Friday, December 30, 2011

Review: "Aloha from Hell" by Richard Kadrey

Life’s settling into something comfortable for James Stark, aka Sandman Slim, after he narrowly saved the world from destruction by a zombie hoard in Richard Kadrey’s last tale, “Kill the Dead.” As “Aloha From Hell” ($23.99, Harper Voyager) begins, Stark is waiting for his video store to be rebuilt, exploring his relationship with his new girlfriend Candy, and taking the odd job here and there – like stealing magical artifacts.

Life is pretty good, as Stark’s goes, and he’s almost abandoned his mission to destroy his one-time friend Mason, who once banished him to Hell, where he was trained in the fighting pits and served as an assassin for demon generals. Lucifer has returned to Heaven to take his place among the angels again. Stark was offered the job, but he refused. Now, Mason is trying to put himself on the throne in Hell, and an exorcism gone wrong puts Stark’s focus squarely on his old enemy.

A rogue angel who seeks to take the throne of Heaven for her own has smuggled the soul of Stark’s murdered girlfriend Alice through the pearly gates and delivered it to Mason Downtown. Now, Stark has to march back into Hell to confront Mason and get Alice back to her rightful place. In the process, he may get more than he bargained for.

Freebies: Get a sneak peek at George R.R. Martin's next book

George R.R. Martin is offering fans a Christmas gift with an excerpt from "Winds of Winter," the next installment in his Song of Ice and Fire series. If you're not caught up with the series, you should know that the excerpt features spoilers. If you are, click here to check it out.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Review: "Snuff" by Terry Pratchett

Commander Samuel Vimes of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch is on holiday in “Snuff” ($25.99, Harper), Terry Pratchett’s latest novel of the Discworld. It’s not that he wanted to go on holiday. As far as he’s concerned a copper is never on holiday. But his wife, Lady Sybil, has coerced him into visiting her estates in the country. Of course, being Sam Vimes, it’s not long before he finds some trouble.

It starts with an altercation with a local blacksmith who has a problem with the upper class – an uncomfortable position Vimes finds himself in thanks to his marriage to Sybil. When a late night meeting is arranged between Vimes and the blacksmith, the commander and his butler – a slightly reformed street tough named Willikins – arrive at the meeting spot to find no blacksmith and a lot of blood. But Vimes’ would-be framer was a little too messy, leaving behind evidence that the blood belongs not to the blacksmith but to a goblin.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Review: "The Wise Man's Fear," by Patrick Rothfuss

Patrick Rothfuss’ debut novel, “The Name of the Wind,” was one of the better fantasy discoveries I’ve made in recent years. Four years later, he finally delivers the sequel, “The Wise Man’s Fear” ($29.95, DAW). Like many sequels, it’s somewhat lacking.

The book continues the tale of the hero (or villain, depending on your point of view, I guess) Kvothe. Now retired from the hero life and running a tavern in a small village, Kvothe’s secret has been found out by a scribe called only the Chronicler. He has convinced the former hero to share his story and this book represents the second part of it.

A whole lot of things happen in this book. Kvothe leaves the University for a time, finds a patron (in a manner of speaking), spends some time in faerie and trains with a fierce warrior race. While all of these things develop the character of Kvothe in their own way, very few of them develop the story. Where “The Name of the Wind” felt very calculated and well-planned, in “The Wise Man’s Fear,” Rothfuss seems to be flying by the seat of his pants a little.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Review: "Ghost Story" by Jim Butcher

SPOILER WARNING: If you have not read the previous volumes in Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, particularly the last book, “Changes,” don’t go any further if you don’t want to ruin the experience. There is a major surprise plot point at the end of “Changes” that I cannot write this review without revealing.

So, those of you left with me, I’ll assume know what happened at the end of “Changes.” We’ve spent a year now, wondering how the tale of Harry Dresden could possibly continue, and now we have our answer in the latest volume “Ghost Story” ($27.95, Roc.)

Harry ends up in a sort of limbo, a ghostly Chicago, where he meets up with the shade of Karrin Murphy’s father and is presented with a decision. He can go on to whatever comes next, or he can go back to the real Chicago as a ghost to try to solve the mystery of his murder and in doing so, possibly save the lives of several of his friends. For Harry, that’s no decision, so he ends up back home, but unable to use his magic, communicate or physically affect anything. It’s quite a challenge for a guy who tends to prefer action to deep thought.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Review: "A Dance with Dragons" by George R.R. Martin

It’s been a long wait for George R.R. Martin’s “A Dance with Dragons” ($35, Bantam), and most fans may not find it entirely satisfying. This, certainly, is not the best or most exciting of Martin’s books, but it was a necessary volume to get the series back on track.

