2011.01


Leviathan Wakes: Action-packed space opera that transcends the genre

Reposting to include Justin's new review.

Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey

FORMAT/INFO: Leviathan Wakes is 592 pages long divided over a Prologue, 55 chapters and an Epilogue. Extras include an interview with the author and an extract from Caliban’s War, the second book in The Expanse series. Narration is in the third person, alternating between Executive Officer James Holden and Detective Miller, except for the Prologue (Julie) and Epilogue (Fred). Leviathan Wakes is mostly self-contained, coming to a satisfying stopping point, but the book is the opening volume in The Expanse series. June 2, 2011/June 15, 2011 marks the UK/North American Trade P... Read More

B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth (Vol. 1): New World: Abe Sapien Tackles Monsters with an Old Friend from the B.P.R.D.

B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth (Vol. 1): New World by Mike Mignola (writer), John Arcudi (writer), Guy Davis (artist), Dave Stewart (colorist), and Clem Robins (letterer).

This volume jumps back and forth between Abe out in the field and what is going on at the B.P.R.D. base back in Colorado. At the base, Kate is trying to manage all the teams in the field, Johann is still obsessed with the possibility of getting another body so he can feel physical sensations again, and Devon is assigned his own mission in France. Meanwhile, come-to-life mummy Panya seems to be manipulating creatures on the base for her own secret purposes.

Out in the field, Abe tracks down an old friend and fellow-agent who went missing in previous B.P.R.D. volumes. The two of them work together to figure out what mysterious creature is haunting the woods and what connection it might have to the large number of disappearances in a nearby small town. At the center of the... Read More

Midnight Riot: A blast from start to finish

Reposting to include Marion's new review.

Midnight Riot (aka Rivers of London in the UK) by Ben Aaronovitch

Peter Grant is a constable-in-training in London’s police force. At the end of his probation period, it looks like he’s in line for a long career of boring desk work in the Case Progression Unit, but that all changes when he draws the luckless duty of guarding a crime scene overnight where, earlier that day, a headless body was found lying on the street. While Peter is freezing his heels off in the cold London night, he is approached by possibly the crime’s only witness — who also happens to be a ghost…

Peter is swiftly recruited into a secret department that focuses on the supernatural and magical, and apprenticed to the mysterious Thomas Nightingale, the leader and only other active member in this centuries-old department. Peter begins the long process of learning... Read More

Akata Witch: An exciting, imaginative, and heart-warming story

Reposting to include Kelly's new review.

Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor

Sunny Nwazue, an albino who needs to stay out of the sun, has always been different from the other kids in her school. When her family returned to Nigeria after living in the United States for most of Sunny’s childhood, she never quite found her place. Her strangeness becomes even more obvious when she sees a vision showing what appears to be scenes from the end of the world.

When Sunny finally makes a few friends, she begins to realize there's a reason for her strangeness, and that she's not the only weird kid in town. She finds out that she belongs to the Leopard People, an ancient bloodline that endows its descendants with various magical abilities. As Sunny is initiated into this new family, she learns that she and her friends are part of a prophecy related to her frightening apocalyptic vision. Without much knowledge or skills, Su... Read More

Wearing the Cape: Good fun, but pulls punches


Wearing the Cape
by Marion G. Harmon

Prose fiction has often seemed to have trouble dealing with the figure of the superhero. While the subgenre can boast many excellent graphic novels, and film and television adaptations have been successful, it has never really found its voice in a less visual medium. There have been some notable successes, but it feels as though the breakout work has yet to be written. Wearing the Cape (2011) is a pretty good try, though it does have its flaws.

