Home » Book Reviews

Category: Book Reviews

Review: Skin Deep by Mark del Franco

Skin Deep (Laura Blackstone, #1)Skin Deep by Mark Del Fran­co
My rat­ing: 3 of 5 stars

This is an intrigu­ing begin­ning to a series. I’ve played a char­ac­ter with sim­i­lar abil­i­ties in a long-run­ning role­play­ing game, so I was par­tic­u­lar­ly inter­est­ed in this book. I think the author did an excel­lent job of explor­ing just how much could be done with “essence” (glam­our), while set­ting believ­able lim­its to the character’s abil­i­ties. She has an excep­tion­al­ly well-trained mem­o­ry, but even she slips on a few details here and there when jug­gling too many per­sonas or with some­one very close to her for a long time.

The plot was less inter­est­ing to me, frankly, than the char­ac­ter. In fact, the details are a lit­tle fuzzy and I just fin­ished the book ear­li­er today. (Of course, I’ve read most of the next book since then, too). Even while read­ing it, though, some details strained believ­abil­i­ty. That detail took the rat­ing down a point.

Still, I was inter­est­ed enough to go right on to the next book in the series, and I intend to read more of del Franco’s work. I would rec­om­mend this book for those who enjoy urban fan­ta­sy.

View all my reviews

Review: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Ready Player OneReady Play­er One by Ernest Cline
My rat­ing: 5 of 5 stars

Add this book to the short list of must-reads for every True Geek, right along­side Snow Crash. It’s a glee­ful homage to geek­dom and pop cul­ture.

Wade explains to the read­er that he was born after human­i­ty wore the world out and escaped to OASIS, a mas­sive sim­u­la­tion that has replaced the inter­net and all oth­er forms of enter­tain­ment. Nobody seems to spend time in real­i­ty any more, because it sucks. There are mul­ti­ple wars going on over the few ener­gy sources that are left. Pover­ty, hunger, and home­less­ness are ram­pant every­where.

Most peo­ple who are for­tu­nate enough to live indoors at all are like Wade, who lives with his aunt and her lat­est boyfriend in a three-bed­room dou­blewide trail­er shared with 17 peo­ple. The trail­er is at least near the top of a stack, which is just what it sounds like: a stack of trail­ers 10 or so high, so many across and wide, so that 500 or more trail­ers are held togeth­er with rust­ed scaf­fold­ing, chains, and what­ev­er oth­er rein­force­ments peo­ple have added over the years. Stack col­laps­es are com­mon.

Wade spends most of his time in his hide­out, the back of an old van that’s parked in a junk­yard and crammed in a stack of vehi­cles. That’s where he keeps his com­put­er and oth­er equip­ment, so he can attend school (in OASIS, of course) and spend time research The Con­test, which is the cen­ter of his life.

The cre­ater of OASIS, James Hal­l­i­day, cre­at­ed The Con­test in his will. Who­ev­er wins it will inher­it Halliday’s vast for­tune and con­trol of OASIS. At the open­ing of the nov­el, it has been five years since Hal­l­i­day died and con­tes­tants are ridiculed in every­day soci­ety as obses­sive losers.

Wade’s quest through The Con­test and his fight to sim­ply sur­vive is far more inter­est­ing than I thought it would be. I’ll also admit to being enter­tained by the 80s triv­ia that pops up through­out the book (inte­gral to The Con­test). I’m biased, as I was a teen dur­ing those years. 

I whole­heart­ed­ly rec­om­mend this book. It’s one of the very few that I’ll be sav­ing to re-read in the future.

View all my reviews

Book Review: More Holmes for the Holiday edited by Martin H. Greenberg & co.

More Holmes for the HolidaysMore Holmes for the Hol­i­days by Mar­tin H. Green­berg
My rat­ing: 3 of 5 stars

Mar­tin H. Green­berg and com­pa­ny have pro­vid­ed a fine col­lec­tion of Sher­lock­ian hol­i­day sto­ries that fit in quite well with the tra­di­tion­al set.

“The Christ­mas Gift” by Anne Per­ry is a nice lit­tle piece about a stolen Stradi­var­ius and a cou­ple who want to mar­ry against the wish­es of the young lady’s father. There is an excel­lent red her­ring, one of the few in this anthol­o­gy.

