Thursday, December 13, 2012

Review: "Dodger" by Terry Pratchett

In “Dodger” ($17.99, HarperCollins), Terry Pratchett does something that he’s rarely managed. He infuses a non-Discworld book with the same kind of fun and whimsy found in his long-running series.

“Dodger,” an historical novel of sorts, pays tribute to Victorian-era London, as well as one of its most famous authors, Charles Dickens. Dodger is a 17-year-old street kid who makes a living as a tosher, someone who goes into the sewers to try to salvage a living from coins and other items lost down the drains. He also has a knack for having valuable things land in his hands, though he would, of course, never stoop the thievery.

His life changes one stormy night when he comes upon a young girl who jumps out of a coach and flees from a couple of large men. Dodger dives right into the fray, delivering a good whipping to the thugs and saving the girl, who turns out to be much more than the boy ever expected.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Review: "The Emperor's Knife" by Mazarkis Williams

I’ve been meaning to get around to Mazarkis Williams’ “The Emperor’s Knife” ($14.99 Night Shade Books) for a while, but a recent giveaway of the ebook on the publisher’s site gave me a great reason to make it now.

Williams paints a picture of an empire being attacked by magic. Strange patterns begin to appear on the skin of those infected, and eventually that person will be consumed and controlled by the master of the pattern. The emperor Beyon has ordered that all those showing the pattern be put to death. Unfortunately for him, the lines have appeared on his own skin. Thus far, he has hidden them well with the help of his mages, and the pattern has not taken his senses. But a few key figures in the palace know about it, which sets in motions the machinations to remove him from the throne.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Review: "Apocalypse Cow" by Michael Logan

While I enjoyed the book, I find myself a little disappointed with Michael Logan’s magnificently titled “Apocalypse Cow” (Doubleday).

Maybe my expectations were too high, but as the winner of an award named after Terry Pratchett and a quote saying that it made him snort with laughter, I expected something funnier.

“Apocalypse Cow” offers a different take on the zombie apocalypse. It throws together abattoir worker Terry Borders, bumbling journalist Lesley McBrien and teenager Geldof Peters. All of the characters bring their own baggage. Terry has some stress issues with his job and believes that his bad luck with women comes from a stench of death that hangs around him from his work. Geldof is the son of a domineering and off-kilter activist who has forced him to follow her lifestyle. Lesley is the daughter of a famous, award-winning journalist, but so far her career has been empty.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Review: "Blue Plague: The Fall" by Thomas A. Watson

I always dread when someone asks me to review a self-published book, and in most cases, I decline. It’s nothing against that particular work. It’s just the personal history I have with them as a former “professional” reviewer that used to get several a week. I’m sure there are fantastic self-pubbed books out there  – better than anything coming out of the majors – but the vast majority that crossed my desk were horrible.

So, I took a deep breath before diving into Thomas Watson’s “Blue Plague: The Fall” ($2.99 ebook, $15.99 paperback).

The book focuses on an interesting family, actually two families who have melded into one on a communal farm in northern Louisiana. They spend most of their extra time and money making their farm self-sufficient, training and stocking up on weapons, supplies and other things that they might need in case of some kind of government shutdown – or, perhaps, the zombie apocalypse. The second is probably something the family would have joked about until a virus that begins in the Congo makes its way around the world and to the United States via a few aid volunteers who escape the country shortly before it is shut down.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Review: "King of Thorns" by Mark Lawrence

Jorg of Ancrath doesn’t seem quite himself at the start of “King of Thorns” ($25.95, Ace), the second installment of Mark Lawrence’s Broken Empire trilogy.

For one thing, it takes a little while for someone to die brutally at his hands. There’s good reason for the change. Ah, but you’ll have to read it yourself to discover the secret of the little copper box, or rather, the secrets it holds.