“A Dance with Dragons” runs in parallel time to the last volume, 2006’s “A Feast for Crows.” It focuses, primarily, on three of the myriad characters of the series, the dwarf kinslayer Tyrion Lannister, the exiled princes Daenerys Targaryen and the bastard son of the beheaded Lord Eddard Stark and captain of the Night’s Watch Jon Snow. When I discovered that, I was excited. For me, these three are the most interesting characters in the book. I’ve always found Tyrion, in particular, to be a fascinating character. In a worrying move, Martin also opens a few new subplots, giving me bad Robert Jordan flashbacks, but for the nonce, I’ll keep my faith in him.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Random Rants: Drained and left for dead

In my review of Charlaine Harris’ latest novel, “Dead Reckoning,” I said that, despite the liberties taken by the series, I had enjoyed “True Blood” recently more than the last few books. When I wrote that, I had only watched the first two seasons. After catching up on season three and watching the first episode of season four, I’d like to retract that statement.

WARNING: If you haven’t read all of the novels or watched the series, and you plan to, you will want to stop reading here. There are spoilers below.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Review: "Dead Reckoning" by Charlaine Harris

While I once looked forward to a new installment in Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse series, I’ve once again been left a little disappointed by her latest, “Dead Reckoning” ($27.95, Ace).

For me, the book has the same problem that the last volume did. A lot happens, but it really doesn’t seem like it.

The story centers on infighting in the vampire community. Eric, the sheriff of Area 5 in Louisiana and Sookie’s boyfriend, continues to have problems with the new regent of Louisiana, Victor Madden. The new boss is trying, in a number of underhanded ways, to provoke Eric into moving against him so that he can eliminate the threat with just cause in the eyes of Felipe, the vampire king of Nevada who recently took over the Louisiana kingdom. More family secrets about Sookie and her fairy relatives come to light. Sandra Pelt, the psychotic sister of Debbie Pelt, who Sookie killed in self defense earlier in the series, is out of prison and out to get the telepathic waitress. And there’s still some instability and social distrust caused by the revelation of the two-natured – weres and shifters – but it’s played down from previous volumes.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Review: "Towers of Midnight" by Brandon Sanderson and Robert Jordan

The world conceived by Robert Jordan marches inexorably toward its Final Battle in Brandon Sanderson’s “Towers of Midnight” ($29.99, Tor), the penultimate (so we hope) installment of The Wheel of Time.

Since Sanderson took over to complete the tale, based on Jordan’s notes dictated before his death, the story, which had stalled in some of its middle chapters, has moved steadily forward. In “Towers of Midnight,” we see the Dragon Reborn, Rand al’Thor, continue to unite the world behind him for his battle with the ultimate evil. All of the pieces for that fight are now in place. The White Tower of the Aes Sedai has been made whole under the rule of Rand’s childhood friend Egwene al’Vere. Perrin Aybara and Matrim Cauthon have both amassed their armies to bring together under Rand’s banner. Elayne, carrying Rand’s twin children, has taken control of Andor and has her sights set on Caemlyn. And they all begin to converge for the finale in this book.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Review: "Furies of Calderon," by Jim Butcher

I remember when I received Jim Butcher’s “Furies of Calderon” (Ace, $9.99) several years ago, and I was both excited and a little reluctant to read it. I was, and remain, a huge fan of Butcher’s Dresden Files, which follow the misadventures of Chicago’s only wizard-for-hire Harry Dresden. I was interested in his take on what he called “swords and horses fantasy,” but at the same time, I was mainly interested in reading more about Harry. I got started on the book, but for whatever reason, I just couldn’t get into it, so I put it down after a couple of chapters and moved on.

A few weeks ago, I was looking around for my next read and decided that, while I’m waiting on the newest Dresden book in July, I’d give this series another chance. I’m glad I did.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Review: "The Journey" by Kathryn Lasky

After enjoying the first book in the Guardians of Ga’Hoole series, my son and I eagerly tackled Kathryn Lasky’s second book of the series, “The Journey” ($5.99, Scholastic). Unfortunately, we came away with mixed feelings on this one.

The book picks up with Soren and his band of friends – Gylfie, Twilight and Digger – still trying to find their way to the legendary Great Ga’Hoole Tree. While they’re on their journey, running into various types of owls and even getting into a fracas with a bobcat, the story remains fast-paced and entertaining. Once they find the home of the Guardians, however, things take a bit of a turn as the four try to find their place in the tree’s society.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Review: "Banewreaker" by Jacqueline Carey

You might not recognize the characters and places in Jacqueline Carey’s “Banewreaker” ($7.99, Tor), but the story will be very familiar.

