The Maze Runner: Not as gripping as it could be

The Maze Runner by James Dashner

The Maze Runner (2009) is a young adult read that zips along, mostly keeping the reader’s interest. James Dashner’s new novel is relatively suspenseful, but never as gripping as it could be due to weaknesses in detail and character.

The Maze Runner starts off strongly. Thomas is riding upward in a creaky old elevator, seemingly forever. Details have been wiped from Tomas’ memory, so he has no idea of where he’s coming from or where he’s heading. In fact, he has no idea who he is save for his name. When he arrives, it’s in a place known as “The Glade,” a relatively large open area bounded by towering stonewalls and populated by a group of boys, all of whom arrived as he did and with their memories wiped as well. Beyond the stone walls lies a huge maze whose walls move every night and whose corridors are overrun wit... Read More

Chew (Vol. 1): A fantastic piece of literature

In this column, I feature comic book reviews written by my students at Oxford College of Emory University. Oxford College is a small liberal arts school just outside of Atlanta, Georgia. I challenge students to read and interpret comics because I believe sequential art and visual literacy are essential parts of education at any level (see my Manifesto!). I post the best of my students’ reviews in this column. Today, I am proud to present a review by Arden Godfrey:

Arden Godfrey is a freshman at Oxford College of Emory University and is pursuing a double major in Psychology and German Studies with the intent to go to medical school for the Genetic Counseling program. She hails from Birmingham, Alabama and is often found jamming out to musical theater songs, dancing to anything she hears, and constantly participating in any... Read More

The Judging Eye: A slow start to a terrific series

The Judging Eye by R. Scott Bakker

R. Scott Bakker is one of my guilty pleasures. His THE PRINCE OF NOTHING trilogy is a tense, superbly paced yet detailed series that settles firmly on both sides of the traditional/contemporary epic fantasy fence — Dune meets THE LORD OF THE RINGS. Bakker imbues his world with a mood of brooding darkness that shows great focus. THE PRINCE OF NOTHING builds steadily to a rousing climax that many fantasy series seem to promise but so few deliver. Yes, it retreads the familiar themes of power, control, ego, honor, etc., but Bakker’s rich imagination, tight control of prose (how often can you say that of epic fantasy... Read More

In the Courts of the Sun: Techno-thriller/time travel hybrid can’t quite deliver

In the Courts of the Sun by Brian D’Amato

In the Courts of the Sun is an interesting novel, built Frankenstein’s-monster-like from the elements of a Michael Crichton techno-thriller, Gary Jennings' Aztec series, and one of Stephen Baxter's unique spins on time travel. I enjoyed the book, but it's uneven. The book was written by artist Brian D'Amato and is the first in the JED DE LANDA two-book series.

The story is heavily character-driven, led by Jed DeLanda, a supremely intelligent, anti-social, hard-core gamer of Mayan descent. DeLanda is one of the few people in the world who can play an ancient Mayan game used to help see into the future. Capitalizing on the real-world 2012 doomsday popularity, D'Ama... Read More

Fragment: Monster Mayhem

Fragment by Warren Fahy

I've read a number of reviews and comments that compare Warren Fahy's Fragment (2009) with Michael Crichton and Jurassic Park. Fragment and Jurassic Park have similar themes and bare bones basic concepts. Both stories involve humans battling supernatural, prehistoric monsters and self-centered murderous villains on the remotest of islands. Let's be clear: stop there and consider the comparisons complete. Don't get me wrong. I really enjoyed Fahy's debut novel. It's the perfect summertime beach or pool-side read, and its 500 pages fly by faster than the Hender's Island Spigers rip apart defenseless characters in Fahy's book.