The main action of “King of Thorns” takes place several years after “Prince of Thorns.” Jorg has secured his kingdom, and a little bit of the restlessness and ruthlessness that led him to that conquest seems to have worn off. For four years or so, he’s seemed content to have and run his little demesne. Now, though, the Prince of Arrow and his massive army are knocking on Jorg’s door. Most people believe that Arrow is the man to unite all of the broken kingdoms as emperor. They believe that he’ll be a good and just emperor, with the good of the people at heart. In truth, even Jorg believes that, but he wouldn’t be Jorg if he let a little thing like that stand in the way of his ambitions.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Review: "Devil Said Bang," by Richard Kadrey

In Richard Kadrey’s “Devil Said Bang” ($24.99, Harper), James Stark, aka Sandman Slim, is trapped in Hell again. This time, though, he’s running the place.

Being Lucifer, though, isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. In fact, it’s like being the boss of a lot of things. Stark finds himself dealing with budget meetings and the daily minutiae of keeping things running. Though he has Lucifer’s magical armor that protects him from most attacks, he hasn’t come into the full power of his position yet, and splits his time looking for the secrets of Samael’s power and plotting his escape.

What he really wants is to go home. He wants to see his girlfriend Candy again, and he wants to return to his normal life on Earth now that his vendetta against long-time rival Mason is settled. But Hell needs a ruler.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Review: "Two Ravens and One Crow," by Kevin Hearne

My biggest complaint with this tale is that there isn’t enough of it.

“Two Ravens and One Crow” ($2.99, Del Rey) is a digital short in Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid Chronicles, which sets up the forthcoming novel “Trapped,” due in November. At just over 50 pages, I’m not sure if it qualifies as a novella or just a really long short story, but it’s entertaining either way.

Druid Atticus O’Sullivan is six years into training his new apprentice Granuaile when he gets an unexpected visit from the Morrigan, the Celtic chooser of the dead. She tells him he must leave with her right away, and will brook no argument on the point. His magical tattoos, broken in battle, must be restored, and as there are no other druids on earth and all of the other gods think Atticus is dead, the Morrigan is the only one who can do it.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Review: "Heir of Novron" by Michael J. Sullivan

When I began “Heir of Novron” ($14.99, Orbit), the final volume of Michael J. Sullivan’s Riyria Revelations more than a month ago, I expected to have a review up in about a week. Life, though, often intervenes. Let it be known that the delay is no fault of the author, who has delivered another rousing adventure tale to end this enjoyable series.

Treachery is the name of the game in the first book, “Wintertide.” Princess Arista of Melengar travels to Aquesta, the seat of the new empire, in an attempt to free the Nationalist leader Degan Gaunt, also believed to be the legendary Heir of Novron, from his imprisonment and impending execution. Instead, she ends up as part of the entertainment at the upcoming Wintertide celebration, to be executed as the Witch of Melengar alongside Gaunt. The empress Modina, really a village girl named Thrace that church officials have set up as a puppet leader, is also to be married to a top church official. An accident is sure to follow the brief wedding. But the empress is more aware than they think and may have some surprises up her sleeve.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Review: "The Long Earth" by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter

In the hours since I finished “The Long Earth” ($25.99, Harper) by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter, I’ve struggled a little with how to approach the review. My love of most things Pratchett is no secret, but this is my first encounter with Baxter since I’m not a big science fiction reader. While I, in general, enjoyed the book, I didn’t walk away from it feeling really satisfied.

The premise is that there are many Earths, in various states of development and evolution, layered on top of our Earth, sort of like different dimensions. None of them seem to have humans – though there are some humanoid species out there – and many of them have moved along different evolutionary paths. Over the course of history, people have “stepped” into these worlds by accident, but it’s not until the day known as Step Day that it becomes a widespread phenomenon.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Review: "Rise of Empire" by Michael J. Sullivan

There’s a fundamental shift in “Rise of Empire” ($14.99, Orbit), the second volume (or, if you want to get technical, the third and fourth books) of Michael J. Sullivan’s Riyria Revelations.

The first, “Theft of Swords,” was a fun romp with his pair of rogue heroes, the noble Hadrian Blackwater and the less-than-noble Royce Melborn. In “Rise of Empire,” things get a little more serious and involved. But that’s also a good thing.

As the book starts, the royal empire has taken control of most everything. The church has put the puppet empress Modina – known to our heroes as the village girl Thrace who hired them to save her village from a dragon-like creature in the first book – on the throne. Only Melengar and a band of Nationalists stand between the empire and complete domination.

