Book Review: Willful Child by Steven Erikson and The White Ghost by James R. Benn

Willful ChildWillful Child
Steven Erikson
Tor, November 2014
ISBN 978-0-7653-7489-9
Hardcover

Star Trek meets Futurama in this sci fi send up by Steven Erickson, author of the Malagan Book of the Fallen series. Terran Space Fleet Captain Hadrian Alan Sawback, commander of the Engage class starship Willful Child, is on a routine shake down cruise in search of smugglers. His new crew includes Chief of Security, Adjutant Lorrin Tighe; Chief Medical Officer, a Belkri called Printlip, with six arms and three legs; the beautiful and dark-skinned First Commander Halley Sin-Dour; square jawed and buff Communications Lieutenant Jimmy Eden; Chief Engineer Buck DeFrank; Combat Specialist Galk, a Varekan; and clueless Lieutenant Jocelyn Sticks, who gushes, “Like, it’s all very exciting.” Upon reviewing his crew, Captain Sawbuck “wondered if selecting certain bridge officers on the basis of their file photos was perhaps somewhat careless.”

It’s all good fun when the Willful Child embarks on a journey into Unknown Space, where the original mission is abandoned when the Captain encounters oversexed extraterrestrials, a time machine, and an artificial intelligence with gender issues. Can Captain Sawbuck, the spray tanned leader with the killer smile, save the Affiliation of Civilized Planets from an alien invasion?

Star Trek fans will appreciate the many sly references to the original series, but any science fiction readers who enjoy a large helping of humor, like Robert Asprin’s books, will find much to like about Willful Child.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, September 2015.

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The White GhostThe White Ghost
A Billy Boyle World War II Mystery #10
James R. Benn
Soho Crime, September 2015
ISBN: 978-1-61695-511-3
Hardcover

The Billy Boyle World War II mystery series presents the reader with a double whammy:  A thoroughly researched story about the period combined with an excellent crime tale.  Until this novel, the series has concentrated on the European Theater of Operations where Billy, a Boston detective in civilian life, serves on the staff of General Eisenhower’s Supreme Command, tracing the progress of the war from North Africa through Sicily, Italy and, finally, the Normandy invasion.  For a change of pace, this novel takes Billy and his sidekick, Kaz, to the South Pacific.

The impetus for this sudden development is at the behest of Joe Kennedy, who pulls strings to have Billy investigate a murder in the Solomon Islands.  The reason for Billy’s selection derives from the fact that the body was discovered by Jack Kennedy, who was recovering after the loss of PT 109.  The Boyles and the Kennedys had a history back in Boston and the theory was that if Billy exonerated Jack as the perpetrator it would not be questioned, and if he accused the future President of murder it would be the result of a grudge.

The novel develops into more than a historical recounting or a mystery with a detailed look at the war operations in the Solomons, which were occupied by both U.S. and Japanese forces, on land, sea and in the air.  And a rousing finish with Billy and Kaz in the middle of a firefight between marines and Japanese infantry.  All the novels in the series are equally enjoyable, and The White Ghost is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, July 2015.

Book Review: The Exile by C.T. Adams

The ExileThe Exile
Book One of the Fae
C.T. Adams
Tor, March 2015
ISBN 978-0-7653-3687-3
Trade Paperback

Helena Hai and her half-human daughter Brianna escaped the faerie world when Helena began to fear for their lives. Power struggles had become more and more violent and war looked to become inevitable. Since Brianna was the daughter of the present Fae king, it seemed she was a likely target of those trying to eliminate any competition to the throne. Besides, King Leu had a new lover.

Helena, a powerful witch in her own right, closed the veil between the human and faerie worlds to fae magic when she fled. In the human world, Helena ran a magic shop and she and Brianna made a good life for themselves. After Helena passed, a living stone gargoyle named Pug helped guard Brianna.

But even as Brianna enjoys her life and her friends, dissension is building in Fae. Leu, Brianna’s father, must fight for his life and protect his world from those who would usurp his power. Family members, afraid Brianna may be favored to be named the next ruler, seek to destroy her, even through the veil.

