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The Final Girl Support Group: Good thriller if you are adept at suspending disbelief

The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix

The title of Grady Hendrix’s 2021 novel might make you think it’s a horror story in the slasher-movie style, and there are plenty of nods to horror here. Actually, the book is a thriller, and as a thriller it works pretty well. Hendrix intersperses the thriller with some dark, zany humor, trauma-fueled angst, and toxic sisterhood rants, but the story’s at its best when our main character, Lynette, is on the run from, well, everybody.

The Final Girl Support Group opens with Lynette preparing to attend that very group. Lynette has turned her LA slum-neighborhood apartment into a bunker. She does self-defense drills before setting out, hyper-vigilant, to attend the group she participates in every week with five other women, all in their late thirties, who survived not one but two bl... Read More

The Ecologic Envoy: A new generation of Ecolitans

The Ecologic Envoy by L.E. Modesitt Jr

The Ecologic Envoy (1986) was the first novel published in L.E. Modesitt Jr’s THE ECOLITAN MATTER quartet but, according to the series’ internal chronology, it comes third, after The Ecolitan Operation (1989) and The Ecologic Secession (1990). You don’t need to read those two novels first because The Ecologic Envoy and its sequel, The Ecolitan Enigma, are set a few hundred years later and feature a completely different set of characters.

Our hero, though, is a direct descendant of JimJoy Earle Wright, the protagonist of t... Read More

The Ecologic Secession: JimJoy takes on the Empire

The Ecologic Secession by L.E. Modesitt Jr

The Ecologic Secession (1990) is the second novel (according to internal chronology) in L.E. Modesitt Jr’s THE ECOLITAN MATTER quartet. In the first book, The Ecolitan Operation (for which there will be a few spoilers in this review), we met Major JimJoy Wright. He used to be the Empire’s best secret agent, but after they tried to assassinate him, he switched sides.

Now, after faking his death and being given a new identity, he’s a professor at the Ecolitan Institute, a think-tank on the planet Accord that opposes the Empire and is plotting a revolution.

The Ecolitans are glad to have JimJoy’s allegiance and service, though they’re not sure what to m... Read More

Night Shift Dragons: An entertaining finale

Night Shift Dragons by Rachel Aaron

Rachel Aaron’s DFZ (DETROIT FREE ZONE) series comes to a conclusion with the third novel, published in 2020, Night Shift Dragons. For this review, I’ll assume you’ve already read its predecessors, Minimum Wage Magic and Part-Time Gods. (There will be spoilers for those books in this review.)

The story begins right where Part-Time Gods left off. In that novel, we watched Opal suffering under the authoritarian maneuvers of her father, the powerful Dragon of Korea. He put a bad-luck curse on Opal to try to force her to leave the DFZ and return to No... Read More

The Extractionist: Enjoyable, left me wanting more

The Extractionist by Kimberly Unger

With The Extractionist, Kimberly Unger presents a pretty typical futuristic-internet-cybersetting-with-a-name background (in this case the cyberverse is called “the Swim”), but enhances the familiar setting with an original spin — a class of workers called Extractionists whose job it is to rescue people who get “stuck” in the Swim by reconnecting their Swim persona and their real-world body.

I loved the idea, and mostly loved its embodiment in Eliza McKay, the book’s protagonist, but felt the story could have been executed better.

McKay’s job is actually a fall-back position she takes on after she was banned from the high-level nanotech research she really wants to do (the reason for her being “burned” is gradually revealed).

Extracting is part engineering / tech know-how and part art, and McKay is good at both aspects, he... Read More

Walk the Vanished Earth: A debut with great potential

Walk the Vanished Earth by Erin Swan

Walk the Vanished Earth by Erin Swan is a debut novel with great potential in its underlying premise, structure, and characters, but while the story does at times rise to meet that potential, it does so unevenly and by the end, for me at least, unsatisfactorily.

The story opens at the close of a buffalo hunt in the Kansas prairie in 1873, with a young Irishman named Samson doing the last bit of work amidst the bloody carnage and recalling the harsh life that led them here and making plans for the better one he hopes to forge for himself: “In this New World, he told himself, he would be a new man.”

From there, the narrative leaps forward in time to 2073 and outward in space to Mars and a young girl named Moon who has spent much of her remembered life traversing the Marscape with Uncle One and Uncle Two, a pair of beings that are clear... Read More

Payback’s a Witch: A fizzy paranormal rom-com

Payback’s a Witch by Lana Harper

In 2021’s effervescent Payback’s a Witch, the stakes are low, hearts are worn on people’s sleeves, and love is the answer. (Note: No hearts are literally outside the body in this book.) Lana Harper, who writes YA fantasy as Lana Popovic, enters the world of adult paranormal romantic comedy with a story of two modern witches who plot to win a magical tournament while navigating the rocky path of their increasing mutual attraction.

