Kitty Goes to Washington: A fun “popcorn novel”

Kitty Goes to Washington by Carrie Vaughn

Kitty Goes to Washington, by Carrie Vaughn, is the second book in the long-running Kitty Norville series. I enjoyed the first book, Kitty and the Midnight Hour, enough that I read the second at the first opportunity. Kitty Goes to Washington picks up immediately after the events of book 1, when Kitty gets a subpoena to appear before a congressional committee that is investigating a government program for paranormal research. Kitty has been called as an expert witness due to her semi-celebrity status as a radio DJ who claims to be a werewolf. The motives behind her being called in to testify before the committee seems suspicious, and much of the intrigue in the story is built around the committee and its mo... Read More

The Burning Bridge: A little derivative, but I didn’t care

The Burning Bridge by John Flanagan

This review will contain minor spoilers for the previous book, The Ruins of Gorlan.

The Burning Bridge is the second book in John Flanagan’s RANGER’S APPRENTICE series for middle grade readers. In the first book, The Ruins of Gorlan, we met Will, an orphaned boy who grew up as a ward of a baron in the country of Araluen. Thinking that his dead father was a warrior, he wanted to be one also, but instead he is assigned to be a Ranger’s apprentice. The Rangers, who Will knows very little about, are a secretive group of cloak-wearing men that serve the king and protect the kingdom. He doesn’t know it yet, but Will’s smaller stature, quick wit, and courage are perfect attributes for this profession. By the en... Read More

Palace of Stone: Not your typical princess tale

Palace of Stone by Shannon Hale

Palace of Stone is a sequel to Shannon Hale’s excellent Newbery Honor-winning Middle Grade novel Princess Academy. You’ll definitely want to read Princess Academy first, and to avoid spoilers, you should read it before you read this review. So, if you haven’t read Princess Academy yet, go away and read it now. (Then come back, please.)

In Princess Academy, we met the poor hard-working uneducated families of Mount Eskel who survive by mining and carving linder, a valuable type of stone that they export to lowlanders. Their culture was changed when it was determined by lowlander priests that the next princess should come from Mount Eskel. To get the girls up to snuff, a “Princess Academy” was... Read More

Sepulchre: Different opinions

Sepulchre by Kate Mosse

Kate Mosse's Sepulchre is a historical fantasy — historical fiction with fantastic elements. I enjoy both genres, and this novel features a female graduate student (somebody I can relate to) as one of the main characters, and it's available for download at Audible, so I thought it would be good entertainment on my commute. I got about ten chapters in before quitting.

The book seems well-researched, is competently written, the tone switches easily from past to present and back, and the characters are interesting enough. Here is the problem: It is full of enormous amounts of tedious descriptions of ancient and current French landmarks, French historical events, French historical figures, and untranslated French dialogue. I realize, of course, that France is the setting of this historical novel, but the effect of all of this name-dropping is to make me thin... Read More

Grandville, Mon Amour by Bryan Talbot

Grandville, Mon Amour by Bryan Talbot

Grandville, Mon Amour is the second in Bryan Talbot’s steampunk graphic novel series with highly evolved animals, in a world where Napoleon conquered all of Europe and Britain has only been an independent country for twenty-three years. British badger Detective-Inspector Archie LeBrock and his partner Ratzi, a rat, are back on a case that will take them back to Paris, also called Grandville. As Ratzi puts it, “We’re like a pair of bloomin’ boomerangs.”

In the opening, a prisoner is dragged out of a brutal maximum security cell for execution. The tables soon turn as the cowering prisoner draws a weapon and kills his way free. The prisoner, M... Read More

Axis: Obsessed with the transcendent forces of the universe

Axis by Robert Charles Wilson

Earth has now been surrounded by the mysterious spin barrier that slows time relative to the rest of the universe for decades. Extra-terrestrial forces have also built the Arch that connects Earth to a series of unknown and increasingly environmentally hostile worlds. Humanity is now colonizing the first new world, but they still wonder about what beings — the Hypotheticals — could have created the spin barriers around these planets, not to mention the arches that connect them.

