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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.
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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

The Outskirter’s Secret: An interesting book too long for its story

The Outskirter’s Secret by Rosemary Kirstein

The Outskirter’s Secret, Book Two in the STEERSWOMAN series by Rosemary Kirstein, was originally published in 1992. It was reissued, along with the other two books in the series, in 2014. This review may contain spoilers for The Steerswoman.

At the end of The Steerswoman, Steerswoman Rowan had made an intuitive leap about the nature of the Guidestars, celestial objects that fill the night sky in her world and are a point of amazing stability. Rowan not only figured out the origin of the objects, but conjectured that one had fallen, and that the wizards had something to do with it. As The Outskirter’s Secret opens, she and her O... Read More

The House Where Nobody Lived: The kids learn some Hawaiian mythology

The House Where Nobody Lived by John Bellairs & Brad Strickland

The House Where Nobody Lived is the eleventh (and penultimate) novel in John Bellairs & Brad Strickland’s LEWIS BARNAVELT series. These are stand-alone horror mysteries for kids. I’ve been listening to Recorded Books’ audio versions with my daughter. We love George Guidall’s performance.

This story starts with a flashback to the beginning of the series when Lewis is 11 years old and it’s been just over a year since his parents died and he moved in with Uncle Jonathan. Lewis and his best friend, Rose Rita, are exploring New Zebedee, their hometown which is still new to Lewis, when they discover an odd-looking house that nobody lives in. They get scared off when th... Read More

The Whistle, the Grave, and the Ghost: Very scary but too similar to previous books

The Whistle, the Grave, and the Ghost by John Bellairs & Brad Strickland

In the tenth installment in John Bellairs & Brad Strickland’s LEWIS BARNAVELT series, Lewis is camping with his fellow Scouts (who are bullying him, of course) when he finds an old whistle near a grave and puts it in his pocket. The whistle has a Latin encryption on it and, when he asks the priest at his church to help him with the translation, the priest (who Lewis isn’t particularly fond of), becomes suspicious and strangely interested in the whistle.

Lewis’s best friend Rose Rita is also interested, of course, so the two kids hit the library for some research. Their investigation takes them to the ghost stories of M.R... Read More

The Fire Opal Mechanism: Lovely worldbuilding, an enjoyable read

The Fire Opal Mechanism by Fran Wilde

Of course I’d be a sucker for any book with a brave librarian, and Fran Wilde’s 2019 novella, The Fire Opal Mechanism, has one such, along with a resourceful thief and a time travel device. This short book is an enjoyable read. I haven’t read The Jewel and Her Lapidary, a novella set in the same world. Probably some of the comments about the jewels will make more sense to people who have read that story, and there is a crossover character, but this novella does stand alone well.

Ania has been promoted to Master Archivist at the Far Reaches university library, after the previous archivist has vanished. As the story opens, she is frantically trying ... Read More

The Tower at the End of the World: A weak sequel

The Tower at the End of the World by John Bellairs & Brad Strickland

In The Tower at the End of the World (2001), the ninth novel in  John Bellairs & Brad Strickland’s LEWIS BARNAVELT series, Strickland once again pays tribute to the late Bellairs by returning to, and expanding the plot of the first novel in the series, The House with a Clock in its Walls.

At this point, Lewis is 13 years old and has just finished reading Sax Rohmer’s FU MANCHU series. (I love that kids ... Read More

Horror Island: A rum time on Morgan’s Island

Horror Island directed by George Waggner

Just recently, I had some words to say about the Universal horror movie Man-Made Monster, a rather pleasing little film that featured some top-notch special effects and is primarily remembered today for the debut horror role of the great Lon Chaney, Jr. The film was first released on March 28, 1941, along with the expected cartoons, trailers, news reel, film shorts and heaven knows what else; the crowds surely got their 15 cents’ worth back when! But also on that same bill, 80 years ago as of this writing, was yet another Universal horror film, one that featured little in the way of effects, and one that is virtually forgotten today. That second film on the fright bill was Horror Island, and my recent, first-time watch has revealed the picture to be a somewhat silly, lighthearted horror comedy that just barely manages to entertain the... Read More

The Specter from the Magician’s Museum: Might be the scariest story yet

The Specter from the Magician's Museum by John Bellairs & Brad Strickland

The Specter from the Magician's Museum (1998) is the seventh novel in the LEWIS BARNAVELT horror series for middle graders. The first novel, The House with a Clock in its Walls, was written by John Bellairs and published in 1973. There was a 17-year hiatus after the third book, The Letter, the Witch, and the Ring, was published in 1976 while Bellairs was focused on his JOHNNY DIXON series. Bellairs died in 1991, leaving both series to be finished by author Brad Strickland. I haven’t read the JOHNNY DIXO... Read More

In the Watchful City: Some fresh takes, but needed more development

In the Watchful City by S. Qiouyi Lu

In the Watchful City (2021) is a novel in story form, a structure I’m usually a big fan of, but the stories rarely felt fully developed and in the end they just didn’t coalesce for me into an entirely effective or cohesive whole, though there is a true originality in style and content here.

The setting is the city-state of Ora, which has managed to escape from under the dominating Skyland empire and, in an attempt to keep its residents free and happy, the city uses upgraded humans as “nodes” in an AI-like surveillance network (“the Gleaming”). Some specialized nodes can leap into the bodies of living creatures (though not human ones) and control them in order to intervene when necessary.

Anima is one such node and æ has been happily enacting ær role for some time. Ær regular, contented life, though, is disturbed by the appearance of a fore... Read More