The concept of Fragment Read More

The Strain: del Toro builds modern mythology on top of old-school vampire horror

The Strain by Guillermo del Toro & Chuck Hogan

Abraham Setrakian had witnessed and survived horrible evil when he was a young man. He’d made it out of a Nazi death camp in Poland, but the horror brought about by the Germans was not what kept the professor awake at night. It was the Stroigoi — the vampire — he’d seen feed on his camp mates. It was this that haunted Setrakian. And now it was time for revenge.
What he saw before him was not an omen — it was an incursion. It was the act itself. The thing he had been waiting for. That he had been preparing for. All his life until now.
The Strain, the first book in THE STRAIN trilogy, is a very good modern vampire horror story. There are no moody teenagers battling hormones and vampire/werewolf love triangles. Renowned movie icon Guillermo del Toro and author Chuck Hogan have built just good old-s... Read More

Princess of the Midnight Ball: The twelve princesses dance again, and again…

Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George

The malevolent King Under Stone cuts not one deal, but two, with the queen of the country of Westfalin: first, that she will be able to have children; second, that Westfalin will be victorious in its battles against other countries. In return, the human queen agrees to spend one night per week dancing with the King Under Stone in his underground kingdom. But the once-human king has an agenda, and supernatural beings have a way of twisting their agreements to find loopholes. The Westfalin queen bears no sons, but has twelve daughters ― not coincidentally, matching the number of half-human sons of the King Under Stone, who plans for his sons to have mortal wives and thus break the king out of his underground bondage.

When the queen dies before fulfilling her bargain, the King Under Stone forces her twelve daughters to finish the contract by secretly coming down to his kingdom and... Read More

Would-Be Witch: 1 ditzy heroine, 2 alpha males

Would-Be Witch by Kimberly Frost

Would-Be Witch (2009) is the first book in Kimberly Frost’s SOUTHERN WITCH paranormal romance series. I picked it up because Tantor Audio has just released its sequel, Barely Bewitched, and offered to send me a copy for review. There are currently five novels in this popular series.

Tammy Jo is a fiery red-head descended from a line of witches. Tammy Jo’s magical powers never developed, so she doesn’t practice witchcraft. She spends her days working as a pastry chef and her nights sleeping with Zach, her gorgeous ex-husband, a good ol’ macho conservative Texas boy who works in law enforcement and doesn’t believe in magic. But one day everything blows up. Tammy gets fired from her job, wrecks her car, and her locket is stolen by ban... Read More

Retribution Falls: Everything I wanted from a tale about sky pirates

Retribution Falls by Chris Wooding

Confession: I love pirates. Stories with pirates in them have captivated me for as long as I can remember (and I’ll blame my family for sitting me in front of such movies as Muppets Treasure Island and The Princess Bride) and continue to bring me great joy. With this in mind, you can imagine how excited I was when I found a pirate story by one of my favourite authors, Chris Wooding. Retribution Falls is everything I could have asked for from a swashbuckling tale: there are old foes, daring escapes, dirty jobs, betrayal, heartbreak, and breathtaking battles. Also, in a fashion I have grown to love, Wooding delivers a myriad of things that I didn’t ask for but absolutely wanted. If it wasn’t already apparent, I loved this story about flying pirates.

Darian Frey... Read More

The Monstrumologist: Genuine Gothic gross-out horror for young adults

The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey

Yes, my dear child, monsters are real. I happen to have one hanging in my basement.

Rick Yancey’s story revolves around Dr. Wathrop who investigates and studies monsters — he’s the Monstrumologist. The setting is late 19th century New England, and the Monstrumologist has taken in Will Henry, the orphan of his former assistant. It’s through this young apprentice’s eyes that Yancey tells his tale of mythological monsters run amuck in pre-industrial Massachusetts. The Monstrumologist is a creepy, gothic, young-adult horror novel, and it’s a fun read.