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Review: "Phoenix Rising" by Tee Morris and Pip Ballantine

I readily admit to not being very well read in the steampunk subgenre, or very interested for that matter, but there a few things that caught my attention about Tee Morris and Pip Ballantine’s “Phoenix Rising” ($7.99, Harper Voyager).

For one, there was a pretty familiar name on the cover. I was part of fantasy writers’ e-mail list with Morris some years ago and was introduced to his other books “Morevi” and “Billibub Baddings and the Case of the Singing Sword,” both of which I enjoyed, through that list. The main reason, though, was that it just looked like a fun book. And it is.

Wellington Books, the archivist for the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences who prefers his files and organization to action, has been kidnapped and whisked to Antarctica by the secret organization the House of Usher. Field agent Eliza Braun is given the task of quietly eliminating the possibility that Books will reveal the ministry’s secrets. When she sees him, though, she has a change of heart and decides to rescue him instead – very loudly and with lots of dynamite.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Review: "Wheel-Mouse vs. All the Crazy Robots," by Celyn Lawrence

This is a little different from the kinds of books that I usually write about, but “Wheel-Mouse vs. All the Crazy Robots” (99 cents, Kindle) is a cute story and it’s for a good cause.

Celyn Lawrence is the eight-year-old daughter of fantasy writer Mark Lawrence, who penned one of my favorite books of last year, “Prince of Thorns,” and the upcoming sequel “King of Thorns.” Celyn suffers from severe cerebral palsy and is non-verbal and quadriplegic. She and her dad came up with the idea to put together a book to benefit Children’s Hospice, a charity for life-limited and terminally ill children that has helped them over the years.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Review: "Tricked" by Kevin Hearne

I wanted to give my three loyal readers a little break from Kevin Hearne after plowing through the first three volumes of the Iron Druid Chronicles, but I just couldn’t hold off on “Tricked” ($7.99, Del Rey) any longer. 

Atticus O’Sullivan, the world’s last living druid, has not made many friends lately. After leading a band into Asgard to take on Thor in the last volume, “Hammered,” Atticus is on the run from what remains of the Norse pantheon, as well as a few other thunder gods who are offended on principle. In order to continue his work healing a large swath of Arizona that was drained of life by the Celtic love god Aenghus Og and training his apprentice, he has to die – and die convincingly. That’s where Coyote comes in.

The Native American trickster god has agreed to help Atticus die and disappear off the radar of his enemies in exchange for convincing the earth elemental that lives in the land beneath the reservation to move a gold mine into a place where there really shouldn’t be one. Coyote’s plan seems a win-win for Atticus, since he intends to use the money to create clean-energy jobs for his people.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Review: "Heroes Die" by Matthew Woodring Stover

I read Matthew Woodring Stover’s “The Blade of Tyshalle” back in 2001 and loved it. A month or so ago, I discovered some old reviews laying around that hadn’t been posted to this site, and that was one of them. It jogged my memory and sent me looking for the first book in the series, “Heroes Die” ($7.99, Del Rey), which I never managed to get around to reading.

In this first volume, we meet Hari Michaelson (known as Caine to his fans) while he’s still whole and healthy. I won’t say before he’s broken, because as you’ll see if you read it, he certainly is that already.

Michaelson is an actor in a futuristic world where everything is run by the Studios. It’s a world run on a strict caste system, and the Studios use “entertainment” as a means to keep the public sedate and in line.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Review: "Deadlocked" by Charlaine Harris

I was an early fan of Charlaine Harris’ Southern Vampire series. In fact, you'll find glowing review quotes from me on the covers of some of them. But I’ve been a bit disappointed with the last several volumes as the story seemed to be stumbling even as Alan Ball mangled and mauled it in HBO’s “True Blood.”

There’s good news and bad news in the latest book, “Deadlocked” ($27.95, Ace). The good news is that things seem to be back on track by the end. The bad news is you’ve got to work to get there.