There are intergalactic forces at work in Axis, Robert Charles Wilson’s sequel to Spin, but the story is grounded in Lise Adams’ quest to discover what happened to her father. He went missing without any trace when she was young. She attracts Turk Findley, a frontier pilot, to her cause and together they journey into the desert in search of Dr. Avram Dvali, who may be able to tell her what happene... Read More

The Ghost Brigades: Old Man’s War continues…

The Ghost Brigades by John Scalzi

The Ghost Brigades is the second novel in John Scalzi’s OLD MAN’S WAR saga. It focuses on the Ghost Brigades — the Special Forces soldiers that the Colonial Union (CU) creates by genetic engineering and who have special powers because of the BrainPal computers in their heads. They’re born in adult bodies and are rapidly assimilated into the Special Forces, though they are a little immature because of their mental age and they lack some of the personality and social skills that come from interaction with “real-born” people in a normal environment. The Ghost Brigades give the regular CU soldiers the heebee-jeebees.

In this story the Colonial Union has discovered the existence of a traitorous scientist, Charles Boutin, who has faked his death by cloning himself and has aligned himself with three alien species who plan to wipe out the humans. Part of his motivation is that he blam... Read More

The Stone Light: All exposition

The Stone Light by Kai Meyer

Fleeing from a fictitious Renaissance Venice on the back of the flying lion Vermithrax, the orphaned Merle is persuaded by the Flowing Queen, the mysterious entity that had for so long protected Venice from the besieging Egyptian armies but now inhabits Merle’s body, to seek help from Lord Light, the ruler of Hell. Back in Venice, a small rebel army is gathering under the guidance of another mysterious power who is determined to protect the city against the Egyptian army whatever the cost. The pharaoh is also beset by treachery from within his own forces. How will all these competing forces be resolved?

The answer is they won’t. The Stone Light is the second book in the Dark Reflections trilogy by Kai Meyer. The first book set up an intriguing and mysterious Venice, and just when the action s... Read More

Evil for Evil: Complex and profound

Evil for Evil by K.J. Parker

Evil for Evil is the second book in K.J. Parker’s Engineer Trilogy and it is probably one of the strongest “middle books” I’ve read. Evil for Evil hits the road running and not once does the plot slow down or ease up. Parker’s writing is, as always, rich, detailed, evocative and dry. The theme is the same: the importance, and ultimately destructiveness, of love as well as the importance of creation and desire. While these themes may seem rather mundane and arbitrary, Parker weaves them into a complex, multi-faceted plot that can’t help but suck the reader in.

The second novel in a series is usually the weakest because the plot tends to drag as it bridges the gap between the beginning and the ending, and usually that’s exactly what a second book feels like: plodding across a gigantic bridge to some unknown end. Not Read More

Doppelgangster: A great mix of urban fantasy, humor, mystery, chicklit

Doppelgangster by Laura Resnick

Esther Diamond is between acting jobs. To make ends meet, she takes a job waiting tables at Bella Stella. Connor Lopez, the cop who may or may not be Esther's boyfriend, is concerned because Bella Stella is frequented by the Gambello crime family, but hey, a girl's gotta make a living!

Before long, though, Esther lands in deep trouble. One of Bella Stella's regulars, Chubby Charlie, sees a perfect double of himself and then is murdered right in front of her. She's traumatized by the event, the tabloids are painting her as mob-connected, Lopez doesn't believe her version of events, and she's starting to suspect that Charlie's double was created by magic. When other doubles start popping up, followed by more murders, it's up to Esther to find the killer, with the help of Max, her centuries-old wizard friend; Lucky, an aging wiseguy; and Max's new "familiar," Nelli, who may be a mystical creature but s... Read More

Steward of Song: Not as good as the first

Steward of Song by Adam Stemple

Steward of Song is the sequel to Singer of Souls, an excellent and original urban fantasy novel by Adam Stemple. I enjoyed the first novel very much, but unfortunately wasn't as impressed with this sequel. Singer of Souls had a great narrative curve, building up the plot and the tension very carefully, from a slow start to a gradual exposition to an explosive climax. I simply couldn't put it down. Steward of Songmaintains more or less the same pace all through the story, making this a less compulsive read.