First, though, let's talk about the fun central premise. As is standard for postmodern superhero stories, some sort of cataclysmic Event has taken place that has given a random segment of the population super powers. No one seems to know exactly how this has happened, and it ultimately doesn't much matter — comic books have come to life overnight, and so the result is far more engaging than the cause. Author Ma... Read More

Anna Dressed in Blood: A unique start to a YA horror series

Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake

I usually struggle a bit with young adult books, however, Kendare Blake’s Anna Dressed in Blood (2011) was a book I was really excited to see in my mailbox. First of all, the title is catchy and so is the cover. But it was the idea that really caught me — a teenage boy falling for a serial killer ghost. Interesting. How on earth could an author turn something like that into a book geared toward teens?

Blake does a great job at creating a world that is both familiar and different for readers to immerse themselves in. Cas, the protagonist, moves around the country (violently) sending the ghosts that linger into the beyond. The world itself is familiar, because it’s our world. However, Blake adds a nice layer of supernatural to things with Cas’ Wiccan mother and Cas himself, who can see and talk to ghosts. The normal and supernatura... Read More

Warm Bodies: Romeo and Juliet and zombies

Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion

In Warm Bodies (2010), our world has been overrun by the zombies, and the few humans who are left are fighting a rearguard action. They huddle in walled enclosures, sending out occasional armed expeditions for food and supplies. Regular school classes have fallen by the wayside, replaced by classes and demonstrations on how to best kill a zombie permanently (head shots).

R is a zombie who doesn’t remember his past life, except that his name maybe started with the letter R. He can speak a few syllables, more than most of his zombie companions, and think complex thoughts that his tongue can’t share. R and hundreds of other zombies live in an abandoned airport, going on group hunts to the city to try to find food, in the form of humans. When they eat the brains of the Living, they experience fragments of the human’s memories, and it energizes them.

R and his f... Read More

That Which Should Not Be: Heavy mythological Lovecraftian horror

That Which Should Not Be by Brett Talley

That Which Should Not Be is a dark and moody book, fit for a cold autumn or winter evening in front of a crackling, smoky fire. The writing style reeks of HP Lovecraft, but also of Bram Stoker. This is not surprising, of course, as the novel is an ode to Lovecraft’s pantheon and theme of elder gods. This is Brett Talley’s first novel, but he nails the voice and tone of late 19th/early 20th century fiction.
One can never truly know when he steps outside his door whether today will be a day that passes without consequence, or if it will be one that changes everything.
A student from Lovecraft’s famed Miskatonic University is hunting for a lost book of ancient renown. It’s not the well-known Necronomicon, but rather a companion piece to HP’s much discussed fictional tome.... Read More

The Walking Dead, Vol. 1: Days Gone Bye

The Walking Dead, Volume 1: Days Gone Bye by Robert Kirkman & Tony Moore

In his introduction to The Walking Dead, Robert Kirkman explains that the best zombie stories feature waves of blood but also come with strong undercurrents of social commentary. If the back of this graphic novel is to be believed, Kirkman will explore how “in a world ruled by the dead, we are forced to finally start living.”

Kirkman mentions George Romero’s zombie movies in his introduction, but his take on the zombie is more than homage to Romero’s movies. While Romero’s zombies often satirize our consumer culture, Kirkman’s undead are presented in contrast to our complacent “lifestyles.” The walking dead literally hunger for life, while most of Kirkman’s readers, it seems, merely endure it.

So it is no surprise that “Days Gone Bye,” the first story in The Walki... Read More

Tuesdays at the Castle: I wish I could have read this when I was twelve

Tuesdays at the Castle by Jessica Day George

Though I enjoy some young adult fiction, I don't read many middle grade books at this point in my life unless my 12 year old really twists my arm. But the idea behind Tuesdays at the Castle by Jessica Day George (2011) just sounded so fun that I couldn't resist when I saw it on the library shelf. Its pages were waving to me, I swear!