The doctor is quirky and obsessed – he’d probably be diagnosed with Asperger’s’ Syndrome by modern therapists. He knows his monsters, but he’s not so good with people, and Yancey does a terrific ... Read More

Rising Stars: Compendium (Part One)

Rising Stars: Compendium (Part One) by J. Michael Straczynski

Having just finished Straczynski's Rising Stars, I now have a new comic book to add to my list of favorites.  JMS, as he's known, is the creator of Babylon 5, and he applies his grand world-building skills to this superhero comic. As Neil Gaiman writes in the introduction to Rising Stars, with Babylon 5, JMS did what should have been "impossible," but with Rising Stars he merely did what was "very unlikely." JMS is also the author of The Book of Lost Souls an... Read More

Hearts at Stake: Fluffy young adult paranormal romance

Hearts at Stake by Alyxandra Harvey

Solange Drake is about to turn sixteen and she just wants to be a normal teenager. That’s hard enough when she’s got seven big brothers hovering over her, but what really sucks is that she knows she’s going to die on her birthday. If she’s strong enough to survive the Bloodchange, she’ll return as a powerful vampire — the only female vampire born (not made) in centuries and, according to an ancient prophecy, she’ll be the rightful vampire queen. She doesn’t really want to be queen, but there are plenty of people who are hoping she’ll oust Lady Natasha, the evil pretender.

Solange has lots of support — her seven gorgeous brothers, her powerful parents, several bodyguards, and her best friend Lucy who may not have any supernatural stuff going on, but who’s got enough guts and spunk to hold her own. Solange has enemies, too, of course. Not just Lady Natasha and her evil minions, bu... Read More

Blood Eye: On the Edge

Blood Eye by Giles Kristian

[In our Edge of the Universe column, we review mainstream authors that incorporate elements of speculative fiction into their “literary” work. However you want to label them, we hope you’ll enjoy discussing these books with us.]

Depending on the period being portrayed, historical fiction novels are often too graphic and too depressing for me to enjoy. The Viking era is a popular one for authors, and, until Blood Eye, I have always been unable to get into books set in that period. The difference is that Giles Kristian seems to understand that a story can be more about the characters and less about the fighting without losing the flavor of the era.

Osric is a teenage orphan living in a small English village that is attacked by Norse raiders. The exact how of Osric’s orphanage is something of a mystery, and he has no memories from before he was found by ... Read More

Richard Stark’s Parker: The Hunter

Richard Stark's Parker: The Hunter adapted and illustrated by Darwyn Cooke

The Hunter (Book One), starring Richard Stark’s Parker, by Darwyn Cooke is one of the best graphic adaptations of a novel you could ever get your hands on. The main character is as tough as they come. Women shudder and men cower when Parker passes — even if he’s in a good mood, which is rarely. But wait until he’s in a bad mood. Like in this book. Like when he wants what’s his. And somebody else has got it. If you like crime fiction or noir film, this graphic novel should go at the top of your “to read” list.

Richard Stark is actually the pseudonym for Donald Westlake, a Grand Master of the Mystery Writers of America who has written under a variety of names. His Parker series is about a criminal with almost no redeemable qualities. Westlake’s ability to get us to read about such a character and care at all is one o... Read More

Patient Zero: Like riding The Screaming Eagle

Patient Zero by Jonathan Maberry

The summer I turned 30, I went to Great America with my two sisters and one brother-in-law. We rode the Screaming Eagle rollercoaster, one of those wooden rebuilds of old-time coasters, which (at the time) had the longest drop on the first hill of any rollercoaster in the world. As we reached the top of that hill, my sister turned to me and said, “It’s been nice knowing you.” Sure enough, that first drop about killed me; even worse (or better, depending on your perspective) was the series of corkscrew turns at high speed that came toward the end of the ride. I screamed so much that I completely lost my voice. Of course we rode the thing at least twice more that day. I had a ball.

You’re probably wondering what this story has to do with Patient Zero by Jonathan Maberry. Well, substitute reading this book for riding that rollercoaster. It has all the... Read More

Dragon in Chains: An uncommon fantasy setting

Dragon in Chains by Daniel Fox

Most epic fantasy written in English has its basis in Western culture. While the worlds created in these books are not our world, they are generally recognizable: the use of language is comfortable, the foods are what we or our ancestors ate, the customs are basically familiar. Even mythological creatures look the way we expect them to, so that unicorns have horns and dragons have wings. When there are exceptions to these rules, the author is certain to provide an explanation, and the exception is often integral to the tale.