Steward of Song also uses several points of view rather than the single POV of the first book: the story alternately focuses on Bridie and Scott, two siblings of Douglas (who was the protagonist of the first book). Until the very end of the nov... Read More

Cartomancy: Fun middle book ends in a cliffhanger

Cartomancy by Michael A. Stackpole

It's not uncommon for the second book in a fantasy trilogy to suffer the middle-book syndrome — a transition novel that doesn't live up to the quality of the preceding volume but is essential in appreciating the third. Thankfully, that isn't the case with Cartomancy, the sequel to A Secret Atlas.

In fact, Cartomancy is more exciting because Michael Stackpole planted the seeds in the first novel and what you get here is all the action and excitement. Moreover, Stackpole has not only mastered the art of integrating various characters and plots, but knows when to end his chapters, whetting the readers' appetites and leaving them wanting more.

Another element going for Stackpole is that while this is undeniably traditional epic fantasy, he infuses it with new elements as well as pr... Read More

Hawkspar: Three things about a Holly Lisle novel

Hawkspar by Holly Lisle

This story is about a slave, and her fight for freedom. She is a member of the Tonk race. Rather than a nation, the Tonk are spread throughout the world. It turns out that there are quite a few Tonk among not only Hawkspar's fellow slaves, but among the Oracles themselves. And one of them has cooked up a plot. Once the slave — who, through most of the story, doesn't remember her name — takes on the Eyes, she becomes Hawkspar, and she immediately sets her predecessor's plans into motion. Then, she cooks up a few plans of her own.

I love novels about oppressed people fighting for their freedom. And Hawkspar was as good as any I've ever read.

There's a few things you can count on in a Holly Lisle novel. One is the great maps. There are two in Hawkspar— one a world map, and the other a zoom in on the mini-continent of Hyre. My main complai... Read More

The Sea of Monsters: Better than The Lightning Thief

The Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan

Truth be told, I wasn't hugely impressed with the first Percy Jackson book, The Lightning Thief. It was entertaining, yes, but somewhat convoluted, derivative and predictable. Well, with Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters, I take it all back. With a more rewarding plot, stronger characterization, and smoother pacing, the second book in the five-part series is an improvement in every respect.

Percy Jackson has recently discovered that his missing father is none other than the sea god Poseidon, and as a demigod he is constantly under threat from various Greek monsters that still roam the earth. Enrolled at a summer camp for training half-bloods, Percy's last adventure involved (among many other things) coming to terms with his parentage, learning about the powers he possesses, ma... Read More

Lord of the Silent Kingdom: Hugely complex

Lord of the Silent Kingdom by Glen Cook

In my review of Glen Cook’s first book in the Instrumentalities of the Night series, I bemoaned the lack of a map. Somehow, my opinion managed to go unheard and/or unheeded and so I’ll start again by asking if it would be too much to include a map in a book that jumps among a slew of kingdoms, countries, islands, and petty territories.

As a long-time fan of “epic” fantasy, I consider myself pretty well-versed in how to handle sweeping geography, but there were so many names of so many places playing a major role either in the active plot or in the backgrounds/motivations of characters that I became annoyingly bewildered by who was where and who was allying with whom.