In “The Four Wise Men” by Peter Lovesey, Wat­son must answer a call to duty from his for­mer com­mand­ing offi­cer in the Army, in order to help guard a medieval trea­sure in a Christ­mas pageant. The game is soon afoot, and Sherlock’s pow­ers of obser­va­tion are as keen as ever.

Bar­bara Paul’s “Eleemosy­nary, My Dear Wat­son” gives Holmes a jew­el theft and a kid­nap­ping to solve, which he does in his inim­itable way. One clue seemed slight­ly too obvi­ous to me, but it may not to oth­er read­ers.

In “The Adven­ture of the Great­est Gift” by Loren D. Estle­man, Holmes receives a wax cylin­der con­tain­ing a record­ing of a song pop­u­lar in Amer­i­ca. He takes it as a warn­ing of a crime which could lead to war between Britain and France, and of course he leaps into action. This is Mycroft Holmes’ only appear­ance in the vol­ume.

There’s plen­ty of mis­di­rec­tion in “The Case of the Rajah’s Emer­ald” by Car­olyn Wheat. Some­how, though, I sus­pect­ed one of the great rev­e­la­tions in this one from the begin­ning, but I couldn’t tell you exact­ly why. It didn’t ruin the sto­ry for me, and there was still a sur­prise at the end.

On the oth­er hand, Edward D. Hoch’s “The Christ­mas Con­spir­a­cy” man­aged to take me com­plete­ly unawares. I couldn’t fath­om why the crime would be com­mit­ted or by whom, despite hav­ing a major clue dropped by one char­ac­ter. Very well done!

“The Music of Christ­mas” by L.B. Green­wood telegraphed the iden­ti­ty of the crim­i­nal from the start, but was well worth read­ing. One of the char­ac­ters also tugged at the heart­strings.

Bill Crider’s “The Adven­ture of the Christ­mas Bear” is large­ly mem­o­rable because of the appear­ance of Oscar Wilde as a char­ac­ter.

“The Adven­ture of the Naturalist’s Stock Pin” by Jon L. Breen gives us Charles Dar­win as Holmes’ client. The mys­tery is less Sher­lock­ian than some of the oth­ers, but I didn’t mind read­ing it.

Daniel Stashower’s “The Adven­ture of the Sec­ond Vio­let” was an inter­est­ing twist on a well-known Christ­mas sto­ry. I can­not say more with­out spoil­ing it, but he has a nice touch.

“The Human Mys­tery” by Tanith Lee is as dark as I expect from her, and was a depress­ing end­ing to the col­lec­tion. It was, how­ev­er, very well-writ­ten.

The anthol­o­gy left me hun­gry for more Holmes, and wish­ing that I weren’t between sea­sons of BBC’s Sher­lock or that I had anoth­er col­lec­tion of sto­ries on hand. That’s the sign of a suc­cess, I think.

View all my reviews

Book Review: Dragon Ship by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller

Dragon ShipDrag­on Ship by Sharon Lee
My rat­ing: 5 of 5 stars

Sharon Lee and Steve Miller con­tin­ue to please with this lat­est install­ment in the Liaden Uni­verse series. Theo Wait­ley, now First Pilot on the sen­tient ship Bechi­mo, is in the process of decid­ing whether she’s going to bond with the ship per­ma­nent­ly as its Cap­tain. She and the Bechi­mo are being pur­sued, togeth­er and sep­a­rate­ly, by the Depart­ment of the Inte­ri­or. Despite that fact, she goes out to estab­lish a new trade route for Clan Kor­val, with for­mer Jun­tavas Boss Clarence O’Berin sit­ting as Co-pilot.

Theo’s for­mer lover Win Ton is con­fined in Bechimo’s restruc­tur­ing facil­i­ty, some­thing a step beyond the autodoc, where he is being rebuilt cell by cell after being tor­tured by the Depart­ment of the Inte­ri­or in its pur­suit of the Bechi­mo. There’s no guar­an­tee that Win Ton will sur­vive the process, or what shape he’ll be in when it is com­plet­ed.

