The Court of Miracles star

by Kester Grant

This story sounded like a great premise until I started reading it. It couldn’t seem to make up its mind whether it was in present tense or past and was too disjointed to follow a plot forming. I know it wasn’t the final edited copy, but some sentences were grammatically nightmarish. I’m afraid I found this one painful to read and skimmed much of it just to finish.

The Cat and the City starstar

by Nick Bradley

The structure of this book reminded me of Ray Bradley’s Illustrated Man, in that the stories were all represented by a spread out tattoo and the beginning and end came full circle, albeit the ending was rather brief. There were some translator’s notes, which explained a play on words in one instance although the author isn’t Japanese and this might have been added as a folly.

The stories are all connected by a cat, who moves around in the tattoo. The first story was very good and kept my interest, but some of the subsequent stories went into crudity and one involved killing cats which pushes all my revulsion buttons. Overall it has the tone as if it were translated from Japanese and had a lot of local knowledge of Tokyo, but after the first story I didn’t find the others enjoyable at all.

She Has A Broken Heart Where Her Heart Should Be starstar

by R.J. Barker

This one starts out a little ‘bitty’, with quotes and false starts before the prologue, which itself is separated in time from the story that begins in chapter one.

To be honest, it was a slog. I wanted to DNF it every time I picked it up. It seemed to have trouble deciding what genre it is and the overlay of Dickens’ Great Expectations (one of my favourite stories of all time) didn’t really work. It felt very contrived and I would have given up when Miss/Mrs Oliver gave Jack her speech in the graveyard except that I always finish books I’ve requested from Netgalley, even when they’re painful.

The sentence structure was fine, the problems were in dialogue and plot. The sort of scifi sequences with some mysterious entity observing could have been left out altogether and improved the story as well as shaving off some over long filler.

The characters themselves, while not evoking sympathy, were at least defined personalities but Jack himself was pretty wet and the naming of many of them again I felt insulted Dickens. Still, the book seems to have a lot of good reviews so maybe it just has its audience.

Leaders of the Pack starstarstarstar

by Graeme Reynolds, et al

An entire anthology of werewolf stories from mostly known werewolf authors, what’s not to love?

I’ve read several of the authors included before, most notably Graeme Reynolds and Jeff Strand. Their stories, Blood Relations and Ivan’s Night Out respectively, had a connection to the novels I’ve read; The High Moor series by Graeme Reynolds which holds first place for great werewolf fiction IMO, and Wolf Hunt by Jeff Strand which was a fun read, gore and all.

Other highly notable stories included are The Dead Brother Situation by Glenn Rolfe, The Great Storm by TW Piperbrook, The Original by David Watkins and Hunter’s Moon by David Wellington which was a slow burner but with a payoff at the end.

Hybrid: Bloodlines by Nick Stead and Lifeline by Paul Kane were also very worthy. There was only one story written in the dreaded present tense and apart from a couple of them bordering on erotica more than I want to read, it’s a great collection.

Highly recommended for anyone who likes werewolf stories.

A Wizard of Earthsea starstarstar

by Ursula K. Leguin

The first of the classic Earthsea series by Ursula LeGuin. I probably should have read it long ago.

It’s a magical Fantasy about wizards and how they are trained in a land called Gont. Ged, the main character, distinguishes himself at a young age and comes to the attention of a mysterious wizard who starts his proper training.

Ged is a flawed character with too much pride and probably not enough maturity to keep up with his abilities, but he does develop after making some epic mistakes.

The pace of the story is generally relaxed and more poetic than exciting. I can see why it stood out in its time, though I’m undecided whether I want to continue the series or not. The action goes through what could have been high adventure, but isn’t gripping. There is more of insight than of engagement.

I felt the end was rather predictable and flat. Not the most engaging story I’ve read in the genre but I’m glad I’ve read at least the first book of the series now so I know.

Shepherd’s Warning starstarhalf

by Cailyn Lloyd

(Mild spoilers)

This had a very atmospheric first chapter, dated in the 1970s, then it jumps to modern day with a completely different tone. It took a few chapters for me to start getting to know the characters and get into the story, but when the supernatural things started happening, my interest was definitely piqued. There were some original ideas on the haunted house theme, as well as some well-known tropes.

The character development was rather sluggish. There was just no one with enough personality to actually like. This made for a slow read for me. Also there were a lot of incomplete sentences like “Sat and stretched out.” Was the extra word really so much trouble? That’s the sort of thing that can lead me to DNF, but the Horror bits were interesting enough to make me want to see what would happen.

The plotting also had problems. A plot point would get introduced and just fizzle into nothing and transitions felt clumsy. One supernatural element to the story was just suddenly there with no lead-in and was rather jarring. Moments of suspense often turned out to be other than they appeared and until near the end, there were no sustained crisis points to keep me reading.

Much of it felt unrealistic. Characters would be brought in to save the day then immediately eliminated from the action in ways that made their existence pointless. One person faints in a swoon and is unconscious for a very long time (keeping her conveniently out of the way) while another gets a bash to the head but is suddenly awake and active again. Another character is managing to do all sorts of physical things with a broken arm that should have been much more distracting at least. A fight scene reads like a Manga and the magic towards the end made me think of 1950s B-movies.

On the positive side, the use of Old English rang true, though I don’t have the linguistic expertise to know if it was accurate. It looked convincing enough. The story had some good bits and the overall progression worked, but the execution needs smoothing and some practice on establishing relevance.


Midnight in the Graveyard starstarstar

by Robert McCammon et al

This is a collection of Horror stories, many of them written by authors I’ve heard of and read before, including Robert McCammon, Kealan Patrick Burke, John Everson, Hunter Shea, William Meikle, Jason Parent, Kathryn Meyer Griffith, and Jonathan Janz.

To my surprise, a lot of the stories didn’t really grab me, even some from known authors. Many of them spent way too much time on set up for a short story and I found myself skimming to see what the story was actually going to be about. There were also a lot of them set in a very backwoods town American setting that doesn’t generally appeal to me.

Having said that, the good ones were excellent. Stand outs include; Tug O’ War, Holes in the Fabric, The Cemetery Man, The Putpocket and despite its backwoods setting, Swamp Vengence. The last story, Portrait, was also well-written but pushed my triggers for child cruelty.

I have mixed feelings about the collection as a whole, but the good stories made it a worthwhile read.


Elements of Horror: Air starstarstarstarhalf

Edited by P.J. Blakely-Novis

Second in a series of Horror story anthologies with stories themed on each of the four elements; Earth, Air, Fire and Water.

As with the first book in the series, the quality of the stories is very high. My favourite stories are the ones that took a dystopian angle or dealt with spirits associated with Air, Folletti and Dumbo Syndrome.

Most of the stories took a literal approach to air, dealing with breathing or airborne viruses and such. There were two serial killer stories which is not my preferred subject matter, but even those were well-written. The last one too well, I had to stop reading.

This is a series I can highly recommend to any Horror reader. I’ll be starting the next one, Fire, as soon as I finish another anthology I’m reading now.


Bone China starstarstarhalf

by Laura Purcell

This started out with two of my personal cardinal sins: a list of characters, something I always skip past because it’s meaningless until they have context in the story, and present tense writing. Having said that, the first chapter was very effective that way and would have made a great prologue. Dickens used to write the occasional present tense chapter to put immediacy into a segment of a story, but it doesn’t work to do a whole book in present tense.

It starts out with a woman running from something, riding in an old time coach and wearing a dress that gives the impression of a lady, when she is not. An accident leads to her helping an injured man, remonstrating with herself for drawing attention so that people will remember her.

This is where I’m glad I skipped the character list. Learning who this woman is and what she’s running from gives me a reason to continue! She has had some form of medical training, which makes her stand out as a woman healer in an older era when such things were uncommon.

We get a flashback of her history that explains where the dress came from and that her mother was a midwife. This is told in past tense and I found myself very interested in her story. A lot is put into her psychological make-up and motivations to develop a clear picture of the character.

There’s a strong element of Cornish Pixie lore (though it should be Piskies there) to add a creepy element. The story behind the delicate blue and white china comes out by the end and the significance becomes clear.

I have mixed feelings about the end, but the story as a whole did keep my attention and had just that hint of Horror to make it fit firmly in the Gothic category.


Stranger Things Have Happened starstarstarhalf

by Thomas Gaffney

This is a rather good collection of short stories about strange phenomena. There’s a Phoenix shifter in the first story, which is something I hadn’t seen before. Working out how that would manifest must have been an interesting challenge! This is followed by a soul-stealing wizard and a charming ghost story that addresses childhood bullying.

All of the stories are well-written and each leaves a thoughtful aftertaste, though I think those first three were the best, though the last one had some intense moments. I think the collection will appeal to most Horror readers for all the right reasons. Originality, mostly good execution and variety.


Elements of Horror: Earth starstarstarstarhalf

various authors

This was a particularly good collection of Horror stories by a variety of authors, two of whom I’ve read before and the others new to me. The theme is Earth, so not surprisingly many of the stories have monsters of some sort, often from underground places, or something else to do with Earth.

One of the stand-out best stories of the collection was written by the editor, Quake by P.J. Blakely-Novis. This bodes well for the standard of the future volumes. Two other exceptional stories, Beneath the City and Mamaw’s Beast, put this collection way above par for anthologies I’ve read.

The other stories were also of high standard. There was only one that left me wondering what actually happened there, the same one that could have used a closer edit. The others were pretty much pristine and there was no godforsaken present tense!

This volume is the first of a four volume series of Horror story collections based on the four elements; Earth, Air, Fire and Water. All are slated for release by the end of 2019 and I plan to collect hard copies of all of them, based on my experience of the first.


Till Human Voices Wake Us starstarstar

by C. S. Johnson

In the prologue and first chapter, I started to wonder if I had misunderstood the subject matter of this story. Then it all fell into place. The protagonist, Milo, only thinks he’s crazy because he couldn’t really have seen mermaids, right? I quickly got caught up and started devouring the story.

There were a lot of layers to the plot and political intrigue in a world where the mer people didn’t believe in humans, until faced with them. My one issue is the idea of mer people with legs. I’ve never quite swallowed that concept although it’s come up in various films where it was convenient. It just doesn’t ring true, keeping in mind that I’m prepared to believe in mermaids and mermen for story purposes.

The undersea city was an interesting concept in itself, but I didn’t get as much feeling of merpeople in this story as I’d hoped, despite the transformations. It could as easily have been a story of post-Atlantis or some other undiscovered undersea civilisation.

The writing itself was good and I enjoyed the story for the most part, though I couldn’t always visualise the action when it got towards the climax. I didn’t like the ending. I can’t say too much without giving away spoilers but although Milo’s insights and character development were interesting in themselves, too many convenient actions to avoid conflicts of interest and just a stretch of believability left me feeling unsatisfied.


Deeplight starstarstarstarhalf

by Frances Hardinge

Hark and his best friend Jelt scavenge a living in whatever ways they can, especially if they can acquire some of the artefacts of the dead gods from before the cataclysm.

The world building in this one is fantastic. A group of islands that form the Myriad has a well-developed society, including old priests who remember the gods from just 30 years ago.

However, hints that the gods still have influence begin fairly early in the story. Subtle physical changes on those who deal closely with ‘godware’ or anything to do with the gods suggest potentially sinister undertones.

I got caught up in the action of this one very soon. The characters flesh out a little slowly, but there is enough going on to carry the story forward and Hark’s character development makes noticeable strides by about a third through.

The story is very imaginative and I was particularly intrigued by the ‘undersea’, a sinister, magical ocean beneath the regular ocean where the ‘gods’ gain power. Near the end a lot of ‘and this is what happened’ information got dumped, but there was still plenty going on to reach a satisfying conclusion. A very enjoyable read.


The Shapes of Midnight starstarstarstar

by Joseph Payne Brennan

This is a collection of short stories that was originally published in 1980, but re-released and I hadn’t seen it before or heard of the author. There was some fairly gruesome Horror, but presented with unusual perspectives and very well-written.

The first story, Diary of a Werewolf, definitely grabbed my attention and made me wonder what else lay in store through the collection. This was followed by an original take on a zombie theme, clueing me in that we were going to cover several sub-genres of Horror before we were done.

The stories are generally of a high calibre and cover a variety of supernatural entities as well as the odd murder story, always with a creep factor. It’s hard to choose a stand-out in a collection all written by the same author, but The Willow Platform stuck in my mind and Horror at Chiltern Castle was a truly horrific tale in the Gothic vein. I liked the final story too, which was a time slip called The House on Hazel Street.

Overall a very good collection.


Unfettered starstarstarstarstar

This is a collection of short stories from mostly well-known Fantasy authors, including such stellar names as Patrick Rothfuss, Tad Williams, Mark Lawrence, Naomi Novik, Terry Brooks, Michael J. Sullivan, Robert Jordan & Brandon Sanderson.

The editor of the anthology, Shawn Speakman, organised this first volume after being diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2011 and struggling with medical bills. The other authors donated stories for the cause and this grew to establish a fund for Fantasy authors facing similar difficulties and there are now three volumes!

All of the stories are professional quality. Many of them are related to series written by the respective authors, in some cases using material that had been cut in previous edits or adding to the fantasy worlds involved.

Picking stand out stories from this level of writing is a challenge, but the ones that appealed to be most were The Old Scale Game by Tad Williams, Keeper of Memory by Todd Lockwood, Dogs by Daniel Abraham (very powerful story), and The Jester by Michael J. Sullivan (which had the most amazing first line).

Some of the stories I felt would be more interesting if I had read the related series while others served as good origin stories. Several of these authors have been on my tbr for ages and I’ll be making an effort to read more of their stuff after seeing these samples of their work.

A highly recommended collection, both for the good cause and for the quality of writing.


Vicious starstarstarhalf

by Victoria Schwab

I’m glad I read this author’s Shades of Magic series first, because I would have got a bad first impression of her writing if I had started with this one. It starts out with telling, laundry list descriptions, all the earmarks of a 3 star at best author.

I didn’t like the way it jumped back and forth between two time periods either, but I can see why it was done that way. Slowly, the reasons why Victor feels as he does towards Eli and just how strong those feelings are get revealed.

Despite my complaints, I got caught up in the story and decided it was definitely worth continuing. The time jumps nearly lost me about 2/3 through out of frustration, but I had to know what happened. When that happens, I have to give it at least 3 stars.

The final chapters got more linear and were rivetting, so despite having a love/hate relationship with this story, it’s possible I might read the sequel. Hopefully it won’t have the constant flashbacks! based on where this one finished, I think it won’t need to.


An Act of Faith starstarstar

by C.A. Oliver

This is a High Fantasy with an interesting concept. The characters are mostly elves of the Tolkienesque sort and apart from perhaps too many ‘exotic’ names to keep straight, I found the characters mostly distinctive and likeable. After all, who doesn’t like elves?

The writing, while technically fine, felt a little forced, like someone trying too hard to become the next Tolkien. There was a fair bit of ‘telling’ in the first chapter and to my horror, footnotes to explain elements of the world building. This really killed it for me.

The plot varied in pace, but was overall typical of a quest story. Fantasy fans will know what I mean. Apparently there are to be twelve books, which I think might be overly ambitious. Definitely targeted to a Fantasy audience with the patience to unfold the greater story arc.


The Cold starstarstarstarhalf

by Rich Hawkins

This is the sort of monster story that I don’t see enough of these days. Lessons in what it’s like to be at the bottom of the food chain!

It’s the middle of summer but a freak snowstorm makes visibility from inside a train almost nil, then there’s a crash! But Seth, a young survivor, is sure he saw something very strange outside the windows. Was the crash natural? From the conditions?

So starts an adventure that will change everything. This is the sort of alternate world story worthy of writers like Tim Curran and I expect to read many more from this author. Apart from a small segment when I noted too much ‘telling’ of Seth’s emotions, it’s well written and keeps the reader in a dark place where it feels like nothing will ever be normal again.

Plenty of monster action and some good character development, apart from a little too much religion in one of them. Very creepy, full of surprises. I’m wondering if there will be another book. I’ll read it if there is.


WitchLit starstarstarstar

Edited by Laura Perry

I enjoyed this collection very much. It’s a compilation of fantasy short stories and poems about magical settings or characters written by writers involved in Wicca or Paganism in some form. I won’t comment on the poems because I’ve never been a fan of poetry, but the stories were well worth the nominal price I paid and all proceeds go to a literary charity, Books for Africa, so I bought it on pre-order, only recognising a couple of the authors, knowing my money was well spent whether the stories held up or not.

I would say only three stories were really professional quality, but there were no duds. All of the stories were reasonably well-written and the editing was pristine. There was just a certain self-indulgence in the plotting of some of them that is common with Pagan writers turning to fiction, though thankfully not universal.

Overall the really good stories made it worth far more than I paid, so I can’t complain. At least I’ve discovered at least one new good author and the first story, by one of the names I recognised (Nils Visser), has piqued my interest in a series connected to his story. A good result as indie anthologies go.


Walking to Aldebaran starstarhalf

by Adrian Tchaikovski

This is written in a present tense monologue, detailing the experiences of a man lost in a place on Mars he calls The Crypts. His goal is to survive and hopefully to find other humans.

I have to admit that the writing style didn’t engage me. There were humorous moments and one liners, but it wasn’t enough to make me want to follow the main character through endless tunnels with nothing really happening much of the time.

Other reviewers seem to love it, so I’m glad it’s not the first thing I’ve read by this author.


Dracopedia starstarstarstarstar

This is like an encyclopedia of dragons and related creatures, treated totally seriously and giving not only size and colour information, but native area, natural habitat, diet and everything you would expect of any encyclopedia of animals.

It goes much further than just differentiating between a Dragon and a Wyvern, but explains creatures less familiar like Amphipteres and Jormundganders, Sea Orcs and Hydras.

I’m not sure of the authority for some of the ‘facts’, but I suspect a combination of established mythology and gaming manuals.

Explaining the relationships with some recognisable mythological creatures like the Cockatrice adds interest.

The artwork is fantastic. The pre-release Kindle copy doesn’t display it to best effect, but I downloaded the PDF version to see it in full color. This is a book worth getting in hard copy for the art alone!

An excellent resource for any Fantasy fan’s library.


The Flavors of Other Worlds starstarstarstarstar

by Alan Dean Foster

Another great collection of stories from Alan Dean Foster! This one is 13 stories all well into the science fiction genre. We have aliens taking over the planet through corporate buy outs, bootleg knowledge, alien assistants, and we even get to learn how to communicate with a cuttlefish.

Foster’s writing is always good and his inventive plots are way above par. This collection has a nice variety of stories that are well up to his usual standard, exploring other worlds whether they are in space or under sea.

Highly recommended for any science fiction fan.


The Deathless starstarstar

by Peter Newman

House Sapphire, one of the ancient Deathless families is one of the seven timeless royal families, born and reborn into flawless bodies. When villages disappear and assassins strike, the family is riven by suspicion and grief.

This one took a little while to really get into because there are multiple main characters and a lot of world building to establish. A few info dumps can be forgiven. I thought the concept was really original, but after a while it started feeling contrived and my interest waned.

There’s a lot of political intrigue, assassins and action that just slightly exceeds believability. I wondered how the elite families justified effectively stealing bodies from their own grandchildren!

The characters were a little confusing at first as there were a lot of them and they weren’t different enough to make it clear to someone who was just dumped into this fantasy world with no prior knowledge. An okay Fantasy.


The Taste of Different Dimensions starstarstarstarstar

by Alan Dean Foster

Most of the anthologies I’ve been reading in recent years have been multiple author collections on a theme, but this one is a compilation of short stories all written by a well-established Fantasy writer, Alan Dean Foster. Needless to say, the quality is consistent and of the highest caliber.

I don’t know what else I can say about this one. I loved every story. The excellence easily earns the designation of Master Storyteller on the description. If you like traditional Fantasy, read this. You won’t regret it. Full of brilliant ideas, great characterization and unexpected plot twists well done.


Gather the Fortunes starstarstar

by Bryan Camp

Renai is a psychopomp, someone who leads the souls of the dead to the afterlife. But when a boy, Ramses St. Cyr, seeks to escape his fate, Renai gets caught up in a plot among the deities unfolding in New Orleans.

I always enjoy supernatural stories set in new Orleans, though I’ve only been there once. I also enjoy Underworld stories, so this was an obvious choice for me. I’ve only just learned that it’s actually second in a series, but I don’t think that’s why I found it a little hard to engage with it.

The writing was good and the descriptions well done, but I just didn’t connect with the characters and some of the supernatural happenings and use of mythology just felt a bit off. The pacing was also a little awkward. Still, the premise was interesting. I would read this author again and might well look into the first book of the series as people appear to prefer it.


The Kingdom of Copper starstarstar

by S. A. Chakraborty

This is the second book in The Daevabad Trilogy by S. A. Chakraborty. The first book, City of Brass, was a good read so it made sense to continue.