Eleven year old Princess Celie and her royal family live in Castle Glower, which has a life and sometimes quirky opinions of its own and takes an interest in the affairs of the kingdom. Rooms and corridors appear and disappear, or move from one part of the castle to another, or grow or shrink depending on whether the person staying in the room is favored by the castle or not. Castle Glower also takes an active role in choosing the next ruler: the current ... Read More

The Pilgrims and Shadow: A solid opener followed by a more flat and meandering bridge book

The Pilgrims and Shadow by Will Elliott

The Pilgrims and Shadow by Will Elliott are the first two books of the PENDULUM TRILOGY. I read The Pilgrims while on a long trip last year, and so never wrote up a review (camping and hiking not being conducive to such activity). Which means this dual review will focus heavily detail-wise on Shadow while making reference to the first book based on some fuzzy recollection, some quick skimming to refresh, and an old hand-scrawled note or two in the margin I may or may not have deciphered correctly.

The Pilgrims introduces us to Eric Albright, and young and not-particularly-upcoming journalist, and Stuart Casey (“Case”), a homeless alcoholic, who in short order find their way via an odd red door into th... Read More

The Quantum Thief: Unique and interesting, sometimes confusing

The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi

As an avid fan of high/epic/military fantasy, I generally don’t find myself reading much sci-fi. That said, The Quantum Thief has definitely convinced me that I should insert some more space opera into my to-read shelf. On the whole, The Quantum Thief turned out to be a highly promising novel that leaves me wanting more. The premise of the book is interesting, and the setting has some fantastical elements that feel delightfully unique. Furthermore, the storyline was highly engaging and suspense kept pulling me on throughout the novel, while the prose is adequate, if not particularly spectacular. However, The Quantum Thief has a few weaknesses that prevent me from loving it.

The first book of the JEAN LE FLAMBEUR series, The Quantum Thief is Hannu Rajaniemi’s Read More

The Immortals of Meluha: The best part is the unusual setting

The Immortals of Meluha by Amish Tripathi

The Immortals of Meluha, by Amish Tripathi, is the first of a trilogy set in ancient (about 1900 B.C.) India detailing the conflict between the Meluha empire (the Suryavanshi) and their sworn enemies , the Chandravanshis, who seem to have allied themselves with the horrid demon-like Nagas. What gives the hugely outnumbered Meluha hope is their vastly superior technology (including a special cocktail that greatly extends life) and the arrival of the prophesied “Neelkanth,” in the form of a young man named Shiva.

That last name should indicate to you that we’re working in the milieu of myth here, and demons and gods make some brief appearances throughout. The focus is on Shiva becoming acclimated to the idea that he is “the one” once he’s found and brought back (the Meluhas have been searching for the prophesied one systematically, knowi... Read More

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children: Packaged well

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Ransom Riggs went to film school, made some award-winning short films, and did travel writing and photography before he published Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, his first novel. This young adult fantasy novel uses a number of strange old photographs Riggs either found or borrowed from several collections, and the photos are interspersed with the text. It’s an interesting presentation that adds a lot to the reading experience.

The book has already been optioned by Twentieth Century Fox, and no wonder, since is it the most movie-ready book I’ve read in recent memory.

Jacob Portman grew up hearing stories from his grandfather about a place on a Welsh island. Grandfather Abe was sent there from Poland as a child during World War II. Abe regales Jake with tales of children who can float, a guardian w... Read More

7th Sigma: Who doesn’t want to read about giant metal-eating bugs?

7th Sigma by Steven Gould

One thing I really love about accepting review copies of books is that I end up reading stuff I never would have read otherwise. It really opens my eyes up to new authors, or authors that I should have read and heard of long ago. One of these authors is Steven Gould, who, after further investigation, I discovered is well known for a 1992 novel called Jumper. Well, I got 7th Sigma in the mail and realized that it was about giant metal-eating bugs and I knew I had to read it. Hey, who doesn’t want to read about giant metal-eating bugs?

7th Sigma takes place in the southwest United States, which was mysteriously overrun by metal-eating bugs. Most people have fled the territory, living in safe locations. However, some individuals remain in the southwest. These people are mostly hard-as-nails settlers who refuse to give up their la... Read More

The Ghosts of Watt O’Hugh: A Western fantasy

The Ghosts of Watt O'Hugh by Steven S. Drachman

I confess to having mixed feelings when I was done with The Ghosts of Watt O’Hugh, by Steven S. Drachman, but the book’s relative brevity, strong finish, and the fact that its sequel, Watt O’Hugh Underground, was an improvement, means in the end I feel OK in recommending it, with a few caveats.