A few hundred years ago, four magicians founded the town of Thistle Grove. Three of them, Avramov, Blackmoore, and Thorn, had powerful magic. The fourth, the actual founder of the town, Elias Harlow, was a far weaker magician. Since the founding, the four families have presided over the magical town. Every fifty years they hold an event called the Gauntlet, and the sci... Read More

The Dragon Republic: For fans of grimdark

The Dragon Republic by R.F. Kuang

As a rule, I don’t like grimdark, and I don’t read grimdark. R.F. Kuang’s debut novel The Poppy War was an exception. It impressed me, mostly for the way she wove the historical wars between China and Japan into her fully fleshed-out fantasy world. Based on my liking of the first book, I read 2019’s The Dragon Republic, Book Two in THE POPPY WAR series. Sadly, with the second book I was reminded of why I don’t like grimdark.

So why did I read it? See above: Because the first one lured me in.

In Book One, we met Fang Runin, who goes by Rin. Rin is an orphan, a woman, darker-skinned than the aristocratic northerners, and raised in the south, the poorer part of the Nikara Empire. Rin is unvalued and dismissed, but through determination and s... Read More

Part-Time Gods: Another adventure in the DFZ

Part-Time Gods by Rachel Aaron

Part-Time Gods (2019) is the second book in Rachel Aaron’s DFZ (DETROIT FREE ZONE) series which is a spin-off of her HEARTSTRIKERS saga. You don’t need to read HEARTSTRIKERS first, but you’ll want to read the first book in the DFZ series, Minimum Wage Magic, before picking up Part-Time Gods.

After successfully solving a mystery and surviving the danger in Minimum Wage Magic, Opal and Nik have decided they work well together, so they’ve teamed up on their cleaning efforts. Each of them is so skillful that, under normal circumstances, they’d be raking it in.
... Read More

The Land that Time Forgot: Fun pulpy adventure

Reposting to include Sandy's new review.

The Land that Time Forgot by Edgar Rice Burroughs

You gotta love Edgar Rice Burroughs. He underperformed in life until, as a pencil sharpener salesman who spent his free time reading pulp magazines, he figured he could be paid to write “rot” at least as good as the “rot” he read in the pulps. And thus started the illustrious career of the man who brought us Tarzan, John Carter, and David Innes... And who inspired a generation of fantasy and science fiction writers.

The Land that Time Forgot, a lost world story set during World War I, is the first in Burroughs’ CASPAK trilogy. It was originally serialized in Blue Book Magazine in the fall of 1918 and then published as a novel in 1924.

Bowen Tyler is on a boat that’s torpedoed and sunk by the Germans. He saves a beautiful drowning young wom... Read More

Destiny of the Dead: Engaging enough

Destiny of the Dead by Kel Kade

My review of Kel Kade’s Fate of the Fallen, first in their SHROUD OF PROPHECY series, called the novel “an enjoyable if meandering invitation despite some issues.” Kade is back now with book two, Destiny of the Dead, which is similarly meandering and, honestly, a little less enjoyable, though enough of the stronger aspects remain so that I’ll still continue on to the third book. Possible spoilers for book one to follow.

The conflict among the gods continues to play out in the world of our characters, with some of the gods, particularly Axus, God of Death, eager to cleanse the world of humanity, others trying to stop it, and other either not yet sure or keeping their cards close to their... Read More

Tripping Arcadia: Kit Mayquist is a writer to watch

Tripping Arcadia by Kit Mayquist

The cover of 2022’s Tripping Arcadia reads, “A Gothic Novel,” and the book certainly meets that definition. Lena, our brooding first-person narrator, warns us on the first few pages that she’s “confessing,” and her story drips with confusion, secrets, hidden pain, sexual longing, shadows, and death.

This book is filled with things I loved; plants, herbal poisons, interrupted conversations that seethe with secrets, an old, creepy mansion; secret passages, old books, a beautiful young man hellbent on self-destruction, dangerous parties, crushes that reveal themselves in yearning moments of physical descriptions of skin, lips and body heat. Mayquist nails the gothic tone nearly perfectly. The book doesn’t scream “gothic,” it speaks the word in a hoarse whisper from behind a bottle of blood-red wine.

The plot doesn’t satisfy as much as the pr... Read More

The Kaiju Preservation Society: A fun read for most of it before taking a bit of a dip

The Kaiju Preservation Society by John Scalzi

In his Afterword, John Scalzi explains that his newest book, The Kaiju Preservation Society (2022), took the place of another he struggled to finish during these awful times we’ve lived through these past few years. This one, he says, is not “with absolutely no slight intended, a brooding symphony … [but] a pop song … light and catchy … for you to sing along with, and then you’re done, and you go on with your day.” And he’s mostly not wrong, though I might quibble a bit if I continue the metaphor, noting on the good side, for instance, that while it doesn’t brood, it does occasionally bite. And adding on the not-so-good side that one “sings along” because the pop song has lodged in one’s memory, and I’m pretty sure this book won’t do that.

