commentary. The Capture is less intense than Watership Down in terms of both reading level and violence level, however, and would be suited for readers who might be too young for Adams’ book.

Soren, our protagonist, is growing up in a loving, comfortable barn owl family. Lasky incorporates ... Read More

The Portable Door: Quick, humourous fantasy

The Portable Door by Tom Holt

I've come late to the Tom Holt party, but I'm glad I finally made it. The Portable Door is the first book of his that I have read and I definitely intend to try more.

The Portable Door is the story of Paul Carpenter, who takes a mysterious job in a mysterious firm where mysterious goings-on occur. I found it always interesting, a nice quick read, and lightly humourous. I wouldn't say there were many laugh-out-loud moments, but I chuckled more than once or twice!

I think one of my favourite passages can best sum up the wit and wryly weird writing that Tom Holt employs:
There's this to be said for being hungover; if you've got a job to do that involves substantial levels of ambient weirdness, it helps, because you can't be bothered to notice stuff that under other circumstances would come close to frying your syna... Read More