It begins five years after the events of the first novel and Nahri has married the eldest son of Daevabad’s ruler, though it’s a sham marriage. Her friendship with the younger son has been permanently damaged by the events that killed her real love, Dara. Again we have a magical world with Djinn and halfbreeds called Shafit, as well as other spirits like the Ifrit.

This one moved slower for me than the first book. Nahri’s journey was high adventure, but now she’s working toward practicalities in a world that has effectively imprisoned her. A lot of political intrigue features as well as royal family dynamics, more world building information about various djinn entities and a rebellion.

Nahri develops further as a character in this one as does Dara. This made the story more interesting as it went along. There was quite a lot of dramatic action towards the end that made it worth the slower parts, but the ending felt incomplete. It wasn’t a cliffhanger, just one of those “Well what happens now?” endings. I expect another book will follow.


A Conjuring of Light starstarstarhalf

by V.E. Schwab

Third in the series. I had a time gap between reading the second book of this series and this one, so jumping right into action that effectively continues from the second book took me a little while to settle into.

It all started coming back soon. Book two left us on a cliffhanger with Kell in peril! I was so displeased about the cliffhanger that I didn’t even bother to review it. But a few chapters into this one and I was desperate to see him escape.

I found this one stressful. Too many tempers, too much hopelessness in the situation that arises. Many times I wanted to just stop so I wouldn’t have to go back into this imaginary world anymore, so unlike the first book that made it rather fun. It also meanders a lot and it took me quite a long time to read it because it didn’t always hold my attention and seemed overly long.

But with the first two books of the series demanding continuity, I persevered. I’m glad I did. The last third of the book had me doing late nights. I was really gripped! All I’ll say about the end is that it all gets tied up neatly, though I do wonder who will inherit the kingdom in the next generation.


The Unicorn Anthology starstarstar

by Peter S. Beagle, Garth Nix, Carrie Vaughn, Patricia A. McKillip, Bruce Coville, Carlos Hernandez, Karen Joy Fowler, Jane Yolen, Nancy Springer, Cailtin R. Kiernan, Margo Lanagan

How could I resist a collection of stories about unicorns, especially when I’ve actually heard of some of the authors!

A couple of stories were written in present tense but the one by Carlos Hernandez had a very interesting premise; unicorn poaching for their horns! Imagine, Americans not realising we’ve still got unicorns in England. *shakes head*

As you would expect with a themed anthology, there was a variety of takes on the subject. We had a unicorn rodeo and of course you have to be a virgin to handle one of the creatures! Unicorn hunters of various kinds, unicorns mating with human women and the subsequent offspring, unicorn magic and mythology that may or may not come from actual legends.

The stand out stories for me were Falling Off the Unicorn by David D. Levine and Sara A. Mueller, A Hunter’s Ode to His Bait by Carrie Vaughn, A Thousand Flowers by Margo Lanagan and My Son Heydari and the Karkadann by Peter S. Beagle, which had some excellent stoytelling.

I liked some of the others fairly well and only found myself skimming a couple of them. The compilation wraps up with some poetry, which feels natural for this particular theme. Not a bad collection as anthologies go.


Nation of the Beasts starstarstarhalf

by Mariana Pavlova

Another story written in present tense. Why do they do it? This one fooled me because the Prologue was in past tense and drew me in, but when the story proper starts, it’s in present tense and sometimes switches to second person.

Elisse is a white boy who is used to living in a Tibetan temple in India, but he has been sent to New Orleans for his own safety when the Chinese raid the temples. His English is heavily accented and he has been in a refugee camp, where showers are a luxury. Culture shock is the first of his challenges.

The narrative sometimes changes mid-chapter, slipping from first person to second person. It’s a little jarring, as is the sudden changes of tense or person and what looks like a misplaced chapter of a detective story that interjects into the story about Elisse without explanation, albeit set in the same city. This gets tied in a little later.

The writing itself is good, apart from the person and tense anomalies, but intermittent continuity made the early chapters rather difficult to follow. There’s a supernatural aspect involved that kept me wanting to see where it was going to go. Elisse sees demons and explains away his occasional injuries as sleepwalking and nightmares, knowing that explaining the truth would land him in an asylum.

The plot itself is very interesting and Elisse is an easily likeable character. Things start heading towards explanations about a quarter through and I found myself wanting to keep reading at the end of each chapter.

All things considered, an unusual and original story worth reading, despite the tense and person changes that kept throwing me off.


Black Wings starstarstar

by Megan Hart

This is a story about a child who is intellectually gifted, but rather a handful. She develops an affinity with a wild raven, much to her mother’s chagrin. The mother comes over as very weak and unsympathetic to animals. A reason for that is revealed early on, but her insinuation that animals don’t have souls really grated.

There seems to be an unnecessary emphasis on religion that doesn’t really move the plot forward, as well as some embarrassingly intimate scenes between the mother and step-father that I could have done without, even graphic sex on one occasion.

I didn’t like any of the characters, except the raven. He was rather interesting. The end was very dramatic, but lacked explanation or believability. This could have been an effective Horror story redolent of The Bad Seed, but despite hints being dropped like anvils it just didn’t have enough creep factor in the story as a whole.

Despite all that I found the read interesting. I wanted to see what happened.


The Binding starstarstarstarhalf

by Bridget Collins

This is a rather fascinating imaginary world. Emmett buys a book at a fair and his father reacts as if he has brought something evil into the house and gets rid of it. A few years later, a woman who is a binder of books asks for Emmett to be apprenticed to her and to his confusion, his parents hand him over to his fate.

The world building unfolds slowly in this, allowing the reader to gradually get used to the beliefs and attitudes of the people and learn what it means to be bound in a book. A lot of superstition and outright fear surrounds the occupation of binding, yet Emmett is told that he was born to be a binder. Exactly what that means is revealed to the reader at the same time that it is explained to Emmett.

On his first solo binding, Emmett has no idea what he is meant to do. He also has reason to object to the assignment, yet what is entailed and why he was predicted to be a binder born soon becomes clear.

One thing that was unique about this book (apart from the entire concept) was that I actually changed my opinion about a character. After not liking Lucien for a long time, a side of him came out that made me more sympathetic. The action speeds up in the second half of the book and I actually got so engrossed into what would happen next, despite present tense writing in part three throwing me out of the story every time I started a new chapter, that I stayed up late, unable to put it down.

My one complaint is that the ending was rather abrupt. I wanted to know what happened to Emmett and Lucien after the events of those last chapters. I don’t know whether a second book is planned. If it is I will probably read it and hope it holds my interest as well as this one did!


Empire of Sand starstarstarstar

by Tasha Suri

This is a well told story with magic and mythology, as well as an exotic feel to it. Mehr is half Amrithi, as is her little sister, and they can see and smell Daivas; supernatural creatures invisible to ordinary humans. They are considered superstition and Mehr’s step-mother is intolerant of Mehr’s attempts to teach her younger sister how to deal with them.

An unexpected turn of events effectively forces Mehr into an unwanted marriage to a stranger and her independent nature is put up against the challenge of becoming a tool for political power, using her previously forbidden Amrithi abilities in ways that she recognises as wrong. Though she predictably falls in love with her husband, who is also Amrithi, both are enslaved by magical means and together they must find a way to resist the cruel machinations of the Maha, to whom they are in forced vows.

The one thing that bothers me about this story is that Mehr goes from one miserable situation to another. Even when something good happens, circumstances around it will create yet more misery. The poor girl never seems to get a real break!

It had a satisfying end though, and I felt I got a complete story which is important to me in the age of series books. The sample of the next book suggests that it will be the sister’s story, so yay!

I liked the way that Indian mythology was worked into the plot. The characters were distinctive and I liked several of them, if not always completely. I’d say this is an author to watch, though perhaps her characters should be watching their backs!


The Search for Rasha starstarstarhalf

by Paul B. Skousen

Bassam Saga book 3.

Rasha, daughter of the great Abdali-ud-din leader, is kidnapped during the night by bandits seeking ransom. Her fiancé, Bassam, is as determined to get her back as her father. A caravan guide, Shamar, works out that the girl his clients have with them is a kidnap victim and makes a plan to rescue her.

This is a well written story with desert adventure and poetic prose when Bassam speaks of his love for Rasha and resolve to bring her home, though we don’t see what he’s actually doing about it for a while. Rasha is intelligent and resourceful. She’s a strong personality and a likeable character, as is her rescuer.

Some of the missives from other people break up the narrative and slow it down. Personally, I would have preferred to keep the story on Rasha and Shamar or move between them and what was being done to find her.

The book stands alone well and I didn’t feel the lack of background from not having read the previous books in the series. I rather liked the end, though it was sort of predictable. The notes after the story were also interesting as there was historical precedent for much of the story, which I had thought was just a Fantasy.


The Sorrows starstarhalf

by Jonathan Janz

Film composers Ben and Eddie along with a couple of their female friends go to stay a month in Castle Blackwood, which has been uninhabited since a series of gruesome murders in 1925. Eddie is trying to inspire Ben’s creativity when his personal problems with an ex-wife and son are distracting him. However, a malevolent being has been trapped for nearly a century in the castle and he’s ready to feed.

The first chapter was very well written and the personalities of Ben and Eddie were coming out strongly from the start. The one issue was that very different things were happening in the first few chapters so it took a while to get hold of a storyline without referring back to the description to remember what the story was supposed to be about, but a few chapters in, it all pulls together and we’re off to the island.

It also got a little overblown on sex. Whenever an author’s description of a woman includes “perky breasts” I get an impression of a creepy guy who objectifies women. Female authors just don’t describe women that way, even if they prefer women themselves. I’m not a prude but I felt the sexual content was invasive rather than beneficial to the story.

The scares in this one didn’t really deliver. The set-ups were there and could have been horrific, but the obsession with sexual dynamics distracted from any intensity and made the story drag. By the time I got to the end all I could feel was that I didn’t like any of these characters. I know this author has written some good stuff but this one just fell flat for me.

We Sold Our Souls starstarstarstarhalf

by Grady Hendrix

Kris Pulaski was a rock star who almost made it, but now she lives paycheck to paycheck at a boring (if she’s lucky) job as a cheap hotel desk clerk. All she has is memories of what almost was and the band member who ripped everybody off and went on to stardom, then obscurity, until she sees a billboard advertising his return tour.

This was a wild ride that earns its Horror category well and truly. Heavy on rock and roll, mainly Heavy Metal, but also you’ll encounter conspiracy theories, supernatural stuff, cults, social commentary and a whole list of triggers with claustrophobia topping the list and some notable gore. If you’ve got a trigger, just assume it’s in here somewhere.

I should mention that the characters were all distinctive and well developed, especially Kris, and the plot had unpredictable twists and all sorts of surprises.

Some parts of this were difficult for me to read, but I had to know what would happen so I persevered. The end was worth it. For the Horror fan, this is a work of art. For those who don’t like Horror or tend to be squeamish, best steer clear. I can see this story developing its own cult following. Black Iron Mountain has touched the souls of all who read it.

Foundryside starstarstarstar

by Robert Jackson Bennett

This one is a Fantasy story about a professional thief by the name of Sancia. It takes place in an imaginary world with lots of magic with an original approach. Sancia has been hired to steal an item she knows little about from a safe. This takes her sneaking into a compound through sewage, ensorcelled blade on guard.

Many items have magic in this world, referred to as scriving, a sigil-based spell method which in this world is defined as magical writing. The item she is after has a few surprises which will lead much of the progression of events. It is well-written, if perhaps a little cliché as thieves in Fantasy worlds tend to be. The world building is quite workable though and I found it an enjoyable read.

I was thrown off a little by the voice of a certain magical item because it sounded too modern day and pulled me out of the fantasy world a little. Also, a few occasional phrases pulled me out like “Praise God” in a world where religion hasn’t been an element in the story up to then. Otherwise the characters were as you would expect for the genre.

I found myself deeply engaged with the story and have to give it a high rating for that, but this expertly constructed alternative world is both stressful and depressing and makes me think I may pass on the sequels. It also had a blatant ‘buy the next book’ ending and I’m finding myself less and less enamoured of those. Why must everything be a series?

The Magic Cottage starstarstarstar

by James Herbert

James Herbert can always be relied on to present an interesting story and this is one of his best. A couple looking for a house of their own are drawn to a remote cottage called Gramarye (“magic” in old English) in the New Forest. It’s a little over their price range but in need of serious repairs, leaving room for a little negotiation. Midge, the wife, is adamant that she must have this cottage and suddenly the money to make the difference appears in a rational way. She is an illustrator of children’s books and the husband, Mike, is a session musician. Jobs arise in their usual haphazard fashion. The one unusual aspect of the transaction is that the previous owner had some odd criteria for whom the cottage could be sold to detailed in her will.

Mike is a city boy, but Midge grew up in the country so she adapts to the lifestyle change fastest. Mike takes a little longer to warm to remote life, especially when unexplainable things start to happen.

Things get a little weird from the start and progress as the story goes on. To explain further would require too many spoilers, but I can say that someone else wants the cottage for their own purposes. Discovering the nature of those purposes is an important part of the plot.

My favorite character was a little squirrel named Rumbo. I have no objection to most of the human characters, but this little guy was a heart stealer. All I’ll say about the ending is that there was plenty of action and drama, though the magic aspect deviated into the sensational. It made for a very entertaining read all the way through.

End Times: Rise of the Undead starstarstarstarstar

by Shane Carrow

Oh the feels! I’m not a big fan of zombie stories in general but this is one of the better written ones I’ve seen.

The story is set in Australia, beginning in Perth. Aaron is writing in his journal about applications to colleges, parties at the end of school where his twin brother Matt is very popular but he is not, and about a meteorite that falls near a small town on the other side of the country.

Soon reports start coming in from that town about a strange virus, first thought to be rabies, then something else… see where this is going?

All too soon Aaron and Matt discover they’re on their own in a world where all services have stopped and the undead are out to attack anything that moves. Their phones are running out of charge so they can’t even communicate with their father, who got stuck in another small town where he was looking after their grandmother before the road blocks went up.

I could really feel the tension as Aaron and Matt try to make decisions in an adult world where they were only just starting to take their first steps towards self-responsibility. Now they have to survive and there’s no rule book, no authority to consult.

Despite a couple of predictable elements necessary for this genre, the plot progressed with a lot of unpredictable elements and what especially struck me was the realism of how people might react, both good and bad, in a survival situation. Since the journal is written by Aaron, it’s a first person narrative and we see his own emotional responses to the need to adapt in a far too rapidly disintegrating civilisation.

Both Matt and Aaron develop in various ways as the struggle to survive takes them into situations they had never thought of and they have no choice but to think on their feet and react accordingly.

By the time we get to the last entry I was completely wrapped up in the boys’ struggle and although I could see a couple of things coming as events led up to the action packed conclusion, it didn’t detract from my full experience of everything that happened. This one is an easy 5 stars, just for bloody effective writing.

The Moor starstarstarstarhalf

by Sam Haysom

This story is divided in an odd way. It starts with a news clip about two missing boys. There are occasional time jumps forward, written in present tense alternating with memories, which is all rather jumpy.

When it gets to a proper chapter one, the story becomes mostly linear. There are other news clips and time jumps interspersed, but basically the story is told from the pov of five different boys involved in the camping trip that led to the boys going missing, each of them having their own section, though each one progresses the story further forward.

First is James, the overweight boy who doesn’t really want to go but gives into peer pressure to be part of the group. Then Gary who has an unfortunate habit of playing sick practical jokes. He’s followed by Tom, a bigger boy who defends James against his friend Gary’s jokes when they get out of hand, then Tim who is a small boy, son of the responsible adult leading the group and doesn’t have many friends. The sequence of events is finished up by Matt, who is the sharpest of the boys and takes us through the climax of the story, which was very well done. The details and built up suspense were definitely worthy.

Through these various points of view, we slowly learn what happened, why each of the boys took part in the camping trip, what sort of person they appear as to the others and how the two boys went missing. Some of the story gets rather horrific. I sort of guessed what had to happen in the end, though not how it would play out.

This is apparently a debut book by a young author. I think he’s going to be one for the Horror enthusiasts to watch.

Hark! The Herald Angels Scream starstarstarstar

by Christopher Golden

A collection of Christmas stories in the Horror genre was just too good of an idea to pass up! This one is a collection of 18 stories by a variety of authors. I had actually heard of three of them and read something by two of those, which gave me confidence of a certain level of writing.

To be honest, not all of the stories held up to expectation but enough of them did to make the collection worthwhile. Just two of them were written in present tense, which I find difficult to read, and two others were written in second person, which I don’t see often.

There were some interesting ideas explored; zombie elves, creepy children, melting babies, obsessive or robot pets, a great twist on revenge, and an abusive husband returning from the dead among others.

The stand outs for me were Love Me by Thomas E. Sniegoski, Not Just For Christmas by Sarah Lotz, It’s A Wonderful Life by Christopher Golden, The Second Floor of the Christmas Hotel by Joe R. Lansdale and Darrow Street by Elizabeth Hand.

Also very worthwhile were Fresh as the New-Fallen Snow by Seaman McGuire, Good Deeds by Jeff Strand (a very humorous entry), Mistletoe and Holly by James A. Moore, Home by Tim Lebbon and The Hangman’s Bride by Sarah Pinborough.

The collection is definitely worthwhile for the Horror fan.

John Peters in the Land of Demons star

by A.H. Matai

This one confused me in that the writing was stilted, much of it in short sentences like you might see in a children’s book, but the characters were university age. There was some off sentence structure and weird word choices and eventually I decided that it must have been written by someone whose grasp of English is being seen through a foreign grammar structure. I tried to look up information on the author to see if they came from a non-English speaking country, but couldn’t find anything.

There were some interesting ideas but the story just didn’t flow. I do generally find stories involving demons very interesting. There was a lot of ‘telling’ as far as the character’s feelings were concerned, mostly when they got angry. The premise of the story really attracted me but I just couldn’t get into it.

Loch Ness Revenge starstar

by Hunter Shea

The first chapter seemed to keep switching between present and past tense. Twins witness their parents killed by presumably the Loch Ness monster while on holiday. We jump ahead to the twins grown up and settle into mostly present tense.

Natalie is obsessed with hunting down the monster that killed her parents, with the obvious difficulty that most people don’t believe Nessie exists. Eventually her brother joins in the hunt after not seeing each other for several years. They’ve grown up and have much to discover about each other.

The narrative lacks realism. There’s no plan for hunting the creature that isn’t suicidal and guaranteed to cause some close calls.

I’ve enjoyed Shea stories before, but on this one I feel he sort of dropped the ball. For one thing I regard whole novels written in present tense trend as the stuff of very young Romance writers who didn’t pay attention in English class. There were a few glaring typos or wrong form of words and the plot was overly predictable and lacking suspense.

I did get a laugh from a particularly good one-liner and to be fair, there were some dramatic scenes towards the end but again, they were a little too difficult to suspend disbelief. Definitely not Shea’s best work.

The Last Werewolf starstarstarstarstar

by Glen Duncan

This started out with a different tone than I usually see in werewolf novels. More of a crime drama or conspiracy story tone as it’s established that with the murder of a werewolf in Berlin, the protagonist is the last of his kind and an organisation that hunts down and kills werewolves will now be focused on him.

This was a very literary read. Despite a few descriptions of violence, the use of language made it a joy to read and the first person pov of the werewolf throughout felt very intimate and personal. I found myself wanting him to survive. It had a few very sexual references. Apparently being a werewolf sends the libido into animal rut. But both the sex and violence stopped short of becoming gratuitous, even if it nudged that parameter on occasion.

There was a lot of suspense well done and a few twists to keep things interesting. The last few chapters had me breathless!

The writing was so good that I went to see what else the author had written and found that this is actually a trilogy! I’ll look forward to reading the next books. This was one of those stories that when it ended, I just had to sit a few moments, staring into space while processing the feels. it really had a strong emotional impact on me.

Fire: Demons, Dragons and Djinn starstarstar

by Rhonda Parrish

I like the idea of theme anthologies and the concept of this one really appealed to me. All the stories involve some sort of creatures of fire.

I hadn’t heard of any of the authors so it was a bit of a gamble, and like most anthologies with a collection of unfamiliar authors, some stories appealed to me more than others.

We had an Ifrit, a fire sprite, demons, including one who fought an Angel, dragons, gryphons, genies, an elemental magician, a tribute to Jim Morrison (though the author didn’t seem aware that he didn’t write Light My Fire), a host of mythological fire gods, Phoenixes and an Aitvara.

Unfortunately five and a half of the twenty-one stories were written in present tense, which I detest and find difficult to read (one kept switching between past and present tense).

Four of the stories stood out as particularly good. These were:

The Second Great Fire by Laura VanArendonk Baugh, Breath of the Caldera by Wendy Nikel, The Midwife and the Phoenix by J.G. Formato and especially Double or Nothing by Mara Malins, which involved a game of cards that brought to mind Magic the Gathering, but with real creatures. This one made the book worthwhile on its own.

While I can only give the collection as a whole three stars, these authors I’ll be looking to see what else they’ve written.