They aren’t far into the route when they receive a dis­tress sig­nal from space sta­tion Codres­cu, in orbit around Eylot, the plan­et where Theo began train­ing as a Pilot. The polit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion on Eylot has come to a head, and all Pilots there are in dan­ger. Codres­cu has put out an emer­gency call for help, so Theo takes Bechi­mo to the res­cue — despite the fact that she has good rea­son to nev­er want to see that sys­tem again.

Theo is a very young woman, but grow­ing by leaps and bounds. She makes any deci­sion that doesn’t rely on social intel­li­gence very well, guid­ed by good basic instincts and oth­er types of intel­li­gence. Her social skills still leave much to be desired, but she’s slow­ly improv­ing those and she knows she has a weak­ness in that area. 

It is always a joy to read a Liaden nov­el, but watch­ing Theo grow up adds a new dimen­sion of plea­sure to the read­ing. While I’ve paused to read and re-read some of the chap­books in order to put off the time before I ran out of new mate­r­i­al, the time is here now. I’m back to the same old com­plaint: I want more, now! Please?

View all my reviews

Book Review: Ghost Ship by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller

Ghost Ship (Liaden Universe, #14, Theo Waitley, #3)Ghost Ship by Sharon Lee
My rat­ing: 5 of 5 stars

Theo Wait­ley has met her father’s Clan and been Seen by the Delm of Kor­val now, at the end of both I Dare and Salta­tion. She does not, how­ev­er, con­sid­er her­self of Kor­val — she is a Wait­ley, as is rea­son­able for a young woman raised in a matri­lin­eal cul­ture. She did, how­ev­er, take two issues to the Delm for solv­ing, and one has been resolved: she has been reunit­ed with her miss­ing father.

How­ev­er, she also car­ries the Captain’s key to the sen­tient ship Bechi­mo, and that ship is look­ing for her. The Delm chose to put that issue aside, trust­ing that it would solve itself, giv­en enough time. How much time, though, and in what man­ner?

In the mean­time, she acts as couri­er for Uncle, one obvi­ous­ly known to the Clan and not as an ally — although not nec­es­sar­i­ly as an ene­my, either. As his couri­er, she flies his ship, Arin’s Toss, which is hunt­ed by his ene­mies, includ­ing the Depart­ment of the Inte­ri­or.

Theo acquits her­self as well as any child of Kor­val could in meet­ing her chal­lenges. She con­tin­ues to expe­ri­ence more than the usu­al num­ber of them, though, because of her Ter­ran rear­ing and Liaden appear­ance. It seems to me that a father as duti­ful as Jen Sar Kila­di (or Daav yos’Phellium) would have giv­en her more prepa­ra­tion to encounter Liaden soci­ety.

Ghost Ship cer­tain­ly isn’t lim­it­ed to Theo’s sto­ry. We rejoin Val Con and preg­nant Miri as they move to Sure­bleak, and check in with Daav as he set­tles in to being Daav again after his long sojourn as Kila­di. There are also appear­ances by Pat Rin, Nate­sa, Quin, Padi, Shan, and oth­er fam­i­ly mem­bers. Def­i­nite­ly an ensem­ble cast this time out, and just as absorb­ing as fans have come to expect.

View all my reviews

Book Review: Saltation by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller

Saltation (Theo Waitley, #2) (Liaden Universe, #13)Salta­tion (Theo Wait­ley, #2) by Sharon Lee
My rat­ing: 5 of 5 stars

Salta­tion (Theo Wait­ley, #2) is good enough that I fin­ished Fledg­ling (Theo Wait­ley, #1), then read it in one sit­ting. It sim­ply has the sort of momen­tum that doesn’t allow for good stop­ping points — some­thing that is true of many of the Liaden Uni­verse nov­els.

At the end of Fledg­ling, Theo was spon­sored into pilot school by Scout Cho sig’Radia. Salta­tion begins with her time there, just as polit­i­cal­ly naïve as ever, but a much more con­fi­dent per­son than she was at the begin­ning of Fledg­ling. Many of the char­ac­ters from Fledg­ling reap­pear, includ­ing Win Ton, Kamele, and Jen Sar. There are new char­ac­ters too, though, such as Kara ven’Arith and Orn Ald yos’Senchul (who, by the way, also appear in a free sto­ry, Land­ed Alien, that has just been released at the Baen web site and should be read after Salta­tion).