I migh... Read More

The Amber Crown: Strong main-character work, but weak plot

The Amber Crown by Jacey Bedford

The Amber Crown (2022), by Jacey Bedford, contains several elements that tend to have me leaning away rather than into a book, including rape, implied rape, threatened rape, and some torture/horrid executions. I mention them upfront for the convenience of those who can tell already the book isn’t for them and so will stop reading the review now (I should note they aren’t egregiously gratuitous, mined for trauma [as characterization] rather than titillation; the book is far from torture porn). For those for whom those are not dealbreakers, Bedford delivers a solid work set against an interesting quasi-historical background but with a plot I found far less engaging than the characters. In the end, I can’t say the book’s strengths fully outweighed its weaknesses or my distaste for some of those aforementioned scenes, though one’s mileage will vary on that.

The book seems to ... Read More

Flight in Yiktor: Introduces a compelling new protagonist

Flight in Yiktor by Andre Norton

Flight in Yiktor (1986) is the third novel in Andre Norton’s MOONSINGER series. It’s bundled with the fourth novel, Dare to Go A-Hunting, in an omnibus edition titled Moonsinger’s Quest which was published by Baen in 2013 and, in audio format, by Tantor Media in 2021. It’s not necessary to read the first two novels, Moon of Three Rings and Exiles of the Stars, which you can find in the Moonsinger omnibus, also published by Baen and Tantor, but it would be helpful. I’m enjoying Tantor’s audiobook editi... Read More

The Wheel of Time: The wheel spins a little too slowly

The Wheel of Time on Amazon Prime

Let’s face it, this is a Big One for sci-fi/fantasy fans. The first three episodes of The Wheel of Time dropped on Amazon Prime, and I promptly watched all three. In the spirit of full transparency, let me say that while I quite enjoyed Robert Jordan’s first three books, I felt the series started to decline at that point and kept going south, such that my final word on the series (which I did finish in masochistic fashion) was that I wouldn’t recommend the time investment to anyone thinking about starting it. So why watch the show? My hope is that it greatly streamlines a heavily bloated series, cleans up the many gender issues, and gets rid of all the writerly tics (if I never see a braid get “tugged” I’ll nominate the show for an Emmy). I can’t tell yet if that’ll be the case, but here are my thoughts so far.

I’ll... Read More

Exiles of the Stars: Krip and Maelen meet some body snatchers

Exiles of the Stars by Andre Norton

Exiles of the Stars (1971) is the second novel in Andre Norton’s MOONSINGER or MOON MAGIC series and a direct sequel to the first book, Moon of Three Rings (1966). These two novels have been combined into an omnibus edition called Moonsinger which was published in print in 2013 by Baen books and in audio format this year by Tantor Audio. The narrators of the audio edition, Chris Abernathy and Chelsea Stephens, are well-cast. They give an excellent performance. I recommend this edition but, in whatever format you read them, make sure to read Moon of Three Rings first. There will be some spoilers for that novel in this review.
... Read More

Moon of Three Rings: A promising start to the MOONSINGER saga

Moon of Three Rings by Andre Norton

Krip Vorlund, an assistant cargo master on a trade ship, is visiting a beast show with some of his crewmates on a frontier planet called Yiktor. There he meets a woman named Maelen who takes care of the little furry creatures that perform in the show. It’s obvious that she controls them, yet they seem more like children than slaves. In fact, when a messenger arrives and tells her that a man is abusing a creature somewhere in the town, she gets angry and goes to intervene.

Krip, concerned about the beautiful young woman’s safety, accompanies Maelen and promptly gets in trouble when he uses an illegal weapon to protect her. Then he finds out that he had actually been unknowingly lured to the beast show by a political faction on Yiktor that wants to get their hands on his off-world weapons. They were forcing Maelen to entice Krip, threatening to out her as a moonsinger if she doesn’t comply. ... Read More

A Tale of Two Castles: Charming but not completely satisfying

A Tale of Two Castles by Gail Carson Levine

12-year-old Elodie is leaving her rural home and traveling to the city of Two Castles where her family expects her to be apprenticed to a weaver for ten years. But there are two things Elodie’s family doesn’t know. One is that Elodie has no intention of being apprenticed to a weaver. Instead, she wants to be a mansioner, which is basically an actor. (Her parents wouldn’t approve of this career.) The second thing that Elodie and her parents don’t know is that there are no more ten-year apprenticeships offered in the city of Two Castles. Instead, apprentices must pay to be trained. So, Elodie, who has no way to contact her parents, has landed in the big city with no job, no place to stay, and no prospects.