Behind the Door starstarstarhalf

by Mary SanGiovanni

Somewhere in the woods of Pennsylvania there is a mysterious door and for generations people have written requests and sealed the envelope with wax mixed with their own blood and slipped the letters under the door. They always get a result, but not always in the way they anticipate.

This is a similar concept to another book I read last year, but in this one someone changes her mind and tries to retrieve the letter. Opening the door was a very, very bad idea. This is mentioned in the book description so I’m not giving a spoiler.

The details of individual situations is what makes the story. Rather a lot of people in the town have made use of the door at some time or other, though many won’t admit to it. They are reluctant to talk about it and some incidents are about covering up things the people in question don’t want revealed. A professional, Kathy Ryan, is brought in to help deal with the occult occurrences.

If you like truly horrific imagery and especially tentacled monsters, then this is for you. The situation gets progressively more gruesome as things move on, leading up to a dramatic ending. I can’t put my finger on why, but I didn’t feel what I was supposed to feel as the plot thickened. I think there were a few jumps in the plot that threw me off, just little things like how a group of people in a car are suddenly walking in the forest.

Kathy Ryan is the central character for a series of stand alone stories where she is a sleuth dealing with occult situations. I do find myself curious about the plots of other stories in the series.

Tempests and Slaughter starstarstar

by Tamora Pierce

Arran Draper is a 10-year-old in wizarding school who has been moved ahead two years and has no friends among the older boys. He finds his lessons too easy and struggles to stay out of trouble. An incident of power out of control gets him some attention and he is transferred to a class schedule more suited to his precocious abilities.

This is undoubtedly targeted at the same audience as Harry Potter, but it’s not as dark. I also found it moved a little slowly and started speed reading. There’s a lot of imagination in the details of the story and I would not call it a Harry Potter clone. The only similarities are a wizarding school, a group of two boys and a girl (who is of course the level headed one) and magic to move around invisibly. That’s it, no dark wizard from history threatening the protagonist with special powers in this one.

Actually the one thing lacking in the story was a defined nemesis. One sequence of events follows another and we follow along Arran’s experiences and education, but there is no single driving force to tie the story together, though he does make a few enemies along the way. There is much about gladiators, slavery, and healing magic. The world building is good and has a lot of detail, plus the magic is handled well with natural limitations.

I also thought the characters were written well and the story finished in a way that could work for either a stand alone novel or allow for the characters to continue with new adventures. I do like that in a book. Unfortunately it didn’t absorb me in the way I had hoped from a well-known popular author. I did enjoy it, but I don’t feel compelled to read further in a series if it becomes one.

Rattus New Yorkus starstarstar

by Hunter Shea

This story is a novella and reads very fast! A divorcing husband and wife exterminator team are assigned to test a new rat control substance that is supposed to stop them from breeding. Unfortunately the planned genetic modifications don’t work to plan and they breed more prolifically and become aggressive and fearless. With the reputation of New York rats, this is a seriously scary scenario!

It’s a very fast paced story with constant action through most of it and although the nature of the action is fairly predictable, the details are what makes the difference. I would call it a light Horror. There are definite horrific bits but with comedy asides.

The subplot dealing with the dynamics between the divorcing partners adds some depth but wasn’t explored all that far and I felt was left unresolved. Overall the story didn’t have a lot of depth, but if you’re looking for a fast action Horror that will make to wonder about the scratching in the walls, this will do nicely.

In many ways it resembles one of those old 1950s creature Horrors, but with a more modern feel and without the predictable happy ending.

Hero at the Fall starstarstarstarstar

by Alwyn Hamilton

Usually I complain if a book starts out with a character list, but this is an exception as it’s third in the series and reading through it triggered memories of what happened in the second book. Such lists in stand alone or first of a series are meaningless because the reader hasn’t met the characters yet, but this was a good way to bring me back into the world within the story.

Within the first chapter, I was definitely back inside this amazing fantasy world and continuing from where the second book left off. The stakes are high and seemingly impossible in this third (and I believe last) book of the series. Characters we met in the second book are here or referred to, which helps trigger memories of what happened in the previous books. It’s a series best read in order.

Like the previous books, it has an Arabic feel to the setting and the magic has solid rules. This is definitely one of the best Fantasy series I’ve read, ever. Nothing is made too easy for the heroes/rebels.

The main character, Amani, is a strong female and she is written very believably, keeping in mind we’re in a world with Djinn magic! We see her inner vulnerabilities as well as her outer strength. The story is populated with an array of interesting and unique characters, both good guys and bad guys, as well as some for whom it’s a matter of perspective.

There is plenty of action, especially towards the end chapters, and one scene that actually brought tears to my eyes which is rare. A story of romance is expertly woven in, but in a way that doesn’t read like Romance genre.

This is one of the few series that didn’t lose steam in the later books. It was written as a trilogy and ends in a way that pretty much guarantees that is really the end. As much as I love the world of magic that Hamilton created, I’m glad it wasn’t drawn out beyond its natural length. I’d read parallel stories set in this world without hesitation though.

It will be interesting to see what this author does write next. She’s one I will be watching for.

City of Brass starstarstarhalf

by Suman Chakraborty

It’s always a good sign when a story draws me in right away. An Egyptian healer with a natural ability to see sickness in people makes her living making a show of healing as if she were a charlatan. Until one day she calls up something she doesn’t expect and suddenly she’s involved with a world of Djinn and other supernatural creatures.

The story has a romantic, mock-Arabic feel to it and makes use of a lot of familiar mythology, as well as some original world building of the author’s invention. It all works well and is a magical tale complete with flying carpets and faction wars between one form of supernatural being and another. Sort of Game of Thrones Aladdin style without all the sex and murder. Ok there might be a little murder…

Nahri, the protagonist, has some serious character flaws but it’s easy to feel sympathetic for her trying to survive in a difficult world. There were a few places where it felt like a Romance writer took over the narrative, but for the most part the writing was good and I was caught up in the adventures.

The ending made me suspect a series is to come, which always leaves me with the feeling that a story didn’t quite finish. Whether I would read a ‘next book in the series’ is yet to be seen, but it was an interesting world with distinct, developed characters and I really enjoyed the story.

Uprooted starstarhalf

by Naomi Novik

After enjoying one of the author’s other books and hearing this one was good from many sources, I had to try it despite having little idea what it was about. As it turns out, I really enjoyed most of it!

Every ten years a girl is chosen by the local wizard to come live in his tower and rumors about what happens there are rife, though the girls always come back and insist the magician didn’t lay a hand on them. They always end up leaving the village and finding a life for themselves elsewhere afterwards.

Meanwhile, the villagers live in the shadow of a forest that contains some sort of evil, with creatures who capture those who come too close and take them into the forest never to return.

This is one of the most original Fantasy stories I’ve read for a while. The magic is very well done and the characters are also done well, each of them distinctive in their own way. The challenges that face the main character, Agnieszka, range from trying to keep safe from the hazards of the forest to trying to help her best friend who is up against dangers from all sides, to dealing with the royal family and the pitfalls of murderous politics and the court wizards who see village girls as expendable at best.

It was a fascinating story and one that I kept going back to ahead of my other reads up until about the last third. Then it seemed to lose its way and become a little too surreal to hold attention. Many of the plot points were left unexplained, including why the magician specifically took a girl every ten years, although there was a reference to it with inadequate explanation.

It also hit one of my pet peeves with a single graphic sex scene. Why this has become a thing with recent books that wouldn’t even be described as Romance much less Erotica I can’t imagine. Yes the nature of the relationship was relevant but a move by move about who did what to which body part is completely unnecessary and ruins an otherwise good story! It also makes it unsuitable for young readers, who might have been a primary target audience for this story.

There was an end, but with too much left unexplained.

Dreamtime Dragons Anthology starstarstarstarhalf

by Nils Visser et al

This is an outstanding collection of stories, all having to do with dragons in some way. The stories are from twelve different authors so styles vary, but there wasn’t a dud in the bunch. One by the editor was written in present tense, but it was actually done well which is rare.

I’ve read a few of the authors before so I knew I could expect above average quality for at least some, but I was pleasantly surprised overall. I’ve added A,J. Noon to my favorite author list and sent for samples of his other work. I do like a bit of humor in my Fantasy!

The editing was also above average, even for big publisher books. I counted four minor typos for the whole book, plus two in the author bio section. I bet they didn’t check there!

It was an enjoyable collection and included sample chapters from some of the authors’ other books as well, but they were self-contained segments that didn’t leave me wondering what was going on.

It’s also good knowing that any money generated from the project is going to a ferret rescue center. So a good read and something to help animals. Win-win!

The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock starstarhalf

by Imogen Hermes Gowar

Unfortunately this story is written in present tense and like most books that are written this way, the prose feels stilted and doesn’t flow well, plus the tenses get confused when referring to something that happened in the story’s past. It’s a shame as it had the potential to be really good. People who don’t mind reading in present tense may enjoy it more than I was able to. I also had the impression from the description that it would be about a live mermaid rather than an artefact, but I won’t blame the author for my expectations being other than what the story was really about.

A merchant, Jonah Hancock, learns that his agent has sold his ship to buy a mermaid. His ship! His means of livelihood!

He is given no choice but to begin a new career in exhibiting what would be considered the body of a freak of nature. It isn’t what he wants to do, but it will take him into some unexpected adventures.

The characters were depicted well in this and the plot had some interesting twists and turns, but I found it hard going because of the present tense writing. It just doesn’t work for me and I know a lot of other people are the same, so why do recent writers keep doing it? Anyway, I’m giving it 3 stars because I think this author could write well and the plot did have some interesting aspects.

The Toy Makers starstarstarstarstar

by Robert Dinsdale

This is a story about a magical toyshop in the heart of Mayfair, just at the beginning of WWI. A young girl, Cathy, is pregnant and not at all happy with her parent’s plans to send her to a ‘home’ where her baby will be sold to adoptive parents and she can try to pick up the threads of her life in shame.

An employment advert comes to her attention and she decides to take control of her destiny and forge another way forward.

From the start it is clear that the toyshop is out of the ordinary. I found myself quickly getting into the childlike sense of wonder that this magical place attracts and enjoyed watching Cathy learn to fit in with the other residents and toy makers.

It isn’t all magic and joy though. The real world encroaches on the magical world of the toyshop, especially when the Great War breaks out. By then we’ve already learned the far too real history of Papa Jack, who started the toy shop with his two sons. The contrast of the magical world within the real world makes for a good story and kept me interested all the way through.

There is everything from sibling rivalry to magical animals that come alive, war time prejudices contrasted with paper trees that grow and develop living paper mache wildlife, war time correspondence and through it all the perspective of a child discovering everything for the first time.

It’s not all happy, but the twist at the end makes the journey worthwhile. Well defined characters and a very unpredictable plot along with good writing make this one of the best books I’ve read this year!

Ramses the Damned starstarstarhalf

by Anne & Christopher Rice

Curiosity got the better of me on this collaboration. Once upon a time I loved reading Anne Rice’s early vampire books and I’ve enjoyed one book by Christopher Rice (Vines) despite being written in present tense (the ultimate sin).

So, I started reading and my first impression was that it had the tone of those early vampire books and that perhaps the collaboration with her son was what Anne needed to get back on track. I started having some doubts when it became overtly sexual and the emphasis on gay sex started to impede the story flow. I don’t object to gay sex, but I generally don’t want to read about a lot of sex in general. It also dragged in a few places.

It’s the story of Bektaten (totally fictional) who developed a formula to attain eternal life. The formula comes to Ramses and then the Egyptian Queen Cleopatra, making them both immortal. Each of them shared their immortality with a few favorites and conflicts ensue.

This isn’t, as I had assumed, a new vampire novel. No blood drinking has taken place. The immortality elixer is a new thing, not explored in any previous books I’ve read by either author, though there are some Ramses books by Anne Rice that I haven’t read so this might be a series I just wasn’t aware of. The Egyptian theme seems to be a favorite of hers.

The important thing is that I was drawn into the story and began to get to know the characters and all their foibles. My sympathies were naturally with Cleopatra, as she’s a favorite historical figure, though not the nicest person in this story. I had some problem with keeping secondary characters in context as they weren’t as well-defined as they needed to be, but it all fell into place near the end when the significance of their roles comes to fruition.

I found it interesting how the story explored concepts of reincarnation and afterlife, encompassing a few different belief systems within the plot and the beliefs of the main characters. The end seemed to drag out a long time, but the loose ends were all tidied up while still leaving room for some of the characters to appear in a new story.

Dead Sea starstarstarstarstar

by Tim Curran

This was wonderfully atmospheric.

From the Prologue:

“Shut your mind down, shut it right down or they will hear you thinking and if they hear you thinking they will find you.”

How many children have hidden under their blankets in the dark thinking just this? Invoking our childhood fears from the start, the story goes on to trigger other fears, including fog, darkness and most notably, the vast open sea.

Several members of a construction crew have never been out of sight of land before, but they needed this job. What awaits them goes far beyond fear of a sinking ship or natural disasters when the ship enters an eerie fog in the vicinity of the Bermuda Triangle. Everything seems wrong. Watches and radios don’t work properly and sea creatures unlike anything even the seasoned sailors have ever seen before add to the otherworldly feeling of being somewhere unknown, where all the rules have changed.

This book could do with a technical edit as there are periodic words missing or shoved together, but the writing is exquisite and the characters develop into very distinctive personalities, some of them sensible and others so irritating you want to just shoot them for the good of the group. The eerie atmosphere is very well done and keeps the pages turning to the point of losing sleep over ‘just one more chapter’.

I loved the way the author got inside the minds of men who are trying to hang on to sanity in circumstances that test their limits more and more as time goes on. Sometimes I’ve had to stop reading just to get out of that world for a little while myself! I wanted a book with monsters. Well, I definitely got it with this one. It took me unequivocally into another world where nothing is as it should be and the rules become clear only when it’s too late.

As if that weren’t enough, we get some theoretical Physics! One of my great interests and the reason I love time travel books. It was sensibly done, going just far enough. My only complaint besides the typo errors is that an aspect of the ending was a little too convenient for something untried, but by then reality was fully suspended so I didn’t care too much. Despite my little criticisms, this one gets a full 5 stars for the amount of enjoyment it gave me.

elementalsThe Elementals starstarstarstarhalf

by Michael McDowell

You have to love a Horror story that starts with a funeral. This one had a weird aspect, but that soon got explained in a perfectly plausible manner. The deep south accent comes over easily and actually helped transport me from reality into this alternate southern world.

I found the author’s voice engaging and didn’t mind a slow build up in the beginning. A southern family have two holiday homes in a place called Beldame which consists of three houses on a beach with sand dunes. The third house is unoccupied and no one is sure who owns it, but it is getting slowly buried in a sand dune.

13-year-old India gets curious about the place and notices that her father, uncle and grandmother are afraid of the third house. They warn her about the more practical dangers of sand dunes and structurally unsound properties, but her driving curiosity makes her keep looking through the windows and photographing things. Things start to get a little strange.

This is well written and the characters are distinctive. The plot builds slowly, revealing inter-family relationships and how they’ve developed over time. Towards the end everything that has been experienced in the third house comes out and the action goes berserk, leading to a breathtaking conclusion.

There was a time or two when someone didn’t see something obvious, but otherwise it was believable as far as anything involving supernatural activity can be believable and definitely had some chills and tension to satisfy the Horror enthusiast.

Faerie Tale starstarstarstar

by Raymond E. Feist

This one kept getting recommended and after trying a sample, I decided to give it a read. It’s my first Feist and possibly my only, as sampling another of his novels didn’t impress me as much.

It’s a very dark story that wraps folklore, especially Irish mythology, around a modern day setting. A family buys a farmhouse with woodland attached to the property and there are local stories about the woods and some sort of sleeping evil.

What I liked was that this isn’t a standard monster story with one nasty critter causing all the problems. Various otherworld entities encounter the family members, some in harmless ways and others, well, you have to read to see what happens.

The story was more sexual in parts than I expected and not always in nice ways. People really sensitive to anything suggesting rape might want to steer clear. The strange experiences are fairly subtle at first and build as the story goes along.

Another thing I liked was short chapters! It’s really easy to decide to read just one more, and just one more since it’s only a few pages. I got 149 pages in on the first sitting! Then towards the end found myself getting through a lot of pages without realizing as things really heated up.

The family who are central to the plot are well defined characters and some of their close associates also come across strongly as individuals. Even the twins become distinctive as their part of the story develops. At times I didn’t know where the plot was going and wondered if it was just meandering or if it was setting me up for something specific, but it all came together in the last couple of hundred pages.

My one niggle is the mixing of different cultural histories and mythologies. As it happens, I recently read an academic book on Persian Zoroastrianism/Magic and crossing that over with the Illuminati in Europe and a mix of Irish/English/Germanic folklore stretched believability a little far.

Putting all that aside, I enjoyed the story and fully approve of the ending. Highly recommended for dark fantasy fans.

Symphony of Ruin starstarstarhalf

by Christina Lay

Ghosts, Fae, magic, Alchemy and a monster from out of the catacombs bringing death to the city. It’s all here! The story reads like a very well written Fantasy novel and got my interest right away.

Remy is an Alchemist’s apprentice and with the Alchemist away, he is left to discover what is coming out of the catacombs to kill people. He encounters ghosts and other creatures in the world of darkness, effectively an underworld journey.

Despite being treated like a lowly ratboy by the local hoity-toity, he gets on with the job and seeks to discover why one of their class got buried with commoners. Remy is a likeable character who lets the class insults roll off and applies his own wits and knowledge to untangling some confusing clues to what’s really going on.

The story is fast moving and leads into a dark journey beneath the city that brings out some of our most primal fears. At times it reminded me of the surreal worlds of Roger Zelazny or The Deathgate Cycle by Weis and Hickman, though not in as much intricate detail. It was an interesting read and I think a new author to watch.

Cabal starstarstarstarhalf

by Clive Barker

This story was the basis for the movie, Nightbreed, which I’ve seen many times. Normally I don’t like serial killer stories, but the emphasis that interested me is the ‘monsters’ of Midian.

The story started out with the same premise as the movie; Boone is seeing a psychiatrist who shows him pictures of grisly murders and eventually Boone accepts that during his blackouts, he’s committing these murders. But there is a supernatural aspect to it, a quest to find a place called Midian, where the monsters dwell. In a mental asylum, Boone meets another inmate who knows about Midian and gives him clues how to find it.

As I hoped, the book basically followed the same story as the movie, though the later parts were expanded and the book was able to better explain what happened underground. There were a couple of unexpected sexual scenes that didn’t really advance the story, but most of it focused on the conflict between Midian and the local town police.

Towards the end there is some wonderfully contrasting prose, showing the beauty of the world of ‘monsters’ as opposed to the ugliness of the serial killer and the motivations that drive him. I think the ending was basically the same as the movie but the book allowed more explanation, so now I want to see the movie again with this deeper level of understanding.

Children of Chaos starstarstarstar

by Greg Gifune

The prologue alone sets a disturbing tone. A man with all over body burns is in the vicinity of a carnival in town and encounters some local boys, who assume he must be responsible for a little girl’s murder that happened that day. It all goes downhill for them fast from there.

Then the first chapter jumps in time and the boys have grown up and gone separate ways, each affected in their own ways by the events of the beginning. Phillip, the protagonist is probably the least screwed up, but his past comes back to haunt him when the mother of one of the other boys asks for his help.

The author admits in his notes that part of this story was inspired by Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. I can see the correlations, though the writing is riveting and most of it original. I’ll admit that I didn’t think the end measured up to the journey. I’d like to have seen something more original and unpredictable, though it served the story well enough to enjoy the read.

The horrific elements were pretty strong in places and the tension almost exhausting at times. The setting was depicted very effectively so that I felt I was there and the characters fit in well, each of them very unique. Although I didn’t much like the ending, I can see why this author is becoming very popular with those who enjoy a good Horror novel. I have another of his that I’ll look forward to reading soon.

The Rules of Magic starstarstar

by Alice Hoffman

A prequel to the book, Practical Magic. Having not yet read that book, I went in without knowing the characters or where the story might go.

The Owens children, Franny, Jet and Vincent, are ‘unusual’ and are given specific rules to help them avoid situations where they might do magical things. No walking in moonlight, red shoes, cats, crows, books on magic and definitely never fall in love.

I found the style quick, clipped and very fast moving through the early part of the book as a lot of background information was explained. The one thing I really didn’t like is that there are no chapters! I know Pratchett gets away with this but for me, it makes it difficult to set daily reading goals. It took longer to read this one as a result. The book is divided up into six parts, but I didn’t feel that those separations made much of a difference to the overall flow.

I think the lack of chapters was a factor in me starting to lose interest early on, though mainly I just didn’t connect with any of the characters. I found their cousin April to be particularly irritating. Everything just seems to ramble on endlessly moving from one scene to another without any plot demarcations to stand out and make a point. The issue of falling in love went through a predictable development in true fairytale form, but the emphasis on restrictions along the way felt overdone.

The writing itself was good and I expect fans of Practical Magic will enjoy this a lot more than I did. It just didn’t grip me and I expect that already having a connection to the characters from the other story would make the difference.