The cover will tell you right away we’re in Western world, with its neckerchiefed, gun-toting, cowboy-boot-wearing hero with the square jaw dodging a bullet, all of it drawn in that classic comic book Western style a la Kid Colt: Outlaw or Western Bandit. That’s Watt himself, and he’s clear Western material — with his self-told “yarn,” his “shootist” skill and cattle drive experience. The hints that this is more than a simple Western though come early in the way that Watt address his 21st century readers in ways that mak... Read More

After the Golden Age: The perils of being human

After the Golden Age by Carrie Vaughn

After the Golden Age, by Carrie Vaughn, is a likable enough novel that takes the world of comic book superheroes and filters it through a more realistic prism, focusing more on a family and character, with the usual superhero action scenes playing more in the background. Unfortunately, what could have been a truly fun read is marred by issues of weak plotting and characterization, making After the Golden Age a somewhat pallid and on balance a slightly disappointing novel. One’s disappointment, however, can be tempered a bit by the knowledge that her follow-up, Dreams of the Golden Age, is more successful even if it suffers (less frequently and less intensely) from a few of the same issues.

Celia West would seem to have won the life lottery, having been born into the richest and most powerful family in Commerce City. Even better, her parents, Warren a... Read More

Super Dinosaur (Volume 1) by Robert Kirkman

Super Dinosaur (Vol. 1) by Robert Kirkman (writer) and Jason Howard (artist)

Super Dinosaur is a fun, fast read for kids. I bought this one for my eight-year-old son, and he devoured it in only two sittings. He took breaks only to run over to me to show me his favorite pictures and dialogue. Though the book is no work of genius for kids — as is Bone by Jeff Smith — it certainly reaches its intended audience. Robert Kirkman — author of The Walking Dead, the horror comic books on which the TV show is based — clearly wanted to write for a younger audience, and he succeeds with this first volume of Supe... Read More

Equations of Life: A reheated mish-mash

Equations of Life by Simon Morden

I picked up Equations of Life, the first novel in Simon Morden’s SAMUIL PETROVITCH series, after receiving a copy of his latest novel The Curve of the Earth for review. The new novel is the fourth one set in the series, but it came billed as a good point to get started if you missed the first three books, which form a trilogy of sorts. Still, being somewhat obsessive about these things, I decided to go back and read the first book rather than jump in at The Curve of the Earth.

Alas. After reading Equations of Life, I’m not sure if I’m interested in reading the rest. It’s not that this is a bad book per se. It’s just that it didn’t really offer me anything I haven’t seen elsewhere before.

The best part of Equations of Life is its main character Samuil Petrovitch, a young, brilliant Russian who fl... Read More

A World Without Heroes: Appealing characters, imaginative world

A World Without Heroes by Brandon Mull

Jason Walker, an eighth grader, was having a fairly normal day — playing baseball with his friends and working at the zoo — until he heard music coming from the hippopotamus tank. When he leaned over the rail to listen more closely, he fell in and was swallowed by the hippo. Instead of ending up in the hippo’s digestive tract, though, he ended up in a parallel universe named Lyrian. Rachel Woodford, a smart home-schooled girl around Jason’s age, was on vacation with her parents in Bryce Canyon when she followed a strange butterfly through a stone arch and ended up in Lyrian, too.

Jason and Rachel quickly meet up in this strange world and discover that they are not the first “Beyonders” to visit the place, but Beyonders have been rare since the evil emperor Maldor came to the throne. Maldor has horded all magic knowledge and is using it to terrorize his citizens. For Jason and Rachel to be abl... Read More

A Touch Mortal: Did Not Finish

A Touch Mortal by Leah Clifford

Full disclosure: I didn't finish this book. I didn't even get that far in. But I'm a firm believer that life's too short to read bad books. A Touch Mortal hit one of my biggest peeves about YA paranormal romance, and it hit it really quickly.

