Available Dark: Chills, in more than one sense of the word

Available Dark by Elizabeth Hand

It’s been a few months since the events of Generation Loss, and Cass Neary, strapped for cash, has made a big mistake. In that previous book, she took pictures of someone’s death but told the police she wasn’t at the scene. She never meant to publish any of the photos. Whoops. So, with the police and the dead person’s son asking awkward questions, and Cass in need of money again, it seems like a great time to take a gig that will absent her from the country for a while.

Available Dark (2012) takes Cass to Helsinki, where she is tasked with examining a series of gory photographs and verifying that they are authentic and that the series is complete. The pictures show people killed in ways that evoke a group of spirits called the Yuleboys, and it’s pretty clear that if the... Read More

The Silver Dream: The stakes get even higher

The Silver Dream by Neil Gaiman & Michael Reaves & Mallory Reaves

This review will contain spoilers for the first INTERWORLD book, InterWorld. You should read InterWorld (2007) before beginning The Silver Dream (2013).

Joey Harker, the Walker, is now almost 17 years old and he has so far survived as a member of the InterWorld, the military organization made up of all the Joeys in the altiverses who have come together to protect their earths from the Hex and the Binary. On one of their missions, they somehow manage to bring back a stowaway when they return to their secret base. It’s a girl named Acacia Jones and she has a supernatural power, too. While the Joeys can walk through different spatial dimensions, Acacia can walk through time. She’s a handy ally to have... Read More

Secondhand Souls: Christopher Moore — easy to read, really hard to explain

Secondhand Souls by Christopher Moore

Secondhand Souls (2015), by Christopher Moore is a sequel to his 2007 book A Dirty Job. Set in San Francisco, the book contains foul language, cross-dressing nuns, a homunculus of animal parts and luncheon meats with a lizard head and an enormous penis, a woman who works at a suicide-prevention hotline and keeps tracks of Wins and Losses on a whiteboard — she’s at five-and-a-half wins because one guy jumped but he lived, so half a win, right? — destructive hellhounds, sophomoric sexual humor, and, let’s see, did I forget anything? Got the language? Got the nuns? Oh, and a seven-year-old-girl who is the Illuminatus, otherwise known as Big Death. Yeah, I think that’s everything. It’s a sweet... Read More

Sword of Destiny: More great WITCHER stories

Sword of Destiny by Andrzej Sapkowski

Sword of Destiny is the second story collection in Andrzej Sapkowski’s WITCHER books which are the basis of the popular video game. Sword of Destiny should be read second in the series. (This is confusing because the English translations of the WITCHER books were not published in chronological order.) I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the first WITCHER book, The Last Wish, and was eager to read Sword of Destiny. It did not disappoint. I love Sapkowski’s hero, a man named Geralt of Rivia who was taken in by the Witchers when he was a young... Read More

The Scrivener’s Bones: Continues to entertain

The Scrivener’s Bones by Brandon Sanderson

My 13 year old daughter Tali and I are enjoying reading Brandon Sanderson’s ALCATRAZ series together. We thought the first installment, Alcatraz vs. the Evil Librarians, was clever and funny and I particularly liked how Sanderson had his first-person narrator (Alcatraz) explaining the literary techniques he’s using as he writes his autobiography. This was amusing as well as instructive.

The second book, The Scrivener’s Bones (the book formerly known as Alcatraz Versus the Scrivener’s Bones), picks up soon after the events of the first book (which you really need to read for maximum enjoyment, though Alcatraz quickly recaps eve... Read More

Dandelion Fire: Better than predecessor

Dandelion Fire by N.D. Wilson

Dandelion Fire is the second book in N.D. Wilson’s 100 CUPBOARDS trilogy for children. In the first book, 100 Cupboards, we met Henry, a boy who went to live with his aunt and uncle in Kansas and discovered 100 oddly-shaped doors behind the plaster in his attic bedroom. There are different worlds behind all those doors and toward the end of the book Henry finally gets into one and inadvertently sets free an evil witch queen. I thought this was a great premise, and I liked Henry, but I was disappointed that so little time was spent exploring the other worlds.

At the beginning of Dandelion Fire, Henry is about to be sent home to live with the overprotective but unloving parents who adopted him when he was a baby. He knows, ... Read More

Betrayed: Slightly better than Marked

Betrayed by P.C. Cast and Kristin Cast

Betrayed is the second book in the HOUSE OF NIGHT series by mother/daughter team P.C. and Kristin Cast. In the first book, Marked, Zoey Redbird discovered that she’s a fledgling vampYre, went off to vampyre boarding school, defeated Aphrodite (the beautiful stuck-up popular girl) and her minions, became the most popular (but not stuck-up) girl and set up her own minions friends in a position of power where they will rule the school justly and benevolently.