The Green Mile starstarstarstar

by Stephen King

After watching and enjoying the movie made from this book many times, I had to read the source material. The story wasn’t actually changed much for the film version apart from details about character’s thoughts always being easier to convey in books.

I enjoyed the read a lot, but have one complaint. He kept giving spoilers for the upcoming chapters! It’s something I haven’t seen King do in any of his other books that I’ve read. He would finish a chapter with “and then X happened.” All suspense was deflated, even though I knew what was coming because of seeing the movie.

Still, this is one of those not-Horror stories with supernatural overtones that King does so well. The story of John Coffey and his special ability to ‘help’ people is a King classic with good reason and translated to film well.

The last few chapters diverged a little more from the movie and went into more detail about what happened to various characters and that was interesting, although one issue was left unresolved unless I missed a detail.

As King books go, I think it’s one of his best despite the spoilers along the way. I’m kind of glad I saw the movie first on this occasion though. I don’t think the eerie supernatural scenes were depicted as intensely as I know King can do, or maybe I’m just spoiled because the movie did it so well.

The Goblins of Bellwater starstarhalf
by Molly Ringle

Modern fairytales seem to be a rising trend and some good stories are coming out of it. This one read much like a traditional fairytale as far as language and sentence structure goes, but it had some original elements like goblins using iPhones and other modern devices. I was finding it rather charming until near the end of the first chapter an F-bomb spoiled it for me.

I’m not a prude or easily shocked, but I had been thinking this would be a lovely story for adults and children alike up to that point and it served no purpose to the story except maybe to add some shock value. Was it worth making it unsuitable for children? I didn’t think so until I saw the direction the plot would take.

The story continues in an enchanting style for a while, drawing the reader into the human interactions with the goblins. It takes a sinister turn just as the f-bombing starts again and then a set up for an apparent romance angle.

The significance of the human characters to the goblins all clicks into place by 20% and I started enjoying the original premise, despite the teenage-like relationships. It comes out that the characters are actually in their twenties and becomes decidedly sexual by about a third in, so any thoughts of sharing with children are out the window. I’ll give it credit for stopping at ‘sensual’ rather than turning into graphic erotica, which I hadn’t signed on for.

By this time the story has become about the humans and the goblins are left behind. They appear again periodically, but the fairytale atmosphere gives way to a Romance story. Readers of that genre may enjoy this more than I did. It went in a different direction than I expected and my interest waned accordingly.

The writing itself is good so I can’t fault it, it just wasn’t for me.

Golden Age and Other Stories starstarstarhalf

by Naomi Novik

I wanted to read something by Naomi Novik, but didn’t realise this collection of short stories was fan fiction related to the Temeraire series, which I haven’t read. Never mind, it’s a good test of a story collection like this to see if it can stand on its own.

The first story, Volley’s Cow, did leave me a little bewildered. I think there was an assumption of familiarity with the characters, both human and dragon, as well as adventures they had been through in the series. The second story, Planting Season, was more self-contained and stood on its own well.

This was followed by Dawn of Battle, which I think probably reflected the sort of military battle atmosphere of the series and gave me a taste of the dragons and how they work in this world.

Then there is the title story, Golden Age. This one is longer than the others and rather good. My impression was that it was an alternative history using the characters from the first book of the series and focused very much on the nature of the dragons.

The next story, Succession, takes place in China and tells about how the French came to have a Celestial egg. This is followed by Dragons and Decorum, about a young woman being recruited into the air Corp, because female dragons will only have female handlers. Although I haven’t yet read Pride and Prejudice, the use of the names Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy suggest there might be a nod to that book in this story.

The book wraps up with a section of Drabbles, 100 word stories. These were amusing and gave me some snippets of the world in which this series manifests. thought it was a nice way to finish up the collection. The artwork alone is worthwhile.

Over all an enjoyable read that I’m sure will be indispensable to readers of the Temeraire series.

The Forgotten Beasts of Eld starstarstarstar

by Patricia McKillip

Old style medieval Fantasy with wizards and dragons, magical animals and a child who must be hidden.

The narrative reeks of fairy tale, yet doesn’t come over as a children’s story. Although it has the usual patriarchal society, the main character is a strong female.

I can see why Patricia McKillip is so well-known and highly regarded. How I’ve missed reading her before is a mystery to me! She weaves magic and drama together artfully so that the impossible feels perfectly believable and I found it easy to care about the characters, especially Tam.

She addresses hard choices and issues of human nature in a way that engages the reader in the lives of the main characters rather than preaching. Though her style is definitely for my fairytale-like Fantasy moods, I will definitely be reading more of her work. This was apparently one of her early ones, now re-issued.

There were some surprises and a lot of conflict near the end that I couldn’t see a way out of, so kept me interested and gave me a resolution that I didn’t see coming. Highly recommended for Fantasy fans.

The Xanth Novels, Books 38-40 starstarstar

by Piers Anthony

I haven’t read the previous Xanth Novels but had heard they were really good so thought I would dive in and see how it goes.

The first thing that struck me was that the writing seems directed at a very young audience, both in tone and word choices. Referring to a woman’s genitals as her “whatever” was taking it a little far in my opinion.

The set up of the first story reminded me of many classic fairy tales. A woman makes a wish at a magic well and everything immediately goes spectacularly wrong. Check.

This of course leads to a question and off we go. Visit the mysterious local wizard, check.

This volume contains three separates stories; Board Stiff, Five Portraits and Isis Orb. Each story is self-contained, but I felt they were written to a younger audience and I felt as if I were reading children’s fairytales. I think I would have enjoyed the stories more as a teenager. I would recommend them to someone who enjoys reading more YA, as the sense of humor is good but it just wasn’t the sort of thing that could take me to deep pov.

The Furthest Station starstarstarstarhalf

by Ben Aaronovitch

This seventh book in the Rivers of London series is shorter than the others, just over 100 pages. I was pleased to be dealing with ghosts again as they have a lot of scope for interesting situations and glimpses of history.

I also enjoyed the return to dealing a little with river spirits, bringing it full circle. This one has an old fashioned Mystery element in that someone has been kidnapped and cryptic hints from ghosts are all Peter Grant and company have to go on to try to find the missing girl.

The book makes an enjoyable, short read and I feel returns to the vibe of the first book in a way that is satisfying to someone who has been reading through the whole series.

Broken Homes starstarstarhalf

by Ben Aaronovitch

This 4th book in the series started out differently in that there was no immediate connection to magic. As with most murder stories, a body is involved, but why Peter Grant would be involved isn’t immediately apparent.

I don’t know if it’s the story itself or too many people yapping at me when I’m trying to read, but I never quite worked out the motivation of the Faceless Man, as he’s called in this. It’s also the first of this series that I felt ended without fully resolving. It wasn’t quite a cliffhanger, but a significant and unexpected twist near the end left me feeling the story was unfinished.

The journey was enjoyable. As always, the characters were distinctive and some funny moments make it all good fun, but I’m marking this one down for leaving me feeling that it wasn’t finished.

American Gods starstar

by Neil Gaiman

I kept hearing how good this book is, so when a buddy read came up, I had to join in. I had even bought the book without my usual vetting through reading a sample.

The beginning surprised me. It wasn’t at all like I expected and although there were hints of weirdness to come, I found myself firmly in uncharted waters. It does take a little while to get going to where it starts to make sense.

I’ll admit I found it slow at times and struggled to keep my attention on it. The subtle infiltration of gods was a brilliant idea, but it took an age to get to the revelations and if it hadn’t been Gaiman, I might have given up.

A lot of diversions into side stories kept the continuity from grabbing hold, though they fleshed out the overall situation. A linear story does unravel before the end, but along the way I found myself caring less and less about the characters and looking forward to getting to the end so I could read something more engrossing.

A lot of people love this book, but for me it isn’t one of Gaiman’s best.

Stone Cold Bastards starstarstarhalf

by Jake Bible

This one is listed under both Horror and SciFi & Fantasy, but it has some very light hearted and even funny moments, albeit with a fairly dark premise. Hell has unleashed all its demons and the only thing saving humanity is a ragtag bunch of gargoyles (technically grotesques for most of them) that come to life through blood magic and guard the last cathedral sanctuary on Earth.

Human possession is common and everyone is preparing for the end of days. How cheerful. Yet the characters are quirky and bring more than a few laughs. The story is enjoyable, though heavy on dialogue and character driven with only occasional sojourns into description. I found the effects of having a stone body interesting in how it affected the characters’ ability to do things and withstand assaults from the demon possessed humans, though apparently obsidian can cut stone. Flight came down to just magic. Sometimes the author has to either concede Physics or use magic.

Part two threw me a little as it started with some new characters and basically a new storyline, though set in the same time and place. Familiar characters soon joined in, but I found this part slower going than the first. It does have significant plot development though and towards the end I could see how everything fit in.

Part three is pure action, laced with testosterone poisoning. Things get a little gruesome at times and it’s not for the squeamish. There were some emotional moments as well, and I found the end satisfying. Overall an enjoyable story with some original elements.

The Goblin Emperor starstarstarstarstar

by Katherine Addison

The first chapter was enough to tell me this one is for world building Fantasy fans, the kind who loved Lord of the Rings. We’ve got elves, political intrigue and an airship crash that results in a new emperor. I can see why reviews on this one are polarized, as it has some hard to pronounce names and other earmarks of old school Fantasy. Personally, I was hooked by the end of that first chapter. Bring on more!

Maia is half-elf half-goblin, a disregarded fourth son relegated to exile after his mother’s death. He might have been forgotten forever, but an airship crash that kills his father and brothers leaves him as next in line to the throne. With his mixed blood and lack of training for court life, there is bound to be adjustment issues at the least.

The story is heavy on political intrigue, but very well done. Maia is a very likable character and I enjoyed watching him rise to the situation and find his strengths, overcoming an abusive childhood. I thought he struck a good balance, seeking advice on protocol from those he could trust and recognizing when courtiers were trying to bully or trick him into doing what they wanted.

The aspect of mystery was good too. Several characters are introduced who might have the sort of ambitions that might have resulted in sabotage of the royal entourage’s airship. The story kept my attention and had me wondering which of the more slimy characters might have been behind it, or whether there could have been a conspiracy.

Some other likeable characters arise as well, though I found myself wondering who might have hidden motives, even among the apparent ‘good guys’.

One thing that surprised me was the spiritual aspect of Maia’s goblin heritage. I find it fascinating that stories about goblins that look into their society are increasingly Shamanic or spiritual in some way. It’s an interesting trend.

I did find the book hard to put down in the later chapters, falling asleep late at night but determined to finish one more chapter. In the end the mystery was solved and the book came to a tidy end, but I’m hoping there will be more books in this world. Despite stumbling a little over convoluted names, I really enjoyed the read and may even look into some of the author’s other books under her other pen name.

scattered-souls-2Scattered Souls starstarstar

by Erica Lucke Dean

After a prologue to give some background information about what happened with Laith and Maddox in the past, chapter one starts off as a direct continuation of the first book. This made me wonder if this one would end in a cliffhanger as well and decide I was finished with the series if it did.

Questions of who Ava loves and which is the good brother get more complicated in this one, but we get a nice trek through history and even meet a famous person or two along the way.

I felt the twists and turns in the plot of this one were less believable than in the first book, but it kept my interest and I enjoyed the read, even if I did sometimes want to tell Ava not to do something stupid! We see different sides of both Laith and Maddox, which is where I had a little issue with consistency.

The historical aspects of the story fit well enough and while I’m not an expert on any of the periods we traveled through, they rang true. The convolutions of time travel worked well and I enjoyed learning more of the ‘rules’ that affect the twins as they move through time, though the source of the ability was magic rather than science.

I could see how this one needs to end, but the chance was missed to keep the story going through another crisis. It didn’t actually end on a cliffhanger, but definitely set up for a next book. My only other complaints is that though sex wasn’t actually graphic, it was a bit much for a YA book. Pre-teens read these after all.

A generally enjoyable time travel book, but I feel the plot has lost its way.

traitor-to-the-throneTraitor to the Throne starstarstarstarstar

by Alwyn Hamilton

After reading the first story in this series, I really wanted to continue. The first chapter of this second volume recaps some of what went on in Rebel of the Sands and reminds the reader of the most important characters from that book. Then we’re quickly into new adventures.

There is continuity in that the rebellion is still striving to overthrow Ahmed’s brother and the beautiful mythology begun in the first book continues and expands, but the action is turned up a notch and some new perspective comes into Amani’s adventures. In many ways this story is even better than the first one! It also recaptures the exotic, mock-Arabic atmosphere of the first book and the fascinating variations on Djinni magic are very imaginative.

Amani is put in one situation after another that looks like she may not be able to get out of this time, and some old friends and acquaintances reappear with new significance. The story had me gripped and wanting to just keep reading all the way to the end, apart from one very dramatic scene that was so powerful that I had to put the book down for a few minutes to assimilate the rush of emotion.

The story gave me a real roller coaster of emotions from joy to tragedy. It also had me constantly wondering who could be trusted and who couldn’t and was full of surprises!

The end wraps up the current situation, but leaves us in a place where there is definitely more to tell. I often complain about that in first books but I don’t mind it so much in a second book because I’ve committed to the series of my own free will then. The next book is predicted for 2018 and I will have to wait.

This series is some of the best Fantasy I’ve read this century. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

hells-gateHell’s Gate starstarstar

by Laurent Gaudé

This story is translated from French and set in Naples, which could be an interesting combination, only the translation seems a little dry. Part of this is because some chapters are written in present tense, which I assume is true to the original. It might work better in French, but I had a very hard time getting into the plot.

Sometimes it would start to get interesting, then I would lose track of what was supposed to be happening. Eventually it became clear that a child had been killed and his mother wanted the father to track down the killer and murder him in revenge, but killing a man in cold blood is not as easy as it sounds.

In the process of trying to satisfy his wife’s need for revenge, Matteo, the father, meets some interesting characters and finds himself examining some of life’s deeper questions. An invitation from an unusual priest to visit the underworld leads Matteo on an adventure he didn’t bargain for.

Although it took a while to get into this story, it certainly had some interesting aspects. Depictions of the underworld are always of interest and the characters were a strong point. The ending comes full circle and everything fits into place eventually, but it’s the sort of story you would have to read twice to get the full benefit of what’s going on.

rebel-sandsRebel of the Sands starstarstarstarstar

by Alwyn Hamilton

This has the flavor of a mock-Arabic, Arabian Nights sort of story, including mention of genii and other mythological creatures that sound like they should be from that culture, but are actually original mythology invented by the author. The main character, a young person seeking to leave a difficult living situation where law and family tradition work against the rights of young people, puts everything at risk to use a skill for shooting to gain enough money to leave a small desert town and survive for a while longer than mere savings would allow.

Of course things never work out as planned in a good tale and unlikely alliances lead to adventure and plenty of action. It definitely held my attention! Enough that I was requesting the sequel before I had got halfway through the first book.

I’m marking this author as one to watch. She definitely has the skill of spinning a good story despite a few minor plot holes. I was actually surprised to see it categorized as YA and assume it’s only because the protagonist is young. The story has enough intricacies to appeal to adults and an interesting twist to add even more magic to the tale.

Through the action of the story, the exotic atmosphere of desert towns and caravans where supernatural creatures exist becomes easy to believe and immerse oneself into, and learning who to trust and who is on which side at any moment can be unpredictable.

This was one of those wonderful stories that had me putting off real life responsibilities in the final chapters because I had to keep reading. I don’t know how long the series is going to be, but I can see myself following this one, though I don’t keep up with many series. Easy five star read and a wonderful aventure.

mortA Tale du Mort starstarstar

by Katrina Monroe

Where do I begin to write a review of this book? It’s dark humour with quirky characters that cross the boundaries of the living and the dead from an ‘Under’ and ‘Above’ set up to Egyptian gods, one of which becomes an assistant mortician ‘Above’ when his job for millenia has been to guide the souls of the dead ‘Below’.

It’s like something Neil Gaiman and Clive Barker might have collaborated on with a touch of Terry Pratchett humour. Yet it has a distinctive voice of its own. Unfortuneately I couldn’t quite connect with it. I’ve tried to work out what’s missing for me. Plenty of dialogue, is it description? In some places there is very vivid description.

I think maybe I just failed to see progression and a point to the overall plot. I kept reading and waiting to ‘get’ it, but I never did.

Oh well, you can’t win them all.

splinteredSplintered Souls starstarstar

by Erica Lucke Dean

The prologue in this one gets right into action. A historical backdrop with the conflicts from the time of Charles II is established. A woman is pregnant and fears that her child will be deemed the son of a traitor. Her husband is missing, perhaps captured. In desperation, despite the dangers involved, she turns to a local witch.

When we start the story proper, it is modern day. In many ways it reads like a typical YA Romance story about a girl about to start college. The father died, the family moved, and she’s going to live at home while attending a small campus. She meets a few local girls, one of which takes an instant disliking to her and is really bitchy. So far ticking all the boxes, including spotting a cute guy.

However, there’s a mystery to the cute guy. It takes quite a while to get back to the historic part of the story or for the time travel element to come out, but when it does the title makes perfect sense and the concept is actually rather intriguing and original. The writing is also good so although I’m not really into college settings, it kept my attention.

The second part of the story really drew me in and got very exciting, but then it stopped on a cliffhanger ending. I presume another book is planned as some of the salient points were never explained, like how the time travel aspect works, though there was a good opportunity. Also, a few inconsistencies in the characters began to emerge so though the writing itself is very good, the plotting left a lot of holes and the ending was far too abrupt.

infernal-paradeInfernal Parade starstarstarstar

by Clive Barker

This was my first Barker read, though I’m familiar with his work through the film, Nightbreed. There is no denying that Barker has a wild imagination when it comes to creating monsters!

Infernal Parade is shorter than most of his books. It’s a series of short stories that are tied together with a theme, preparation for the Infernal Parade when the dead and demented invade the ordinary world. The one thing that is missing is that the book doesn’t take us through to the actual manifestation of this parade, only the individual stories about some of the people and creatures destined to take part.

Barker manages to strike a balance with some of the more gruesome scenes in his stories so that every bit of torn flesh, every drop of blood spilled is relevant to the story at hand and never crosses into the gratuitous. This is a rare skill!

The individual stories each had their own morbid fascination. There were no duds among them. As much as I’m sensitive to Horror stories that involve murder and gore, Barker’s treatment of the material just makes me want to read more of his work. The plots were original and imaginative at a level seldom seen in this genre.

rivers-of-londonRivers of London starstarstarstar

by Ben Aaronovitch

This one grabbed me right away with its offbeat humour and a quirky situation where an off-duty cop finds a body in Covent Garden and meets a ghost who is witness to the murder. The tone of the writing made what was actually a fairly long first chapter fly by and make me wonder what other weirdness was yet to come.

More weirdness came along pretty quickly. I don’t want to go into spoilers but the story has a lot to do with magic, mythology and police work. It gets points for diversity as well. It not only held my attention but kept me entranced and even made me like police characters, though I usually avoid anything either military or law enforcement.

Towards the end I missed a few transitions from one situation to another, but whether that was because I was distracted while reading or things happened too quickly is hard to say. Either way, I enjoyed the book and would certainly consider reading more in the series.

The general plot is about an unrecognised branch of the London police who deal with supernatural phenomena. Peter Grant, the protagonist, shows some sensitivity and is recruited into this branch and finds himself negotiating territorial disputes among the local river gods, using all the skills he was taught in the police academy. At the same time he has to deal with a murder case involving ghosts and out of control spectral phenomena.

I found it very well done and the story did come to a tidy conclusion, if perhaps a little abruptly. A sample chapter of the next book in the series was included and showed me it will be further adventures of some of the same characters, especially Peter Grant. I’ve put it on my price drop list for now, but I think the chances that I’ll continue at some point are pretty high.

feast-soulsThe Feast of Souls starstarhalf

by Simon Bestwick

The beginning of this story took a while to grab me. There were hints of the main character, Alice, having survived a tragedy which is partially explained by the end of the first chapter, though details were to come later. The dialogue was a little stilted, though not enough to make me stop reading. It’s in British English, which is a plus for me. By the end of the chapter, I remembered why I had requested this book. Behind the story of moving into a new, large house, of over protective parents and of the loss of a child, there are hints of something eerie to come.

The second chapter threw me because it takes the reader somewhere else entirely, to what reads as a journal entry from someone far back in time, Mary Carson, hired as a secretary in the house that occupied the property in an earlier time. Her story is interesting in its own right and alternates with Alice’s story.

It doesn’t take long for Alice’s experiences to become truly frightening. However, the various time changes were too abrupt. One chapter gives us a flashback and important background information, but keeping up with where you are can be a challenge. until later in the book where Mary Carson’s full story is revealed.

I felt let down by the later chapters in the book. What was shaping up to be a ghost story might have got away with adding pseudo-science to explain certain phenomena, but instead of following through it turned to pure fantasy with no real explanation, even in the imaginary Physics of a fantasy world, to satisfy the mind’s need for things to fit, even in imaginary worlds. The end was also abrupt and could have used some resolution beyond what it gave.