Felipe de Castro, vampire king of Nevada and Louisiana, has come to Shreveport to interview Eric and Sookie, among others, to try to discover the fate of his general Victor Madden. Things go very wrong for Eric, though, when a body is found on his front lawn after a party with Felipe in attendance – the body of a woman that he was feeding on moments earlier. The girl was part were and laced with fairy blood to make her irresistible to Eric, and no one seems to know how she got on the premises.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Review: "The Wind Through the Keyhole" by Stephen King

When I finished reading Stephen King’s “The Dark Tower,” seventh book in the series of the same name, several years ago, I thought I had closed a pretty significant chapter in my reading life.

It was one of a handful of sprawling, epic fantasies I was involved in that left the reader hanging, unsure if, or when, we’d see the end, and I’m always glad to get the payoff for my years of reading. So far, it’s the only one of those to finish. One, Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time, I should get some closure on in January. Others, like Melanie Rawn’s Exiles series, we’ll probably never see completed.

 Now, though, Sai King has reopened The Dark Tower series with his latest offering “The Wind Through the Keyhole” ($27, Scribner).

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Memory Lane: "Nine Princes in Amber" by Roger Zelazny

It’s been perhaps 20 years since I first read Roger Zelazny’s “Nine Princes in Amber,” but I recently felt the urge to revisit the tale that I remember fondly.

 I always have some misgivings going into a re-read. What if the book doesn’t hold up to your memory of it? What if, 20 years and a lot of reading later, you’re just not that interested in it anymore? I’m pleased to say I didn’t have to worry about either of those things with this book.

The story begins with a man waking up in a hospital bed after a car accident and slowly coming to the conclusion that he’s being held against his will. He’s being heavily sedated, and when the nurse comes with the next shot, he refuses it. He fights his way into the office of the facility’s administrator and gains some vital information about the sister who is paying for his “care.” He heads to her home, where he begins a big bluff to try to figure out who he is and how he ended up in his current condition.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Review: "Hammered" by Kevin Hearne

If you’ve read the first two books in Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid Chronicles and are thinking to yourself, “Atticus O’Sullivan can’t keep getting away with all this thumbing his nose at deities. It’s got to catch up with him somewhere.” You’re right. It does in “Hammered” ($7.99, Del Rey).

 In the first two books, Atticus has, to put it bluntly, pissed off quite a few powerful beings. In the third volume, the decisions and deals that he has made leave him in, as the Russian thunder god Perun so eloquently puts it, a “monstrous fuckpuddle.”

 First he has to sneak in to Asgard, home of the Norse pantheon, to steal one of the golden apples of Idunn for the witch Laksha who has a new body and hopes to keep it young for a long time. It’s part of a deal he made with her when she took out a group of Bacchants who were looking to cause chaos in his area in “Hexed.” (Bacchus, the Roman god of the vine, is still pretty hacked off at him about that, too.) That mission turns into a complete disaster.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Review: "Hexed" by Kevin Hearne

I enjoyed Kevin Hearne’s “Hounded” so much that I couldn’t help but dive straight into the sequel, “Hexed” ($7.99, Del Rey).

Killing a god will draw some unwanted attention, as Atticus O’Sullivan, last of the true druids, is quickly learning. It especially complicates things when half of the local coven of witches who are keeping out other undesirables is killed in the process.

Atticus finds himself in the uncomfortable position of having to draw up a peace treaty with the remainder of the coven, something he’s not happy about given his general distrust of witches. But he has to ally himself with them if he wants to withstand the other threats that are moving into his town. There’s a coven of German witches quietly setting up for some bad mojo, and a group of Bacchants, followers of the Roman god Bacchus, who are not so quietly about to cause some chaos. All the while, he can’t stop people from asking him to take out other gods, particularly Thor, Norse god of thunder, who is pretty unanimously considered a prick throughout the supernatural community.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Review: "Hounded" by Kevin Hearne

Just when I think I’ve had about all the urban fantasy that I can handle, along comes something like Kevin Hearne’s “Hounded” ($7.99, Del Rey).