In essence, the book is a play on J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings,” with a twist. It’s told from the point of view of Satoris the Third Born, or Satoris the Sunderer to his enemies He is basically Carey’s version of Sauron. The world of Urulat has been divided by a war between the Shapers, the gods who formed the world and its inhabitants. The dispute stemmed from a disagreement between Satoris and Haomane, the First Born. Satoris, bearing a never-healing wound from the fight, has been exiled to Darkhaven, where he lives with his Fjelltroll and three immortal champions pulled from the world of men and Ellyl (elves). Now a star of omen has risen, signaling the fact that Haomane’s forces are on the move against Satoris.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Review: "Shadow's Edge" by Brent Weeks

I was introduced to Brent Weeks at the airport. I had brought a book on the trip with me that turned out to be a dud, and I was looking for something to read. His first book of the Night Angel Trilogy, “The Way of Shadows,” was the only one in the airport book store that was able to catch my eye, and I was immediately drawn in to his tale of an orphan turned master assassin.

It’s taken me a little more than a year to make it to the second book in the series, “Shadow’s Edge” ($7.99, Orbit), but I fell back into the story with ease.

The Khalidoran Godking Garoth Ursuul has taken brutal control of Cenaria, grinding the city under his bootheels and turning the warrens where the poor people of the city live into even more of a living hell. Kylar Stern, having found love with Elene, the orphan that he once called Doll Girl, and being charged with taking care of his former master’s child Uly, has decided to retire from the assassin’s life. He has bribed his way out of Cenaria, traveling to stay with Elene’s family while he sets up shop as an herbalist. He quickly finds, though, that the life of violence he’s known is harder than he expected to leave behind.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Review: "The Capture" by Kathryn Lasky

My son and I have discovered a few bedtime reads lately via movie adaptations. The latest is Kathryn Lasky’s “The Capture” ($5.99, Scholastic).

My son first saw “Legend of the Guardians” in the theater with his grandmother, and for the past six months, I’ve been hearing how “awesome” it was. We finally rented it on Blu-Ray a month or so ago, and I found that I had to agree with him. Both of us were eager to dig into the books.

Like most adaptations, the movie and book are quite a bit different. It wasn’t nearly as different as one of our last book-to-movie reads, “How to Train Your Dragon,” but still not an entirely faithful adaptation. For one thing, “The Capture” only covers the very beginnings of the movie. I’m assuming that the movie covers an overarching story line from all or at least several of the books.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Review: "20th Century Ghosts" by Joe Hill

I have to admit that I’m rapidly becoming a Joe Hill fanboy. He first impressed me several years ago with his debut novel “Heart-Shaped Box,” which ranks as one of my favorite horror tales ever, and a few weeks ago, I enjoyed his latest novel, “Horns.” That led me, naturally, to the only other book Hill has in print, “20th Century Ghosts” ($13.95, Harper), a collection of short stories.

I admit that I’m not normally a fan of short story collections, but the tales in this book endeared me to Hill’s work even more. I’m reluctant to make the comparison, for obvious reasons, but reading “20th Century Ghosts” reminded me a lot of reading Ray Bradbury’s “The October Country” for the first time. Like my favorite Bradbury collection, there’s plenty of weirdness and creepiness in the pages of these stories, but there’s also a good mix of wonder, sweetness and observations on human nature.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Review: "Full Dark, No Stars," by Stephen King

Outside of the concluding books of “The Dark Tower,” which I had waited years on, and the non-fiction “On Writing,” which I enjoyed, I haven’t picked up a Stephen King book in quite a few years. The last few efforts I read, prior to his accident, were disappointing and didn’t hold my attention. A week or so ago, though, a perfect storm led me to his latest collection, “Full Dark, No Stars” ($27.99, Scribner).

After enjoying the latest from King’s son, Joe Hill, I was in the mood for something creepy and disturbing. “Full Dark, No Stars” just happened to be waiting on my Nook and, not having any other new books that came close to what I was looking for, I decided to give it a shot. The collection contains four short tales (a point in its favor since many of the last King novels I read felt bloated and in bad need of an editor) that are, in fact, horrific and disturbing because of their very nature.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Review: "Horns," by Joe Hill

I was both impressed and inspired by Joe Hill’s debut novel, “Heart-Shaped Box,” a few years ago, so I’ve been looking forward to digging into his latest, “Horns” ($25.99, William Morrow) for a while now.