The story was an interesting read in itself, but suspension of disbelief didn’t really happen and there were too many changes in scene or direction for it to flow smoothly.

reaperDon’t Fear the Reaper starstarstarhalf

by Michelle Muto

I was warned. The story starts out with a girl attempting to commit suicide, to join her twin sister in death. The writing is very good and takes the reader into the character’s mindset in a way that someone who hasn’t been depressed normally wouldn’t experience. The transition when she begins to realize she doesn’t really want to do this is remarkable and I think would serve as a good warning for anyone who has ever contemplated suicide. Most people do change their minds when it gets too real, though for some it’s too late by then.

The one thing I couldn’t reconcile was disincarnate spirits having tears, letting out breath and bleeding when they don’t eat or have other physical characteristics. Feeling pain might have worked on its own but too many living attributes hampered the believability.

Despite this, there was some real originality in the events and I found the story an enjoyable read. I did guess the twist at the end by halfway through, but I tend to pick up easily on the slightest hint of foreshadowing. Towards the end some of the fast action lost me a little, but overall I thought it was a good story and a well-written, enjoyable read.

batsBats starstarhalf

by William W. Johnstone

I felt this had a shaky start, rushed in some places and not something that would have drawn me in if I hadn’t heard it was good, but the author did their research on the species of bat depicted and that always sits well with me. By the end of the first chapter, it started to flow better.

The plot did seem to move too fast in places. That’s an unusual thing for me to say because I hate slow books, but there was no build up of suspense before we get a good look at the bats and as an old Horror B-movie fan, I felt that was woefully missing. It did get good, although the characters all seemed overdone, like caricatures of certain ‘types’. The story itself felt well written apart from the lack of suspense. It was literate and descriptive with few typos, but the characters just weren’t believable.

Just past halfway some really amusing action reminded me of something that would require Leslie Neilson and the cast of Airplane to depict in a movie adaptation. Hilarious, but not realistic. Downright silly in places, but I think it was intentional.

Overall the book was an interesting read and I do love animal/monster Horror, but I think most of the last third needed to be either cut or fleshed out. I got the feeling at that point that the author had become bored with his own story, alternating segments of ‘telling’ to say what became of peripheral characters or groups with descriptions of bat attacks that sounded like visual notes for a movie script. Also believability waned.

I kept reading because I wanted to know how the situation resolved, which I would call acceptable. Nothing gripping or emotional, just as I felt no emotional involvement with the characters. A generally entertaining read, worth finishing once started.

riseSleepy Hollow: Rise Headless and Ride starstarstarstar

by Richard Gleaves

I really enjoyed this story. Apparently there is to be a series and I’m almost tempted to continue it.

The writing was generally good. The author uses ‘would’ and ‘had’ too much, but otherwise it’s rather good. It’s definitely strong on distinctive characters and I found I rather liked Jason. His quirky grandmother reminded me of Maude out of the ’70s movie Harold and Maude.

The story itself is about a teenager who has to grow up too fast because his parents are dead and his grandmother at eighty doesn’t have much time left to care for him. She moves them to Sleepy Hollow without warning Jason and he learns that he’s part of the local legend as the last surviving relative of Icabod Crane. Descendants of other characters from the Washington Irving story make appearances too.

This was especially enjoyable because I had read the original story so recently and almost spooky as some names from The House of Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne also appear and I was reading this book concurrently! There is witchcraft and ghosts involved and the spooky element steadily increases through the story. It had everything the original didn’t! Including a breathtaking finish that had me glued to the pages.

Unfortunately although it did finish, it didn’t really end. It wasn’t left on a cliffhanger, but too many elements were left unresolved for the next book in the series to take up. I hate that. It loses a star for that and whether I read further in the series will be down to my whims.

However, I did really enjoy it and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the book.

lettersLetters to the Damned starstarstarstarhalf

by Austin Crawley

This one didn’t waste any time with the creepy happenings! First scene and I’m already afraid to reach for my cat under the bed.

It also gets points for diversity for a Mexican protagonist. His wife has just died in a sporting accident and at the suggestion of his business partner, he goes away for a while so that his grief won’t affect his work. He sees a tabloid story about a post box in an English village where residents send letters to their dead relatives and although he doesn’t believe in ghosts or magic post boxes, the village is the sort of place his wife would have liked so he goes there and encounters the sort of strange village residents that make for good Horror movies. At first they just seem quirky, but then some weird stuff starts to happen in relation to the post box.

I liked the main character in this one. He has respect for women, despite the influence of a misogynist uncle, and he’s generally a nice guy. The real strength of the book though is the supernatural happenings and the way the reader is smoothly drawn into an ordinary situation turning very strange. There are some genuine chills to be found here!

I’ve docked half a star because there were three typos. Yes it’s only three, but that’s three too many. His previous book was completely typo free. A post on his blog says they’ve been corrected now but it still went out with them.

The post also says the main character’s background comes from his own first hand experience, which I found interesting because a couple of people reading this with me didn’t think the cultural references were genuine. Apparently they were for a particular time and place.

Overall it was a really good read and left me thinking a lot. Things were explained, but not over explained so that it left me with a lot of contemplation. I would read it again, and might do so on Halloween because those scary bits really had me going!

I’ve read one other book and a short story by this author and already had him on my authors to watch list. I’ll be interested to see what he comes up with next.

draculaDracula starstarstarstar

by Bram Stoker

I have to wonder why I waited so long to read this Classic. It is wonderfully atmospheric and though in the form of journal entries, the story flows smoothly and lyrically and completely drew me in so much that I was seeking out other Bram Stoker writings by the time I got 4% in.

The plot is a well known one. Jonathan Harker is summoned to Castle Dracula to assist Count Dracula’s intention to move to England. Along the way he meets several superstitious East Europeans who fear for him and speak of evil at the castle. By the time he arrives, he is already on edge. However, he is met by a most gracious host, and treated to the best of everything for his stay. This soon begins to take a sinister turn and Harker flees the castle to return home to England, but Dracula has what he needs to follow him there.

I loved the writing for the most part. The one exception is in some of Mina’s entries where she is quoting characters with Northern accents. I’ve lived in Yorkshire and can understand the accents easily in real life, but in writing it doesn’t come over well and I actually had to skim some of the dialogue without ever working out what they were saying.

On the plus side, each character had their own unique voice. Mina’s entries are very different from Jonathan’s and when other characters added to the narrative, they also had individual voices that fit their roles.

I’ve seen several movie versions of this story, but reading the original has given me a kind of pleasure I find difficult to describe. It’s like I finally have the whole story for the first time and again, the writing is what has made this a Classic. I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys classic fiction or scary vampire stories. It sets the bar for everything in the genre that comes after, apart from the ending which I thought was a little weak and rushed. I had expected a little more drama in the conclusion, probably because of movies that have raised expectations.

museumThe Museum of Things Left Behind starstarstar

by Seni Glaister

My first impression of this one was that the language was cheerful and flowery, like you might expect from a story that promises to stretch the bounds of imagination. It then settled into a sort of Victorian feel. The use of language was really pleasant, but around the fourth chapter I was still wondering who the main character was and where the plot was going.

Eventually I caught on that Sergio, the president, was our hero and that the story was more about the political situation than about a museum. The museum does make an appearance, but in a fairly minor way.

The book made for pleasant reading, but seemed to lack a point. Characterization was strong, but plotting was weak. There were some amusing bits, like when the president deal with a protestor outside his home, but I would be hard pressed to explain a main conflict.

Some very nice writing though. I would try this writer again.

hell-boundHell Bound starstarstarstar

by Andrew P. Weston

This one looked like an interesting concept, though not too far into it I started thinking, ‘too much testosterone’. The writing is good, it just has the tone you get with stories about ex-Green Beret mercenaries who carry a glock, if you know what I mean. But the protagonist is a reaper and has the ability to harvest souls, something that other denizens of Hell find frightening. Apparently he can kill them too.

This was actually a good story and very well written. The ideas were original and although I didn’t like the main character, a lot of other readers will. Especially those who like the macho vibe. I was immediately impressed with the vocabulary and use of language and have actually looked to see what else this author has written, hoping for something as good that might appeal more to my character sympathies.

The only thing that was cringe-worthy was some of the names, mostly of people but the Inseine River was of the same ilk. Clever, but maybe a little too clever.

The Hellscape aspect of the story was very well done and imaginative beyond what I usually see in this subject matter. I may actually read this again, despite my lack of attraction to the main character machismo. I have to rate it high for the quality of writing itself.

bloodfireBloodfire starstarstarstar

by Helen Harper

This was an interesting idea. Mackensie grew up with a pack of shifters, but cannot shift herself. The pack protects her from discovery by the larger shifter community because they would kill her if they discovered she was human.

The mystery of why Mackensie was left with the shifters and what is behind what she calls the Bloodfire is what makes this story more interesting than the standard shifter stories with cookie cutter plots about lusting after the alpha. The characters in this one are actually interesting and distinctive, plus the writing is good and the editing is pristine.

There are elements about the plot that do make me roll my eyes. I don’t believe a shifter ‘pack’ would be made up of multi-species members. At least we did have some wolves, but bears mixing with big cats and… hamsters? If the writing had been less good, that point would have lost me. There are also a lot of mythical elements mixed into one story; Fae, blood drinking goddesses and various other monsters to challenge the weres. Oh and an unlikely magician, although he does sort of remind me of a friend of mine who is into magick.

Despite being outside of my usual reading choices, I really did enjoy this story. I didn’t identify with the protagonist, yet I found her interactions with the other characters interesting and overall, it made for a good story. I did want to slap her a few times and tell her to just tell the head alpha that her reason for not shifting during a fight was because a hamster wouldn’t be likely to fare well in that situation, while her fighting skills with knives were well-trained and required hands.

I also guessed the reason for the Bloodfire fairly early on, yet still I enjoyed the read. I won’t be continuing the series, but I will be watching this author to see what else she comes up with over time.

demoniac-danceDemoniac Dance starstarstarstarstar

by Jaq D. Hawkins

Although this is technically the second book in a series, it stands alone and could easily be read as the first book for those who like more action in their Fantasy instead of the exposition and world building that characterized the first book.

It starts out with a young girl running away from an arranged wedding to join the magicians on the other side of the river in a post-apocalyptic London. The old city is in ruins, but a more primitive society has developed over time from the descendants of survivors of a cataclysm.

I liked the young characters in this. I think it would appeal to YA readers as much as to adults. The young Prince Alaric is a cheeky 10-year-old who can be very childish one moment, then very mature when circumstances require it. Namah, the girl who has run away, leads the story and it is through her eyes that we learn about the magicians and later, the goblins.

Instead of repeating the conflict between humans and goblins from the first book, an outside threat drives Count Anton to seek help from the goblins, but such assistance is far from guaranteed and there are some scary moments when he confronts a faction of goblins that would be happy to see all humans dead.

As with the first book, the world of the goblins is very primitive and tribal, but we get to see some different aspects of it than we saw in the first book and without wanting to give spoilers, dragons feature.

The book has a tidy ending, but leaves something open enough to make me want to read the third story. There are some unexpected surprises and I found the whole thing very emotional, though there were some very funny moments too. One of the things I liked best were the variety of interesting creatures related to the goblins and the different factions of goblins themselves, plus the ending was a heart wrencher. The writing is very accessible too. I read more than half of the book last night without realizing I had gone that far until it was nearly the end.

floor-fourFloor Four starstar

by A. Lopez, Jr.

An old abandoned asylum is boarded up to keep curiosity seekers out because rumor has it that the ghost of a maniacal serial killer who died there still haunts the fourth floor. To add to the urban legends, a workman was found hanging on that floor. A caretaker, with a personal interest in the case, tries to keep teenagers out on the anniversary of the killer’s death, but the teenagers are determined to have a party there, assuming safety in numbers. What could go wrong?

This was an interesting concept, but the writing was undeniably amateurish. In it’s favor I didn’t see a single typo and there was only one editing anomaly in the whole book, but the suspense fell flat, the sentence structure, while technically fine, lacked finesse and the surreal scenes near the end became repetitive to the point of impatience.

Not a bad effort for a beginning writer who might develop his skills by reading some of the greats in the genre.

goblin-talesGoblin Tales starstarstarstarstar

by Jim Hines

This is a collection of short stories written to accompany the Goblin Quest series (Goblin Quest, Goblin Hero, Goblin War) to give fans a little extra something to add to that world. Hines has an amusing look at goblins from within their own point of view which seems to be a growing trend in Fantasy fiction.

It is particularly well done throughout the series, but one very notable thing about this collection is that it includes the story Goblin Hunter which tells the story about how Jig the goblin met Smudge the Fire Spider, easily the two most important characters through the series.

The last story in the collection is one that introduces the concept of the Libriomancer, which became another series for Hines. I expect I’ll read that sometime soon. The story showed me a very interesting concept that I can’t wait to see fully explored.

Best of all, Smudge comes along for these adventures as well!

ocean-at-the-end-of-the-laneThe Ocean at the End of the Lane starstarstarstarstar

by Neil Gaiman

This is a prime example of what is known as Magical Realism, a story set in the ordinary world that wanders into some magical situations. It’s an enchanting story about a man who visits his childhood home and the house of a girl who lived at the end of the lane, Lettie, who became his friend during a difficult time in his life.

The story has a genuine feel to it, as if the author is writing of his own personal experience, yet some of the things that happen challenge believability and bring up the question of how much childhood imagination might color our memories of early years. Gaiman has suggested in interviews that he drew on his own childhood experiences for some of the events in the book, though the reader wonders where childhood imagination leaves off and actual strange occurrences might have actually happened.

The narrative has a dreamy, poetic quality to it at times that suits the story very well. I’m inclined to think it’s the best thing Gaiman has ever written, though I haven’t read all of his books. Lettie shows the boy alternate realities in a way that feels very real and her family comes over as party to these magical experiences as well.

This is an easy 5 star read and a re-read for me.

age mythAge of Myth starstarhalf

by Michael J. Sullivan

This has the feel of a good old fashioned Medieval Fantasy. A man and his son, Raithe, cross a forbidden river and find themselves in an altercation with one of the gods over the family sword because weapons are forbidden to mortals in the land of the gods. They soon learn that the nature of the gods is not as they thought it was and Raithe finds himself on the run with a liberated slave.

The story has a lot of the earmarks of a typical Fantasy. A race of people who live in the woods, a mock-Medieval society, different factions and clans, fighting and superstitions. It also brings in some elements of mythology with the belief that if you eat anything in the land of Nog, where the forest people live, you can never leave. Given the choice of starving in a forest and being hunted down by a strong and nearly immortal people for revenge or living in a well fed, comfortable situation in an alternate world you can’t leave, Raithe and his companion consider their options.

We get to know other factions of characters, sometimes digressing into their individual stories. My one complaint about this book is that it dragged. I got the feeling that the Fantasy world was being created for future sequels where perhaps more would happen. The different peoples were well explained, but that seemed to be the main purpose of the story, to explain all the odd names of factions and how they related to each other.

There are some good basic Sword & Sorcery elements to this one, but it was just a little too slow for me.

spirit chaserThe Spirit Chaser starstarstar

by K.M. Montemayor

This story starts right in the heat of the action. A paranormal investigator team enter a property that has had no human residents for a long time but is infested with spirit entities, including a demon. The group leader pushes things because they have a television program and they are recording for the season finale, and naturally things go wrong. His best friend, the group psychic, becomes possessed by the demon.

The team includes a priest and holy water helps extricate the demon, but not without collateral damage. The friendship suffers turmoil and the psychic refuses to return to work with the team, though he promises to help vet a replacement.

The action in the beginning is fast and the characters are well fleshed out. This one grabbed my interest and held it at the start. It even got diversity in early, in the form of the psychic’s over protective gay boyfriend. However, the following couple of chapters had me wondering if I had made a mistake.

Our introduction to the female replacement psychic started out with some misogynist antagonism followed by a lot of emphasis on ripped guys, including a big red flag, the word ‘hawt’ spelled that way. I became concerned that an exciting ghost hunting story was about to turn into a Harlequin Romance novel.

It also pushed believability on a few points, most notably that the first psychic suffers from clinical depression, followed by learning the group leader has a strict health regime because encountering sometimes malevolent spirits, including demons, requires extreme physical and mental discipline. A depressive would be an easy target for a demon, so what could they be thinking?

Apart from that, the gay character angle was pushed too far to fit into the story organically and soon began to look like an agenda. I’m all for diversity in characters but it needs to flow naturally.

As the story progressed, it became clear that the central plot was about the relationship between the new psychic and the group leader. Romance readers might like it for that very reason, but I had plucked it out of the Horror section with different expectations. The haunted house encounters also started to lose believability from the second one, which had too much ‘hero wins all despite odds’ to it.

The writing itself was generally good, but a little too dragged out. Repetitions about the leader’s health routine and what he ate along with the psychic’s continual unfavorable comparisons of her body type against the prettier women who were always around the group leader got too whiney for me to like her and Austin was too much of a control freak for me to like him much.

As I said, a Romance reader might enjoy this as the setting is more interesting than the usual cowboy/highlander/construction worker stuff, but it just wasn’t for me. Giving it 3 stars because that first chapter told me the author can write. She just didn’t write what I wanted to read.

Mirror ImageMirror Image starstarstarstar

by Michael Scott

I was really anticipating reading this story because the plot sounded like just the sort of Horror I really like. I’m not sure what I expected, but I soon found that it earned it’s Horror tag with some gruesome deaths and horrific supernatural occurrences.

An antique dealer in Los Angeles buys a very old mirror for a bargain price while on a buying trip in London. Soon after he gets it home, the mysterious deaths start to happen and a rough looking man shows up, attempting to buy the mirror, even resorting to threats. Despite tragedies among his own employees, the antique dealer doesn’t want to sell to this unpleasant man.

Police investigate but find it increasingly difficult to come up with rational explanations for the deaths.

The characters are strong in this and the plot fast moving. I found it a little more gory than I generally like and a lot of the swearing seemed unnecessary, but it kept my attention with morbid fascination.

The one thing I thought didn’t work well was introducing historic characters into some of the back story, although the author’s note at the end explained why. The trouble with using known personages and glamorous words like ‘Alchemy’ is that a certain percentage of readers will have background knowledge that doesn’t fit with the fictional use and that can interfere with flow and suspension of belief.

Despite this, the story had its scary moments and didn’t fall into predictable outcomes. A sub plot involving the main character’s family was neatly woven into the main plot and kept me wondering who would survive to the end. The last few chapters were one of those ‘let dinner burn, I’m reading!’ moments when I found it very difficult to stop and I got most of the way through before I guessed the final outcome.

Ritual sex, graphic gore and occult sensationalism play a part so mature audience only, but a really good read.

PhantomPhantom starstarstarstarstar

by Susan Kay

Phantom is a re-telling of the story of The Phantom of the Opera. It’s a story that captures the imagination written by an author I’ve read once before and really enjoyed, so my expectations were admittedly high. I wasn’t to be disappointed.

It starts from the point of view of Erik’s mother, told in first person, and her experience of giving birth to the deformed child who would soon show remarkable development and an extraordinary aptitude for music and architecture. As an author with experience in writing historic fiction, Kay captures the era and brings to life the provincial attitudes of superstitious people who lived in small European villages with a sincere sense of reality.

The changes in point of view through several sections work well. We see through Erik’s eyes more than once and see how significant people in his life view him. This one gets me in the feels. One of the sections left me feeling so much emotion overflowing that I couldn’t read anything else that day! That’s rare.

In the author’s note, she mentions that she took information from all previous versions of the story, including the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, but she had filled in background information that none of the other versions did, though I haven’t read the original book so I don’t know what elements might exist there.

This means that about 80% of the book is original story, built on the structure of what has gone before and filling in explanations for some things that came to be. The familiar part of the story comes in quite late, when Christine Daae enters the story. Even this was taken in Kay’s own direction so that nothing was predictable. At first I felt some objection to the changes in that part, then it began to feel natural, like this was the best version of the story after all.

I finished with that same surge of emotion that I mentioned above, unable to start another book that day. The writing is effective, well researched and very much a professional standard. This was one of those especially good reads, against which all others are compared.

life of elvesThe Life of Elves starstarstar

by Muriel Barbery

This Fantasy story has a very fairytale-like tone to the narration and starts rather abruptly, as if in the middle of the story, but the reader soon catches up and the situation becomes apparent. A foundling child, Clara, appears under mysterious circumstances and is adopted into a Christian home to have a normal human childhood, but something about her is very fairy-like.

Another child, Maria, who “talks like most people sing” is adopted in similarly strange circumstances in Italy. The connection between these little girls becomes apparent as the story unfolds.

There is very little dialogue, especially in the early chapters, but the story is told in an adult’s version of the fairy-tale storytelling voice with a sort of dreamy quality. It is not an immersive read, yet it is entertaining enough to keep reading, despite sketchy description of what’s going on. A lot of new characters are introduced through the story and their non-human nature is often inferred more than made clear.