It starts out with what could be an interesting premise: teenage Eden is somehow slipping from the minds of everyone around her, and doesn't know why her friends and family are ignoring her. She's depressed about this and contemplating suicide when she meets two young men on the beach. One of them picks her up with some cheesy lines, and we're off to the Insta-love Races.

In this case, it's not even exactly insta-love, but love that is almost entirely developed offscreen. Eden and Az have one date, then the narrative jumps ahead two weeks for some reason, and now they're in love. Eden is young and inexperienced, so I sor... Read More

Lightbringer: Refreshing YA

Lightbringer by K.D. McEntire

I’ve been on a young adult kick recently, which is odd for me because I tend to not enjoy young adult books. I’ve lucked out, though. I’ve actually been enjoying the recent flood of young adult books that have come my direction. It’s been a refreshing change of pace from my usual reading routine. Lightbringer is one of those young adult books I didn’t expect to enjoy, but ended up appreciating more than I anticipated.

Lightbringer takes place both in our world and in a parallel world called The Never. This parallel world is a place where life and death exist together. Readers will have a little terminology to grasp (for example, the terms used to describe the dead like Rider, Walker, Lost and Shade), and The Never does take a little time getting used to. But once the reader is familiar with the rules that govern this world, it becomes obvio... Read More

Phoenix Rising: Lots of rivets, studs and leather

Phoenix Rising by Pip Ballantine & Tee Morris

Wellington Books and Eliza Braun are agents in the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences, taking on the uncanny in the name of Queen and country. Agent Books is a straitlaced archivist — don’t call him a librarian — who enjoys mechanical tinkering and his peaceful job among the Ministry’s old files. Agent Braun is an outspoken New Zealand transplant who loves to blow things up. At the beginning of Phoenix Rising, the two agents land themselves in the doghouse with the Ministry and are assigned to work together. The unlikely partners then discover a new lead in a cold case that left Braun’s former partner institutionalized in Bedlam. An evil secret society is on the rise, and only Books and Braun can thwart their dastardly plans.

Phoenix Rising is one of those steampunk novels that’s not too serious. Pip Bal... Read More

Broken Blade: A fun little fantasy novel

Broken Blade by Kelly McCullough

Broken Blade, the first book in Kelly McCullough's FALLEN BLADE series is a fun little fantasy novel. I picked it up as something to fill in space between “serious” series. In that role, Broken Blade exceeded my expectations because it was refreshingly simple and interesting all in one.

In the City of Tien we are introduced to Aral. As member of a cult of assassins, called Blades, Aral was a rising star with great promise and great skills. Sadly, Aral's Goddess, Namara, is killed by other religious zealots and his order hunted down as outlaws. Aral is left bereft of the fellowship of his fellow Blades and the unwavering conviction of serving Namara. He falls into the depths of despair and becomes a simple sword-for-hire.

The story follows Aral as he accepts the mission to help right a wrong and ... Read More

Dragon Mound: Solid but slow

Dragon Mound by Richard Knaak

Dragon Mound, Richard Knaak's first installment in the KNIGHT IN SHADOW trilogy, chronicles Evan Wytherling's confrontation with long time enemies as he seeks to end his seemingly endless quest.

Evan has been a part of momentous war, nations fighting against nations with magic, dragons and knights all vying on behalf of two master wizards for control of the nation of Rundin. The final battle in that war took place hundreds of years ago, and Evan has been on the road even since. He is worn down, like an old belt that has been tightened so often that the leather has been stretched out of its normal shape and bears permanent marks where the buckle latches on.

In Pretor's Hill, Mardi is an unusually intelligent, educated young woman with ideas, dreams and hopes that don't necessarily match up with those of her uncle and the rest of... Read More