In this second installment, we find Zoey trying to recast her in-group (called the Dark Daughters) into a peer leadership group (not sure why she doesn’t start by changing the name). As Zoey is in the school library scouring the internet for sample charters, she meets Loren Blake, an adjunct teacher who is even more gorgeous and mysterious (he writes poetry by mo... Read More

The Princess and the Bear: A simple evocative YA story

The Princess and the Bear by Mette Ivie Harrison

I was about three chapters into The Princess and the Bear when I realized that it must be a sequel. The narrative seemed to assume that I knew more about the characters and their situation that I actually did, and after a quick flick to the back of the book (where there was an interview with the author) this was confirmed. The predecessor to this is The Princess and the Hound, the reading of which probably would have given me a greater understanding of the background that this book draws upon in the crafting of its story.

Yet in saying that, I prefer that every book be readable in and of itself, and the fact is that I struggled a bit to get a grip on what was going on here since it felt as though most of the pertinent background information on many of the characters had been established in the first book. This dampened my enjoyment a little, so I would encourage any ... Read More

Monster Hunter Vendetta: Even better than the first book

Monster Hunter Vendetta by Larry Correia

“When monsters have nightmares, they’re dreaming about us.” — MHI handbook

Monster Hunter Vendetta is the second installment of Larry Correia’s MONSTER HUNTER INTERNATIONAL series. In the first book, Monster Hunter International, we met Owen Zastava Pitt who used to be an accountant and gun hobbyist until his boss turned into a werewolf and Owen had to kill him. Now Owen is one of the best agents MHI has ever had.

It’s lucky that he’s so good at his job because Owen made a very dangerous enemy when he recently thwarted the Old Ones’ attempt to break into our dimension (read about this in the first book, Read More

The Wise Man’s Fear: We are divided

The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss

If, like me, you were so impressed with The Name of the Wind that you neglected all but the most pressing business until you turned the final page, you may have decided to give it a quick re-read in anticipation of the sequel. If you did, you probably spotted this quote in Chapter 43:
There are three things all wise men fear: the sea in storm, a night with no moon, and the anger of a gentle man.
After a long but worthwhile wait, we now have the second novel in The Kingkiller Chronicle, and its title refers directly back to the quote: The Wise Man’s Fear. (And by the way, if you didn’t feel like rereading book one, Patrick Rothfuss posted a wonderful Read More

Cyndere’s Midnight: Dark but hopeful

Cyndere's Midnight by Jeffrey Overstreet

Jeffrey Overstreet's previous novel, Auralia's Colors, took us to a sublimely well-imagined land and introduced a cast of imaginative characters. In Cyndere's Midnight, the story begins where Auralia’s Colors left off. Overstreet adds a few more characters and moves the plot several huge steps forward.

Cal-Raven continues to grow in his magic as a stoneshaper and as a leader of fallen House Abascar. The remnants of his people are living with him in abject poverty as they attempt to survive the continued predations of the Beastmen of House Cent Regnus. It is a very bleak picture, but not hopeless.

From House Bel Amica, a young princess, Cyndere, and her husband, Duneroi, make plans to redeem the fallen Beastmen of Cent Regnus as well as lead a mission to help any of the survivors l... Read More

Knights of the Sea: Reminiscent of Gaiman’s lighter works

Knights of the Sea by Paul Marlowe

I was first drawn to Knights of the Sea by the hilarious cover art. Now, having read the book, I can say two things: First, the art is accurate! Every element of the cover design — wolf, capsized boat, ghostly damsel, and lemon — is present in the plot. Second, the book is just as funny as the cover, and in a very good way.

In the previous The Wellborn Conspiracy book, Sporeville, Elliott Graven made a powerful enemy in the dastardly Professor Strange. As Knights of the Sea begins, he survives a murder attempt by one of Strange’s henchmen. He then arrives for a visit with his lycanthropic sweetheart, Paisley, hoping for a peaceful and idyllic summer to take his mind off mortal danger for a while. Instead, he finds that Paisley is smitten by a dashing German submarine builder and that yet another deadly plot is in ... Read More

Petrodor: Excellent sequel to Sasha

Petrodor by Joel Shepherd

Petrodor picks up shortly after the ending of Sasha, the first novel in Joel Shepherd's A Trial of Blood and Steel series. Sashandra Lenayin (Sasha for short) now resides in the Torrovan port city Petrodor, a true hotbed of intrigue with several political factions squaring off against each other. With a brewing Verenthane crusade to retake the Bakosh provinces that are occupied by the serrin, war is in the air, and the tensions between the various camps are threatening to come to a boil: the powerful and rich merchant families, the nobility, the clergy, and the common folk who are torn between the predominant Verenthane religion and the serrin-influenced Nasi-Keth. Add to this the "talmaad" — serrin agents living in Petrodor — and you have a tension-filled setting that promises — an... Read More

Silksinger: Meticulous details make a wonderful setting

Silksinger by Laini Taylor

When last we left the intrepid — and tiny — heroes of Blackbringer, Magpie, Talon, and company were leaving on a task set to Magpie by the Magruwen (the Djinn King). Their mission: To find the last five of the Djinn who created the world.

