Thursday, March 30, 2006

sEEkEr by Jack McDevitt

A GrEaT read. The question is: should it be called science fiction or mystery?

This is the next search for antiquities by Alex and Chase following the story set out in Polaris. This is a mixture of mystery and science fiction, with both elements contributing to a blend that makes for a better story. I do not want to say much about the plot because following the twists and turns the plot takes is one of the things that makes this such a good and compelling read. The reader never knows what kind of turn is coming or where, in the Milky Way, the story will lead.

McDevitt has constructed a masterful blend of mystery and science fiction. He takes advantage of the science fiction elements to construct a most fascinating mystery story. In fact, to be as interesting a mystery story as it is, it needs to be a science fiction story as well. The story is well thought out which results in the book being well plotted and placed. McDevitt is an established and experience writer and this is clearly reflected in the prose of the novel. The story flows along and carries the reader with it. I need to mention that although this novel is about characters we know from previous novels you do not need to have read any of the other novels about these characters – another reflection of McDevitt’s experience and polish as a writer. Be warned: if you have not read any of the previous novels about these characters, you will be hunting down those novels to read as soon as you finish this novel.

You like Mysteries? You like Science Fiction? Fans of either or both of these genres will enjoy this Novel. I have read and enjoyed all of McDevitt’s novels, but I must admit that after reading this I hope that he plans to revisit Alex and Chase. OK, I cannot resist one plot statement, the final twist was truly a surprise and unexpected. Read this novel.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Poison Study byMaria V. Snyder

Although this is a first novel the author has been a freelance writer and the novel reflects this experience. It is well plotted and paced with a writing style that has the story flowing along. The world she has created is well thought out and populated with interesting, well-developed characters. The secret we learn about the Commander was quite a surprise.

This is a LUNA “romance fantasy” but the authors focus is on the fantasy with the romance in the background. In fact as far as romance goes I was surprised when I looked and saw LUNA was the publisher. They keep publishing novels of this quality and they are going to become known as a Science Fiction & Fantasy publisher, not for romance.

The story is about Yelena who is about to be executed, but is offered the the position of food taster for the Commander. Given the chance to live she begins to flower in her environment. How she grows, the friends she makes and the skills she gains allow her to be instrumental in overcoming a plot against the Commander and the nation. I had just read Singer by Jean Thesman (reviewed below) and both novel’s characters come from and abusive background. Yelena, however, grows stronger over the course of the novel (as opposed to Singer, pushed this way and that) until she is a moving force at novels end.

Polished writing, good central character surrounded by other strong characters, well thought out story and an emphasis on the fantasy elements not the romance. All in all a good novel – an impressive first published novel. I look forward to reading ‘Magic Study’ in the fall, the continuation the story of Yelena. I would recommend this novel for those looking for an enjoyable read.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Octagon Magic by Andre Norton

A wonderful book. It is one of Norton’s ‘Magic Books’ and is a reprint by Starscape Books (TOR) who are reprinting all of the Magic series of books.

Lorrie Mallard has been forced to live with her aunt in the US after her Canadian grandmother takes ill. She is very unhappy until she finds her way to Octagon House and Miss Ashmeade. The lessons Lorrie learns about herself and life are lessons young people can learn from. Lorrie grows and learns throughout the novel.

This book is a marvellous life lesson teaching tool and to that end Starscape has included three pages of discussion topics and questions at the end of the story. With Norton’s writing ability it is accessible to the young reader (but flows beautifully so as to pull inn the older reader). For teachers, you have in this novel both a wonderful read (hopefully encouraging more reading) and a point from which to begin talking about the choices young people face about their behaviour, how their behaviour affects themselves and others and how the should be deciding and behaving.

Highly recommended and a great addition to the books available for juvenile readers. A fun, worthwhile read for the older reader as well.

Singer by Jean Thesman

This is a young adult novel. The writing is smooth, the story well thought out and the characters interesting.

It is a fantasy novel about Singer a young girl who escapes her cruel mother, but is hunted by her mother for reasons she does not know. As she is hidden by different people she learns and acquires skills that it is her fate to master. We and Singer do not learn the truth of her birth and the reason she has a drop of blood until more than half the story is told. But this suits the story and the ‘tenor’ of the book.

This is a good novel and worth reading. What keeps it from being a ‘very good book’ to me is Singer herself. She is like a leaf blown in the wind through the whole story. She never becomes a strong enough character to exert control over her life and fate. I had the urge to tell her “get some backbone, think, decide, act.” While the writing and story were excellent and the characters (including Singer) were interesting the central character of Singer never developed any rapport for me.
So while this book is an enjoyable read I would recommend Tamora Pierce’s Wild Magic, Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonsong or Andre Norton’s Octagon Magic because in all three novels you come to care for the heroines.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Shadows in the Darkness by Elaine Cunningham

This novel straddles the line between Urban Fantasy and Mystery. The heroine, Gwen Gelman, is now a PI having left the police department under a (undeserved) cloud. Her current case involves a missing 14 year old girl and is quite gritty. Actually the entire novel/story has a grittiness to it that moves it toward the dark fantasy end of the spectrum. But this just makes the story more solid and effective.