Theo is a legal adult now, but a very young one, and she has plen­ty of grow­ing up left to do. That said, this is a young ADULT nov­el, not a children’s book — while it isn’t dis­cussed specif­i­cal­ly, Theo does take a lover. 

She con­tin­ues to flex and stretch into an admirable hero­ine. She isn’t per­fect, by any means, being some­times short-tem­pered and not under­stand­ing social cues eas­i­ly. She’s some­one read­ers can relate to, though, and that is impor­tant. We were brought up con­cur­rent with the end of I Dare, which was vast­ly sat­is­fy­ing. I will go right on with read­ing Ghost Ship, because I def­i­nite­ly want to know more!

View all my reviews

Review: Fledgling by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller

Fledgling (Theo Waitley, #1) (Liaden Universe, #12)Fledg­ling (Theo Wait­ley, #1) by Sharon Lee
My rat­ing: 4 of 5 stars

I half-lis­tened to part of this book as Sam Chupp pod­cast it, chap­ter by chap­ter. For some rea­son, it just didn’t catch my fan­cy back then. I think I didn’t let it catch my fan­cy, because of know­ing that I would have to wait for each chap­ter to be released. Now, though, hav­ing it all fin­ished and edit­ed, it’s clear­ly a pol­ished Lee and Miller nov­el of the Liaden Uni­verse, and I love those.

It’s also some­thing of a young adult nov­el, but don’t let that put you off. Theo is an inter­est­ing char­ac­ter who begins grow­ing up in Fledg­ling (Theo Wait­ley, #1). She’s 14, and she has nev­er been off Del­ga­do, a Safe World. Her own world is made up entire­ly of the Uni­ver­si­ty and acad­e­mia, with both par­ents being pro­fes­sors. The fact that her par­ents live out­side the Wall, in a house rather than in Uni­ver­si­ty hous­ing, is unusu­al.

As the book opens she has to deal with major life changes. For the sake of her career, her moth­er, Kamele, has cho­sen to leave her father’s house and move back to the Uni­ver­si­ty with Theo. Del­ga­do is a matri­ar­chal soci­ety, and Theo is expect­ed to stop acknowl­edg­ing her father as any­one but Pro­fes­sor Jen Sar Kila­di.

To make mat­ters worse, Theo is con­sid­ered “phys­i­cal­ly chal­lenged,” with too-fast reflex­es that cause fre­quent acci­dents. The Uni­ver­si­ty wants Kamele to agree to drug Theo “for her own good,” but the sup­pos­ed­ly safe drugs have unac­cept­able and per­ma­nent cog­ni­tive effects. (Those famil­iar with the Liaden Uni­verse nov­els will rec­og­nize Theo’s “prob­lems” as com­ing of grow­ing into pilot reflex­es.) Kamele’s career sit­u­a­tion has polit­i­cal ram­i­fi­ca­tions that blow back onto poor Theo as well, which the girl doesn’t need.

Theo deals with all of the above and more in believ­able and admirable ways. She stretch­es and shows her­self to be grow­ing into a remark­able young lady, fit to be the sub­ject of a Liaden Uni­verse nov­el. I’m glad I have Salta­tion (Theo Wait­ley, #2) on hand, because I look for­ward to see­ing more of who she grows up to be.

View all my reviews

Book Review: Thirteen by Kelley Armstrong

Thirteen (Women of the Otherworld, #13)Thir­teen by Kel­ley Arm­strong
My rat­ing: 5 of 5 stars

Well, Arm­strong def­i­nite­ly closed the series with a bang. I enjoyed this vol­ume so much that I’m tempt­ed to go back and re-read the entire series just to have more right now.

All the char­ac­ters we’ve got­ten to know are back: Clay, Ele­na, Jaime and Jere­my, Hope and Karl, Paige and Lucas, Eve and Kristof, Adam, Sean, Bryce, and Beni­cio. Savan­nah, how­ev­er, is the cen­ter of this nov­el while the oth­ers weave in and out of the action.

Savan­nah Levine was a child when she was intro­duced in one of the ear­li­est books of the series, Stolen. She is def­i­nite­ly a full adult now, capa­ble of hold­ing her own with or with­out spells. She is also an incred­i­ble nexus of influ­ence — and those who want to use or influ­ence her just don’t take “no” for an answer no mat­ter how force­ful­ly she says it.