A large cast of characters people (or creature) this book. Pug, the gargoyle, is Brianna’s good friend. Ju-Long and his daughter Mei, shape-shifting dragons are firmly on her side. The Diamond King is unique and trustworthy. Even some of the lesser fae creatures prove themselves good citizens.

The wicked adversaries of all different ilk are super strong and well-depicted in this story. Unfortunately for Brianna, many of those enemies are King Leu’s own children and her half-siblings, which makes for interesting family dynamics.

Filled with action as the war of succession heats up, Brianna’s human friends and employees are drawn into the struggle. Nick Antonelli, a police detective, is drawn into the faerie world in a violent introduction, possibly souring an attraction Brianna would like to explore.

This is a big book, well-plotted with nicely drawn characters. It’s fairly rare to find a book where the lesser characters are so well developed. There’ll be more Brianna Hai stories, which I’ll look forward to reading. I’m hoping most of these characters will follow her into fae.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, June 2015.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder.

Book Review: Strange Country by Deborah Coates

Strange CountryStrange Country
Deborah Coates
Tor, May 2014
ISBN 978-0-7653-2902-8
Hardcover

I wish I’d read the book that came before this one. It would’ve clarified some of the many references to previous goings on. That said, this one is self-explanatory enough that I never got lost. I just had to take some things on faith.

In a nutshell, the grim reaper (Death) wants South Dakota rancher Hallie Michaels to take his place. She’s already died once and is a great candidate for the job. Troubled by the ghosts all around her, Hallie just wants to be let alone and to live her second-chance life, preferably with her love, Deputy Sheriff Boyd Davies. Oh, yes, and she has a “supernatural being” that appears and disappears at will, which talks to her and gives hints and clues. The supernatural takes on the guise of a dog

Then, on a wintery December night, a woman named Prue Stalking Horse calls in to dispatch to report a prowler. Davies finds no trace of anyone, but as he’s leaving, Prue is shot and killed by a long distance sniper. It isn’t long before more people die although the links between them, let alone a motive, remains elusive. Davies is plagued by unfortunate accidents at his house, as well, and has in his possession some mysterious stones that may either be the cause or the reason for everything, if only anyone could put all the clues together.

The mystery will be tied-up at the end, although you can bet there’ll be more stories with Hallie, Boyd, and their friends. And I’ll be glad of it. Ms. Coates writes eloquently of the South Dakota setting. Cold winter scenes will make the reader seek out a blanket to wrap up in. The never-ending farm work that needs done is so ordinary and real it seems exotic within the confines of a story that includes ghosts, Death, magic, and a supernatural being called “Maker.”

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, December 2014.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder.

Book Review: Bloodstone by Gillian Philip—and a Giveaway!

BloodstoneBloodstone
Rebel Angels, Book Two
Gillian Philip
Tor, November 2013
ISBN 978-0-7653-3328-5
Hardcover

From the publisher—

For centuries, Sithe warriors Seth and Conal MacGregor have hunted for the Bloodstone demanded by their Queen. Homesick, and determined to protect their clan, they have also made secret forays across the Veil. One of these illicit crossings has violent consequences that will devastate both their close family, and their entire clan.

In the Otherworld, Jed Cameron, a feral, full-mortal young thief, becomes entangled with the strange and dangerous Finn MacAngus and her shadowy uncles. When he is dragged into the world of the Sithe, it’s nothing he can’t handle until time warps around him, and menacing forces reach out to threaten his infant brother. In the collision of two worlds, war and tragedy are inevitable, especially when treachery comes from the most shocking of quarters….

Four hundred years have passed since Seth and Conal were ordered by Queen Kate to find the Bloodstone, rumored to have properties that will heal the weakened Veil between the human and faerie worlds. Kate really wants it to destroy the Veil and conquer the mortal world but the half-brothers are not fully aware of her intentions. This is not to say the queen is a favorite among her people; far from it.

Seth and Conal are close despite Seth’s reputation for being a troublemaker and there is much loyalty between the two. It’s this loyalty that makes Seth agree to keep an eye on Finn, Conal’s teenaged niece with a huge chip on her shoulder (as it turns out, with some justification). Finn is unaware of who she really is but, when she and her friend, the thieving Jed, follow her grandmother into the Loch one night, they soon find themselves in the world of the faeries and in serious danger. Seth will soon understand that the danger is far more widespread than he thought and a terrible loss is coming that will change his life radically.