There are digressions to tell background stories of various characters and sometimes it really is like following a dream, jumping from one sequence to another with only a tentative hold on the connections, but all is made clear by the end. I noted in the acknowledgements that it is translated from French, which explains some of this.

Overall a pleasant Fantasy read, but not one that will stimulate the emotions to a great extent.

suicide forestSuicide Forest starstarstarstarhalf

by Jeremy Bates

The first book of Bates’ Scariest Places on Earth series. Though the stories are fictional, they are all set in real places that are creepy or scary in some way.

Suicide Forest is just outside of Tokyo, Japan and is actually called Aokigahara Forest, but commonly known as Suicide Forest because it’s a place where people go to die. Bodies are often found hanging from trees. There are stories about restless spirits haunting the forest, as you would expect in such a place.

A group of friends decide to explore the forest when weather reports divert them from their original plan of climbing Mount Fuji. They end up camping there, after running into some other people doing the same thing. They encounter natural hazards in the forest in their quest to find morbid evidence of the forest’s reputation and there is some antagonism between Ethan and his girlfriend’s male friend, John Scott, who came along results in typical male posturing and competition.

When they find the abandoned belongings of a woman, mysterious screams are heard in the night and one of their companions is found hanging dead from a tree in the morning, the situation quickly turns into one of survival in a massive forest where they are lost and running out of supplies.

The book is very well written and scary to the point that I had to stop after a few chapters at a time. Horror enthusiasts will love it! The foreign setting and concerns over whether the authorities would respond in the way those in the characters’ own countries would lends a sense of immediacy and disorientation in an already engrossing story.

The explanation for what was happening is close enough to plausible to make a good story as well, but one question was left unanswered and I’m docking half a star for that. Otherwise this is an easy 5 star read.

rumpledRumpled starstarstarstarstar

by Lacey Louwagie

This is a fairytale retelling that ventures into adult situations, but tastefully so. A young woman, Emily, is to marry the king, but her life is dependent on proving she can spin gold from straw. Of course she can do no such thing, but Rumplestiltskin saves the day with his special magic. He is little and ugly, and hopelessly in love with the woman who will become his queen.

Rumpy is also human and doesn’t hesitate to accept the favors that Emily offers in return for his lessons in how to perform the magic, though she finds it difficult to make the transmutations. Like in the original fairytale, she has promised him her first born child in return for his help as well.

This story expands on the original tale and gives a reason for Rumpy’s wish for the child. There is magic and court politics in what I thought was a nice little Fantasy tale well done.

The writing was very good and I have no hesitation in giving this one 5 stars.

HighMoorHigh Moor starstarstarstarstar
By Graeme Reynolds

Wow. This was an intense story. I often say that I don’t like a lot of blood and gore in stories, but for some reason it doesn’t bother me in a good werewolf or vampire story. It just seems necessary. Reynolds doesn’t hold back, yet the violence has been well done for believability without crossing over into the unnecessarily gross for the sake of it.

Don’t read this if you’re looking for romantic werewolves or have lost a child to violence. This is written for Horror fans.

I found it difficult to put down and kept neglecting other books to keep going back to it. It really did hold my attention all the way to the end. I wasn’t happy about the cliff hanger at the end, but most of the loose ends were tied up enough that I’ll only dock half a star for it.

One thing I really liked about the storyline is that it addresses the subject of bullying in a way that many people can appreciate from childhood, though the bad boys are worse than average. I wouldn’t want to have grown up with them around. The relationships among the child characters were realistic and didn’t fall into what I would see as YA, even though they did swear a lot. The interactions with adult characters just came over as perfectly natural.

It was a good story and written very well. I keep saying there are some gems in the indie realm and this is one of them. As soon as I get my breath back I’ll start reading the second book

MarginsMargins starstarstarhalf

by Edward Lorn

The author says in the intro that this is not a Horror story. I disagree. It’s not a blood and gore Horror story, for which I’m grateful, but I would classify it under Supernatural Horror. And that’s the kind of Horror I like!

A woman acquires an interesting book and the book engages her in conversation. Her first reaction is fear, but how she reacts is actually rather comical. I thought the naming of other recent books in the beginning was distracting and actually would have preferred imaginary titles, but never mind. I soon found myself drawn into the main plot of the story and might have read it all in one sitting if I hadn’t been called away from my reading to make dinner.

I enjoyed the story, but felt that it could have been taken further. There was material there that actually could have made a good Romance story, albeit an unusual one. The ending came just a little too suddenly for me and left me with a feeling of wanting to know what would come next. Really hedging on the star rating, but let’s call it 3.75.

exsanguinateExsanguinate starstarstarstar

by Killion Slade

This one will appeal to gamers, and especially to people interested in creating virtual reality games.

The story starts out with a spine chilling, horrific situation. We meet Cheyenne, one of three sisters with those distinctively American names like Dakota and Savannah (okay, the third sister is called Sheridan, like the hotel), named after places and generally only found in novels *rolls eyes*.

Cheyenne works in the gaming industry in what looks like a not too far off future and making virtual worlds is normal life to her. One particular game has given the users a lot of autonomy and aspects of the virtual world surprise her, as do the supernatural creatures who increasingly inhabit this developing cyberworld. Cheyenne is surprised by the popularity of zombies, vampires, werewolves and other mythological beings from the Horror end of imaginative fiction.

They go to a real life Scream House event with everyone dressed up in costume in an amusement park. Cheyenne worries about security at the event, foreshadowing that something has to go wrong. There are some funny episodes involving Sheridan’s costume and I now know what a Ghillie suit is, something meant for hunters to hide out in bushes that could be very fun for such events!

Things take a horrific turn and there is a fair bit of graphic violence so people sensitive to gore and later on rape issues will want to consider this a trigger warning.

Basically this is a Paranormal story which is not a go to genre for me, yet it held my attention. Sometimes the writing seemed amateurish, but the grammar was reasonably good bar a couple of typos and I kept wanting to see where the plot would go.

It ends with a few things unresolved, so the story continues in the next book, but overall most things came to a tidy conclusion and I did enjoy the read enough that I’m considering getting the second book. Not a deep, intellectual read, but plenty of action and some interesting ideas about supernaturals.

slavetosensationSlave to Sensation starstarstarhalf

by Nalini Singh

This is a science fiction Romance, set in the future where people with psychic abilities are conditioned not to feel emotion and are put into key positions in society and government. It’s a highly controlled society in a dystopian fashion where a Psy who deviates from their conditioning is likely to be put into ‘rehabilitation’ that amounts to a prison camp and lobotomy-like treatment.

Against this landscape we have Sascha Duncan, a Psy who has somehow not absorbed her conditioning and who lives in constant fear and self-control, masking her emotions even against other Psy, including her own mother who might well turn her in if she knew.

Another, very different society exists outside of the repressed city. The changelings are part animal, tribal and have different factions. Negotiating a building contract on changeling land brings Sascha into contact with a sensual alpha changeling whom she reacts to in ways she must keep hidden or risk rehabilitation at the hands of her own people.

Lucas, the alpha, is also confused by Sascha’s occasional slips of instinct and reaction that shouldn’t be possible for a Psy. He becomes fascinated with her and considers it a challenge to try to seduce her.

One thing that spoiled this rather interesting story for me is that it slips into graphic descriptions of sexual acts. The sensuality of the story is one of its strengths, but about a third of the way through I started wondering why I was reading something that sounded like it had been written by a male porn writer rather than a female Romance author. She gets her pleasure from pleasuring him? Really?

There were only a couple of sex scenes that were more graphic than I want to read and conversely the story misses out telling us when they first have full sex, but I still felt those scenes were unnecessary to the story. I’m not a prude and it isn’t just that I don’t want to watch someone else (fictional or not) having sex, but taking it there changes a sensual, borderline beastiality fantasy into something too close to human reality and the dominant male aspect of Lucas is a turn-off. It works for a panther, but is too domineering for a man in my world.

I wish Romance authors would work out a system of rating or warnings so that unwary readers don’t have to stumble into porn passages. I would read more of the genre then, like I used to in high school. I constantly see young or religious readers seeking out lists of “clean” Romances, so why do so many cross over with porn these days?

Enough ranting. The story itself is very interesting and I think has a basically science fiction structure, which was the appeal for me. The dynamics between the lead characters is well done. Secondary characters don’t develop as much, but that can be forgiven. The plotting does have some weaknesses and towards the end, the struggle to balance Lucas’ domineering nature with caring aspects of his personality doesn’t work as well as intended.

Still, I did enjoy the story for the most part and thought the world building was very imaginative. I do think I’ll go back to avoiding stories about “alpha” males though. It’s just not my thing. Lucas might be exciting for a tumble but I couldn’t live in a situation where a pushy alpha male thought he had the right to tell me what to do or not to do.

The biggest weakness of the story is what should have been a suspenseful action climax, but was just glossed over and referred to after the fact. Despite that, an emotional aspect of the aftermath did make me tear up, which is rare for me.

Overall my opinion is that Singh writes emotion well, but she doesn’t really do action. Her plotting could do with a more solid outline but her skill for exposition is well above average and I’d love to see her write straight-forward SFF, as mish-mashing it with erotic Romance weakens the overall story. I’m not planning to continue the series, but I’ll keep an eye on what the author does in future.

robotI, Robot starstarstarhalf

by Isaac Azimov

This is one of those SciFi classics I’ve been meaning to read forever, so I finally took the plunge and found it very different than I might have expected. It seemed to me like a series of short stories that merge from one to the next without apparent demarcation.

On the first part, I was expecting something with a lot of tech and robotics, but discovered a heartfelt story of a little girl and her best friend, a robot that was programmed to take care of her. Over time she humanizes the robot, calls him Robbie, and becomes very attached to him. It is this emotional attachment that worries her mother so much that she decides the robot has to be removed from her daughter’s life.

Attempts are made to replace the robot with a dog and with other children to play with, but the girl’s obsession for her ‘best friend’ overshadows every attempt to placate her.

I was jolted out of this story a little suddenly, when someone else from further in the future took over telling the girl’s story and making comparisons to the changes in robotics since. This flowed into a story about robots being used to mine asteroids and something that goes wrong when their human overseers are not present.

Then from this story, which does reach a satisfying conclusion, new characters emerge again to demonstrate the first rule of robotics: that a robot can never hurt a human. This part has some interesting speculations that modern scientists working in the field of Artificial Intelligence would be well advised to consider.

In general I found Azimov’s writing very dialogue heavy, but he does have a skill for moving the story along through that dialogue and doesn’t get bogged down in prevarication. I probably wouldn’t want to read him as a steady diet, but I will give his Foundation series a try, if only to fill the gaps in my science fiction reading history. These books are, after all, considered the classics of the genre and the forerunners of everything that came after. Though a little dated, it’s interesting to see speculations about robotics from a 1950s perspective.

darkerA Darker Shade of Magic starstarstarstar

by V.E. Schwab

A very magical Fantasy with multiple dimensions and a magician, Kell, who can walk between different versions of London which he has designated by colors; Black London, Grey London, Red London and White London. Strictly speaking, it’s against the law to move between the different Londons but in Red London, Kell’s home, he enjoys some privilege because he belongs to the royal family and he smuggles small items on occasion, especially coins because he needs a token from a dimension of London to travel through to it.

The nature of each version of London is very different, mostly defined by how magic affects the place. Grey London sounds very like the London we know, while Red London is a very magical place. White London falls somewhere between those, but Black London is a desolate place that was destroyed when magic became an uncontrolled force.

Kell is a likable character with a good heart and genuine affection for the prince, who is like a brother to him. His excursions are just a bit of fun for him, until someone who knows who and what he is slips him something dangerous and a lot of things start to go wrong. Political intrigue runs high and Kell does have limits to his power, which becomes apparent when he has to tangle with one of his own kind.

A strong female character enters Kell’s life by picking his pocket. Some questions about Lila are left unanswered, but that is presumably intentional as a series is to follow. I’m not sure that I’ll continue with it as I feel the story at hand came to a tidy ending and I prefer stand alone books in general, but time will tell.

I thought the story was well done, the magic handled well and the characters very distinctive. The different shades of London were also well differentiated and overall the story was enjoyable. There’s plenty of fast action near the end and the essential loose ends were all tied up. I’d definitely recommend this one to traditional Fantasy readers.

stoneA Reaper of Stone starstarstarstar

by Mark Gelineau and Joe King

The prologue to this one has some intense action and is not to be missed, but a time jump to chapter one threw me a little because characters who had just met in the prologue were suddenly old friends.

It’s a short, well written Fantasy novella of the Sword & Sorcery side of the genre. While I think it could have been fleshed out to a more detailed, full sized book, It was an enjoyable and fast read. Like many books these days, it begins a series but apparently not a sequential one, but rather a series of books set in the same world with some different characters. I expect I’ll read at least one more of them.

Elinor appears to be the one consistent character in the two books currently available. She’s a strong female lead, a warrior with fortitude and stamina. She’s just too stubborn to lose and is dedicated to duty. I found her likeable and a character I could respect.

The story had a little more depth than most short Fantasy novellas and was a worthwhile read, though I would like to see these authors add more dimension in future novels.

wolfhuntWolf Hunt starstarstarstar

by Jeff Strand

Part Horror and part farce, this is a fun read, if perhaps with a little too much gratuitous gore on occasion.

A couple of thugs with a reputation for competence are hired to take a man in a cage to a location and told he’s supposed to be a werewolf. They don’t believe it, but they follow the rules given to them anyway, for all the good it does them. Naturally they lose control of the situation and chaos ensues.

Despite their criminal faults, George and Lou become likeable characters that garner sympathy as they get deeper and deeper into a no win situation. They even start to develop some conscience and blame themselves for the werewolf’s murderous spree. Their attempts to recapture a creature that can’t possibly exist are the stuff of dark comedy, though there are serious moments.

The story has plenty of action, almost non-stop, all the way to the end. Trying to guess who will survive to the conclusion becomes almost a game, like reading a George Martin book.

Overall very well done. I would consider reading this author again, though what I see of his other works looks pretty squicky.

HornsHorns starstarstar

by Joe Hill

This is certainly an original concept and I found the progression of the story very interesting, although some of the twisted thoughts of the bad guy in the story started getting under my skin in the latter part. The writing is mostly good, but the author frequently does one thing that absolutely drives me buggy; writing in partial sentences after a comma. It’s something I found more and more distracting as the story went on.


“The sardine tin made a sharp metal cracking sound as he popped it open and the tom flitted back into the corn, was gone.”

“They weren’t farmers, weren’t even inclined to garden.”

Yeah, that drives me crazy.

Despite that, there was never any question that I would finish the story. I had to see what happened in the end! It was just too fascinating to see what would happen to Ig next as he went through his bizarre series of changes and discoveries of his new effect on people.

I thought the real killer was revealed a little early in the story, but as I neared the end I realized that a few surprises had been saved back and we had to know so that the full twisted mentality of the killer could be developed to full effect. Hill writes creepy very effectively indeed!

The end was just a little too surreal for me and sometimes I was confused from one reality to the other with frequent changes. Overall I think most of the loose ends were tied up, but I thought Hill/Ig was a little callous about hurting snakes!

I wish I could have loved it as much as several of my friends did, but the half sentences came too frequently for me t want to read this author again.

golemThe Golem and the Djinni starstarstar

by Helene Wecker

My expectations of this story might have been a little inflated because I kept hearing how good it was, and I did enjoy it, but I didn’t love it as much as I expected to. It was a good story and culturally interesting, but I just didn’t connect with any of the characters. Of all of them, I think the djinni most appealed to my nature, but his offhand callousness often left me cold.

The whole concept of these two supernatural beings meeting in New York was pretty fascinating. Each of them keeping their secret, living apart from the human society that surrounds them, yet so different in nature. It was interesting to see the comparison between their experiences among humans.

Chava was far too subservient for me to identify with her, yet that is in the nature of a golem so it fit the story. Her circumstances and the unusual chain of events that brought her to her situation made for good reading and a lot of imagination was put into it. I think I was expecting more of magic though, and kept looking for a quality of enchantment that was never meant to be a part of the story. The writing is certainly good and I would read another book by this author.

Towards the end, the answers to unknown are revealed and the connection between the two supernatural characters becomes clear. The ending was satisfying, though the story as a whole stopped just short of that for me. It lacked passion, but seemed to move forward methodically like the golem herself, always close to the earth when I was expecting to see the stars.

An interesting read, but it didn’t engage my emotions.

Void MuirwoodThe Void of Muirwood starstarstar

by Jeff Wheeler

This third book in the series starts with a look inside the mysticism of The Medium, followed by a lot of action and changing fortunes for Maia. There’s a lot of tension and great storytelling to move it forward. I felt that the series had definitely found its feet with this one.

I don’t want to spoil what actually happens, but the kingdom is under threat, the succession is under contention and Maia’s marriage is under the pressures of the demands of rulership, both at home and in Dahomey. There is plenty of conflict and twists and turns to keep the reader guessing what might happen next.

Though there are more books to the series, I feel finished with this one. There is too much stress and doom without enough happy interlude to keep me going further. Maia drives me nuts with her generous attitude, even when people betray her trust, and though she is basically likeable, she doesn’t have an edge to her to make me care deeply.

Having said that, I’ve enjoyed reading three books of the series. Good Fantasy.


Muirwood2The Ciphers of Muirwood starstarstarhalf

by Jeff Wheeler

Second book in a series.

The story begins around the same time the first book was ending, so there is just a little crossover. An Earl is to be executed for refusing to sign an oath of submission. It’s a shocking situation that violates everything the king’s sworn oath to the Medium as a Maston stands for, and is witnessed by a loyal kings man who is imprisoned with his sons through a tower window. He realizes then that he and his sons must escape somehow, because they are likely to have their turn soon on the chopping block.

Meanwhile Maia has reached Muirwood Abbey and is settling into her studies, while dealing with mixed reactions from the other students due to her banished status. But there is no rest for Maia. Even more shocking news comes and the safety of the Abbey is compromised.

This is not a five star series, but it’s really holding my attention and I’m looking forward to reading the third book. This one has fleshed out the characters who were introduced in the first book and some of them have developed significantly. I sometimes want to shake Maia and tell her not to be so naive, but she’s generally a good character and I think she’ll turn out alright in the end.

That is the one problem with this volume, it doesn’t end. It’s not exactly a cliffhanger, but an important situation is left unresolved so that reading the third book is compulsory. Luckily I have it waiting, but I don’t like series books that hold me hostage!

Worthwhile Fantasy read.

HeirsHeirs of Empire starstarstarstar

by Evan Currie

The premise in the book description is:

“When the trusted General Corian launches a coup against Emperor Scourwind, he hurls the planetary kingdom into chaos. To secure his claim as ruler, Corian will need the strength of the Scourwind name behind him, and he will stop at nothing to bring under his grasp the young Scourwind heirs, twins Lydia and Brennan. Barely into adulthood, the two are thrust into the crossfire.”

I found this story a strange combination of a medieval fantasy feel with knights & swords and futuristic elements, like in Star Wars. At first I thought this was an interesting way to present an SFF story, but after about 10% of the book it just wasn’t working for me. Things kept feeling out of place. I still gave it 4 stars because the writing is good and the story flows well, but I think it would appeal more to readers who enjoy a more military element to the Fantasy than I do.

There is plenty of action and adventure, and following one of the main characters, Mira, as she crossed high mountains in difficult conditions held my attention for a while. Good characterization and a constantly moving plot, but a little too much like what I call ‘boys stories’ for my personal taste.

Ghost SummerGhost Summer: Stories starstarstarstar

by Tananarive Due

Ghost Summer is a collection of imaginative Horror stories. The introduction tells us that the author is a black woman activist, which in my opinion makes it a little more interesting.

The stories are told in a casual, conversational tone, like someone telling a story round a campfire. At times the narrative moves a little slowly and becomes repetitive, but the payoff for Horror story lovers is some pretty bizarre stuff.

The title story, Ghost Summer, is novelette length and perhaps the best story of the collection, although I found the first story, The Lake, very interesting and it took me to some unexplored corners of imagination. Some of the plot points went by rather quickly, but the characters formed well and the experience of the narrator came across clearly.

This would make a good addition to any Horror book collection.

StingerStinger starstarstar

by Robert McCammon

McCammon is very thorough with description, yet at least in the first part of the book he seems to start every sentence with an overly long sentence that any English teacher would demand splitting into smaller bites. The picture he paints in this story is a bleak landscape of a dying town and the sort of effects it has on the people struggling to survive as jobs disappear and the local mine runs dry.

Against the backdrop of desperation and despair, an alien drops into the lives of the townspeople, followed by a second alien of a different nature and people start to get hurt. The reason for this happening is revealed slowly, drawing the reader into the conflict that underlies the presence of the aliens.

There were a lot of characters to develop in this story and I sometimes wished the narrative would go back to one group or another to keep better continuity, but it all sort of comes together in the last quarter of the book when the remaining townspeople are faced with an impossible choice of how to deal with the respective aliens.