In recent years, however, the Far East has begun to appear in fantasy more and more often. Daniel Abraham’s LONG PRICE QUARTET, for instance, is set in a vaguely Far Eastern milieu. R. Scott Bakk... Read More

The Walls of the Universe: Nice twist on a familiar premise

The Walls of the Universe by Paul Melko

Paul Melko’s The Walls of the Universe reminds me a bit of the old-style Heinlein/Asimov kind of juveniles: plucky young intelligent male protagonist into science gets himself into lots of scrapes then extricates himself using those sciency smarts (say, to invent or build something), all of which is conveyed in adequate but not particularly memorable prose. It also reminded me a lot of the old TV show Sliders, both in its movement-through-parallel-universes premise (not original to Sliders by any means) and in its TV-like presentation — easily digestible writing, various moments of implausibility, a tendency to have things happen a bit too easily. What redeems the novel somewhat is its use of multiple point-of-view from the “same” person — two parallel versions of the main character, a nicely managed twist on a familiar premise that lifts Th... Read More

Never Cry Werewolf: Short, cute, entertaining

Never Cry Werewolf by Heather Davis

Shelby’s been caught one too many times breaking curfew with a boy. And this time her awful stepmother means business: she decides, and convinces Shelby’s dad, to send Shelby to a summer camp for moneyed but rebellious teens. Brat camp, that is. At least it’s woodsy Camp Crescent and not Red Canyon Ranch — where the kids have to do military boot camp in the desert — but she’s still none too thrilled. At camp she meets Austin Bridges III, who wants her help with something that’s strictly against the rules. She has no intention of getting in trouble with the counselors and possibly getting sent to Red Canyon, but then she learns that Austin’s issues are way stranger than she ever imagined…

Never Cry Werewolf is a YA paranormal tale about, you guessed it, werewolves. It’s nothing earthshaking, but it’s cute and entertaining. It’s really short, at ju... Read More

Secondhand Spirits: A cozy mystery with a magical twist

Secondhand Spirits by Juliet Blackwell

Secondhand Spirits (2009) is the first in the WITCHCRAFT MYSTERIES series by Juliet Blackwell. The series centers on Lily Ivory, a natural witch who has traveled the world looking for a place to belong, and finds it in the eccentric Haight-Ashbury neighborhood in San Francisco. She owns a vintage clothing shop, and her magical abilities help her in her business by allowing her to sense something of the history of a garment and thereby match it with the right customer. In Secondhand Spirits, Lily purchases a hoard of clothing from an old woman, Frances Potts, and soon becomes embroiled in a mystery involving Mrs. Potts, a missing child, and the eerie legend of La Llorona. Lily risks her new-found acceptance and security by using her witchcraft to try to save the day.

Juliet Blackwell has done her re... Read More

Hush, Hush: Would have made a better horror story

Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick

Hush, Hush would be better as a horror novel. It’s the story of Nora, who is sexually harassed in school while her teacher stands by and allows it to happen. Then she learns that several supernatural beings are trying to kill her. There’s no one she can trust, not even her best friend. Becca Fitzpatrick sets all of this against a gloomy, rainy Maine backdrop. Spooky stuff, right? The problem is, it’s not intended primarily as horror but as paranormal romance — and Nora’s love interest, Patch, is both her harasser and one of the people with designs on her life. But more about Patch in a bit.

The beginning of Hush, Hush is inauspicious. It’s unoriginal, for one; it’s that “assigned to work together in class” beginning that Stephenie Meyer pop... Read More

The Dark Divine: Dull

The Dark Divine by Bree Despain

Grace Divine has a nice stable life. She’s the daughter of the local Protestant pastor, her parents are supportive and loving, and she adores her big brother Jude. She’s got a great best friend and she loves studying art at her high school.