The same is true of the names that get flashed by quite often, especially in the first third or so of the book, sometimes ... Read More

The Dark River: Typical middle volume

The Dark River by John Twelve Hawks

In 2005, an enigmatic author by the name of John Twelve Hawks — a writer who supposedly lives ‘off the grid’ — delivered one of the most hyped novels of the year, the critically-acclaimed, New York Times Bestselling debut The Traveler. In that book, readers were introduced to a chillingly familiar world ‘inspired by the modern technology that monitors our lives,’ where Travelers — individuals who possess the ability to send their conscious energy (“Light”) to other realms where they gain insights into transforming the world — and Harlequins (sworn to protect the lives of Travelers) oppose their mortal enemies the Brethren (also known as the Tabula) and their quest for a virtual Panopticon — an invisible prison where the population would assume that they were being watched at all times and therefore would automatically follow the rules.
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The Dream Thief: Did Not Finish

The Dream Thief by Shana Abe

The Dream Thief stars Amalia Langford, the daughter of Kit and Rue from The Smoke Thief, and Zane, a thief who was introduced in the previous book. Zane is charged with retrieving a special diamond called Draumr. At the behest of Kit and Rue, he agrees to travel across Europe, into the Carpathians, in search of it. Accompanying him is Lia, who is possessed of the ability to hear the future. In her dreams she hears a future in which Zane, using the power of Draumr, holds her as his slave, slaughters her entire tribe, and uses her knowledge of precious gems to steal. So she decides to um...help him retrieve the diamond. Oookay...

This only so-so plot is not helped by the characters. As much as I enjoyed Rue in The Smoke Thief, I can't stand Lia. She's just not very interesting. The plain Jane outcast who doesn't have all the fa... Read More

Magic Study: When dangling, watch your participles

Magic Study by Maria V. Snyder

A brief overview of the plot of Magic Study is this: Yelena, the poison taster turned magician whom we met in Poison Study, leaves Ixia for Sitia, the country of her birth, to enter magical training and meet her long-lost family. Along the way, there are family tensions, new friends and enemies among the students and teachers at Yelena's school, and sinister forces that may claim Yelena's life, or that of one of her friends, if Yelena can't thwart them. It's a fast-paced and exciting plot, and I stand by my earlier assertion that Maria Snyder can tell an interesting story.

What isn't so interesting anymore is Yelena. There were hints of Mary Sue in her character in Poison Study, but here she blossoms into full Sue-itude. Yelena is not just a magician, she has staggering powers that are almost unheard of. Th... Read More

Forest Mage: Slower, not as rich as book one

Forest Mage by Robin Hobb

Shaman's Crossing was slow and at times dry, but I thought it rewarded the patient reader and that the pace was mostly appropriate for the content and character. The same complaints about book one could also be leveled at Forest Mage, and here, unfortunately, I can't quite defend the book as strongly.

Like Shaman's Crossing, there isn't a lot of “action” here. One expecting large battles, political upheaval or machinations, encounters with monsters, or showy displays of magic will be best served not bothering, though if anyone is picking up Forest Mage after reading Shaman's Crossing they're already aware of all this. Mage picks up with Nevare returning home after having “recovered” from the Speck plague of book one. Unfortunately, he is still ... Read More

The Virtu: More of the same

The Virtu by Sarah Monette

Wizard Felix Harrowgate is back and much less crazy than he was during 90% of Sarah Monette's Melusine. So is thief Mildmay the Fox, who's a bit less mobile, crippled by a curse that caught up to him in the previous book. Their goal: To travel back across the world, return to Melusine (the city) and restore the magical crystal called the Virtu.

If the plot sounds a little thin...well, that might be because it is. It's padded with events, ones not necessarily pointless exactly, but not entirely relevant, either. Some of it is really interesting, including a trip into a creepy underground maze and the introduction of a new character, Mehitabel Parr, who muscles her way in on the trip to Melusine.