In Silksinger we meet Whisper Silksinger, the last remaining member of a clan of faeries who weave flying carpets (because they’re all “scamperers,” meaning their wings are too small to carry them). She, too, has a mission. Her clan has long been the protectors of the Djinn known as the Azazel. As the last Silksinger, she must bring the Azazel (only an ember smoldering away in a teakettle) to his throne, where he will, she hopes, awaken. It’s a burden Whisper carries alone, as she doesn’t believe she can share her secret with anyone else.

Along the way she meets Hirik, a young mercenary wit... Read More

Burn Me Deadly: If you don’t listen to audiobooks, it’s time to start

Burn Me Deadly by Alex Bledsoe

Note: This rating reflects my happiness with the audio version of Burn Me Deadly. Four stars for the print version. Listen to a sample of this audiobook here.

Ah, the combination of Alex Bledsoe (the author), Eddie LaCrosse (the hero) and Stefan Rudnicki (the reader) — it doesn’t get much better than that!

Burn Me Deadly is the sequel to The Sword-Edged Blonde, which I adored, and since Mr. Bledsoe has been picked up by Read More

The Soldier King: Malan excels at character-driven action novels

The Soldier King by Violette Malan

The second book in the A Novel of Dhulyn and Parno series, The Soldier King is a fun sword and sorcery romp featuring engaging characters and an entertaining, multi-faceted world. Picking up about a year after The Sleeping God leaves off, Violette Malan starts the story on a battlefield at the end of a war. The Mercenary Brothers Dhulyn and Parno accept the surrender of the prince of the opposing side’s army. Their own commanders want to hold him hostage as a bargaining chip in opposition to the Common Rule of the Mercenary Guild, so Dhulyn and Parno smuggle Edmir, the young prince, out of the camp and make a run for his capital. On the way, they discover that it was his own army that had been subverted, and his own country is no longer safe because of power machinations of the mysterious Blue Mage.

Vi... Read More

Lady of Light and Shadows: Had me misting up

Lady of Light and Shadows by C.L. Wilson

Lady of Light and Shadows is the second volume in C.L. Wilson’s romantic fantasy epic, Tairen Soul. Like the previous novel, Lord of the Fading Lands, Lady of Light and Shadows is a fun guilty pleasure. Ellysetta and Rain may be a little over the top in terms of their powers, treading close to Mary Sue territory, but I’m enjoying the heck out of their story anyway. The Tairen Soul series is a delightfully escapist saga, reminding me a little bit of Anne Bishop’s Black Jewels, but without all the sexual violence. All of the elements that made Read More

The Other Lands: A mixed bag

The Other Lands by David Anthony Durham

PLOT SUMMARY: Several years have passed since the demise of Hanish Mein. Corinn Akaran rules with an iron grip on the Known World's many races. She hones her skills in sorcery by studying The Book of Elenet and dotes on her young son, Aaden — Hanish's child — raising him to be her successor. Mena Akaran, still the warrior princess she became fighting the eagle god Maeben, has been battling the monsters released by the Santoth's corrupted magic. In her hunt she discovers a creature wholly unexpected, one that awakens long suppressed emotions in her. And Dariel Akaran, once a brigand of the Outer Isles, has devoted his labors to rebuilding the ravaged empire brick by brick. Each of the Akaran royals is finding their way in the post-war world, but the queen's peace is difficult to maintain, and things are about to change.

When the League brings news of upheavals in the Othe... Read More

Poison Sleep: Entertaining urban fantasy

Poison Sleep by T.A. Pratt

Urban fantasy is all the rage these days. While I’m concerned about the eventual over-saturation of the market, it’s definitely a good time to be a fan of the sub-genre, especially when writers like T.A. Pratt are given the chance to shine. Tim Pratt, the winner of the 2007 Hugo Award for the short story “Impossible Dreams,” also left a positive impression on me with his novel Blood Engines and its rewarding blend of wacky characters, comedy, supernatural action, and imagination. Granted, I had a few issues with the writing, but overall I really enjoyed the book and looked forward to the sequel.