One thing I will say in the book’s favour is that several Mexican characters were developed well and played important roles. Yay for diversity!

I felt that Stinger was a little too formidable and I would like to have seen him have more vulnerabilities. As it was, the story seemed imbalanced and the actions in the last chapters less believable. After all, he was in an unfamiliar atmosphere with different gravity with flora and fauna he had never encountered. A lot could have been done with a dog allergy or a bad reaction to minerals in the earth, like sulphur.

Much could have been done with what he eats and possibly running out of time before the nutrients, air pressure or other factors become a problem.

Overall it was a fairly good read and there were some very original ideas, but not one for my personal favourites.

Halloween TaleA Halloween Tale starstarstarstarhalf

by Austin Crawley

I wasn’t sure about this one at first because the three significant characters didn’t immediately invoke sympathy, but as the story reflects the journey of Scrooge from A Christmas Carol, I could see why they had to be at least a little shallow, so that they had some room for development. I actually started to like Amber once we got a better look at her through her reactions to the ghost visitations.

The story is actually very cleverly deceptive, starting out like any group of middle class girls around college age, just having a laugh by doing a séance to raise fictional ghosts. Then when something actually results, we are taken through their individual memories and mostly normal fears into a very changed reality.

I don’t want to give spoilers, but rest assured that things get deeper and more intense as the story goes along. There’s a certain amount of a moralistic message, but that also follows the spirit of the source material and doesn’t hit you over the head. The last of the ghost sequences was the sort of thing that leaves you thinking afterwards, about the whole nature of belief and how our perceptions of a thing shape its nature. That part just might stay with me for a long time.

I would highly recommend this as a Christmas Horror read. It’s novella length, so easy to read in a short time just before the holiday, either as an alternative to or in conjunction with the well known Charles Dickens story or even watching a version of the story, even the Muppets version, on television.

Ghost StoryGhost Story starstarstarstarstar

by Jeff Brackett

This starts a little clunky as if the author is trying to shovel in too much information quickly, then settles into an even flow by the end of the first chapter. A ghost hunting team is investigating a house reported to be haunted. One of them is a psychic, balanced by the group sceptic. A full team with modern equipment sets up.

By the second chapter, the fun starts. I’m not going to go into what happens because there’s a surprise ending and the potential for spoilers is too great, but I will say that lots does happen and I was at the edge of my seat for most of it.

I should add a trigger warning. No animals were hurt in the making of this story. Anything else is fair game. Normally a story like this would have exceeded my own violence tolerance, but the way it flowed just made it work too well. Characters were developed as much as you could expect in a short story but it is mostly action driven. I was scared for the main protagonist all the way to the end, and maybe even beyond.

The author’s afterword was interesting as well. It tells the context that the idea for the story came in and mentions a familiar author involved in the same project. That in itself added a whole new dimension to the story.

If you want something to make you jump at every little noise in the house at night, read this one.

banished muirwoodThe Banished of Muirwood starstarstarhalf

by Jeff Wheeler

This is an old style mock-Medieval Fantasy novel with the Patriarchal society typical of these fantasy worlds, but it’s well done. The main character is Maia, a princess who is learning magic forbidden to females. The world building starts early on and has a dark, conspiratorial feel to it. Magic plays a big part and there is something called the medium which serves as the magical force that everyone tunes into.

The patriarchy is strong in this one to the point of serious misogyny, but that plays an important role in the plot. Much of the political situation is unfair to Maia and her father, who I felt was a bit of a pig, does nothing to protect her from the machinations of men, though he says that he loves her and insists on her loyalty to the kingdom. To be fair to him, he does protect her from the wicked stepmother who adds a Cinderella-like subplot to the story.

I went back and forth a few times deciding whether I liked one of the important characters (The king of Dahomey) or not. Deciding who to trust was a feature of the story and I think the author did a good job of keeping me wondering about several characters through different phases of the story.

My one real complaint is the flashbacks and dreams. I found the changes too abrupt and therefore confusing more than once. It is largely typical of Fantasy in that the protagonist goes on a journey fraught with dangers and enemies on every side, but the ambiguity of the good/evil dichotomy in various characters, including Maia herself, gives it an original slant and hold interest.

As a first book of a trilogy, the ending did tie up the immediate situation adequately, while leaving larger questions open for the books to follow. I will look forward to reading them.

VotDVoices of the Damned starstarstarstarhalf

by Barbie Wilde

Voices of the Damned is a collection of short stories by Barbie Wilde that can be graphic, very sexual and sometimes violent in ways that some readers may find disturbing.

The first story, Sister Cilice, is about a woman who was coerced into becoming a nun by parents who repeatedly told her she was sinful. She indulges in self flagellation and is tormented by sexual fantasies about her priest, eventually equating pleasure with pain. She finds an ancient book that guides her to a way to indulge her perverse needs.

The story is dark and disturbing, graphically detailing sado-masochistic acts. The author has invented a new word, scrupulosity, which fits oddly well in context.

The stories that follow have similarly disturbing themes. Zombie gang rape, a creepy kid who can heal or kill with a touch, a soul-sucking succubus, a demon who attacks through sleep paralysis and more. If you have any triggers, there is sure to be at least one of the stories that will confront you with it. There are no holds barred in either horrific torture or graphic sexuality in all its most perverse forms.

The writing itself is good and depicts some of the most disturbing imagery I’ve ever read far too effectively. Extreme Horror readers will find a real treasure in this one. The book is extremely well presented, with brilliant artwork in full color and a lot of thought put into layout and graphic design.

Though the subject matter may be a little too over the top for my personal taste, I have to appreciate the artistry that has been put into both the visual and verbal presentation of the work. This could well become a collector’s item among those who are drawn to the unusual and offbeat in the Horror realm.

It feels weird to give a high star rating to something I actually found difficult to read, but it was only my own squeamishness that caused that difficulty and the quality of the all too effective prose is deserving of the 4.5 stars I’ve given it.

Down PinholeDown: Pinhole starstarstar

by Glenn Cooper

This had mixed feelings about this story. I had read another of the author’s books and enjoyed it, but I got caught up in this one very quickly, partly because the Physics involved in a hadron collider scenario had me drooling. The author clearly knows enough about the subject to make it realistic.

Another thing I liked about the story is that the primary characters, John and Emily, are grown-ups, 46 and 37 years old. The reading world is glutted with teenage and 20-something protagonists and though I’m not all that old myself, I prefer stories with a certain level of maturity.

I also liked the way the author introduced diversity in the form of Trevor, an important character of Jamaican descent, but born and raised American. It’s all written in a way that fits neatly into the story.

The characters are well-defined. John and Emily are both likeable but human, and John’s ex, Darlene, is someone you just have to hate. She’s a real manipulator with her brains in her crotch.

The story starts out in a self-defence class, which makes for some good foreshadowing for things that happen later.

How can I explain about Down without giving away too much? You find out about it in the early chapters, but that discovery is an important part of the journey. Let’s just say that it’s a place and the people who come from there aren’t necessarily the nicest people you’ll meet.

The alternate world has its own rules and denizens and much of the story will involve learning about what feels like Alice in Wonderland on a bad acid trip. It is not a friendly place.

The story allows the reader to learn a lot of history through cameo appearances of significant people from the past, but I actually think this was over done to the extent that throwing in a known Nazi was predictable. The instruction for building makeshift weapons was very thorough and knowledgeable, but I felt that the sequences in Down read very, very slow.

Probably the most likable character in the book was Duck. He’s just a displaced peasant, but he has a kind of innocent charm that made me want to see him come out of things okay.

The one thing that blew this one for me was the ending, or rather non-ending. Just at a point when everything seems to be wrapped up neatly, a new crisis hits you and you have to buy the next book to see what happens. This is a pet peeve of mine. Yes I knew it was to be a trilogy, but I can think of many continuing series that while they might leave questions of ongoing situations open for a next volume, they at least wrap up the story for that episode. Also, a random factor on the Physics for this new crisis stretched believability. I like this author’s writing but I’ll be looking for stand alone stories from him in future.

DevilThe Devils Detective starstarstarstarhalf

by Simon Kurt Unsworth

“Welcome to Hell, sir.”

A story set in Hell, where a delegation of Angels have come to help investigate a blue flash, which usually indicates a ‘fallen’. Hell is populated by humans and demons, both of whom can be killed, though that doesn’t mean they can’t be questioned… as long as they still have their soul.

Fool, an ‘information man’ and his friend and colleague Gordie set out to investigate the cause death of a man and the real cause of the blue flash. Not all deaths are investigated, and in fact violence and death are all too common.

The narrative paints an intriguing landscape of Hell, it’s rules and the men, demons and other creatures who populate the place. The sex and violence are not what I would consider overdone, but there is occasional grossness or shock value in context of the story. This is Hell after all, it’s not a pleasant place.

The one thing I didn’t like about it was that there are no chapters. Once you’re sucked into in Hell, you’re there to stay!

There is a brilliant quote that says a lot about morality in Hell, and reminds me of gossip networks here on Earth:

“Whether it’s true or not doesn’t matter, of course, because those humans saw what they have waited for a long time to see, a human challenge a demon and win. Who cares about the truth when they have a story like that, Fool, eh? And stories, like me, they grow, don’t they? You, above all, should know that.”

Something to think about next time to hear something about somebody, but haven’t witnessed it first hand!

The world building in this is as detailed as any good Fantasy novel. The oppressive feeling of Hell comes across well and the social parameters are well defined. I found the main characters likeable and the ending satisfying. It’s nice to read something that doesn’t blatantly set up for a sequel, although there is room for further adventures.

A good strong 4.5 stars.

ChronologyChronology starstarstarhalf

An Anthology

This is a collection of 25 stories that span a broad range of time. The authors are meant to be well known, though I only recognize a couple of names, like Piers Anthony.

The first story, Draconic King by James Wymore, is a well written Fantasy tale of the dragonslayer kind (with some differences), others include a story of a succubus spirit of a volcano, a weird story of an encounter with a ready meal and others covering a wide spectrum from Fantasy to Victorians.

The common factor holding them together is that the authors are all established names with credits behind them. This shows in the quality of writing in the stories. Recommended for those who enjoy a well written short story.

Lost DragonsIn Search of Lost Dragons starstarstarstarstar

Elian Black’Mor and Carine M

This is a beautiful art book, set up to look like a private journal for someone who is very talented at drawing dragons. The drawings are of exquisite quality.

The story, written in handwriting on lines of the paper, is told in an old form of English that sounds early nineteenth century. It tells of finding this place where there are monsters, in other words, dragons. Pictures, drawings, newspaper clippings and anything you might find in a journal or scrapbook are included to form the impression of a genuine report of the discovery.

Many of the drawings are anatomical, showing specific body parts as a scientist might record and there are notes of measurements and other details. Some of the drawings are in color and I cannot emphasize enough how detailed and wonderful they are! Having reviewed this from an ebook copy, I’m thinking towards buying a paperback copy for the joy of the artwork.

Through various notes, an adventure story unfolds in the tradition of Jules Verne, but with dragons. The book is extremely well done and really earned its five stars. A few other creatures are depicted, like sea serpents and the technical drawings of ships and cars are also excellent workmanship. The nature and abilities of the dragons enter the commentary so that the reader is brought inside this magnificent fantasy world.

This is a book to savour. The handwritten notes can be challenging to read very quickly and the drawings are a visual feast meant to be enjoyed at leisure. Detailed maps and dragon lore from many countries is included along with other fantasy elements. I did find some repetition of a section in the ebook version, which I presume was a technical anomaly. It didn’t matter because it was worth looking through those pictures again!

Altogether a beautiful book, and an essential addition to any fan of dragons in Fantasy fiction.

whispering stormThe Whispering Swarm starstarstarhalf
by Michael Moorcock
The Whispering Swarm is the first book in a new trilogy by Michael Moorcock, his first new book in nine years. I was immediately struck by his mastery of language, something I’ve missed since the Elric and Jerry Cornelius books brought so much imagination to my adolescence.

The story is told in the first person and artfully brings the reader into the setting even before you know what it’s going to be about. It’s largely autobiographical and reads much like a memoir and is very believable, even when talking about seeing ghosts. It is a nostalgic look at post war London that subtly moves into the realm of fantasy, then back out again. At times the line between autobiography and imagination is hard to see and it becomes difficult to know what is real and what is just part of a story.

An author as a character in their own fantasy story is unusual, though not unprecedented.

It is done well and definitely holds interest, at least most of the way through. I have to admit that it did seem overly long by the end, especially after characters from a certain Classic joined the fray.

The Fantasy part of the story partly fed my time travel addiction and adds historic interest, though the theology came across as digression. One question that bothered me was how does the money work? A modern writer stepping into a historic setting and buying rounds for men from another time, what coins would he use?

It’s difficult to read Moorcock without comparing it to earlier Moorcock, but on its own merits the story has definite appeal and insight into publishing from another century, but I did find my attention wandering at times.

Front3rdEd150Dance of the Goblins starstarstarstar

by Jaq D. Hawkins

This one is what I call Old School Fantasy, but it’s also Dark Fantasy in places. It kept coming to my attention and when a friend who said she didn’t like it the first time she read it decided to read it again, that pushed me over the edge to give it a try. I enjoyed it.

The premise is a low tech world where a natural disaster destroyed life as we know it and the survivors developed a form of civilization that resembles the Dark Ages, except that there is the remains of a destroyed city. The people have divided into two groups; one that live a simple life and are ruled by magicians who live in the castle, and another who have very backward ways and grudgingly give some recognition to the ruling class. They have arranged marriages for their daughters when they are barely pubescent, much like Medieval times.

Hiding underground is a race of goblins who are a very earthy people and mainly want to be left alone, but are very capable of defending themselves. This is where the story has some really interesting connections to mythology and legend and ties together a lot of strands of old lore. The goblins practice ecstatic dance and live in very primitive, tribal ways.

I have to mention that in the prologue, there is a very smooth change of POV from a group of men looking for a missing member of their village into the world of the goblins, where the missing man had wandered in and suffered torment and drugging before being expelled, sort of like fairy hill legend. The goblins are seen during this and the group of men try to dig them out. The reader is transported to inside the goblins’ caverns and their efforts to keep humans from invading their sanctuary underground.

I found the story a very interesting contrast of cultures and the writing style very easy to read and get caught up in so that it was a fast read. There were characters that I liked and definitely some that I really loved to hate. I also found it well balanced in that not all the narrow mindedness was on one side. There was not so much a good against evil theme as a clash of cultures where some individuals on both sides kept conflict going through prejudices.

The magic is pretty low key and not too hard to believe. The background story of how their society developed made me laugh, but in a good way. I could just see it happening that way. There is some shapeshifting, some psychic ability in certain characters and a very defined difference between humans and goblins. In many ways, goblins are more like animals than humans and their ways of dealing with things like infant mortality and sex might be shocking to humans, but look to nature and the same things happen among animals, sometimes much worse.

Overall I found it imaginative and an enjoyable read, though some of the darker aspects still give me chills when I think about them. It’s not as complicated as something like Game of Thrones, but important characters can die and I found myself really choked up over one of them. This probably won’t appeal to YA readers. There is a lot of exposition and world building rather than constant fast action, though there is some of that in places too. I’d recommend it to those who enjoy books like Lord of the Rings and especially for those who go on to read The Silmarillion and other more studious books.

necromancyFinn Fancy Necromancy starstarstar

by Randy Henderson

This book has one of the strangest beginnings I’ve ever read, even in a fantasy novel. In some ways the situation reminds me of Corwin of Amber, in that Finn has memory loss, but his is caused by being exiled out of body for 25 years. Apparently people who commit, or are falsely accused of committing, certain magical offences spend a period of years discarnate feeding the fey while a changeling looks after their body. Luckily the rules are tight and they have to look after it well.

It gets weirder as it goes along, but in a good way. I got thoroughly drawn into this story and really enjoyed the stretches of imagination involved. There were also some hilarious comments and brilliant weird ideas. The bit about Dunkin Donuts and lentils alone was worth the time reading. You have to read it in context.

At times it straddles the line between YA and Fantasy written for adults. Sex is mentioned but with no actual sexual situations, at least as far as I was able to read. Unfortunately Netgalley provided only an excerpt of the story for review, so I don’t know whether it has a satisfying ending or whether more adult situations come into it later.

What I did read was well written and enjoyable though and may well be worthy of four stars rather than the three I’ve given it, but endings are worth a full star to me so I’ve had to withhold one as the full story wasn’t provided for review.

OurselvesOurselves starstar

by S.G. Redling

‘Ourselves’ is a reference to a people who live among ordinary people, which seems to be a recurring concept recently. These call themselves the Nahan.

It’s a cute little poetic fantasy with a touch of Irish which is advertised as “dark and sensual” for an adult readership, but reads more like a YA novel (perhaps because the main characters are young), apart from occasional swearing and sexual situations.

Stell feels there is something wrong with her and runs away to the forest where being different won’t matter. Tomas seems awkward. There is a little too much ‘telling’ in the first chapter and the issues concerning high school and college and being the awkward weird kids had me wondering what I was doing here.

There is a strong focus on religious fanaticism, which seemed to me to be too ‘real world’ to really feel like I was reading a fantasy novel. This and some, what I would call modern Internet punctuation, “You. Left. Me. In. A. Gay. Bar.” to show emphasis on each word when a character is trying to make a point, made me wonder how old the author was.

I actually found the profanity unnecessary and felt like I was just reading a book about horny teenagers until I got about 16% in and said to myself, “Oh great, vampires.”

I felt I had to rate this one low because it isn’t what it says on the tin. The writing is literate, but the voice is middle grade and the plot would suit that level as well if the swearing and sex was removed. I can’t say that it held my attention well, but for adults who read a lot of YA, it might be a really good read. It just wasn’t what I expected from the description and I don’t read a lot of YA because I just don’t identify with teenage issues. Two stars from me, but a lot of my friends might like it much better.

circus of the damnedCircus of the Damned starstarstarhalf

by Cornelia Grey

This is a very atmospheric story about a genuine magician who gets through life pulling cons and doing what people assume is stage magic, but is helped along by the real thing. One day he gets in trouble with his dodgy doings and is being chased by an angry mob, and in his attempts to get away, joins the Circus of the Damned.

There is an unnecessary amount of gratuitous swearing, but also a lot of action and I was pulled into the story quickly. It took me until chapter three to decide that I really didn’t like the main character, Gilbert. He’s arrogant and doesn’t think, which is not a good recipe for a magician. You would expect him to at least be savvy enough to know what it means when he’s offered a place in the circus and warned that it’s forever. The word ‘damned’ might have tipped him off. But he proceeds to try to leave with no thought of the warnings he was given.

The circus is pretty weird and Gilbert, being bi-sexual, takes an interest in the MC who he finds attractive. There is a selection of interesting characters, though none I could identify with personally. The use of pronouns isn’t always correct and it can get confusing to tell who is who, but it is imaginative and Gilbert sort of reminds me of the Artful Dodger with his street life background. There are some very funny moments, though the dialogue was flat at times.

About halfway through it begins to read like a m/m Romance novel, which would be okay, but there is some gratuitous sex in graphic detail that I felt was completely unnecessary. It crosses the line into porn and I find that inappropriate in books that are not sold as Erotica. It’s suddenly inappropriate for young readers when there could have been a large audience for the book in the 12-18 range. The main characters were also inconsistent in their strength and weaknesses.

Apart from the fact that Gilbert is an idiot (to be fair, he progresses) and the intrusive porn, it’s a good story with an interesting premise,  is decently written, has some very imaginative performance scenes and has some poignant elements of love and sacrifice. The strong beginning was not really followed up by the last few chapters being as strong and the author doesn’t seem to realize that smoke in a fire makes people choke and die, but overall it was an enjoyable story.

The VinesThe Vines starstarstar

by Christopher Rice

I have to admit that I requested this book for review because the author is Anne Rice’s son and I was curious. I’ve read and enjoyed several Anne Rice books and wondered if writing skill is hereditary. It’s impossible for those of us familiar with her work to read his without making some comparisons.

My first impression on starting to read was that it didn’t compare favorably. Part of the reason for this is that the story is written in present tense, which I dislike intensely. There is good reason why nearly all the best books of the past have been written in past tense. It just works better for storytelling.

It starts out like a bad Romance novel with a woman catching her husband having another woman perched on the bathroom sink, then leads to a horrific situation in the gazebo where a little spilled blood seems to awaken a window to the past and a monstrous force hidden in the soil of the plantation.

As Horror stories go, the plot was actually interesting. I didn’t see how the bugs fit in until the very end, but there were some interesting ideas, even if some of them beggared believability. The best character was Nova, the daughter of a black caretaker who still treated his employers as if they were in the old south in the time of slavery. Until the last few chapters, she seemed to be an intelligent and sensible character.

The one problem with the story is that it lacked depth. This may be partly due to present tense writing, but things didn’t flow as smoothly as they could have. I was actually surprised to read that Rice had already written four other books (and won awards, nothing to do with his literary family I’m sure) because this read much like a first novel. It was okay, but just okay.