Ms. Philip employs an interesting style, telling much of the story through Seth’s point of view with some chapters from Finn’s and Jed’s and changing seamlessly from first to third person and back. It took me a little while to get used to this switching back and forth but I came to enjoy it and this method made these three characters come fully to life for me.

Other reviewers have indicated a dislike for Seth, largely because of his thoughtlessness and frequently rash behavior but he’s actually my favorite because there is so much substance there. His restlessness and apparent lack of concern for others show us much about his troubled existence and his true nature, hidden from many. Other characters stood out for me in one way or another, especially Finn and Jed, but also other members of the clann. Ms. Philip enlivens all her characters and, while I thought the pacing was a bit slow, particularly in the beginning, she tells a great story. I’m already looking forward to the next book in the series, Wolfsbane (already out in the UK, due in the US in July 2014).

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2013.

Leave a comment below and you’ll be entered in
the drawing for a print copy of Bloodstone by
Gillian Philip. The winning name will be drawn on
the evening of Friday, December 20th.
Open to residents of the US and Canada.

Book Review: Firebrand by Gillian Philip—and a Giveaway!

FirebrandFirebrand
Rebel Angels Book One
Gillian Philip
Tor, February 2013
ISBN 978-0-7653-3322-3
Hardcover

From the publisher—

At the end of the sixteenth century, religious upheaval brings fear, superstition, and doubt to the lives of mortals. Yet unbeknownst to them, another world lies just beyond the Veil: the realm of the Sithe, a fierce and beautiful people for whom a full-mortal life is but the blink of an eye. The Veil protects and hides their world…but it is fraying at the edges, and not all think it should be repaired. 

 

Discarded by his mother and ignored by his father, sixteen-year-old Seth MacGregor has grown up half wild in his father’s fortress, with only his idolized older brother, Conal, for family. When Conal quarrels with the Sithe queen and is forced into exile in the full-mortal world, Seth volunteers to go with him.

 

But life beyond the Veil is even more dangerous than they expected, and Seth and Conal soon find themselves embroiled in a witch-hunt—in which they are the quarry. Trapped between the queen’s machinations at home and the superstitious violence of the otherworld, Seth must act before both of them are fed to the witch-hunters’ fires…

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There are times when I’m completely surprised and blown away by a book that bends and breaks all my expectations and, when that happens, I feel as though I’ve discovered something that will stick with me for a very long time. Such a book is Firebrand. I have to admit I’ve gotten a little tired of dark faerie themes but I haven’t quite given up yet and I’m so glad I didn’t miss the opportunity to enjoy this one.

I won’t say a lot about the story since many other reviewers have already done so but I do want to say that the 16th-century Scottish setting is a real enhancement, actually a character in itself. I like otherworldly settings but I think Ms. Philip’s choice of a place and time the reader can recognize is part of what makes this so special (and I’m probably influenced by the fact that I’ve visited Scotland and loved it).

Ms. Philip’s characterization is also top-notch and I particularly appreciated the introduction of the Sithe into the human world rather than the reverse which is the usual theme. As fierce as they are, the Sithe are still a peaceful folk and are not prepared for the harshness of the human environs when their own queen forces them into it. Brothers Seth and Conal find themselves exiled beyond the Veil and are driven to return and take back what belongs to them but they are not prepared for the violence brought on by the humans’ superstitions, especially when they realize they are the quarry of the witch-hunters. I loved Queen Kate, not because I approve of her but because she is so finely drawn and so deliciously power-hungry. Seth and Conal, on the other hand, represent the best of the Sithe world and also a future tainted by human influences, and a girl named Catriona will have a lasting effect.

Is Firebrand geared towards the young adult reader? Technically, I’d say no, but it’s certainly age-appropriate for older teens and I know they will enjoy this as much as adults will. Personally, I’m already yearning for the next book, Bloodstone.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2013.

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Leave a comment below and you’ll be entered in the drawing

for a print copy of Firebrand by Gillian Philip. The winning name

will be drawn on the evening of Friday, April 12th.

Open to residents of the US and Canada.

Book Review: Virus Thirteen by Joshua Alan Parry—and a Giveaway!