Whereas Blood Engines took place in San Francisco, Poison Sleep finds Marla Mason back in her element as the chief sorcerer of Felport — a made-up city in an alternate contemporary world where magic is real, b... Read More

Sacred Scars: Shifts focus, still a pleasure

Sacred Scars by Kathleen Duey

Sacred Scars, the second book in the A Resurrection of Magic trilogy, picks up immediately where the action in Skin Hunger leaves off. Told with the same style of focusing on the two main characters, Sadima and Hahp, in alternating chapters, the book starts with Sadima, Franklin, and Somiss living in a mysterious complex of caves and tunnels outside the main city of Limori, and Hahp trying to figure out how to survive the magical training he is undergoing at the hands of sadistic wizards.

Kathleen Duey writes beautiful sparse prose that evokes a stark and terrible world while still illuminating quiet moments of peace and happiness.

My only complaint with Sacred Scars is that the story drags. While Duey does flesh out the Erideans, a third altern... Read More

Breath and Bone: Carol Berg has left me a spoiled fantasy reader

Breath and Bone by Carol Berg

Anyone who's read my review of Flesh and Spirit knows that I was a little bit disappointed in some aspects of the book (I maintain that this is due to the fact that Carol Berg has left me a spoiled, fussy fantasy reader). So how did Ms. Berg do this time around?

Okay, fair enough, Breath and Bone starts a little slow. This isn't a huge surprise, since the story is more like one book broken into two, than two separate books. Yet despite being a bit slow, it's not as though you're learning nothing. In fact you learn a great deal. Some of these things came as no surprise to me (likely because I had only just finished reading the first one) whereas others made my jaw hit the floor. And I simply love what Berg has done with Navronne. Things and people are just not what they first seem. It's difficult to get into without spoiling the plot,... Read More

Black Blood: In the mood for something different?

Black Blood by John Meaney

Creatively, I loved John Meaney’s Bone Song, especially the highly imaginative world. At the same time though, I was disappointed by the shallow characters, a formulaic plot, and the disjointed narrative. Because of the uneven experience, I was a bit apprehensive about reading the sequel, but my curiosity in knowing how the story continued prevailed. Fortunately, despite a few hiccups, Black Blood turned out to be an overall much stronger and much more enjoyable effort.

Like its predecessor, the best thing about Black Blood is the incredibly inventive world which blends the paranormal with technology and the familiar for a deliciously unique setting. If you read Bone Song, then you should already be familiar with the deathwolves, necrofusion power reactors, Bone Listeners, sentient furniture and vehi... Read More

In A Time of Treason: This sequel is more rewarding

In A Time of Treason by David Keck

As much as I enjoyed David Keck’s debut, I admit that it was a flawed effort so I was quite happy to see how improved the writing was in In A Time of Treason. Namely, the prose was more elegant, the descriptions better expressed, there was a lot more background information without the author relying on shameless infodumping, and overall Mr. Keck just displayed greater confidence as a writer.

Even so, the writing wasn’t perfect. There are still passages that are confusing and may require a re-read or two, the limiting third-person narrative is still in effect, and the plotting is a bit uneven.

On the flipside, the pacing is just as strong as last time — if anything In A Time of Treason is even more intense than In the Eye of Heaven — and the novel just exudes with ambiance. The story itself was a l... Read More

Gears of the city: Outstanding prose and imagination

Gears of the City by Felix Gilman

Despite a somewhat slow and haphazard beginning, I thought Felix Gilman’s Thunderer was one of the best debuts I read in 2007 and couldn’t wait to get my hands on the sequel. Alas, Gears of the City was a bit disappointing in comparison, but still a very good book.

I think the biggest issue I had with the book were the characters. Simply put, I just didn’t care about any of them, which was a little surprising considering that returning protagonist, Arjun, was fairly compelling in Thunderer. In Gears of the City, Arjun’s goals are still the same — he’s searching for his lost god — but Arjun himself is changed, twisted by what he’s seen and experienced in Ararat, and he’s not always likeable. Plus, as the other characters are introduced and as the story ... Read More

Bloodheir: No Middle Book Syndrome here

Bloodheir by Brian Ruckley

Often, the second book in a trilogy is accused of something called “Middle Book Syndrome.” The idea is that the second book in most trilogies is mostly filler and very little plot movement really happens. And often it is true. But if anyone accuses Brian Ruckley’s second book in The Godless World trilogy, Bloodheir of suffering from middle book syndrome, I’m afraid I will have to scoff in his face.

Bloodheir moves the story from the personal to the epic. In the first book of the trilogy, Winterbirth, most of the story was about the harrowing near escapes of its protagonists, with occasional insights into the minds of the villains. While that sort of writing style continues in Bloodheir, the action moves out from the immediacy of survival for the heroes and catching them for the villains into gr... Read More