 I picked up the book on the suggestion of a friend and fellow Jim Butcher fan, who described it as “Butcher-lite.” I’d say that’s a pretty fair description, and of all the “if you like Jim Butcher, you should try this” recommendations I’ve checked out over the years, “Hounded” is far and away the best of them.

Atticus O’Sullivan – or Siodhachan O’Suileabhain, as he’s known to those more than a few hundred years old – is a druid. Though most people would mistake him for a 21-year-old college student at Arizona State, he’s actually closer to 2,000 years old. He’s the last of the true druids, and he has some pretty interesting friends, including the Celtic goddess the Morrigan and a vampire and werewolf as his legal co-counsels. He runs a new age book and herb store in town, hunts with his Irish wolfhound Oberon and tries to keep a low profile with the fae and supernatural types, which is made easier by the Arizona terrain.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Review: "Beyond the Shadows" by Brent Weeks

I honestly can’t say why it took me so long to get to “Beyond the Shadows” ($7.99, Orbit), the final book in Brent Weeks’ Night Angel Trilogy. I loved the first volume and really liked the second, but for some reason I spaced them out about a year or so apart.

As we begin the third book, Kylar Stern has made the transition from a brutally effective wetboy to the Night Angel, a being with the ability to see sins and mete out justice, after a fashion, of course. That doesn’t mean he’s happy about it, though. Logan Gyre, rightful king of Cenaria, is still serving under Terah Graesin, a queen that serves only herself. After emerging from the brief, but brutal reign of Godking Garoth Ursuul, Cenaria is threatened by two new armies.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Review: "Theft of Swords" by Michael J. Sullivan

“Theft of Swords” ($14.99, Orbit) collects the first two of Michael J. Sullivan’s Riyria Revelations series. Five of the six books, which were written for Sullivan’s dyslexic daughter and his own enjoyment, were published through independent and small presses before being picked up by Orbit, which released the books as a trilogy featuring two each.

In “The Crown Conspiracy,” the first of the two books collected in “Theft of Swords,” we meet our heroes, a pair of dashing and likeable rogues by the names of Royce Melborn and Hadrian Blackwater. We meet them in a most interesting scene that immediately lets the reader in on the kind of heroes they are. Highwaymen attempt to hold them up and, of course, fail, but the two thieves, who call themselves the Riyria, leave their would-be attackers a bit red-faced with some tips about how to do it better next time. It’s a great scene that instantly endears the reader to the duo.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Review: "The Blade Itself" by Joe Abercrombie

My attempt to catch up with some of the “big” books I’ve missed in recent years continues with the first installment of Joe Abercrombie’s First Law Trilogy, “The Blade Itself” ($17, Pyr).

The story starts with introductions to a cast of characters. Up first is Logen Ninefingers, a legendary barbarian warrior who finds himself a bit down on his luck and, in fact, running for his life from his former boss who has become King in the North and a group of savage warriors who seem to want to kill everything.

Then, we’re whisked away to learn about Jezal dan Luthar, a dashing, narcissistic swordsman, who is also a bit of a lazy, unmotivated jackass. (OK, he’s more than a bit of a jackass.) Jezal’s mentor Collem West is a commoner who has risen to a high rank through his military prowess, and also has a sister named Ardee that will play heavily in Luthar’s life.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Review: "The Rook" by Daniel O'Malley

In Daniel O’Malley’s fine debut, “The Rook” ($25.99, Little, Brown), Myfawny Thomas is a secret agent for the British government. The problem is, she doesn’t know it. At least, not at first.

Myfawny (pronounced like Tiffany, she tells us) wakes up in a park in London, surrounded by dead bodies. There’s a note in her jacket pocket that explains she is wearing someone else’s body and gives her quick instructions to get out of her present predicament. A second letter, once she’s in a more secure situation, offers her a choice. There are two safe deposit boxes, one contains the life of the former Myfawny Thomas, the other instructions and enough money to run away and create a new life. Our amnesiac hero makes the choice pretty much anyone would make – take the money and run. But something happens at the bank that changes her mind. Now, she’s determined to find out who the real Myfawny Thomas is and catch the person who erased her memories.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Blast from the past

I have recently unearthed a bunch of reviews from some of the earliest days of my original review site, back in the late 1990s. After much inner debate, I've decided to share some of those, so if you take a look at the timeline at the lower right side of the page over the coming weeks, you'll notice some new reviews popping in from the past.