Everything is going well until Daniel, Grace’s childhood friend and first crush, moves back to town. Last time she saw him, three years ago, he’d had a fight with Jude, who was his best friend. Jude was badly hurt when Grace found him covered in blood in the front yard. Now Daniel is a different person, no longer the boy she knew, and she can tell there’s something badly wrong. Where has Daniel been? Why did he leave? Why is he back? Jude tells Grace to stay away from Daniel, but Grace just wants to help him.

I don’t read many YA paranormal romances; they’re just not my thing because they focus on teenage relationships — something I... Read More

Sixty-One Nails: There is a fine novella hiding inside

Sixty-One Nails by Mike Shevdon

You know it’s going to be a bad day when, first thing, someone steps in front of a moving subway train right next to you; and next, when you have a major fight with your ex-wife about your daughter, it’s hard to believe things will get any better. When the third thing that happens is you have a heart attack and die, it can’t really get any worse, can it?

But maybe it can get better. Maybe you can come back to life with the aid of a passerby. Things might get confusing in the immediate aftermath — why is the old lady who came to your aid so intent on making sure you don’t get to a hospital? How did she manage to transport you from the back of an ambulance to a grassy plain and back again? And why is she calling you “Rabbit”?

It must be hard, after decades of a normal life, to find that you are not entirely human. When you get that information on top of the morning you’v... Read More

I Am Not A Serial Killer: This one sticks with you

I Am Not A Serial Killer by Dan Wells

First novels by new authors are like surprise packages that come in the mail: you don’t know what you’ll find inside, not really, even if there was advance hype. Sometimes you find something so unappealing you wonder that anyone could have thought it was for you. Other times you get a teenaged sociopath who’s fighting hard not to become a serial killer despite his deep-seated wish to create dead bodies, and then you know you’ve got Dan Wells’s I Am Not A Serial Killer.

This funny, sad, scary novel stars John Wayne Cleaver, who notes himself that his name seems to be made for a serial killer: John Wayne, the first two names of John Wayne Gacy, who raped and killed at least 33 young men and boys in Chicago during the 1970s, and cleaver, a potential murder weapon. Never mind that he was actually named for a western movie star; this fee... Read More

Child of Fire: Urban fantasies of a different flavor

Child of Fire by Harry Connolly

Ray Lilly works for Annalise Powliss, a sort of enforcer among sorcerers, and he’s terrified of her. She wants to kill him, but she’s been forbidden to, and so is forced to settle for using him as a chauffeur and hired hand in all things magical and mundane.

On their first outing, they work together to help a family whose child has just spontaneously combusted before their eyes, ultimately dissolving into a mass of fat, wriggling, silver-gray worms. But the family doesn’t want their help; they’ve forgotten their son ever existed, even while still within view of the black scorch mark left behind when he caught fire.

And all this happens within the first ten pages of Harry Connolly’s Child of Fire, the first in a series of urban fantasies known collectively as the TWENTY PALACES series. There are three novels publishe... Read More

Indigo Springs: A different approach to fantasy

Indigo Springs by A.M. Dellamonica

Indigo Springs is the first novel by A.M. Dellamonica, who has been publishing short fiction for nearly two decades. It shows the skill of someone who has long practiced in making words do what she wants them to do, and also the inexperience of a first-time novelist who has a great idea but doesn’t exactly know how to execute it. It’s a terrific story with new ideas and a unique magic system that works. With a stronger structure and a more coherent ending, Indigo Springs would have been a contender for major prizes. As it stands, it is fun to read and offers great promise of even better work to come.

The story is told mostly in flashbacks, a tale told by a prisoner to a law enforcement agent who has been tasked with finding out where the prisoner’s dangerous friend might be and what can be done to stop her. The agent, Will... Read More