Ignatius “Ig” Perrish once had a promising future ahead of him. He’s part of a well-to-do and well-connected family, in love with the girl of his dreams and has plans to save the world. Those plans all come crashing down on the eve of his departure for a six-month stay in England. He has a public fight with his girlfriend, Merrin, and when she’s found dead the next day, the suspicion falls on him. Ig is innocent, but having spent the night sleeping it off in his car, he has no alibi. When evidence from the scene that could have cleared his name is destroyed in a lab fire, Ig can’t be convicted, but neither can he be absolved. Now everyone in his life thinks he’s a murderer/rapist who got away with his crime because of family connections.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Freebies: Chapter 1 of Steven Erikson's "The Crippled God" is currently offering the first chapter of Steven Erikson's upcoming book, "The Crippled God," for free with registration. The book, scheduled for release in March, is intended to be the final installment in the "Malazan Book of the Fallen." To read the chapter, head to

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Review: "Side Jobs" by Jim Butcher

For those left hanging and wondering by the somewhat shocking end to Jim Butcher’s last novel of the Dresden Files, “Changes,” here’s a collection that will help hold you over until the next installment this summer when we can find out just what the heck is going on with Harry.

“Side Jobs” ($25.95, Roc) collects a variety of Dresden stories from various anthologies over the years, and also gives readers a look at two never-before-published stories. Those two will likely be of most interest to fans.

The first, “A Restoration of Faith,” opens the book and also happens to be Butcher’s first tale of wizard private investigator Harry Dresden as he saves a runaway girl (who really doesn’t care to be saved) from a bridge troll in Chicago. It was not published, and you can see why when you read it, though it’s not as bad as Butcher seems to think judging by his opening commentary. I’ve read worse stories that did get published.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Review: "Wicked" by Gregory Maguire

Here’s the first effort in my campaign to catch up with some of the books that I’ve missed while trying to keep my reviews current over the last decade or so. I’ve wanted to read Gregory Maguire’s “Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West” ($7.99, Harper) for quite a while, but just never have gotten around to it. Upon finishing it, my feelings were mixed.

The story, of course, is an attempt to give the reader an alternate view of, perhaps, one of the greatest villains of all time, the Wicked Witch of the West. It begins with her birth to a man consumed by his religion and his bored and unhappy wife, and follows her life, more or less, to her ultimate end at the hands of Dorothy. It attempts to paint the Wicked Witch, Elphaba, as a more sympathetic character than in L. Frank Baum’s book or the classic film. In some ways, Maguire succeeds, but in others he fails. While we do see some flashes of nobility in Elphaba’s character here and there, by and large, she remains mean, nasty, unlikable and unsympathetic. Through the story, (which has nothing to do with Baum’s books or the movie until toward the end) we begin to understand more about her and how she became the villain she is, but we’re also not really that upset when Dorothy douses her with a pail of water at the end, either.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Something a little different

For the few folks that may still be following my infrequent reviews, there will be a slight change coming to this blog. Hopefully, there will be more reviews and content than in recent months, but the books reviewed may be a little different.

The realities of the newspaper business these days mean that there's less space for and less interest in things like book reviews. The bad news is that I no longer really have a print outlet for my reviews. The good news is that this will give me an opportunity to go back and take a look at some books that I missed or skipped in recent years. For the past 10 years or so, I've passed on a lot of books that I wanted to read, trying to keep my reading fairly current for the reviews. Now I have the chance to revisit some of those.

So, for those still reading, there will still be reviews here, and hopefully more. There will still be some new releases mixed in, too, but you'll most likely see a lot of older books mixed in, and with the new addition of my Nook, possibly some ebook releases. Maybe it will help you guys discover something you missed as well.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Review: "The Gathering Storm" by Brandon Sanderson and Robert Jordan

For the few folks who are still following my infrequent book reviews, my frustration with Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series is certainly no secret. After being pulled in by the excellent first book of the series, “The Eye of the World,” in 1990, and proclaiming Jordan as the next Tolkien to all of my friends who would listen with the following few books, he began to lose the thread of the story. I gave up on the series a few books back after slogging through several 1,000-page plus doorstops in which Jordan’s storyline barely moved forward at all.

Then, of course, Jordan passed away in 2007, before he was able to complete the unwieldy series. Brandon Sanderson was tapped by Jordan’s family to write the final book of the Wheel of Time based on Jordan’s notes and conversations with his wife in his final days in which he laid out how the story should end. Shortly thereafter, it was announced that the “final” book would now be three books, which immediately made me assume that it would be business as usual with this series, keeping the frustrating story going even farther beyond its life cycle.

My plan was always to return for the final book, if it ever arrived, so that I could see how things turned out with these characters I’ve known for more than 20 years now. My curiosity about how Sanderson would continue the story finally got the best of me, though, and a month or so ago, I picked up the paperback version of “The Gathering Storm” ($9.99, Tor). I’m pleasantly surprised.