I'll warn you in advance that some of them, particularly the earliest ones, are very short and not very good. But re-reading them has been interesting for me, and maybe it will be for someone else, too.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Memory Lane: "Golden Sword of Dragonwalk" by R.L. Stine

I’ve always loved used book fairs and sales. In years past, I’d bring home huge stacks every time I went. Books that looked marginally interesting to me, well they were only a buck or two, sometimes less, throw them in the basket. These days, I’m a little pickier about what I bring home, mainly because I don’t want to end up on one of those A&E shows. I’m slowly coming to terms with the fact that not every book that I get for review needs to come home, and I’m painfully culling the books that fill up my storage building and donating them to the local symphony league’s semi-annual sale, which is also a great place for me to replenish the hoard.

I stopped in last weekend looking not for myself, but for my son. He’s a “Nate the Great” addict, and I’ve been desperately searching for other books that he likes as well as those to keep him going after he runs through that series. The book fair’s a great place for that because I can walk out with a huge stack of books for five or six dollars – the price of one new book. If he sets one aside after the first page, not interested, I’m not that worried about it. It only cost a quarter or 50 cents.

Friday, March 02, 2012

Review: "Farlander" by Col Buchanan

I initially picked up Col Buchanan’s debut “Farlander” ($24.99, Tor) for a couple of reasons. One, I’m a sucker for assassin’s apprentice stories and was hoping for something along the lines of Robin Hobb’s Farseer Trilogy or Brent Weeks’ Night Angel Series. Second, the cover intrigued me with the flying machine in the background and the hint that Buchanan’s world could be a little different from what I’m used to.

The book follows the story of a boy named Nico, who has run away from home and is living as best he can on the streets of a city under siege. On his first attempt at stealing to support himself and a friend, Nico is caught. As it turns out, the man he was stealing from is a farlander named Ash, who is part of a guild of assassins known as the Roshun. Ash is aging and his health is fading. He needs to take on an apprentice, so Nico is offered the option of a harsh and public punishment or going with the farlander for training.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Review: "The Road" by Cormac McCarthy

So here’s another one of those books that I’ve been meaning to get around to reading, but haven’t. When I started down “The Road” ($15, Vintage Books), I was almost certain that the sparse writing style and lack of proper punctuation were going to drive me crazy before I got past the first 50 pages. A couple of hours and more than half the book later, I was amazed at how the story kept pulling me along.

Cormac McCarthy’s novel tells the story of a father and his son traveling alone across a post-apocalyptic wasteland of America. It’s been years since the catastrophe struck. We’re never told exactly what ended the world, and we’re led to believe that the nameless father isn’t entirely sure, either. But ashes continue to rain down and cover the earth. The sun remains obscured by a cloud of the stuff. Almost every store and home has been looted and stripped of food and anything else that might be useful. The few humans remaining in the world have mostly turned savage, fighting for survival and often doing horrible things to achieve it.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Review: "Dead Witch Walking" by Kim Harrison

When I occasionally go on and on about Jim Butcher’s “Dresden Files,” which I’ve had a habit of doing for the past 10 years or so, almost invariably, someone will tell me that if I like Butcher I really should read Kim Harrison. So, after years of hearing that, I finally picked up the first book in her Hollows series, “Dead Witch Walking” ($7.99, Harper Voyager).

After a genetically-engineered virus carried by tomatoes wipes out a large portion of the human population, the Inderlanders – witches, vampires, werewolves, leprechauns, fairies, pixies, etc. – who are largely unaffected, reveal themselves to the world. They pretty much come to the rescue while humans were being decimated by the virus, and now the humans and the supernaturals are having to learn to co-exist – sort of.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Revisiting "The Phantom Menace"

I both looked forward to and kind of dreaded it when I heard about the 3D conversion of the Star Wars movies. I was excited for my son to get the chance to see them on the big screen, but there is the gimmickiness of 3D, and you always have to wonder what George Lucas will decide to change in a new edition.