The Super­nat­ur­al Lib­er­a­tion Move­ment (SLM) wants to use Savan­nah in their quest to bring super­nat­u­rals into the open, but she isn’t inter­est­ed. She’s been fight­ing their agents since Wak­ing the Witch, but some of the plots their pri­ma­ry mem­bers are asso­ci­at­ed in go all the way back to Stolen. These are the peo­ple who killed Eve, so why would Savan­nah help them?

Arm­strong has done a mas­ter­ful job of weav­ing lit­tle threads togeth­er from all the dif­fer­ent books so that they wind up in one neat pack­age. I was enthralled from the first word through the last, but sat­is­fied with where she left the char­ac­ters. I look for­ward to read­ing any new sto­ries she choos­es to tell in the Oth­er­world, but I can see that this round is fin­ished. Kudos to her for a job well done.

View all my reviews

Book Review: Mouse and Dragon by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller

Mouse and DragonMouse and Drag­on by Sharon Lee
My rat­ing: 4 of 5 stars

I’m so pleased that Lee and Miller decid­ed to give us the sto­ry of Daav and Ael­liana after Pilots Choice. (Ear­li­er they had claimed that there was noth­ing to tell there.) 

The sto­ry is a love­ly one, def­i­nite­ly roman­tic, told almost entire­ly from Aelliana’s point of view. Those who have read the oth­er Liaden nov­els know how it will end, but the details are well worth read­ing. It fills in some details that are help­ful to know lead­ing up to Fledg­ling (Theo Wait­ley, #1).

View all my reviews

Book Review: Enthralled edited by Melissa Marr and Kelley Armstrong

EnthralledEnthralled by Melis­sa Marr
My rat­ing: 3 of 5 stars

Jour­neys, lit­er­al or oth­er­wise, are the theme of this young adult anthol­o­gy. Appro­pri­ate­ly enough, it was con­ceived as the result of a book tour.

“Giovanni’s Farewell” by Clau­dia Gray is a sweet, com­ing-of-age sto­ry of sorts. The twist is that it fea­tures a broth­er and sis­ter, twins, rather than just one per­son. They vis­it Rome with a school group while deal­ing with major changes in their lives. There was too much back­ground crammed into a short sto­ry, but it was inter­est­ing.

Car­rie Ryan’s “Scenic Route” is a dis­turb­ing, post-apoc­a­lyp­tic sto­ry set in the world of The For­est of Hands and Teeth about two young sis­ters try­ing to sur­vive in an iso­lat­ed cab­in. The old­er sis­ter keeps the younger one occu­pied with the plan­ning of a road trip that will nev­er hap­pen, always hop­ing against hope that the girl won’t real­ize what their real­i­ty is. How long can they stay iso­lat­ed enough to sur­vive? Bloody, fright­en­ing, and vis­cer­al.

“Red Run” by Kami Gar­cia is the sto­ry of a girl who has lost the only per­son she loves in the world, and the trip she takes to avenge his death. How do you hunt a ghost? Maybe it isn’t fair, com­ing right after Ryan’s sto­ry, but I didn’t tru­ly feel the main character’s feel­ings.

Jack­son Pearce’s “Things About Love” is a sweet sto­ry involv­ing a jinn research­ing love. I felt like I’d come into the mid­dle of some­thing, so I checked and found that she’s writ­ten a nov­el, As You Wish, in the same set­ting. While this sto­ry tech­ni­cal­ly stands on its own, it would prob­a­bly be enriched by hav­ing read As You Wish.

“Nieder­wald” by Rachel Vin­cent is the first sto­ry I’ve read in her Soul Scream­ers series. Sabine, a macha (night­mare), takes a road trip with a human acquain­tance and detours to Nieder­wald, Texas, home to the harpies. No, there’s no way that could go wrong. Of course you know from the moment they hit the park­ing lot that it will go wrong, but at least it’s an inter­est­ing sort of wrong.

Melis­sa Marr’s “Mere­ly Mor­tal” feels as though it’s prob­a­bly set in the same world as her Wicked Love­ly series.