Demons CallThe Demon’s Call starstarstarhalf

Kim Gravell

This book really held my attention. The story jumps straight into finding a body, enticing the reader’s senses with details like the coppery smell of blood. There was probably too much information about characters given in chapter one that should have held off until chapter two to keep from breaking the tension, but I can see why the information would be relevant.

I liked the British terms and Welsh names which gave it a very regionalized flavor, though I wonder if some brand names and such might have been lost on readers from other countries.

The supernatural aspect takes an original turn that skirts folklore and quickly gets interesting for those who like occult themed stories. Old folk tales and legends meet modern New Age and a dark stranger comes to town in an almost cliché manner, yet I liked the way the author drew out the mystery around Marcus for a little while. I did guess his nature, but wasn’t sure for long enough to keep the intrigue going.

There were a few parts that slowed down a little, like explaining too many details about writing tasks that would only be relevant to a writer, but mostly it keeps moving at a good pace, except that the information of how Gwyn fits into Aiden’s past comes a bit late. The one thing that doesn’t ring true is how her involvement in the occult could be news to Aiden with their shared past.

The new age references would be mostly familiar to anyone who knows about that sort of thing in real life. There are some familiar visualisations for protection, using methods that are actually practiced in the real world. This lends believability to the more fictionalised parts of the story.

The imagery throughout is very well done. I suspected before halfway through that I would be looking for more books from this author. Then it all falls down near the end and starts to dither, going a little hokey and suddenly stops with a promise to resolve the story in the next book. This lost a star as that’s a particular bugbear of mine. If you want to write a story, at least resolve each episode to some degree. This just stops like someone ripped the book in half, and after I stayed up late to find out how it ended. Now I’m being blackmailed into buying another book if I want to find out what happens and that’s anathema to me. It wasn’t even a cliffhanger, just an unfinished story.

Good writing, no ending. 3.5 stars.

ArtfulArtful starstarstarhalf

by Peter David

There seems to have been an explosion of stories about the Artful Dodger between 2010-2014. Some of them stay true to the characters and events depicted in Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist and others fall somewhat short of the mark, but this one is pure fantasy and clearly intends to be so.

The thing is, it’s done fairly well. The writing starts out really good and the author’s explanation in the introduction makes perfect sense; of course Fagin was a vampire all along! The facts fit all too convincingly. The story flows quickly and has some moments where I can clearly visualize a movie version with some great comedy moments, although it slows down in the middle.

Jack has some definite ideas of how a gentleman behaves. In this, the author has painted a charming character, though sometimes he doesn’t ring quite true. The attempt to create a lower class English accent gave away the author’s American origins. It got to where every time I saw “ya” I was being pulled out and grumbling about Americans who try to sound English and getting it wrong. There were a couple of other niggles, like alternating references to a dog as either a German Shepherd or a Mastiff, two very different breeds.

The plot takes a turn for the cliché vampire story, but that I can forgive as it is obviously the intent of the storyteller to go into the fantastical on this one. It is often predictable, but nevertheless well told and there is a great diatribe on right and wrong that fits into the story very well. The one thing that put me off was trying to convince me that vampires age. Vampires don’t sparkle, they don’t produce children, and they don’t age!

Overall I enjoyed it, though the last few chapters really strained credulity even in a world with vampires, and although the author seems to have been aware of the events in Oliver Twist generally, his artistic licence with Charley Bates pushed my Dickens purism a little too far.

Not great literature, but an amusing read.

CosmocopiaCosmocopia starstar

by Paul Di Phillipo

This was a weird one. The first part starts in the middle of an interview with an aging artist with some scattered thought processes.

A mysterious package arrives which leads the ill old man into experimentation with an apparently pharmacopial substance with unknown but interestingly observable properties, and leads through obsession to a gruesome outcome.

The second part might have been a little too abstract for me. It was about a bone collector and a monster in the shape of a man, but I had no idea what was supposed to be going on through most of it or why collecting bones should be profitable. A connection to the first part becomes apparent eventually. We’re expected to follow strange events and circumstances that we presume to be normal, yet are very different from any world that we know. It’s an alternate world that doesn’t quite seem to make sense, where we learn a few nonsense words and try to keep up with what an introciptor might be and where we’ve heard of a creature called a wurzel. This world is populated by strange creatures who hide their genitalia on their heads under a caul.

None of the characters were particularly endearing and there was no one that most people would identify with. It’s interesting in a sort of old science fiction meets psychedelic drugs sort of way, but I can’t say that I felt any real connection to the story.

All things considered, this one was just a little too ‘out there’ for my taste.

DreamwalkerDreamwalker starstarstarhalf

by J.D. Oswald

The book starts out with rather flowery language (but done well) in the Prologue and soon sets up an almost cliché fantasy story; There’s a priest, a dying princess and the birth of a prince who must be hidden among common people in true Arthurian fashion. It is very atmospheric and the Welsh basis for names of both people and places as well as for some story elements, including Grym lines and the story of Gog and Magog from Welsh folklore.

However, on the same day is the birth of a dragon. Some of the characters in the story are talking dragons who have a magical secret village. One of them is a healer whom the human characters go to. Oh and let’s not forget that there was an eclipse on the day of these two births.

So having set up a human-dragon symbiosis, the story goes on with the death of an old dragon and a brilliant quote about the meaning of death, which you’ll have to read to find out. There is slow world building and a little confusion in the early chapters where it isn’t entirely clear about the relationship between the humans and the dragons, but this is soon rectified and fully explained. I did have the constant feeling that I’d missed something or should know who someone is when I didn’t.

From there the story bounces between the exploits of Errol, the secret prince, and Benfro, the young dragon that men must not know about because it is forbidden for dragons to breed. Young dragons actually have games to practice learning how to avoid detection by humans, much of it based in magic.

We also get warrior priests and a little info dumping at the beginning of chapters. Overall I didn’t think the flow was very good, yet the story held my interest anyway. My review copy still had a few typos jumping out, but presumably these will be corrected before the final release as well as some over use of commas that made some of the prose jerky.

In some ways the story line seemed contrived, yet there were some original elements like the dragons’ spiritual essence being retained in their jewels. I had mixed feelings about the story. In some ways it was child-like with anthropomorphic dragons who hunt with bows and arrows and eat bread and cheese for lunch, in other ways it was a good fantasy story that an older fantasy fan could enjoy with a lot of magic and a set up that, well, could have led to an interesting connection between the prince and the young dragon had the story gone that far.

There were a few niggles; a country accent that wasn’t quite right and a lack of mystery about who poisoned the princess, which is suddenly revealed in the story with no preliminary build up. The biggest one though is that it stops suddenly with the story unfinished. Obviously we are meant to buy the next book to continue.

I much prefer series stories to have resolution at the end of each story, but the writing was good for the most part and despite the niggles, I did enjoy it.

OddkinsOddkins starstarstarhalf

by Dean Koontz

The book description says “A fable for all ages” but I must admit that I can’t help but wonder who the target audience for this book is meant to be. It reads too young for adult fantasy fans, but has concepts too old and dark for the young age group it appears to target.

“Toymaker Isaac Bodkins created the Oddkins, a group of living toys, for very special children who face difficulties in life and need true friends.”

What a magical idea!

The story starts out with the death of the magical toymaker who brings the stuffed animals to life. They are sad at his passing, yet they had been prepared.

While toys coming alive is very much the sort of thing to appeal to young children, I found some of the ideas expressed a little too mature for the average child. It may be suitable for particularly bright children who catch onto concepts quickly, yet I also found the flow a little choppy.

Some elements of the story were very scary in a way that I could see giving some kids nightmares. I also found that the story sections went on much longer than would hold the attention of children of an age to enjoy stories about toys coming alive.

There were some charming illustrations and the story is divided into five parts, almost as if there were five separate stories, but they all progress towards the ultimate goal of finding a new magical toymaker.

I found it overall very dark. Would I have liked to read it as a child? Probably. I was one of those bright children and concepts of death never bothered me. After all, most of the original versions of classic fairytales are also very dark. I wouldn’t recommend the book for just any child though. Parents would need to make a judgement based on their own knowledge of their child.

Adults who like to read young people’s literature would probably enjoy it as well.

Fools AssassinFool’s Assassin starstarstar

by Robin Hobb

Having read Assassin’s Apprentice and enjoyed what I’ve read of the Farseer series, I could not resist when I saw that reviews were wanted for Fool’s Assassin, the first book of a related trilogy with Fitz as an adult, now called FitzChivalry Farseer. There are plenty of references to people and events from the first book of the first series to make a connection and to explain significant elements to readers new to the series.

The story begins with a letter written by Queen Desire, second queen to King Shrewd and enemy to Fitz, or anyone else she may perceive as standing between her son and the throne. Fitz thinks the queen was behind his father’s murder, though much time has passed and he is now in middle age and has a grown daughter.

There are several new characters to add to the familiar ones and the sense of intrigue begins pretty much immediately with the arrival of a group of suspicious minstrels with no instruments to a mid-winter celebration, as well as a strange messenger who Fitz doesn’t go to see right away because he is needed as host to his party.

Hobb’s naming conventions are consistent in that characters are given obvious names according to their positions in the court. The story does a good job of explaining salient points from the previous series well so that new readers will be able to follow what’s going on and references to things like the Forged, even if they have not read all of the books. I became aware that I have missed much about the Foil and a pet wolf in the intervening books, but the references brought me up to speed.

The book also clearly explains the difference between the Wit, which is a psychic connection on an animal level, and the Skill, which is human to human mind communication. These abilities play a significant role in both series.

One thing that bothered me about this one is that Fitz, who was trained to be an assassin at a young age, is not paranoid enough when the dodgy entertainers are observed. For someone with his history, he doesn’t seem to have much of a sense of preservation.

When blood is spilled during his holiday celebration, he realizes that he enjoys the hunt on an animal level because of an affinity he had formed with his wolf in an earlier story. The Skill is convenient for communication with family from different parts of the manor as he seeks for clues and his animal senses from the Wit show their true value when a crisis requires getting past a lock against the Skill to save the life of an important character. It becomes apparent that writing his chronicles has played an important role in the earlier books and that a legendary entity known as the White prophet plays a key role in this story.

The story is well told, yet I found it rather depressing. Middle age, failing health of his wife and painful memories of much of his past life conspire to make the story all too reminiscent, though there is action if you can get past the first few chapters. The story is left with an obvious intent towards continuation, but I felt the series had already reached a point where it feels tired. I’m hoping to see the author move on to something new as she has shown that she can weave a decent fantasy tale and it would be of interest to see how her writing matures.

i morganaI, Morgana starstarhalf

by Felicity Pulman

First of all, the book is written in present tense, which I feel always puts a book at a disadvantage as few writers can pull off writing present tense without slipping tenses and it’s very difficult, at least for me, to engage with a story written in present tense. There is good reason why novels are traditionally written in past tense with very few exceptions.

Moving past that, the book starts out well in the Prologue with Morgana speaking in first person in her old age, making references to events of the past. She proceeds to tell her story, starting in childhood in the first chapter as Merlin teaches her basic shapeshifting and other magic.

Various accepted points of Arthurian legend are recapped through the story, but in this version Morgana is to rule Cornwall and she has the support of Merlin himself.

As we get to know Morgana, we learn of her strengths and resentments. There is rather a lot of resentment for her brother, Arthur, in particular. She has a maternal sort of love for her baby brother until he gets a little older and begins to join in her lessons with Merlin.

Morgan feels that she is better and brighter than Arthur and just about everybody else, and she has a strong sense of entitlement. Merlin teaches her about tree lore and herbs and early on in the story it already seems unrealistic in that Morgana doesn’t seem to accept the role of a girl, which in that time would be more than unusual.

Morgause comes into play as a younger sister. I’ve only seen her before in the Mary Stewart books, which seem to split the role of the legendary Morgan LeFay between Morgause and a younger sister called Morgian. There were also several characters which had been initited into the body of Arthurian literature by other modern writers, though Pullman does add two of her own.

I, Morgana paints Arthur as ambitious and resentful towards Morgana. As he grows into older childhood, he seems bratty and determined to take Morgana’s birthright from her. He is not like the legendary benevolent Arthur of legend at all. The story depicts the famous incident of the sword in the stone, using the classical sequence of events, but as a trick of Merlin to get the petty kings to accept Arthur as king of all Britain.

I found it difficult to like Morgana. She travels the country raising support for her claim and feels herself continually belittled for being a woman, but overall she seems to be bitter and resentful all the time with no redeeming value to make her an attractive choice for ruler of Cornwall, never mind all of Britain. I found her disappointing, considering that Morgan LeFay is a character that I’ve found very interesting in the context of Arthurian legends for most of my reading life.

The story is written with a style of telling that is mostly Morgan’s internal thoughts. There is no real action and limited dialogue.

To her credit she does show maternal love for her child, Mordred, but was cold about his conception and much of what she does is motivated by hate and resentment. The biggest problem that I had with this book is that *all* of the characters seem to be self-serving and resentful. Even Lancelot is a cad and displays some very unchivilrous behavior. Mordred, of course, is a complete monster. Guenevere is quite the harpy too.

Apart from being written in present tense, the writing is generally good. There is one fairly graphic sex scene, which I felt was unnecessary in a book that is not erotica. The plot meandered a lot in the second half and seemed to be trying to get all the characters that have ever been written into Arthurian stories in for a mention. Overall it was a fairly disappointing treatment of a character from the Arthurian legends that I thought could have been done much better.

Steampunk TrilogyThe Steampunk Trilogy starstarhalf

by Paul Di Filippo

This book is comprised of three stories reportedly in the popular Steampunk genre, all written by Paul Di Filippo.

They are decidedly mock-Victorian alternative history, but lack any of the attendant steam technology which is the defining factor of Steampunk.

I found the first story, Victoria, immediately atmospheric, though some descriptions seemed overly complicated and a few sentences near the beginning were overly long. I soon got involved in the story and established that it is about Queen Victoria and an entity called a ‘Hellbender’ that might explain some of the conspiracy theorists’ speculations that the Royal Family are actually lizard people.

The book displayed a more extensive vocabulary than many modern books exhibit and a rather fantastical plot wherein the Alchemically transformed newt-creature (ala Dr Moreau) impersonates the queen.

There are cameo appearances by such entities as Dickens, Tennyson, Lord Byron and John Ruskin as well as a Parody American character called Nails McGroaty, though the story is mostly from the point of view of Mr. Cosmo Cowperthwait, a tongue-in-cheek version of a Victorian English gentleman who experiments with a method of Uranium based transportation, with predictably disastrous results.

The story is rather whimsical, yet most of the research rings true, keeping in mind that liberties have to be taken in Alternative Histories. There is only a time or two when an American term sneaks in to give away the author’s nationality. The prolific use of guns also reflects a particularly American attitude.

There was a surprising twist near the end of this story and it did hold interest, if not believability. It was actually rather fun.

I didn’t quite know what to make of the second story, Hottentots. It is about a rather extremely racist scientist who compares mixed-race breeding with cross-species taxidermy and finds himself dealing with a black woman who has been a side show for nothing more than looking different from the average Caucasian. He refers to “Negroes” and I wasn’t sure if the author might be racist or whether he was incredibly brave in creating such an offensive character.

He is accompanied by this woman and her husband, an associate of his that has a dodgy mock-Germanic accent as they go on a voyage to find a Fetiche which is supposed to relate to some form of black magic. As Rosicrucians and Satanists were mentioned in the same sentence, followed by a reference to ‘Hand of Glory’ (from Santeria) and then “Hermetic herbs”, bringing Alchemy into the equation, I have to conclude that research about magic for the story was non-existant.

There were cameo appearances by Herman Melville and Darwin, but none of the characters were likable, except perhaps the black woman who seemed to have an amused attitude about it all.

The third story, Emily and Walt, involved a relationship between the two poets, Emily Dickenson and Walt Whitman. I’m not overly knowledgeable about the lives of poets, so I don’t know if such a liaison could or might have ever taken place. This one also involved not one but two abortions from the hapless Emily Dickenson and a spiritualist quest to seek communication with her unborn children. It was all a bit surreal.

The writing itself is very good, but I found the second and third stories a little disjointed, too obsessed with genitalia, and generally less interesting than the first story, which I quite enjoyed despite the fact that there was not an airship in sight or any form of alternative steam technology that would have justified labeling the book as Steampunk.

Hollow Hills150The Hollow Hills starstarstarstar

by Mary Stewart

This is the second book of the Merlin Trilogy by Mary Stewart. It begins where the first book left off, taking us through the lead up to the birth of Arthur through to the moment he is recognised as rightful king.

Most of the story focuses on Merlin himself and his travels as he keeps track of what is going on in the kingdom, making a point of learning what factions are loyal to the king and which pose a threat or which petty kings become overly ambitious when the only son of the High King is not visible to the people.

Like the first book, there are accurate historical references couched within the fantasy element and the story is told in first person in a rich storyteller’s tone. The discovery of the legendary sword Excaliber (aka Caliburn) is pure artistic licence, but believable as any of the less practical legends or more so and pulls the story together so that the accepted elements of the Arthurian legend remain mostly intact.

Stewart veers off the traditional track a little with her characters, changing the parentage of Morgan LeFay and splitting her into two characters to fill different purposes. In this her version is entirely her own. She quotes a legend at the end to support the character of Morgause, but gives no reference and I’ve never seen it anywhere else.

In the latter part of the book, we get to know Arthur as a young man a little. I did feel this part became rushed and the last couple of chapters seemed to skim past the well known elements of the legend far too quickly. Despite my misgivings about the changes she has made to those legends, Mary Stewart tells a deeply atmospheric story and I’ve enjoyed reading it very much.

AssassinsApprenticeAssassin’s Apprentice starstarstarstar

by Robin Hobb

This is an excellent fantasy story in the old traditional sword and sorcery sense. It’s about a boy, born a royal bastard, who is thrust into his father’s family with all the intrigues and dangers that go with being a loose end in the line of succession.

The story is very well written and although I seldom read stories with child protagonists, this one was worth making an exception. The characters are distinctive and interesting as individuals, even if their names are rather cheesy. The more likeable ones include an assassin, a rough keeper of animals, the boy himself (generally referred to as Fitz, as his father never game him a name) and a shrewd grandfather who is known as *cough* King Shrewd. Oh my…

The fun thing about assassins is that they are full of surprises. Just when the plot seems to be going along predictably, something comes out of left field to change the game.

Somewhere after 40% it does begin to drag a little, and then to meander in plot. However, the political intrigues that are the real strength of the story are further developed so that by 90% I was really interested again and wondering how it was all going to get wrapped up with so little time left. I feared a cliffhanger ending that would try to blackmail me into buying book 2, when the price of the further episodes is rather high in my opinion for something I would describe as Fantasy Lite. Yes it’s a good story, but it’s fairly simple and will appeal to those who like to read a lot of YA and prefer stories with a single protagonist, rather than the sort of complications of keeping up with something like George R.R. Martin’s Songs of Ice and Fire series.

I just have a preference for stories that will stretch my brain cells, although I can enjoy light entertainment as well. This one did pick up with loads of action in the final stretch. I didn’t like some of the conclusions, but at least the story did wrap up with tidy closing stages so that I wasn’t left on that cliff. A few loose ends were obviously left so that the saga can continue, but despite the story starting well, I think it will continue without me to follow along. I enjoyed reading it, but there were just some final elements that left me with phrases like “Why didn’t you…” “You couldn’t possibly let him…” and similar rants echoing through my head.

I give it 4 stars for writing ability, but only 3.5 for plot detail. Too many things just didn’t ring true in the end.

crystal-cave-by-mary-stewartThe Crystal Cave starstarstarstarstar

by Mary Stewart

With the recent death of Mary Stewart, I decided it was time to read her Merlin trilogy which had been on my radar for a long time. This is the first book which tells the story of Merlin’s life from childhood to the point where the future King Arthur is conceived.

First off, the writing is excellent. I was deep in this story in a way that would normally generate 5 stars. The only reason it only got 4 is because towards the end, the artistic licence that an author of Arthurian fiction must necessarily take veered off into a direction I could not rectify historically.

One of the strengths of the story is that it has a lot of genuine historic references so that the tale of Arthur is painted against a backdrop of known facts. Ambrosius did come to England and route the Saxons in the year given; Vortigern and his son Vortimer are actual historic figures. Vortigern did try to build a stronghold in the place depicted, only to have it fall down time after time because of geological anomalies that Engineers of the time didn’t understand.

Merlin himself is depicted as a very believable character, with the sole exception of his attitude towards Christianity near the end. I’m not anti-religion or anything, but a near-conversion doesn’t work for Merlin. One could argue about the transitions of Paganism to Christianity around that era, but a student of history will know that it’s about a thousand years too early in the fifth century for that level of flexibility between the sets of beliefs.

Despite that, I really enjoyed the book and had trouble putting it down. I’m starting the next book in the series next, The Hollow Hills. I’m also going to try some of Mary Stewart’s other books, though I don’t know when. She’s a brilliant writer and I’m sorry that she’s gone now.

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