I took my son to see “The Phantom Menace” last week, and I had a few observations. First, I’ll admit that I really liked the movie when it was originally released, and I’ve never quite understood the hatred for it. I think, perhaps, most of us had expectations that were far too high. We expected something that connected with us like the original movies, but these were made in a different time and, really, a different world. I don’t believe they had a chance to be nearly as good as the originals, which were a fairly new and fresh idea when they were released.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Review: "The Night Eternal" by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan

As we reach the conclusion of Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan’s vampire trilogy in “The Night Eternal” ($26.99, William Morrow), the Master and his vampiric legions have been in control for two years. Most humans have lined up like cattle with the new order. Some are placed in camps for bleeding and breeding, others continue to work for vouchers for food and clothing. Very few resist.

The Master has thrown the world into a nuclear winter, perfect for he and his kind. Only a few hours of sunlight each day penetrate the toxic clouds that cover the earth. Ephraim Goodweather, the CDC doctor who first documented the vampiric virus, has let the resistance down. He’s tormented by the loss of his wife to the virus and the kidnapping of his son by the Master, and he’s turned to stealing from the dwindling supply of prescription drugs in abandoned stores and hospitals to deal with it. He’s become unreliable to his partners, fellow doctor Nora Martinez and one-time exterminator Vasiliy Fet, who are determined to decipher the Occido Lumen, a book left to them by vampire hunter Abraham Setrakian, who was killed by the Master. It might hold the key to destroying the creature once and for all and freeing the world from the rule of the vampires.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Review: "Damned" by Chuck Palahniuk

When I’m looking for new reads, a common recommendation that comes up is Chuck Palahniuk, so I picked up his most recent book “Damned” ($24.95, Doubleday) and dug in.

We’re introduced to Madison Spencer, a 13-year-old girl who finds herself in Hell. She assumes that she died from an overdose of marijuana and was damned for it because that’s the last thing that she remembers about her mortal life. She wakes up in a grimy cell and soon makes friends with the other teens in cells around her (apparently all the teenagers in Hell are housed in proximity to each other). When a blue-haired punk kid named Archer picks the locks of their cell with the safety pin from his cheek, their jaunt across the horrific, yet colorful, landscape of Hell begins.

Along the way, we’re treated to plenty of gross-out scenery, a few laugh out loud moments, and, of course, Maddy’s coming of age and discovery of herself just a bit too late.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Review: "Un Lun Dun" by China Mieville

I’ve been told by several of his fans that I just don’t appreciate China Mieville’s genius. I disagree. I’ve tried reading a couple of his books, and I acknowledge that he is an amazing world-builder. I’ve gone through the books marveling at his creations, but at the same time, I’ve always found his style a bit stuffy. It’s created a bit of a conundrum for me. On the one hand, I want to explore his worlds and see more of the things that inhabit them. On the other, I’m kind of bored by the stories.

I was intrigued enough by the description of his recent YA title, “Un Lun Dun” ($9.95, Del Rey), to give Mieville another shot. The description put me in mind of Neil Gaiman’s “Neverwhere,” one of my all-time favorites and a book that Mieville admits in the credits was a huge inspiration for this one. The Dave McKean-esque cover reinforced that.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Review: "The Magicians" by Lev Grossman

What fantasy fan hasn’t read their favorite book or series and wished they could use magic or visit the world where it takes place? That’s just what happens to the main character in Lev Grossman’s “The Magicians” ($16, Plume).

Quentin Coldwater is a bored overachiever in school, obsessed by a series of books by Christopher Plover about the magical land of Fillory, which bears a striking resemblance to C.S. Lewis’ Narnia. Quentin is preparing to take an alumni interview for an Ivy League college, but when he arrives, he finds the man who was supposed to interview him has died. A paramedic on the scene gives him a strange envelope that she says she found in the deceased man’s possession. Inside is a notebook that claims to contain a new volume of the Fillory series and a note which flies away. As Quentin chases it through a city park, he ends up on the lawn of Brakebills, a college for magic.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Review: "The Night Strangers" by Chris Bohjalian

I’ve been on a quest for the last year or so for that spooky, creepy, disturbing horror novel that just doesn’t seem to be out there anymore. After finding Chris Bohjalian’s “The Night Strangers” ($25, Crown) on a few end-of-year best horror lists and seeing that my local library had an electronic copy, I decided I’d give it a shot.