The fantasy comes in first when the reader finds out that Gwen has visions and ‘intuition’ on her side in solving cases/mysteries. The fantasy is deepened by questions about who Gwen actually is and the introduction of an ‘Elder Race’.

The writing is polished and smooth. The characters are characters and interesting people. The story/mystery is multilayered. This novel is a compelling read. I look forward to getting my hands on the second book about Gwen (Shadows in the Starlight) and the opportunity to learn more of her heritage and the ‘Elder Races’.

Monday, February 20, 2006

King's Own by Lorna Freeman

This is the direct sequel to the 1st book of the Borderlands Covenants and is every bit as well written a great read as the first. I like that she continues to introduce interesting characters to interact with the central character, Rabbit. This story is involving and contains a surprise twist which opens up the end of the book to very interesting possibilities for the next novel(s) in this saga of the Borderlands.

The story is set in Freston and spans just a few days – a few very eventful days. My only criticism is the jarring off-key notes of the early interaction between Rabbit and Commander Thado which seemed total out of place, especially as not explanation was given for these interactions. The plot is such that you are kept unsure/unknowing of what is truly going on onto the author chooses to reveal it to us – very nicely done.

I read that books 3 & 4 have been sold and I wait as impatiently for book 3 as I had waited for the second novel. This was a fun read with an ending that opened some very interesting possibilities for the future storyline. I truly look forward to see where the author takes us, her characters and the story.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Moon Called by Patricia Briggs

Now this is enjoyable urban fantasy. Well done urban fantasy is among my favourite reading material. The way the author sets up the existence of the Fantastic and weaves it into our ‘real world’ is part of what makes it such a good read. In fact Briggs has done such a fine job of realizing her characters and the world that the story is driven forward by the realities of her created reality. You will understand that statement once you have read the story, but any attempt on my part to explain it would chance ruining the story for the new reader. Let me put it another way. Briggs world is so well done one would not be surprised if one f her characters arrived at you door.

The writing is, as you would expect from Briggs, smooth and polished. The storyline is intriguing. The characters are people, real people, so well drawn are they by the author. The story pulls you in and along for the ride from the start. As noted above, the world is well thought-out, interesting and entirely plausible. It has werewolves, vampires and other interesting inhabitants – including out heroine, a shape changer of native ancestry raise by a werewolf pack, a fine mechanic.

Truly a not to be missed read. One can only hope that we get to return to this world soon – and often.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Gil's All Fright Diner by A. Lee Matinez

This is the author’s first novel and I certainly hope not his last. I will be placing it onto my February recommended books list as an Urban Fantasy. The writing and story are so well done the reader accepts that werewolves, vampires, ghost, zombies, ghouls, black magic, world gates and evil old gods all exist as part of our world. The writing is polished and flows along taking you with it.

I read the first few pages and admit I was not sure what to make of them, but I kept reading and was rewarded for this with an enjoyable romp. A short synopsis. Duke and Earl driving along in the desert stop at a diner, zombies attack, they stick around to find out what is what. One of them falls in love. Turns out a witch is trying to open a hellgate and let the very old and very evil gods out. Climatic scene, heroes and girl drive off for Las Vegas and next adventure, which is sure to find them because of the law of “Anomalous Phenomena Attraction”.

To quote a blurb on the back “Gory, sexy and flat-out hilarious Gil’s All Fright Diner will tickle your funny bone – before ripping it out of its socket.” Pretty accurate. For Urban Fantasy with a bite, that is a hoot, this is the book to read.

The Wizard Test by Hilari Bell

Hilari Bell is considered an author of young adult books, but she writes so well fantasy fans of any age will enjoy reading her novels. At 166 pages this novle is really a novella and reading it took a disappointingly short time. A disappointment in that I finished far to soon, wishing the book was longer so I could continue to enjoy reading Bell’s words.

The hero of the novel is 14years old and finds out he has wizard powers in a society that despises wizards. The story follows how he deals with this, what he learns about his world and the choices he makes. Some may call this a coming of age tale, but I do not believe I would. Rather I would call it an “if everyone else was jumping off a bridge, are you going to follow like a lemming and jump off too?” tale. It is about seeing/finding what really is real, not accepting what everybody else says is reality. About there being choices in how we act, making those choices and the consequences of our choices. This life lesson is woven into an interesting, well-written and enjoyable story.

I would particularly recommend this book to parents, teachers and mentors as a starting point for a discussion with young people about being part of the crowd, following everybody else or our own path, choices and consequences. I must mention that although the hero is 14 this book is suitable for much younger readers. It is so well written it is accessible to readers of all ages.