“Fac­ing Facts” by Kel­ley Arm­strong is set in her Dark­est Pow­ers uni­verse. I read the first of those books, but obvi­ous­ly a lot has passed since then, and there were spoil­ers in this sto­ry. It real­ly cen­ters around Chloe and Tori, with a lit­tle Derek tossed in. Tori learns some­thing she doesn’t want to know and reacts bad­ly, run­ning off on her own, which is dan­ger­ous. Chloe goes after her and they get into trou­ble. That seemed rather pre­dictable to me, but at least the type of trou­ble wasn’t what I expect­ed. Tori doesn’t seem to have changed since the first book, but Chloe is com­ing into con­trol of her abil­i­ties.

Sarah Rees Bren­nan’s “Let’s Get this Undead Show on the Road” is about a boy band that fea­tures a vam­pire, Chris­t­ian. He’s an unusu­al vam­pire, all alone with­out a nest or a sire. His jour­ney seems to be about his iden­ti­ty as a vam­pire, although the band is on tour and has anoth­er sort of jour­ney to make, as well.

“Bridge” by Jeri Smith-Ready is told from a ghost’s point of view, 233 days after death. It’s frus­trat­ing being a ghost, because most peo­ple can’t see or hear you. There are things you have to accom­plish before mov­ing on, though, that require com­mu­ni­ca­tion with the liv­ing. Find­ing a “bridge” and work­ing things out takes a lot of effort. This was a touch­ing sto­ry, bit­ter­sweet and well-told.

Kim­ber­ly Dert­ing’s “Skin Con­tact” near­ly broke me. Rafe is look­ing for his girl­friend. He knows where he needs to go, and he’s guid­ed by dreams. This sto­ry near­ly broke me. It’s told spar­ing­ly, and some­thing feels per­fect­ly right about it, but it hurts. Accord­ing to her author biog­ra­phy, Rafe was intro­duced in her nov­el Desires of the Dead.

“Leav­ing” by Ally Condie is a very lit­er­ary sto­ry, about a girl left behind after her moth­er dies and her father leaves. She spends the sto­ry prepar­ing to go after her father. It’s hard to describe much more than that, or to have much of an opin­ion. It was well-writ­ten and I think I’ll prob­a­bly remem­ber it for a long time.

Jes­si­ca Ver­day’s “At The Late Night, Dou­ble Fea­ture, Pic­ture Show” is a dark­ly fun­ny sto­ry about a girl from a fam­i­ly of mon­ster hunters. She’s usu­al­ly the bait, but tonight she has decid­ed to be the hunter — with­out back­up. I’d like to read more from Ver­day.

“IV League” by Mar­garet Stohl just didn’t hit me right. It’s the sto­ry of a bunch of south­ern vam­pires on a col­lege tour, which could have been fun­ny but wasn’t writ­ten that way. The whole thing just didn’t sit well with me, per­haps because the main char­ac­ter seemed too unre­al­is­ti­cal­ly out of touch for some­one who obvi­ous­ly had access to tele­vi­sion and the inter­net.

Mary E. Pear­son’s “Gar­gouille” is the most touch­ing love sto­ry in the col­lec­tion. Just read it.

“The Third Kind” by Jen­nifer Lynn Barnes is, on the sur­face, about a road trip to San Anto­nio. The real jour­ney is much deep­er, one of com­ing to under­stand­ing one’s call­ing.

Rachel Caine’s Mor­ganville is the set­ting for her “Auto­mat­ic.” I think I’ve read a Mor­ganville novel­la, but my mem­o­ry of it is dim. The Mor­ganville Blood Bank intro­duces an auto­mat­ed with­draw­al machine, essen­tial­ly a soda can dis­penser. Michael Glass is ordered to try it first, as a demon­stra­tion for the old­er, more tra­di­tion­al vam­pires, with unex­pect­ed results. His jour­ney is one of self-knowl­edge. I didn’t real­ly care much about him, his jour­ney, his girl­friend, or any­thing else. The set­ting and char­ac­ters do noth­ing for me, but your mileage may vary.

Alto­geth­er, the anthol­o­gy was worth read­ing. There were some low spots, but that’s true of any col­lec­tion. To be fair, I’m sure some­one who is more enthu­si­as­tic about young adult fic­tion would also be more enthu­si­as­tic about the works here.

View all my reviews