At first, Two Castles is overwhelming with all its fascinating new sights. As soon as she steps off the boat, Elodie meets a dragon, an ogre, and a cat that steals her m... Read More

Lights of Prague: I wasn’t the audience for this one

The Lights of Prague by Nicole Jarvis

The Lights of Prague (2021) is Nicole Jarvis’s first novel. It’s set in 1868 Prague, filled with pijavica* — vampires — and other magical creatures. Fighting the pijavica are the lamplighters, whose cover job is to go around lighting the new gas streetlamps in the city. Domek Myska is a lamplighter, apprenticed to an irascible alchemist. Lady Ora Fischerova is a widowed noblewoman with a secret, who has started up a flirtation with Domek. A bold and terrible plan hatched by an upstart nest of vampires threatens them and the entire city.

At first glance, a story like this should be right up my street. Lovely prose, detailed history and descriptions of Prague helped, but ultimately, flattened characters and a predictable plot made this book a disappointment.

The most beguiling character of the book is Kaja, an imprisoned will o’... Read More

The House in the Cerulean Sea: A heartwarming fable of love and acceptance

The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune 

You’re a second-class citizen, viewed with suspicion if you have magical powers in TJ Klune’s The House in the Cerulean Sea (2020). Magical children are confined to orphanages that are overseen by the rigid bureaucracy of the Department in Charge of Magical Youth (DICOMY). One of DICOMY’s most diligent, rule-abiding caseworkers is 40-year-old Linus Baker, a pudgy and — though he barely admits it to himself — deeply unhappy gay caseworker who lives in a lonely apartment in a city where it’s always raining and overcast.

One day Linus receives a special, top secret assignment from DICOMY’s Extremely Upper Management: travel to an island orphanage for a month to investigate an orphanage of six children who are particularly uncommon in their magical aspects, as well as the orphanage’s master, Arthur Parnassus... Read More

That Worlds May Live: Let’s get Sirius

That Worlds May Live by Nelson S. Bond

In my recent review of David V. Reed’s Empire of Jegga, I mentioned that this was a Golden Age sci-fi novel in the space-opera mold that featured an excessively recomplicated plot and a wealth of colorful detail. Reed’s novel had come out in the November 1943 issue of Amazing Stories magazine, but the Golden Age being what it was, this was hardly the first such space-opera affair to be released in the magazine that year. Just seven months earlier, actually, another novel was published, complete in one issue, in that selfsame legendary pulp, and in a similar vein as Reed’s book, only minus the complexity of story line and the convincing detail. That novel was the one in question here, and entitled That Worlds Read More

The Lost Steersman: Rowan makes true “first contact”

The Lost Steersman by Rosemary Kirstein

In the third book of Rosemary Kirstein’s STEERSWOMAN series, steerswoman Rowan steps off the edge of her known world and risks her life in the process. Originally published in 2003, this book has been reissued. My review may contain spoilers for The Steerswoman and The Outskirter’s Secret.

The Lost Steersman begins with a prologue, a letter from Rowan to the Prime of the Steerswomen, recapping events in the first two books and warning the Steerswomen of the serious danger from the as-... Read More

Dread Companion: Try the audio edition of this one

Dread Companion by Andre Norton

In the far future, a young woman named Kilda thinks it’s unfortunate that she was born as a woman because she’s expected to do what every woman on her planet does – get married and have children. Kilda wants to travel and learn, so she appeals to her teacher, a mixed-race handicapped person who also lacks opportunity on this world. Her teacher suggests that Kilda take a job as a governess for a woman who is going off planet with her two children. Kilda takes that advice and travels with her employer and the kids, a boy and a girl, to an Earth-like planet called Dylan.

Almost immediately Kilda realizes that her employer’s daughter, Bartare, is strange. She knows about things before others do, she doesn’t act very childlike, she doesn’t seem emotionally attached to her family, she talks as if she’s being guided by someone that Kilda can’t see, and she seems relentlessly driven to some ... Read More

Monster Blood: Choose the audiobook for this one

Monster Blood by R.L. Stine

Monster Blood (1992) is the third short children’s horror novel in R.L. Stine’s GOOSEBUMPS series. It’s a stand-alone, so no need to read the previous books.

While his parents are out of town, Evan has to go live with Aunt Katherine. She’s a scary one — a large hulking deaf woman with a deep voice who is often seen carrying her meat cleaver. Evan hates living at Aunt Katherine’s house, especially because she insists that his elderly dog stay chained up outside and there are bullies in Aunt Katherine’s neighborhood.

Things get a little better when Evan meets a girl named Andrea who likes to do the kinds of things that he likes. One day Evan and Andrea are shopping in a shabby toy store where they purchase a can of a slimy substance called Monster Blood. It provides h... Read More