Virus ThirteenVirus Thirteen
Joshua Alan Parry
Tor, March 2013
ISBN 9780765369543
Mass Market Paperback

From the publisher—

Scientists James Logan and his wife, Linda, have their dream careers at the world’s leading biotech company, GeneFirm, Inc. But their happiness is interrupted by a devastating bioterrorist attack: a deadly superflu that quickly becomes a global pandemic. The GeneFirm complex goes into lockdown and Linda’s research team is sent to high-security underground labs to develop a vaccine.

Above ground, James learns that GeneFirm security has been breached and Linda is in danger. To save her he must confront a desperate terrorist, armed government agents, and an invisible killer: Virus Thirteen.

Woe to the reader who starts Virus Thirteen thinking he’s going to get your standard pandemic disaster science fiction novel. No, indeed, this is one wild ride from start to finish with a mashup of all the scenarios that make a lot of people antsy just thinking about the possibilities. Take a bit of cloning, some global warming, a dash of power-grabbing, a little transgenics and genetic engineering, throw in some science run amok and you’ve got…

But wait! Don’t forget a whole lot of murder, a distinct lack of ethics and a Homeland Health department that watches your every bite or sip…

And there’s even more!

Besides all the plotlines—and don’t worry, they DO come together and make sense—there are some really interesting characters, good and bad. I was kind of surprised to find myself connecting the most with the secondary characters but that’s a large part of why I find this book so appealing. It’s an indication of how much care the author took with his players, even a neon orange dog and a self-doubting young man of rotund proportions, and I appreciate it.

This is one of the most entertaining and imaginative books I’ve read in a while and I’ll be honest—I’m still not sure if the author is completely serious or perhaps is making fun of all our insecurities about the future. I suspect there’s more than a touch of the latter but, either way, it doesn’t matter because Mr. Parry‘s debut is a winner of a story. He also happens to be a very good writer and his style of jumping from one scene and set of characters to another worked beautifully if his intention was to grab my attention and never let me look away. Along the way, he forced me to give a lot of consideration to where we might be heading if we’re not careful and that is never a bad thing. Joshua Alan Parry is an author I’ll be looking for again.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2013.

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Leave a comment below and you’ll be entered in the drawing

for a copy of Virus Thirteen by Joshua Alan Parry. The winning name

will be drawn on the evening of Wednesday, March 20th.

Open to residents of the US and Canada.

Book Review: The Dark at the End by F. Paul Wilson

The Dark at the EndThe Dark At The End
A Repairman Jack Novel
F. Paul Wilson
Tor, 2011
ISBN 9780765322838
Hardcover

There is a great war occurring in the vast reaches of the universe and Earth is the most recent battleground. Two forces vying for ultimate control. The Ally and the Otherness, the latter whose power comes from the suffering of sentient beings is known as The One or Rasalom. For the Ally, there are many warriors including Repairman Jack and an enigmatic being known simply as the Lady. The battle for humanity is coming to an end…

In the final Repairman Jack novel, Jack is determined to finally rid the world of Rasalom by any means. The Ally’s chief warrior, Glaeken has been transformed into a mortal and Jack is the Heir to his former powers. Jack is aided by his girlfriend Gia, as well as other friends named Weezy, and Dawn, whose strange baby has been kidnapped by Raslom’s forces. Jack gathers weapons in which to destroy Rasalom but first must rescue the baby. Meanwhile, Weezy may have discovered a ceremony which would serve to bind The One’s powers. But are all of the Ally’s plans for naught? Do they finally have the means to destroy Rasalom or have the Ally forces played into evil’s hands?

If this plot sounds confusing, the problem  may lie in the fact that many readers, including yours truly, haven’t read all of the previous Wilson novels, so the entire premise and long history of this drawn out story may not be understood. I have read a few of Jack’s novels, along with others dealing with this secret war. Remember the old movie called The Keep? That was based upon a Wilson novel and fits in with this series. The Dark At The End is one of those novels that almost requires the reading of previous books to understand the totality of the situation. It is complex but I’ve liked Jack for years and this one, even knowing what follows, was still enjoyable.

Reviewed by Stephen L. Brayton, October 2012.
Author of Night Shadows, Beta and Alpha.