Chip Linton is an airline pilot forced to try to land his plane on Lake Champlain, a la Sully Sullenburger (who is mentioned ad nauseum in the book), after a flock of geese strike his engines and take them out. He almost pulls it off, too, but the wake of a ferry turning to come back and help the plane throws things off balance, causing the plane to break apart and dooming 39 of the passengers on board.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Review: "I Shall Wear Midnight" by Terry Pratchett

It was with some sadness that I read the blurb on the back of Terry Pratchett’s “I Shall Wear Midnight” ($16.99, HarperCollins) announcing that this was to be the last tale of Tiffany Aching and the Wee Free Men. Though the Discworld series was aimed more at the teen audience, I found the books quite entertaining. At least Tiffany and the Nac Mac Feegle go out on a strong note, though.

As the story opens, Tiffany is still struggling to make her way as a young witch on the Chalk, a place where having a witch is a fairly new idea. She’s constantly working at her witch duties, which include tending to the sick, childbirth and just generally helping people who need help. Despite the fact that everything she does aids someone and the people there have known her since she was born, she’s noticing a growing anti-witch sentiment. The old storybook tales of witches stealing children and doing all sorts of other nasty things are starting to swirl around again.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Review: "The Lost Gate" by Orson Scott Card

Here’s one of those books that’s been in my to-read pile for far too long. So long, in fact, that the paperback version is already out.

Danny North is born into a family of magic-users living on a compound in Virginia in Orson Scott Card’s “The Lost Gate” ($7.99, Tor). These families, scattered across the world, once ruled the Earth as gods before they were cut off from their homeland and their source of power. Now, the magic is greatly diminished, only a shadow of what they used to wield, but the families guard it jealously.

Danny grows up believing himself to be the lowest of the low among his people – a drekka, one without magic. As a teenager, he can’t perform the simplest magical acts that young children are capable of, and though he is a quick-witted, fast learner with a gift for languages, he finds himself an outcast, just one whim of the elders away from finding himself in the family cemetery.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Review: "Low Town" by Daniel Polansky

It’s been a good couple of weeks for me and first novels. First, I enjoyed Mark Lawrence’s dark debut “Prince of Thorns,” so I decided to take a shot on another one and picked Daniel Polansky’s “Low Town” ($25.95, Doubleday) off the stack. It proved to be another good choice.

Low Town is a pretty ugly place. It’s a place where immigrants who struggle to gain acceptance, criminals and the lowest of the low in society collect. It’s a place filled with crime and drugs and pretty much devoid of hope. The Warden is a former soldier and ex-cop turned drug addict and dealer who now spends his days there, moving his product and trying to protect his turf, living in the inn that he co-owns with a close friend and military buddy.

When the first child goes missing, the Warden doesn’t want to get involved, but when he stumbles across her body in a back alley, he’s drawn into the investigation.

Monday, January 02, 2012

Review: "Prince of Thorns" by Mark Lawrence

At the age of nine, Prince Jorg of Ancrath watched, trapped in hook briars, as soldiers tore his mother and brother from their carriage and brutally murdered them. By the age of 13, Jorg is a hardened and heartless killer looking for a throne in “Prince of Thorns” ($25.95, Ace), the impressive debut novel from Mark Lawrence.

Jorg, found by his father’s men, is returned to the Tall Castle and nursed back to health, though he should have died from the infection of the hook briars. But the experience and the bargain his father cuts with the nobleman responsible for the murders leave him bitter and in search of vengeance. He flees the castle with a band of men freed from the dungeons, and four years later, finds himself the leader of a bloodthirsty group of bandits, stealing, killing and burning their way across the countryside as he follows his secret vow to be king by 15. When Jorg’s band once again comes near his father’s lands, he feels an irresistible pull home, but what’s waiting for him there is not exactly what he expects.