I suppose that's the whole thing. The Virtu offers much of the same; the same things I loved about Melusine and the same... Read More

The Awakened Mage: Much darker

The Awakened Mage by Karen Miller

One theme drives the plot of Karen Miller’s The Awakened Mage, sequel to The Innocent Mage: friendship. That friendship is exemplified in the sometimes tenuous, but always interesting friendship between Gar and Asher. In the first novel, the two formed an unlikely pair. Gar is a magickless prince, unable to serve as King of Lur, since the King is also the WeatherWorker and maintainer of Barl’s Wall, the only thing keeping the evil of Morg at bay. And there is Asher, the intelligent and wily fisherman, who only seeks to serve the kingdom and his friend.

The story of The Awakened Mage (also called Innocence Lost) picks up where its predecessor left off, not wasting text space on retelling the story, as it is assumed the reader already knows all the events that have led to this... Read More

Dragon Avenger: Fun, exciting, light

Dragon Avenger by E.E Knight

Dragon Avenger, the second installment in E.E. Knight’s Age of Fire, is a worthy addition to a good young adult series. This story's protagonist is the sister of Auron, the main character of the first book (Dragon Champion). Using an easy-to-follow storyline, Knight incorporates characters and concepts from his first book into the second.

Wistala has to forge a path in a world that is prejudiced against dragons — just like her brother did. She finds similar challenges and impediments, but ultimately finds enough allies to help her grow and learn. This is not challenging, demanding storytelling in any sense, but just a fun easy to read book.

Knight keeps the story light — it's not graphically violent and contains no themes that are too strong for a... Read More

Pretties: A sequel that doesn’t disappoint

Pretties by Scott Westerfeld

Finally, a sequel that does not disappoint!

Tally finally has all she ever wanted: She's pretty, she's popular, she's in the coolest clique in New Pretty Town.

What could possibly go wrong now?

Nothing does... until the night of the coolest costume party ever when a blast from the past shows up and leaves her a mystery to follow. All of a sudden Tally and her new friend Zane not only have a mystery to solve, but two tiny white pills to take... and no clue what they will do to them.

Once again, Scott Westerfeld has whisked us off to a sci-fi adventure world with more twists and turns that even a Hoverboard can handle.

I can't wait to read the next book!

Julie Waineo, one of our earliest guest reviewers, earned an MBA at Bowling Green State University. She also holds a Bachelor of Arts in Internati... Read More

A Distant Tomorrow: Mindlessly entertaining

A Distant Tomorrow by Bertrice Small

Five long and peaceful years have passed since the Winter War the people of the Outlands fought and won against the greedy nation of Hetar. But Gaius Prospero has not given up his scheme to become emperor, and after an unexpected and tragic blow, the Fairy woman Lara is pulled towards her distant and elusive destiny once again.

Unexpectedly Lara finds herself in a distant land across the sea know as Terah where, with her newfound powers, she manages to banish an evil curse and earns the love and adoration of the ruler Magnus Hauk.
However, even in this far away land, Prospero threatens Lara and her new way of life. Together Lara, Magnus, and the people of Terah must stand together against the locust land of Hetar in order to continue to live in peace and prosperity.

Admittedly, A Distant Tomorrow did keep my attention, probably better than its ... Read More

No Dominion: I love this kind of storytelling

No Dominion by Charlie Huston

It’s been a year since the fallout at the end of Already Dead and Joe’s been taking it easy, staying out of trouble. After all, when the Coalition’s spymaster Dexter Predo and the Society’s head of security Tom Nolan are out for your blood, it’s probably best to keep a low profile. Unfortunately, Joe’s blood stash is running low, jobs have been scarce, and he’s just learned from his HIV-positive girlfriend Evie that her disease has taken a turn for the worse. So he does the only thing he can think of — go back to his old pal Terry Bird, the leader of the Society, and ask for a little help. What he gets is a clandestine mission to find out about some new “high” called Anathema that is specifically for Vampyres. As one might expect if you know anything of noir, what starts out as a simple reconnaissance becomes dangerously complicated as Joe finds himself caught in a brewi... Read More